Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Women's Education in 17th Century England

From MyLadyWeb:
The advantages to be derived from intellectual liberty were not appreciated. Charles II., joking with the Royal Society, to whom he loved to propound insoluble problems, reflects the attitude of the aristocracy towards science and literature. By that time Shakespeare was considered a little out of date and vulgar by an age of fops and élégantes who could read Wycherley without blushing. There was a quiet cultured set, such as Evelyn and his friends. Evelyn’s daughter Mary, who died at the age of about nineteen, was a most accomplished and studious girl, and shared her father’s literary labours and enjoyments. But the seventeenth century was not favourable to the production of scholars. As the intellectual horizon widened learning became less profound. Women’s education was pursued on somewhat different lines. There was less scholarship among the best-educated women. We do not hear of ladies corresponding in Greek or translating from the Hebrew. The classics no longer held the chief place in the curriculum. Literature was multiplying in English and other living languages, and music and painting were more cultivated.

But there was little attempt, in the seventeenth century, to provide substitutes for what women had lost by the dissolution of the convent schools. For accomplishments, such as singing and dancing, wealthy families engaged special masters—generally French—and the domestic chaplain sometimes acted as tutor for the more solid parts of education. Among middle-class families, however, whose means did not allow of private tuition, the girls came off badly, there being very few schools of any sort, and very scanty supplies of literature in the home.

The seventeenth century was a great period for famous painters, and the presence of numerous excellent foreign artists in England influenced the attitude of society among the higher classes towards art. It might have been thought that, with a professed pedant like James I. following the learned Queen Elizabeth, there would have been a renewed impetus towards the profounder studies. But James I. was deficient in real strength of character, and was not an intellectual force. He might have played a very fair part among a knot of schoolmen disputing over theological points, but as a sovereign his talents did not show to good advantage. Moreover, he was in every way adverse to the progress of women. He treated them as inferiors, with a ponderous levity, and nothing was further from his mind than giving any encouragement to the cultivation of learning among the ladies of the court. Under Charles I. culture would have had a fair chance in England had not political trouble intervened, and during the remainder of the century society underwent a series of changes inimical to learning. (Read more.)

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