'Hints & Speculation on Education': Tom Wedgwood's Materialist Pedagogy

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This article examines the connection between Tom Wedgwood’s pedagogical theories and his materialist theories of mind, which emphasized the importance of emotion in character formation. Wedgwood hoped to open an experimental school for infants with the goal of producing a generation of politically radical geniuses. This article situates Wedgwood’s ideas within the context of Romantic theories of cognition, debates about the mind-body relationship, and social reform, and points to a growing trend that connected bodily health and moral virtue. It argues for the significance of his largely ignored or undervalued contributions to Romantic thinking about the mind, body, and education.

“Hints & Speculation on Education”: Tom Wedgwood’s Materialist Pedagogy

Lisa Ann Robertson
University of South Dakota

Perhaps it may be possible to ascertain the truth of any hypothesis of the association of the Powers of Mind by experimenting with children.

– Tom Wedgwood (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40-28451)

1.        Tom Wedgwood is commonly relegated to a footnote in the more fascinating histories of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth. Aside from a few admiring late nineteenth and early twentieth-century accounts of his brief life by members of the extended family, there is but a smattering of scholarship that examines his role in the intellectual circles in which he moved. [1]  Beginning with David Erdman’s two-part series “Coleridge, Wordsworth, and the Wedgwood Fund,” published in 1956, critics generally examine Wedgwood’s relationship with Coleridge and Wordsworth. For example, Erdman credits Wedgwood with influencing the shape of The Prelude’s exploration of the relationship between childhood experiences and the development of genius, a topic that Wedgwood’s pedagogical plan takes up. Even if Wordsworth found Wedgwood’s ideas about education so repugnant that he struck off in the opposite direction, “Tom’s educational Plan had a stimulating effect on his thinking” (Erdman I: 434). Erdman also discusses Wedgwood’s role in convincing his brother Josiah to provide half of the 150₤ annuity that freed Coleridge from becoming a Unitarian minister and enabled him to pursue a career in poetry and metaphysics.

2.        With varying degrees of sympathy, scholars such as Francis Doherty (1987), Neil Vickers (1999, 2001), and John Beer (2001, 2010) look at Wedgwood’s influence on Coleridge’s “abstruse research” (“Dejection” 89). Each examines him as “a shaping force in Coleridge’s intellectual development” (Vickers 90), but not as a significant contributor to the critical conversations in which Wedgwood participated. To my knowledge, Francis À Court’s “Magnifique, mais ce n’est pas Daguerre: Some Notes on the Life of Tom Wedgwood” (2003) is the only contemporary account that presents Wedgwood’s life as a whole, viewing his relationship to Coleridge and Wordsworth as just one part of a bigger picture. He argues that to historians of the Wedgwoods—an interesting family in its own right—“Tom’s chief interest lies in his exceptional gifts as a scientist, and they tend to speculate on what he might have achieved, had he not been ill, rather than with his actual connection with Coleridge” (79). From my perspective, his relationship with these two poets is an important aspect of his history, but his contribution the debates about cognition and about educational practice, particularly the way in which he combined these two interests, is just as intriguing. Consequently, Tom Wedgwood’s role in the intellectual history of the early Romantic period deserves closer scrutiny.

3.        Wedgwood’s intellectual energies were divided between two issues that preoccupied many Romantic thinkers—the workings of the human mind and theories of education. “Education,” Alan Richardson claims, “was one of the most hotly contested and frequently discussed topics of [. . .] the Romantic age” (2). Yet, Beer characterizes Wedgwood’s participation in this discussion as a simple obsession with the latest craze. He argues that Wedgwood was under “the strong hold of the necessitarian doctrines of the day, and the rage for educational experiments” (Beer 26). This account of Wedgwood’s theoretical commitments, with its use of terms such as “the rage” and “fashionable,” implies that his interest in these subjects was uncritical, nothing more than a desire to fit in with his friends. Wedgwood, in this view, is not seen as a serious thinker in his own right, but as a hanger-on who spouted the modish opinions of the day, presumably because of his dearth of original thought. While not all critics dismiss Wedgwood, the general consensus can be summed up by two comments by Beer. The first is that Wedgwood needed to be “argued into a subtler view of the human mind, no longer taking for granted the fashionable doctrine of its explicability simply through the association of ideas” (Beer 27). In other words, Wedgwood is nothing more than a jejune associationist. Second, Beer claims that it is impossible to determine if Wedgwood had any original thought because he left no published corpus. He gives little credence to Wedgwood’s ideas, which are, admittedly, difficult to access in their fragmented and incomplete form. [2] 

