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Guided by what is termed natural theology, as well as by the spirit of Romanticism, the natural world whether viewed by microscope, telescope, or the naked eye, helped reveal a world that god created to amaze and inspire faith. God’s wisdom could be apprehended by an immersion into and an appreciation for the natural world. But faith varied, as is clear in the contrast between two of the period’s most important female authors. The doctrinal Sarah Trimmer made certain that even tales as seemingly innocuous as the Story of the Robins, adhered to the highest principles of Anglicanism. It’s hardly surprising that even though she admired the prolific Priscilla Wakefield, she was compelled to take issue with her work. Wakefield, a Quaker and dissenter, whose works included Mental Improvement, An Introduction to Botany, and Instinct Displayed envisioned a spirituality that was too expansive for Trimmer. “The opinions of this ingenious, and useful author,” Trimmer writes, “differs so widely from the doctrines of that Church...that we cannot pass over in silence, what appears likely to us to convey, erroneous opinions to the minds of children.” This disagreement anticipates the struggle between science and religion that emerged in the 19th century.
Religious Tract Society (British) Village Science; Or, The Laws of Nature Explained. 1851. Loan courtesy of Dr. Alan Rauch.
The Religious Tract Society was founded in 1799 and is one of the oldest publishing houses and missionary societies in Great Britain. The Society played a crucial role in evangelical education of the poor, children, and women. Although the author of this work is unknown, many of their published materials were authored by women.
Evidence of the Divine
Catharine Maria Sedgwick (American, 1789-1867)
Arcturus, or, The Bright Star in Bootes: An Easy Guide to Science.1865. Witherby & Co. 23h16481. Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature, Special & Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida