In the preface to Juvenile Travellers Priscilla states that it is desirable that children should be acquainted with other countries but travel books are not fit for children because they contain ‘passages of immortal tendency’.

At the end of the book both Laura and Theodore appear to have benefited from their travel experience. ‘Theodore and Laura were materially improved by what they had seen and suffered. From having been accustomed to the manners of different nations, they had learned to behave towards their fellow-creatures, however distinguished from themselves, with respect and humility ; nor could the most grotesque of appearances excite their ridicule or contempt.’

The characters of both children were so improved by their travel experiences that Mr and Mrs Seymour ‘passed their time in virtuous tranquillity’.


Published in: on November 29, 2009 at 8:30 pm  Leave a Comment  


The book Juvenile Travellers contains thirty letters written between the children characters. An earlier book An Introduction to Botany (1796) consisted of letters between two sisters but in Juvenile Travellers the letter writing reaches new heights. When the tour begins Theo, on one of his side trips with his father, writes descriptions to his sister Laura. But early in the book Priscilla introduces the character of Sophia Conyers who is a similar age to Laura and also travelling in Europe with her family. A friendship develops between Laura and Sophia who travels on to Petersberg with her family. The three children agree to write to each other and this is the basis of the letters in the book. Laura is the most prolific writing seventeen letters to Sophia. Theo writes to both girls but a lesser number.  In the following travel books Priscilla does not repeat this complexity of multiple letter writing characters nor do we hear the central voice of a female character.

In the travel books the inclusion of letters describing different places, along with the maps and itineraries added an interesting dimension to the books. Sometimes they  are interspersed in the text as in Juvenile Travellers in other books letters make up the entire book.

Published in: on November 29, 2009 at 7:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

Laura Seymour

Of all the girl characters that Priscilla creates in her writings Laura Seymour one of the characters in the Juvenile Travellers is one of the most significant in terms of gender roles. At the beginning of the family’s European tour Theodore and his father embark on a number of side trips together leaving Laura and her mother as the recipients of letters describing their activities. Part way through the book the family are caught up in a massive earthquake. Laura is buried under rubble and rescued while Theodore is swept away by a tsunami and believed to be drowned. At the end of the book Theodore is found and reunited with his family but, in the duration, Laura becomes her father’s companion and eagerly embraces the activities and information that he shares with her.

In all her travel books this central position of the role of the girl traveller is not repeated. Neither is the number of letters by a single female travel character. Laura Seymour is different and maybe it is no accident that this book was Priscilla’s most successful.

Did she see herself in Laura or was she modelled on one of her sisters? Possibly Lucy who died in 1796? Or was this character a reaction to the criticism of Reflections by setting Laura on a path of education and useful activities.

A detailed analysis of the gender roles in Juvenile Travellers can be found in:

Theresa A. Dougal, ‘Teaching Conduct or Telling a New Tale?: Priscilla Wakefield and The Juvenile Travellers’, In Eighteenth-Century Women: Studies in Their Lives, Work and Culture, 1 (2001): 299-319.

Published in: on November 29, 2009 at 8:59 am  Leave a Comment  


In all the books that Priscilla creates a family of characters, only two of those families include a husband, Mr Harcourt in Mental Improvement and Mr Seymour in the Juvenile Travellers. The family that appeared in the greatest number of books were the Middleton family consisting of Mrs Middleton, a widow, and her four children. Is the non-inclusion of Mr Middleton a reflection of her own marriage or is it a message that women can make the own way in the world? Interestingly, in the absence of a husband, Priscilla introduces a number of male tutors or family friends into the narrative

Published in: on November 15, 2009 at 1:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Mapping the Empire

To date I have not been able to locate any study of the folded maps that were included in children’s books. The following thesis however looks at geography primers and includes the works of Priscilla Wakefield. Although Priscilla’s works pre-date the Victorian era her books went through many editions.

Megan A. Norcia, “X” Marks the Spot Victorian Women Writers Map the Empire, University of Florida , 2004.

Part of the abstract reads ‘Combining critiques of women’s travel writing with the cross-disciplinary work of feminist geographers and spatial theorists, this dissertation researches how women who did not identify as travel writers engaged with the tropes of geography in their primer writing to claim spaces of possible power and knowledge, and to map the Empire as an arena in which their particular domestic skills could be usefully employed. Primers demonstrated that a ready domestic agent could facilitate the project of Empire by managing and regulating Others’ “improper” or overindulgent appetites. Imperial ideology was also reinforced in children’s daily play of board and table games, dissected maps and puzzles, and in parlor games and theatricals. Geography was staged as a “race” and as a theatrical panorama in which children were encouraged to “take part” in the colonization of other nations.’

An electronic copy of this thesis is available via the University of Florida Libraries catalog


Published in: on November 8, 2009 at 9:39 pm  Leave a Comment  


The book Juvenile Travellers was the first of Priscilla’s books to include a folded map inside the front cover. All her subsequent travel books included a map. Most of them were state they were engraved  specifically for Priscilla Wakefield. Some are single folds others are double. It seems a minor miracle that they have survived two centuries although great care must be taken in opening them. They are objects of interest in themselves.

It is also worth noting that Priscilla’s son included a folded map of Ireland in his statistical study of that country. Edward Gibbon included a folded map with his publication on New Zealand as did his son Edward Jerningham in an edition of his narrative of his New Zealand experiences Adventure in New Zealand.

Published in: on November 8, 2009 at 9:36 pm  Leave a Comment