Accessing Romantic-era ideologies about the exceptional wisdom of childhood in addition to scriptural (that is, New Testament) messages about the special nature of childhood, child characters in the sentimental religious novels of popular and prolific authors such as Hesba Stretton function as innocent and saintly correctives to the fallen adults around them, converting them from some of the weaknesses of adulthood – worldliness, greed, self-consciousness and rigidity – to a childish acceptance of God's love.
Rousseau argues that a truly healthy, moral, vigorous and dutiful man can be raised only in isolation from the corruption of society and under the firm guidance of an authoritarian tutor who will eventually lead him to enter civil society. Rousseau bases his influential treatise on the premise that differences between adult and child are innate and should be respected. To act otherwise is to encourage social disorder: ‘Nature wants children to be children before being men. If we want to pervert this order, we shall produce precious fruits which will be immature and insipid and will not be long in rotting . . . Childhood has its ways of seeing, thinking, and feeling which are proper to it
repeated argument that children ought not to be treated as junior adults – indeed, Rousseau vehemently disagrees with Locke's maxim that the child be reasoned with from an early age – must be read in conjunction with the overall purposes of his work: a diagnosis of modern society and psychology by way of an educational experiment designed to produce the ideal Man from the incomplete – even if organically so – child.
Edgeworth's moral tales demonstrate that lessons are best learned through experience rather than lecture. Rosamond remains inexperienced – inherently so – but her stories ably show how a child can be gradually socialised and educated in logical reasoning within a loving family (as opposed to Rousseau's child of nature, Émile, who is raised in isolation from society), and become, by her actions or through observation and conversation, more adult-like and worthy of respect.
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