4.        Wedgwood died in 1805 at the age of thirty-four, leaving behind little “in the way of published papers or actual records of discoveries, [that] accounts for or seems to correspond with the high esteem in which he was held by his contemporaries” (Tremayne and Boole 10). [3]  His thoughts, scribbled in a multitude of notebooks and on scraps of paper, are available primarily in archival form, though snippets of his education theory are available in various critical works. [4]  While James Mackintosh, the Scottish lawyer and Wedgwood’s brother-in-law, was ostensibly helping him prepare a manuscript of metaphysical speculations in 1802, it was not completed by the time Wedgwood died. According to various letters, Coleridge was also involved in this project, having committed to write “a preface on the history of metaphysical opinions” (Beer 29). [5]  After Wedgwood’s death, his brother Jos charged Mackintosh and Coleridge with publishing his brother’s legacy posthumously. He asked Mackintosh to complete the manuscript for publication and Coleridge to write Wedgwood’s biography. Both men, we know, were afflicted with the same character flaw—procrastination—and neither produced what he had promised. Thus, Wedgwood’s substantial but unorganized archive of notebooks was never synthesized into publishable form. “In the absence of this promised work,” Beer asserts, “it remains hard to say exactly what was distinctive about Tom Wedgwood’s ideas” (30). I disagree with this assessment of his work.

5.        Though Wedgwood’s work remains largely unpublished and somewhat fragmentary, it is distinctive because of the way in which he applied his cognitive theories to his educational programme. Where critics such as Beer or Vickers might characterize his views in terms of a “naïve commitment to the idea of man as machine” (Vickers 89), I claim that Wedgwood’s pedagogical plan is worthy of notice because it is based on his materialist theories of cognition. Wedgwood was not a mere neophyte who mindlessly parroted the “fashionable doctrines” of the day (Beer 27), but put thought into his metaphysical researches. He used a methodology similar to Coleridge’s (or perhaps Coleridge used a methodology similar to his) that involved self-scrutiny, sensory experiments such as those proposed by Erasmus Darwin in Zoonomia (1794), and observation of his nieces and nephews in their infancy and early childhood.

6.        Wedgwood participated in a vibrant intellectual community that included not only the poets, but men of science, such as Darwin, Thomas Beddoes, and Humphry Davy, all of whom were interested in embodied theories of cognition as well as theories of education. He corresponded with William Godwin and, through him, was in contact with Mary Wollstonecraft. He was also related by marriage to the Edgeworths, who are known for Practical Education (1798). Many of these figures, like Wedgwood, were interested in applying Hartley’s associationist ideas to education. Yet, Wedgwood’s theories go further in some respects because they are predicated on his own research and reading, which extend beyond Hartley’s Observations on Man (1749). “[R]aised in the laboratories of his father’s potteries in Etruria” (Beer 26), Wedgwood was a scientific-minded young man who turned his attention to the concerns that interested his mentors, peers, and, indeed, many thinkers—cognitive science and education. His carefully reasoned application of the principles of materialist cognition to the education of children as a way to usher in a new era of political justice is a significant contribution to intellectual history, even if, like Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon, it was never implemented.

7.        In this article, my goal is to explicate Tom Wedgwood’s cognitive theory and to situate it within the larger context of the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century mind-matter debates. In doing so, I draw on archival material as well as on the snippets of his work that have been published by scholars and by family members. I also interrogate the relationship between his theory of mind and his pedagogical programme, showing how the former led into and buttressed the latter. Wedgwood’s work is significant because it gathered together several strands of Romantic philosophical thought, from Hartley’s theory of association (divested of its theology) to Godwin’s doctrine of perfectibility, in an attempt to formulate a practical plan of education that would bring about a society of geniuses committed to the principles of liberty, equality, communitarian values, and social justice. It was, as Wedgwood wrote to Godwin, his “master stroke which should anticipate a century or two upon the large-paced progress of human improvement” (qtd. in Erdman I: 430).

8.        Though an associationist and a committed materialist, he did not unquestioningly adhere to Hartley’s theories, as Beer and Vickers suggest. In addition to his own insights, derived from observations of himself and others, he took into account the materialist theories of cognition advanced by Darwin and, to an extent, Davy. These theories posit an active mind in contrast to Hartley’s theory (and Locke’s before him) that advances an empirical account of the mind that is necessarily passive, “a lazy Lookeron on an external World” (Coleridge, CL II: 709). Similar to Darwin, he saw free will as circumscribed, yet Wedgwood’s pedagogical plan has some depth. Unlike those who adopted “the new rational approach to education, with its emphasis on method and factual knowledge” (Richardson 4), Wedgwood was primarily concerned with educating the mind by educating the body. He emphasized the importance of feeling, which for him was an embodied phenomenon, in educating infants into well-adjusted, emotionally stable adults (in contrast to Coleridge and himself).

