A good lesson

In the last decade of the 18th century there were a number of women writing educational books for children.  The works of Catherine Macaulay, Maria Edgeworth, Hannah More and Mary Wollstonecraft are probably better known than Priscilla Wakefield. Priscilla’s first books were made up of many short stories designed to impart a good lesson through a moral tale. This didactic format sold but the market was probably well served by other authors.  Priscilla would need to develop her own voice and style to sustain the momentum of her writing career.

Published in: on July 26, 2009 at 8:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

Priscilla’s second book

After Leisure Hours Priscilla seems to be working on several books that were published in multi-volumes so it is difficult to be completely confident of the order. However volume one of Juvenile Anecdotes, Founded on Facts Collected for the Amusement of Children seems to have been published in 1795 and the second volume in 1798. Similar to Leisure Hours it consists of many short stories designed to impart a moral lesson to the child. There is less reliance in these volumes on historical material and the stories focus on the experience of a single child to provide a good lesson.

A copy of volume 1 of the 7th ed published in 1825 is available on the Internet  Juvenile Anecdotes

Published in: on July 26, 2009 at 10:05 am  Leave a Comment  

Catherine Gurney Wakefield

Catherine (1793-1873), (known as a young child as Kitty) was the first child of Edward and Susan and Priscilla’s first grandchild. She was born in London two years after her parents married and it would be three years before her brother Edward Gibbon was born followed by eight other siblings. When her mother’s health deteriorated Catherine and Edward Gibbon lived for long periods with Priscilla who took responsibility for their education.  The task of caring for small children put demands on Priscilla’s time, ‘my literary efforts have been greatly suspended. The Travellers are still unpublished. I have written a few Dialogues for a new work, and one story for another: my reading has likewise confined’.  A portrait of Catherine in 1800 was painted by a French woman refugee and is inserted in Irma O’Connor’s biography of Edward Gibbon. Catherine at seven has dark hair and eyes and a rather serious expression.

Published in: on July 12, 2009 at 4:12 am  Leave a Comment  


In Priscilla’s life the 1790s seems to be a defining decade.  It began with the surprise marriage of her son Edward and ended with the marriage of her daughter Isabella (1773-1841), known as Bell, to Joshua Head.  She became a grandmother and began her writing career. She produced four children’s books and her only book for an adult audience.  In the year 1796 the death of her younger sister Lucy seems to have affected her deeply. She wrote in her Journal ‘drew up a sketch of the manner in which I wish that property I call mine to be disposed of when I have done with it’.  In her mid 40s was this a time of personal crisis when she fully faced the financial inadequacies of Edward and decided to apply her energy and talents and make her way in the world on her own terms.

Published in: on July 6, 2009 at 5:03 am  Leave a Comment  

‘Mother, I am married’

According to family legend these are the words Priscilla’s son Edward used to announce his marriage in 1791. Edward was only seventeen and his bride Susannah Crush (1767-1816) was twenty-four. Susannah (who was known as Susan) was the daughter of a farmer Robert Crush from Felsted, Essex. Little appears to be known of Susan’s early life beyond her striking good looks and a passion for hunting. In the beginning of their marriage the young couple lived in London, later in Burnham Wyck and finally in Tottenham. Researchers seem to agree that Priscilla and Susan had a good relationship. Unfortunately, Susan’s story as a member of the Wakefield family has become one defined by multiple pregnancies, serious illness and a declining relationship with her husband.

Published in: on July 5, 2009 at 4:46 am  Leave a Comment  

Cornelia’s story

In ‘Cornelia and Campanian Lady’ we can see many elements evident in Priscilla’s later writing. For example, the use of women characters and often the woman on her own with small children. She emphasises the principle role of the mother in the education of her children and in guiding their intellectual and moral development. The beauty of the natural world is highlighted along with Priscilla’s habit of mildly scolding the trivial and fashionable pursuits of some young women. All these elements feature to some degree throughout Priscilla’s books.

Published in: on July 4, 2009 at 12:00 am  Comments (2)