An amanuensis is ‘a literary assistant, especially one who writes from dictation’. The Ladies Museum Monthly (see below) states that Priscilla’s final three books were written by an amanuensis.

The last three of Priscilla’s books were An Introduction to the Natural History and Classification of Insect, 1816, A Brief Memoir of the life of William Penn, 1816 and Traveller in Asia, 1817. However this may not reflect the actual time they were written.

But, reading Priscilla’s books chronologically it is clear that a change is taking place in the writing style.  The Traveller in Africa, 1814 possibly being a critical point in that transition. By the end of the book gone is the sparkle and freshness of The Juvenile Travellers and Excursions in North America.  One  telling aspect is the apparent careless abandonment of the character of Sancho who was separated from his friend Arthur in Africa and not referred to again. The critical question is who may have been the literary assistant and where was the line drawn between dictation and writing?  Was it daughter Bell or granddaughter Catherine or another family member?

Published in: on February 26, 2012 at 6:36 am  Comments (1)  

Moving on

In The Traveller in Africa, published in 1814, Priscilla moves the story of the Middleton family through time to age her characters. At the beginning of the book we are told that Mrs Middleton had died, Catherine was married and Louisa lived with her and that Edwin was studying law. Arthur had attended Cambridge for three years but the changes in his family, especially the death of his mother, had left him alone but also free to pursue his desire for travel.

Although the title suggests a single traveller the character of  Sancho is included in Arthur’s journey to Africa.The circumstances of  Sancho’s life had also changed with the death of his wife.

The progression in the life story of the Middleton family is interesting in itself and reinforces the idea that Priscilla may have been based some of the characters on the Wakefield grandchildren

Published in: on October 30, 2010 at 7:23 am  Leave a Comment  

The shark attack

In the final pages of Excursions in North America Arthur Middleton has one more encounter with a dangerous animal. Arthur, Henry and Sancho are reunited on a ship making its way to Canton. Arthur, who was an excellent swimmer, enjoyed plunging into the sea. But on one occasion he was approached by a voracious shark. Seeing his friend in danger Sancho jumped into the water and saved him.

Priscilla writes:

‘This fortunate deliverance strengthened the mutual regard of Arthur and Sancho, as each had received from the other the most signal benefit, and rendered their obligations equal ; though there was still a disparity in their circumstances, which Sancho never forgot, observing the most respectful conduct towards his liberator; who, on his side, endeavoured, by every condescending attention, to diminish the distinction between them.’ (p. 420)

Published in: on April 11, 2010 at 3:45 am  Leave a Comment  

Sancho & slavery

The development of the character of Sancho marks an important point in Priscilla’s writing about slavery. In previous books she had included the abolition message but with Sancho she creates a character that had experienced slavery and brings that story to the reader.

But for Priscilla this is just a half-way point in bringing the abolition message to the fore.  In the Traveller in Africa published in 1817 her travel hero Arthur Middleton (along with Sancho) is enslaved by Moors.  Slavery, in whatever form it took, was abhorrent to Priscilla.

For a detailed discussion of Priscilla Wakefield’s writing on slavery and the role of Sancho see:

Johanna M. Smith. ‘Slavery, Abolition, and the Nation in Priscilla Wakefield’s Tour Books for Children’ In Discourses of Slavery and Abolition: Britain and its Colonies, 1760-1838, Ed. Brycchan Carey, Markman Ellis and Sara Salih, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

Published in: on April 3, 2010 at 11:10 pm  Leave a Comment  


Sancho is a character that first appears in Excursions in North America. When Arthur and Henry Middleton visit a slave market they encounter Sancho a young man who is about to be sold. Arthur persuades Henry to purchase Sancho with a view to give him his freedom. Sancho is employed as their servant for the journey and later settles with his wife in Nantucket.

Sancho later makes a return in the book The Traveller in Africa when he accompanies Arthur on another journey.

Published in: on April 2, 2010 at 3:36 am  Leave a Comment