9.        Wedgwood was interested in ameliorating the human condition, and with the receipt of “a considerable trust” inherited from his father, the famous potter, he thought that an experimental school would prove to be “the most profitable mode of beneficial expenditure” (qtd. in Erdman I: 430). Aside from the vast fortune, in this respect he was no different than Coleridge or Davy, both of whom had outlined educational plans designed to produce a particular type of enlightened being. Yet, though Coleridge was, for a time, considering opening a school as a means of supporting his family (a plan that was put to rest when the Wedgwoods convinced him to take the unencumbered annuity), neither he nor Davy developed their plans as thoroughly and in as much detail as Wedgwood. So, where many critics dismiss Wedgwood as unoriginal, significant only in respect to his connection to Coleridge and Wordsworth, I contend that his application of materialist cognitive theory to education offers insight into both Romantic period debates and brings to light new connections between Romantic cognitive science and theories of education.

The Mind-Matter Debates

10.        Tom Wedgwood’s interest in theories of cognition, I argue, was not merely the result of his intellectual environment, but also driven by his personal torment. He suffered from a mysterious illness for most of his life, a life characterized by “ceaseless struggle with bodily suffering” (Litchfield 91). His pain was “so severe that he would sometimes throw himself to the ground screaming” (Wedgwood and Wedgwood 101). Scrawled on a single folded slip of paper tucked into a notebook in the Barlaston archive is the following anguished note:

My mind is now eternally preying on itself—I am watching myself with anxious and unceasing vigilance. I have every reason in the world to believe this state of being is incompatible with health of body & vigour of understanding. (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40-28515/14)
On the other side of the sheet, he listed his physical complaints—“Headache / Rheumatic pains in the legs / Insomnia / Debility”—which he attributed to “Irresolution & consequent Anxiety” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40-28515/14). [6]  This brief, undated observation reveals the way in which Wedgwood conceived of the mind-body relationship and gives us a glimpse into his theory of cognition. For Wedgwood, mental well-being and bodily health were intimately and inextricably connected. He was convinced that his physical ailments were directly caused by his poor mental state, which he characterized as a “wavering & superficial examination of future urgencies & conducts” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40-28515/14), or to put it more simply, an unhealthy obsession with the future. Influenced by his father’s Lunar Society friends, who held varying versions of Hartley’s Doctrine of Association, Wedgwood saw his mental state not as a bad attitude, but as the result of bad habits.

11.        According to Associationism, ideas in the mind are formed by concurring bodily sensations. These sensations become associated with ideas, either linearly or in clusters, such that they are able to be recalled even in the absence of the original objects or stimuli. For example, if a person sees or hears a bird chirping in a tree the objects will associate together in the mind. Consequently, any time that person hears (or sees) a bird, she will automatically think of a tree. In this way, objects, experiences, and ideas connect in trains that are later recalled and remembered together. Despite its long history beginning with Aristotle, Association rose to prominence in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries through Locke’s fourth edition of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1700), Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature (1739), and Hartley’s Observations. [7]  While there is evidence that Wedgwood read each of these books, undoubtedly he was first introduced to the theory by his father’s forward-thinking friends. He grew up in a progressive environment under an educational plan designed by Darwin, an Associationist and founder of the Lunar Society (Meteyard 18). Primarily men of science and industry, members of this informal group met monthly to discuss their latest theories, ideas, and experiments. The theories debated by his father’s friends posited the mind as an embodied, material phenomenon rather than an attribute of an immaterial soul. In addition to Darwin, Joseph Priestley was particularly interested in theories of cognition.

12.        Priestley, a noted physicist, chemist, theologian, Dissenting clergyman, and most importantly a materialist, developed an interest in Hartley’s theory of cognition when he was a student at Davenport Academy. [8]  Where Locke’s account of association remains largely unconcerned with the role of the body in cognition, Hartley explicitly addresses the reciprocity between body and mind. Observations offers a detailed physiological account of Locke’s theory that proposes the Doctrine of Vibrations as a method of neural transduction, that is, the way in which the body converts sensory stimuli into neural signals that are communicated to the brain and nervous system. Priestley popularized Hartley’s work by publishing Hartley’s Theory of Mind (1775), an abridged edition that omitted the theory of vibrations and the entire second volume in which Hartley explained the theological implications of his theory. As Priestley recognized, and I agree, the most significant and radical part of Hartley’s theory is its materialist account of cognition that locates the mind in the body. Priestley used Hartley’s observation that physical substances, such as “Poisons, spirituous Liquors, Opiates, Fevers, Blows upon the Head &c. all plainly affect the Mind” (Hartley 9), to argue for materialist monism, both in the prefatory essays to Hartley’s work and in his own Disquisitions Relating to Matter and Spirit (1777).

