Dec 222011

Today we offer you an article by Cheryl Bolen about the way in which young people of both sexes were educated during the Regency. She presents some interesting facts on a Regency education which authors might find of value in their research. Bolen makes clear that the education of ladies was not ignored, nor was education available only to the wealthy. However, as you read about education in Regency times, consider whether or not you would have enjoyed getting an education, Regency-style.

The Education of Young Men and Women in the Regency

By Cheryl Bolen

While it’s a well-known fact that genteel young boys in the Regency went to schools like Eton at an early age — usually around eight — and young ladies generally learned at home with a governess, this was not always the case.

Schools for young ladies were available, many of them in and around Bath. The famed diarist Fanny Burney (1752-1840), for example, went to a girls’ school for a year after her mother died. And many intellectuals undertook and supervised the education of their own children. None of these is more notable than James Mill’s tutelage of his son John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), who went on to become one of the great thinkers of the nineteenth century. The father, son of a shoemaker, was a noted philosopher, historian and economist, yet still found time to educate his son. Little John learned Greek at three, Latin and arithmetic at eight, logic at 12, and political economy at 13. As he grew older, he helped instruct his younger siblings, whose brilliance never matched that of their elder brother. John Stuart Mill never attended university but read for the bar and held down a position with the East India Company while he — like his father — wrote prolifically.

Another intellectual who supervised the education of his children was English poet laureate Robert Southey (1774-1843), who set up a school in his Lake District house for his own brood and his wife’s nieces and nephews. One of Southey’s sisters-in-law taught English and Latin there while his other sister-in-law (wife of poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge) taught French, Italian, writing, arithmetic, and needlework. A neighbor taught drawing and music. Southey himself, the Oxford educated son of a linen draper, taught Greek and Spanish. Oftentimes during the Regency young men would study privately with tutors while preparing for university. Jane Austen’s vicar father supplemented his income by instructing young gentlemen in the classics.

A misconception modern Americans have about Regency-era Englishmen is that only the aristocracy learned French. This is not so. All educated people of the Georgian and Regency period were fluent in French, which was the language used in diplomacy during the era.

Another misconception about English education at the time is that universities were for the wealthy. Not so. There was always room at Oxford and Cambridge for young men of intellect, many of whom received scholarships.

Reading letters penned during the Regency makes it abundantly obvious that nineteenth-century education surpassed today’s norm. Even the letters of Regency-era females who married at seventeen are full of references to the classics, poetry, and the effortless interspersion of French.

© 2006 – 2011 Cheryl Bolen
This article first appeared in the February, 2006, The Regency Reader.
Posted at The Beau Monde by permission of the author.

  6 Responses to “The Education of Young Men and Women in the Regency — by Cheryl Bolen”

  1. Were there any ‘muscial’ schools during the Regency period–something like Julliards?

    • No, nothing large. Masters took promising students, but not young ladies or young gentlemen, to train as professional musicians.

    • I don’t know about England, but the ospedali (orphanages) in Venice were renowned for the musical education and training they provided.

    • The Royal Academy of Music is the oldest musical academy in Britain (at least the oldest that grants degrees.) It was founded in 1822. There were a few musical academies in Europe during the Regency, but the concept of a music school as we know it really didn’t take hold until Victoria ascended the throne.

      You must remember that many composers were performers and the patronage system wasn’t really broken until Beethoven thumbed his nose at most of his patrons. Therefore musicians, even the very gifted were considered hired help by most patrons and owned property by others.

      Singers and instrumentalists who gained a certain amount of fame in England often took on private students. More often than not they taught these lessons at the students home, although some (rarely) had studios to which the students came for lessons. There was a certain amount of cache in having one’s daughter taught to sing or play by a famous musician.

      Boys, however, were rarely taught music. It was considered a feminine pursuit for the most part during the early part of the Regency.

      Those who chose to study music seriously often went abroad to study with famous European masters. To this day, many professional pianists trace their tutelage back very much as an ancestral line from their piano teacher all the way back to famous teachers like Liszt, Beethoven, Mozart, Salieri. My graduate school voice coach sang at the Met and studied with Nadia Boulanger and Francis Poulenc.

  2. I was curious to education for girls in nunneries in England during the Georgian and Regency periods? Would you know anything about that?

    • Nicole, I’ve never heard of one in England during our period. That doesn’t mean they weren’t there. Most of my research centers around the noble families, and 99 percent of them were solid Church of England. However, I do know some young aristocratic ladies were sent to French convents slightly before the Regency. Lady Bessbrough (sister of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire) was one.

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