First story in her first book

The first story that Priscilla choose for her first book Leisure Hours tells us a lot about personal values of the woman. It is titled ‘Cornelia and Campanian Lady’. Set in ancient Rome, Cornelia is a widow and mother of two young sons. The Campanian Lady visits Cornelia to show off some new jewels given to her by her husband. Cornelia admires the diamonds as wondrous products of nature. Annoyed that Cornelia has not been sufficiently impressed she asks to see her jewels. Cornelia leaves and returns with her sons stating ‘Behold … my jewels, my chief ornaments! … Maternal feelings animate my mind beyond the love of personal attractions. My time, my attention, my best faculties are all occupied in the delightful talk, of forming their young minds to the practice of virtue, and the love of knowledge’.

Published in: on June 28, 2009 at 9:11 am  Leave a Comment  

Priscilla ****

In the first book written by Priscilla Wakefield the name of the author on the title page is written Priscilla **** with no surname. The title being Leisure Hours: or Entertaining Dialogues; between Persons Eminent for Virtue and Magnanimity. The Characters Drawn from Ancient and Modern History. Designed as Lessons of Morality for Youth and published by Darton and Harvey in two volumes 1794-96.

The preface begins, ‘This  little volume is offered to the protection of those, who are engaged in the education of children by one who knows, from experience, the utility of presenting the same object, to their lively imaginations, under different points of view’.

Published in: on June 27, 2009 at 8:40 am  Leave a Comment  

The Edward’s

The first name of Edward was a Wakefield family favourite. Priscilla’s husband started the trend. Their first son was also called Edward (1774-1854). His first born son was Edward Gibbon Wakefield (1796-1862) and his son was Edward Jerningham Wakefield (1820-1879) He married later in life and had three daughters.

Published in: on June 25, 2009 at 8:57 am  Leave a Comment  

Biographical sources

To date these has not been a major biography of Priscilla Wakefield. Most researchers (whatever their focus) refer to aspects of her life in their study and ultimately most of that information is derived from Priscilla’s Journals and other primary sources such as her Library Journal and family letters. The biography by Ann B. Shteir in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography has a useful list of sources. Some of these refer to the Hazel Mews papers. In her article ‘Priscilla Wakefield as a Writer of Children’s Educational Books’ Bridget Hill also refers to the Hazel Mews Collection.

The Hazel Mews Collection is held at the Library of the Religious Society of Friends in London. She was an academic and librarian. In the 1960s she began research for a biography of Priscilla. Hazel Mews did not complete the work and died after 1975. Her notes are available to researchers but some parts of the collection are restricted. It appears that most if the material consists of photocopies.

For his book The Wakefields: a Sort of Conscience’ Philip Temple accessed the Mitchell Papers in Devon. His notes refer to the TS version of the Journal and also a hand-transcription. This may have been made from the original and is possibly the source of the more widely circulated TS version.

While researchers are fortunate these materials are still in existence the gaps of some years in the Journal and the selected nature of the entries are a frustration. However, in the prefaces of Priscilla’s books the careful reader can sometimes find an additional insight.

Published in: on June 22, 2009 at 2:10 am  Comments (1)  

Mitchell Collection

The Mitchell Collection of Wakefield family papers belonged to Mary Priscilla Mitchell (1907-2007) who was known as Priscilla. She was the great-great-niece of Edward Gibbon Wakefield and last descendent of Daniel Wakefield his brother. She lived in Totnes, South Devon but visited New Zealand regularly and funded scholarships and other initiatives in connection with the Wakefield family. Like her namesake she was involved in many philanthropic activities. In her obituary, written by Philip Temple, it is stated the Wakefield family papers will one day reside in the Alexander Turnbull Library. Source: ‘Priscilla had ties to NZ’ Dominion Post, 29 November 2007, B 9.

Published in: on June 22, 2009 at 2:09 am  Leave a Comment  

Priscilla, Edward and Catherine Bell in 1774

In the English Country House Gallery of Norwich Castle is a portrait of Priscilla, Edward and Catherine painted by Francis Wheatley c1774.

The link to the pictures in this gallery is here

Click on the image for more information.

Priscilla is seated on the right and would have been about 23 years old. In the centre is her sister Catherine, later wife of John Gurney and mother of Elizabeth Fry.

Published in: on June 21, 2009 at 2:41 am  Comments (3)  

Priscilla and Edward

From 1771 to sometime in the early 1790s Priscilla and Edward lived in London. During that time they had three children Isabella (Bell) (1773-1841), Edward (1774-1854), and Daniel (1776-1846). In her article ‘Priscilla Wakefield as a Writer of Children’s Educational Books’ Bridget Hill states ‘she had five children of whom only three survived to adulthood’. Little seems to be known of the years Priscilla spent in London and her activities there. Her familiarity with the city would have assisted her in writing the book Perambulations in London, published in 1810. Edward and Priscilla’s marriage appears to have been dominated by financial troubles and this was the catalyst for Priscilla’s writing career. Speculation about their marriage suggests their early hopes for happiness were eroded by financial problems and Edward’s lack of character in the face of those difficulties.

Published in: on June 20, 2009 at 6:58 am  Leave a Comment  

Priscilla’s husband Edward Wakefield

In 1771 Priscilla married Edward Wakefield (1750-1826) at the Tottenham Meeting House. According to the book Edward Gibbon Wakefield: the Man Himself by Irma O’Connor, published in 1928, his father, also named Edward, married twice. The second marriage was to Isabella Gibbon and Edward was the eldest son of this union. O’Connor states that ‘he appears to have been a weakling, whose only claim to remembrance lay in his good looks’. He inherited his father’s London business and a fortune but all was lost through successive business failures.

The following statement precedes the TS version of Priscilla’s journal. The source is not stated.

‘[Edward] seems in fact to have been entirely lacking, not only in business capacity, (for his life as far as we know it, is little more than a record of failures) but also in the strength of mind to meet misfortune bravely, or bear it patiently’.

Published in: on June 15, 2009 at 10:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

Priscilla’s sisters

‘Priscilla, like her mother – not tall fair and light hair, very expressive countenance, not much animation, was preceptress, I may say to her sisters, which her fine talents warranted …’ Jonathan Bell Memoirs.

Catherine (1754-1792) married John Gurney and she is described in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as ‘a pious woman and serious Friend’. Her brother Jonathan Bell relates that ‘her thirst for knowledge was ardent’. She died at the age of thirty-eight and had twelve children. Her daughter Elizabeth Fry is known for her campaign to reform prisons.

Lucy died in 1796 around the time Priscilla’s journal is first available. In her summary of the year she notes ‘five siblings of the original eight survive’.

Like Priscilla, Elizabeth Bell Hanbury was an author and wrote The Good Nurse, or Hints on the Management of the Sick and Laying-in Chamber published in 1825 and dedicated to Mrs Priscilla Wakefield.

Published in: on June 14, 2009 at 8:46 am  Leave a Comment  

A knot of clever women

The above phrase, used by Jonathan Bell in his memoirs to describe his sisters, has been quoted by a number of  researchers. Following is the quote in full.

‘My sisters, one and all were highly talented, they were not accomplished in worldly elegancies, but their natural fine understandings and mutual affectionate unities led them to a wise cultivation of those Talents God had blessed them with, and through life they were all estimated as a knot of clever women.’


Published in: on June 14, 2009 at 8:00 am  Comments (1)