13.        Wedgwood’s notebooks indicate that he was familiar with “Priestley’s Hartley, including the memorable injunction to Philosophers” and may also have read the first volume of Observations (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28451). He boasts in 1796 that “without having read Hartley [...] [i]t is a considerable confirmation of many of my observations formed from the closest scrutiny of my own changes of state, that they coincide very exactly with many of the most important ones of this author” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28451). Upon reading Hartley, it seems, Wedgwood found confirmation for the conclusions he had drawn based on self-observation of his emotional and physical states. This memo is followed by some notes on Hartley and a list of other philosophers (including Hume, Berkeley, and Locke), which give us some idea of his reading during this period. Yet, the fact that Wedgwood was familiar with materialist theories of cognition “without having read Hartley” indicates how widespread these ideas were amongst a certain segment of the English reading public. This was due in no small part to Priestley, who sparked the mind-matter debates that raged throughout the Romantic period. [9] 

14.        Traditionalists and conservatives reacted violently against Hartley’s and Priestley’s materialist theories, in part because the thinkers who held these views tended to be political radicals who supported the ideals of the French Revolution. More importantly, though, Hartley’s theory threatened neo-Platonic Christian doctrine by dissolving the mind-body dichotomy and abolishing free will by making association an entirely passive process. While many people found the idea of the passive mind repugnant, men such as Priestley and Darwin did not. Rather than turning away from materialism altogether, Darwin accepted the basic premise of Hartley’s and Priestley’s theories—that cognition is an embodied, physiological, process—and attempted to formulate a more active account of the mind than theirs provided.

15.        Prior to reading Hartley, Wedgwood had already read Zoonomia, which offers Darwin’s account of neural transduction. Trying to overcome the mental passivity inherent in the Doctrine of Vibrations, Darwin theorized that the body produces a substance that he called “the spirit of animation or sensorial power” that translates sensory stimuli into mental ideas (61). He uses these two terms interchangeably, and while “spirit of animation” seems to imply an immaterial principle, Darwin clearly identifies this mutable and highly active substance as a “secretion” of “the brain and spinal marrow” (57). [10]  That is, sensorial power is an organic substance produced by the body, making cognition a decidedly material phenomenon. As a medical practitioner, Darwin was not interested in the philosophical debate about materialism and dualism. Instead, like Wedgwood, he wanted to discover how the mind and body affected each other for practical purposes, so that he could better diagnose and treat disease. In fact, Zoonomia is a two-volume nosology that offers a systematic theory of how to treat bodily and mental disorders based on Darwin’s organic theory of mind. Significantly, in contrast to his predecessors’ theories, Darwin’s model is not based on mechanical principles. Rather, he posits a mind that obeys the laws of organic life. That is, the mind, in his view, is subject to the same laws as all other animate matter, but these laws are substantively different than Newton’s laws of physics, which govern the inanimate world.

16.        While critics are correct to trace Wedgwood’s ideas back to Hartley, in fact, Darwin had a greater influence. Wedgwood believed that the principles of the human mind could be explained by the Doctrine of Association, but he did not uncritically accept Hartley’s passive account, as Beer and Vickers assert. He acknowledged that “Association” was “one of the original principles of mechanical Philosophy,” but thought that it was “perhaps capable of resolution into other principles which are already presumed as indispensible” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28451). These “other principles” refer to Darwin’s laws of organic life. Wedgwood accepted that “the activity, the versatility of the mind” was “deducible from the principle laid down by Darwin as the origin of all muscular motion” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28451). Though Wedgwood occasionally referred to the mind as “yet a mere transcript” that is “formed by external circumstances alone, without ever [. . .] exercising any volition in adapting itself to them” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28476A), for the most part he seemed to follow Darwin's account. [11]  Darwin's theory of cognition is an interesting mix of Hartleyean Associationism and his own organic principles. While he saw the mind as active, he still considered free will to be circumscribed by external circumstances.

17.        It appears, then, that Wedgwood viewed cognition as an organic, active process, but not a process that is entirely unconstrained, as in dualist theories of the mind. He believed, in keeping with his materialist approach, that human beings are subject “to simple and universal laws” (Doherty 309), like any other natural object. His driving passion in the first several years of his adulthood was to answer the question: “From how few & how simple original principles can all the functions of the Mind be derived?”(V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28515/107). He wanted, like many of his peers, to discover the routines, procedures, and details of the mind’s physiological functioning, not least so that he could understand himself and his ailments better and, hopefully, to rectify his miserable physical and mental condition.

18.        The physical fact of Wedgwood’s suffering, along with his early exposure to radical theories of mind, motivated him to pursue research into the materialist theories of cognition that were being advanced by late eighteenth-century thinkers. If the cornerstone of this empirical theory is that a person’s character is a direct result of his or her habits, the good news for Wedgwood was that habit could be changed. Human beings, according to Hartley, “have a Power of suiting our Frame of Mind to our Circumstances, of correcting what is amiss, and improving what is right” (Hartley 84). This must have given Wedgwood hope, at least in the early years, that his miserable physical and mental condition could be reversed. In the undated note that lists the physical pains that he attributed to his mental state, Wedgwood resolves to stop worrying about the future. He vowed to “Give myself over the present moment—Oh grand, inestimable secret of human happiness!!” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40-28515/14). This exclamation indicates his mental plan of action. Physically, he resolved to “Still the rising tumult—Press down the throbbing heart” and to “Practise this with unshaken constancy” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40-28515/14). For Wedgwood understanding the mind-body connection and how to influence it was an immensely personal concern. It was also a concern that was deeply intertwined with emotional feeling. Association, according to Wedgwood, is not just a process whereby sensations are linked together to create trains of ideas. It is a process by which pleasurable or painful sensations are joined together to create ideas that are associated with particular feelings. Cognition, in Wedgwood’s view, is an emotionally charged, embodied process.

