Mon Jan 5, 2004

Social Engineering in the 1790s

A choice bit from Juliet Barker’s gigantic Wordsworth: A Life.

Tom Wedgwood was a committed philanthropist and Godwinian. Anxious to do his part for the furtherance of mankind, he had, in correspondence with Godwin, determined to devote a portion of his wealth to the education of a genius … Wedgwood had come up with a scheme. The child was to be protected from contact with bad example and from sensory overload by never being allowed to go out of doors or leave its apartment. The nursery was to be painted grey, with only a couple of vivid coloured objects to excite its senses of sight and touch. It was to be surrounded by hard objects to continually ‘irritate [its] palms’ … A superintendent [would] ensure that the child connected all its chief pleasures with rational objects and acquired a habit of ‘earnest thought’.

Wordsworth, to his credit, was not impressed by this plan.