‘To think, to compare, to combine, to methodise’: Girls’ Education in Enlightenment Britain

  • Michèle Cohen


Describing Johnson’s early education, Boswell notes that after his return from the school at Stourbridge, Johnson spent two years at home ‘in what he thought was idleness’, spending his time reading a great deal ‘in a desultory manner, without any scheme of study, as chance threw books in his way and inclination directed him through them’. While his father scolded him for his ‘want of steady application’, Johnson himself estimated that during that time, he had been ‘acquiring various stores’, reading ‘in this irregular manner … a great many books which were not commonly known at the Universities, where they seldom read any books but what are put into their hands by their tutors’. Not only does Boswell argue that Johnson’s own ‘confession of idleness’ should be disregarded, but he suggests on the contrary that ‘it may be doubted whether such a mind as his was not more enriched by roaming at large in the fields of literature than if it had been confined to any single spot’.1 A similar comment can be found about the education of another great eighteenth-century figure, Gibbon, though this time by a modern historian: Gibbon, ‘A sickly child … took the opportunity of a fragmentary formal education to read voraciously’, implying that it was when he was not at school that Gibbon really laid the grounding for his magisterial work.2


Eighteenth Century Private Tutor Private Education Young Lady Great School 
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© Michèle Cohen 2005

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  • Michèle Cohen

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