“So Exquisitely Sensitive Are We”

19.        One of Wedgwood’s most significant contributions to Romantic cognitive science was the elaboration of the relationship between emotion, cognition, and association. Wedgwood qualifies and extends materialist theories of cognition, building on those advanced by Hartley and Priestley, by considering the role of affective feeling in the process of association. In setting out their terminology, both Hartley and Priestley equate ideas with feeling. Hartley states that “Sensations are those Feelings of the Mind, which arise from the Impressions made by external Objects on the several parts of our Bodies. All our other internal Feelings may be called Ideas” (ii). Likewise, Priestley claims that ideas, no matter how abstract, are “mental feelings, occasioned by the impression of external objects” (xliv). For the most part, Hartley and Priestley use the term feeling to refer to “experiences such as touch as when we appreciate the shape or texture of an object,” rather than to affective experience (Damasio 3). [12]  Yet, because sensation is always accompanied by pleasure or pain, tactile feeling quickly leads to affective feeling.

20.        Thus, the term “feeling” can also imply “some variant of the experience of pain or pleasure as it occurs in emotions and related phenomena” (Damasio 3). As Priestley claims, a child does not know fear “till it has received some hurt; upon which the painful idea left in the mind by the remembrance of hurt becomes associated with the idea of the circumstance in which he received the hurt” (xxxi). At this point, the child develops a fear of the hurtful object. Yet, while feeling is central to both Hartley’s and Priestley’s theories, neither elaborates the implications of so closely aligning thought with emotion. The consequence of intertwining cognitive processes with sensation clearly signals the mind’s dependence on the body, but as sensation is always accompanied by pleasure or pain, which is transformed into love or fear, there is an affective dimension that neither Hartley nor Priestley fully explores. Wedgwood, on the other hand, tormented by his own unstable emotions, investigates the relationship between sensory and affective feeling as a fundamental aspect of mentation.

21.        When Wedgwood claims that “all thinking is a matter of feeling” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28478), he means affective, or emotionally-charged, feeling. Seeing an intimate connection between sensory and affective feeling, Wedgwood conflates the two senses of the word. He argues that when we receive a physical sensation from an object in the world, it is always accompanied by an affective experience before it is associated with an idea that correlates to the object of sensation. He asks, “May not the origin of the faculty of Association be illustrated with greater success by [. . .] fixing our attention upon simple feeling?” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28478). Accordingly, Wedgwood argues that affective experience drives the process of association. In his view, “muscular action is associated with Feeling & not with Idea” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28451). In other words, objects in the world become associated more powerfully with a person’s emotional experience of them than with the sensory, or physical, experience of them. Thus, associated ideas do not call up other ideas, but rather emotional states. [13]  The consequence of this assertion is that if an object or idea associates under pleasant circumstances, subsequent experiences of it will be positive. If it associates under negative conditions, it will later be experienced negatively. For example, Wedgwood noted that any time he heard bells tolling during the day he automatically felt dejected. He traced this response back to an experience in Germany. He realized that when he heard any bells chime in daytime “there was a striking resemblance between the tone & that of the Hamburg bell with which I had several unpleasant association & amongst the rest, a sensation of melancholy” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28452). Because his original experience of hearing bells during the day was associated with unpleasant feelings, any repetition of this stimulus triggers an analogous emotional response.

22.        Often this associative process happens on an unconscious level. For example, Wedgwood observed that when he “views a beautiful object in nature without Emotion,” the “next moment on reviewing it, I feel Emotion” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28451). Or, as with the Hamburg bells, when he heard bells chime during the day he involuntarily fell into a state of dejection even though he did not consciously remember the initial event that established this mood-stimulus relationship. As with the twentieth-century theory of the mood-state dependency effect, the emotional state of the perceiver “may become associated with otherwise neutral” sensory data at the time that it is neurophysiologically encoded (Lewis and Critchley 432). That is, sensory data that have no particular affective quality attached to them can become linked to an emotional state through association. For whatever reason, the chiming bells in Hamburg were painful to Wedgwood because of some other unknown, negative circumstance related to them. This neutral stimulus had been associated with an unpleasant emotion, and, henceforth Wedgwood was prey to despondency and despair whenever he was exposed to similar stimuli. The implication of this observation is that, according to Wedgwood, mood is induced by memory, often unconsciously: “feeling often remains without any idea to what it owes its birth” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28515). Feeling, then, rather than ideas, drives habit and character formation. More important than the stimuli to which human beings are exposed is their affective response to them.

