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Chapter 6 - ‘Wisdom consists in the right use of knowledge’: Socrates as a Symbol of Quaker Pedagogy in Maria Hack’s Grecian Stories

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 October 2023

Louise Joy
Affiliation:
University of Cambridge
Jessica Lim
Affiliation:
University of Cambridge
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Summary

Introduction

Lucy Barton Fitzgerald, daughter of Quaker poet Bernard Barton, and briefly Edward Fitzgerald’s wife, ‘revelled’ in ‘Grecian Stories when they first appeared […] during the Christmas holidays’ of 1819, when she was about eleven years old, and ‘well remember[ed]’ crying at Maria Hack’s portrayal of Socrates’ death. This chapter examines how and why prolific children’s author Maria Hack deployed the ancient Athenian philosopher Socrates as a role model of successful Christian pedagogy. Hack (1777–1844) and her near contemporary Priscilla Wakefield (1751–1832) were prominent children’s authors from established Quaker families who published with Quaker firm Harvey and Darton. Both women exploited Greco-Roman antiquity to consolidate their pedagogic programmes: classical exemplars, particularly Socrates, facilitated both authors’ modelling of age-appropriate and individually tailored familiar dialogue templates for moral and religious socialisation. Hack adapted Socratic dialogue to challenge contemporary maxims surrounding the moral and educational value of historical exemplars, and further transformed them by promoting ideals specific to the Dissenting religious Society of Friends: Socrates becomes a model for parental pedagogy and even a Christlike proto-Quaker, whose educational method is portrayed as a modern, accessible substitute for miracle-working.

Barton Fitzgerald’s Christmas tears were prompted by the first edition of Hack’s Grecian Stories. In 1840, adverts for Hack’s new, illustrated edition cited a review from the East Anglian Circular for ‘prompt[ing] the youthful mind to the acquisition for itself of further knowledge […] exercising its own judgement’. The reviewer, quoting seventeenth-century French historian Charles Rollin, that ‘history, when properly taught, becomes a school of morality, and shows, by thousand examples, more effectual than any reasoning, that virtue is man’s real good’, concludes: ‘we have seldom seen a volume on the subject more calculated to attain so desirable an end, then Maria Hack’s Grecian Stories’.

What this reviewer omits is that Hack’s achievement was her stated aim. To improve existing histories inspired by Rollin’s expansion of Cicero’s maxim ‘history teaches life’, Hack transformed the mode of delivery, familiar dialogue, innovatively ‘prompting’ child readers to an independent ‘acquisition’ of knowledge and ethical ‘judgement’. This reviewer, concerned with how Hack meets Rollin’s criteria for historical education, fails to notice that this innovation is designed to supersede existing textbooks with more effective practical learning. Hack’s focus on nuanced yet active moral reasoning, shaped by Quaker ideals, challenges Rollin’s assertion that historical exemplars are ‘more effectual than any reasoning’.

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Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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