23.        Another implication of Wedgwood’s hypothesis is that emotion is embodied. “All our feelings,” he claimed, are “different modifications of central nerves” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28515/47). In other words, when people experience emotions, there is movement in the central and peripheral nervous systems. Wedgwood did not specify if the movement is caused by vibrations, as in Hartley’s theory, or sensorial power, as in Darwin’s. Though, similar to Davy’s speculation in early notebooks, Wedgwood thought neural transduction might be a phenomenon corresponding to “electric activity” or some “analogous activity of our nerve, assuming that Light, Heat, Electricity is the same matter differently elicited” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28478). The inference is clear that affective feeling, like sensory feeling, is physiological.

24.        The idea that emotion is embodied is important for Wedgwood because it allowed him to speculate that infants are not born with any particular temperament, but that it develops over time in response to their environment. [14]  Thus, education and upbringing could drastically influence a child’s character as a consequence of Association. In essence, Wedgwood took Locke’s theory of tabula rasa and extended it beyond the acquisition of ideas and knowledge and beyond even the development of virtue and vice as in Hartley’s theory, claiming that feeling is also involved in the process of association.

25.        Wedgwood came to his conclusions, in part, by reading Zoonomia, in which Darwin theorizes that infants acquire the capacity for emotion through muscular action. This could happen mimetically by imitating the facial expressions of others. By smiling, frowning, scowling, and so forth, they stimulate the emotional feelings associated with each of these muscular actions. [15]  It could also occur as by-products of other kinds of actions. For example, Darwin notes that infants experience pleasure when breastfeeding. Since sucking naturally causes the corners of the infant’s mouth to pull upward into a smile, later in life people smile when they feel happy as a result of muscular association and habit. Wedgwood noted that “Darwin’s hypothesis of our ideas of sensations being repetitions of original impressions [...] appears to me capable of substantial proof” and was “greatly confirmed by the general analogy of the gradual acquirement of perfection of all our functions, from which it would be strange to exclude our feelings” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28452). Simply put, Wedgwood observed that muscular and sensory acuity develops as infants grow and mature. He reasoned by analogy that this same process must apply to emotions as well.

26.        Wedgwood considered it “[i]nstructive to consider with what labour & unceasing effort [...] muscular trains are formed in infancy” because it provided evidence that people are not born with fully formed cognitive faculties, but that they develop over time (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28451). The observations that “Trains of Ideas are, evidently, from the imbecility of children, formed with the same expense of time and exertion” validated the hypothesis that cognition is a material phenomenon, not the function of a fully formed, immaterial soul (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28451). Wedgwood took early childhood developmental processes as proof that the mind and body are formed together, and so, together shape temperament. He applied this theory of association to knowledge acquisition and to emotion. While an excess of negative emotion in childhood could debilitate a person for life, these emotional experiences are also related to bodily comfort or discomfort as well.

27.        For Wedgwood, “Our own body is the centre & measure of all our acquirements” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28515/515). Not only does it provide the basis for “ideas of distance” and magnitude, but it is the locus of all our affective experience (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28515/515). That is, we understand spatial concepts, generally considered to be abstract ideas, through our senses. [16]  At the same time, the body is also the foundation for character, emotional temperament, and all our future happiness or misery. “The Happiness of Man,” he claimed, “is comprised entirely in Sensation & Emotion; Imagination & Action are only deemed important from being observed immediately to antecede pleasurable & painful Sensation & Emotion” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28457). In keeping with the intellectual atmosphere of his politically radical mentors, Wedgwood saw “the great end of Existence [as] Individual happiness,” which he associated with “Self regulation” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28480). Self-regulation refers to a balanced state of mind and of body that prevents a person from falling too far into dejection, vacillating between emotional extremes, and suffering unduly from physical complaints.

28.        “[F]rom repeated experiments,” he discovered that “the same events which will make you miserable by anticipation [. . .] will hardly disturb your equanimity for a moment in better health” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28480). He recognized that one’s state of mind is greatly affected by one’s phenomenological experience of the world, and he believed that this could be controlled through more careful attention to the process of association, particularly in children. Therefore, to discover how to train the mind (imagination) and the body (action) in order to increase happiness and decrease misery became his primary concern. He tried to record the “Incidents, Thoughts, Feeling, &c of my early life” so that he could discover and “illustrate the composition of Feeling, its growth & maturation” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28490). He hoped “to display in my own history some of the errors & perhaps some of the advantages of my education—to unravel the web of my ideas & sensations—to trace my present habits to their origins” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28490). He did not, however, get far. His memoirs consist of a page and half of events that occurred when he was between five and seven years old. Like Wordsworth, who was not satisfied enough with The Prelude to publish it during his lifetime, Wedgwood found the task daunting, noting “the difficulty [...] in investigating the origin of different feelings” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28478). He notes:

One is obliged to decompound one’s present feelings into their component sensations and take for granted that the components are much the same as they were in our earliest infancy—But it is impossible to make just allowance for the growth to perfection of each ingredient of sensation in the long interval between infancy & manhood—still more impossible to recollect their first development and earliest natures. (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28478)
A better plan of action, then, was to try “to ascertain the truth of any hypothesis of the association of the Powers of Mind by experimenting with children” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28451). Thus, Wedgwood’s theory was also formed by observing his nieces and nephews, as he turned his attention to formulating a pedagogical theory that took into account his materialist theories of cognition.

Wedgwood’s Materialist Pedagogy

29.        Wedgwood’s plans for an experimental school, with its emphasis on the importance of affective feeling in association, are predicated on his materialist theory of cognition. The most complete outline of his plan appears in a letter to William Godwin dated 1797, printed in the first part of Erdman’s article. His theory of education, on which his plan for the school was based, however, exists mostly in unpublished notebooks, though some of his insights have been summarized by Boole in an essay that precedes Tremayne’s selection of excerpts from Wedgwood’s notebooks. The majority of his notes on education and pedagogy are interspersed with his notes on cognition and on association, more generally. The proximity of the notes on cognition to the “Hints & speculation on Education” throughout the archival notebooks reveals how intertwined these two projects were (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28451). Wedgwood’s goal was to understand human cognition from a materialist perspective and apply those insights to rearing and educating children.

30.        His approach relies on Hartley’s assumption that it was possible for “the Affections and Passions” to “be analysed into their simple compounding parts, by reversing the Steps of the Associations which concur to form them” (81). Hartley claims that by analyzing the steps of association “we may learn how to cherish and improve the good” characteristics and qualities and “check and root out such as are mischievous and immoral;” we may also learn “how to suit our Manner of Life, in some tolerable Measure, to our intellectual and religious Wants” (81). Wedgwood believed he had arrived at certain insights through his reading and observations that would allow him formulate a plan that would produce certain types of adults. Wedgwood, “devoid of any religious sense” (Doherty 305), adapted Hartley’s theory to a secular context. While he did not believe that right association would lead people to God, or theopathy in Hartley’s theory, he did think it dictated behaviour, health, and affect.

31.        From Wedgwood’s perspective the “great business of human education lies in correcting, often in the most arbitrary manner, pleasurable and painful feelings with a multitudinous variety of objects & events, which, as yet wholly indifferent to him [the child] are afterwards to become the principle means & instruments of all his pleasures & pain” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28482). The problem for Wedgwood was the “arbitrary manner” in which “a multitudinous variety of objects & events,” that are in and of themselves neutral, become associated with different states of feeling. These associations determine the whole course of a person’s life, but particularly his or her emotional and physical dispositions. Wedgwood’s aim was to direct early childhood experiences “with the view of creating agreeable feeling” in children so that that they would mature into healthy, well-adjusted adults (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28482).

32.        He began his investigation into pedagogy with the assumption that “Before entering upon any of the principles of a regular plan of education, we should decide upon the kind of being we wish to produce” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28463). In order to formulate a pedagogical plan, educators first need to determine not what they want their pupils to learn, but how they want them to be when they reach adulthood. The type of beings that Wedgwood wished to produce were benevolent geniuses, who would be capable of bringing to fruition the sort of just and equitable society described in various philosophical treatises such as Godwin’s Political Justice (1793). Referring to Godwin and other intellectuals whom he admired, he noted that “there are a dozen men in this kingdom whom their own exertions, a good education, or fortunate circumstances, have raised to such a pitch of moral excellence as to be enabled to resist the ruinous temptations of wealth, power, & sensual pleasure” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28515/28). This temperament, in his opinion, was a crucial part of genius. Wedgwood’s goal was to use the principles of materialist cognitive science in order to consistently provide “a good education” that would produce human beings of this kind.

33.        Wedgwood’s experimental educational programme, which was designed to form emotionally stable geniuses, had two primary objects:

(I) To produce a being possessing the largest possible means of affecting his own happiness
(II) the happiness of others. (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28486)
These two attributes—the ability to make oneself happy and the desire to make others happy—are, in this view, the foundation of a citizenry capable of and motivated to enact an equitable society. For this reason, “Emotion is the chief subject of Education,” for, emotionally healthy adults are “best adapted to produce individual happiness; & to call forth an activity which shall have the widest influence upon the happiness of others” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28486). Because, for Wedgwood, emotion is an embodied phenomenon that is closely tied to cognition and drives association,
Education, consists in
1 Sensation
2 Emotion
3 Idea, thought, notion, &c
4 Muscular motion, or activity. (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28486)
By attending to these four interrelated physiological phenomena, Wedgwood hoped to educate infants and children into adults who would be able
to subdue those useless & harassing emotions of sympathy with the unretrievably [sic] unfortunate whom he is unable to relieve—to extract the agreeable from every situation & pay little attention to its opposite—in cases of danger, extreme distress, instead of sinking under fear or unavailing grief, to summon the energies of his mind, preserve tranquillity & equilibrium that shall enable him to act so as to afford the greatest possible relief—to keep their eyes invariably fixed on the great standard of human conduct, the production of Happiness. (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28515/28)

34.        Wedgwood valued the qualities noted in this passage, most likely because he, in his estimation, lacked them himself. Thus, the characteristics that he hoped to cultivate in his pupils were freedom from “useless & harassing emotions,” a positive outlook that refuses to focus on the negative in “every situation,” and “tranquillity and equilibrium” in all circumstances. If these attributes could be cultivated in childhood not only would education produce emotionally stable adults, but given the link between emotion and the body, they would also be physically healthy, free of the debilitating pain and chronic ill-health from which he suffered. In this way, they would be able to make themselves and others happy, thus creating a contented, and therefore just, society.

35.        In order to achieve this goal, Wedgwood emphasized the physical and emotional wellbeing of his hypothetical pupils, whom he envisioned as infants. In order to attend to “Sensation,” his first proposition was to create an environment that would “simplify & render intense the first affections of Sense & [. . .] excite those affections under every possible favorable circumstance of pleasure” (qtd. in Erdman I: 431). Simplification, intensity, and pleasure, in his view, are the three necessary ingredients for controlling and manipulating a baby’s bodily experience. Simplicity—or introducing objects, sounds, scents, and so forth incrementally rather than all at once—would reduce the chaos of sensory perception that he surmised infants, with their undeveloped senses, must experience when thrust into an uncontrolled environment of sensory stimuli. This manner of “administering impressions” would solve the problems caused by having “their attention [. . .] vaguely solicited by a thousand objects at once” (qtd. in Erdman I: 431). [18]  He conjectured that “if supplied too rapidly with impression,” the infant would become overwhelmed, but “if [impressions are supplied] too slowly, stupidity & limited conception” would result (qtd. in Erdman I: 431). Sensory stimuli must be controlled so that strong connections would be formed between external objects and the ideas that result from association. Furthermore, the infants’ superintendents must be careful to ensure that all stimuli associate under the most pleasurable conditions possible. Otherwise, negative associations would be made, thus making the child susceptible to bad temper and poor health.

36.        Wedgwood noted that educators and parents readily “instruct the eye & ear, in teaching language;” however, “Sight & Touch are the two important Senses” and should be given equal attention (qtd. in Erdman I: 431). A child’s body should be educated with as much care as its mind. Because sight and touch are so closely interrelated, “they must be taught together” (qtd. in Erdman I: 431). To educate the senses, Wedgwood proposed a “nursery” with “plain grey walls with one or two vivid objects for sight & touch” (qtd. in Erdman I: 431). He suggested that “hard bodies be hung about them so as to continually irritate their palms as they happen to come in contact” in order to encourage digital “manipulation” (qtd. in Erdman I: 431). Slowly introducing infants to the external world after their long confinement in the womb would reduce the shock of birth trauma, which is compounded, according to Wedgwood, by the riotous assault of sensation on the infant’s tabula rasa body. Properly attending to the child’s bodily needs would, in Wedgwood’s theory of embodied cognition, necessarily improve its mind.

37.        Careful attention to the child’s surroundings was, as Richardson observes, common to most associationist theories of education. While Wedgwood’s ideas resemble those of other rationalist educators, there are some significant differences. Lunar Society member Richard Lovell Edgeworth and his daughter Maria Edgeworth, co-authors of Practical Education, proposed a “sanitized, carefully superintended version of the upper-class home, with every detail arranged” (Richardson 54). In contrast to Wedgwood’s hypothetical seminary, they “prefer[red] ‘domestic’ education to boarding school” (55). The Edgeworths also recommended a series of “practical experiments that children can perform,” while discouraging certain types of literature that could potentially disorder their imagination (53). Along similar lines, Beddoes designed a set of “rational toys” to inculcate mathematical principles (Erdman II: 491). Wedgwood, however, was less concerned with lessons and reading material than he was with ensuring that the bodily needs of children would be met. He wanted to make sure that they would not be subjected to distressing situations and that they would be diverted from painful emotional states. Where the Edgeworths’ pupil would be “carefully inculcated [with] habits of rational thought” (Richardson 57), Wedgwood’s pupil was to be carefully cultivated to be physically and emotionally robust.

38.         In addition to providing suggestions for controlling and manipulating an infant’s initial sensory data, Wedgwood also considered “how to connect high degrees of pleasure with these impressions” (qtd. in Erdman I: 432). The cultivation of pleasure and avoidance of pain is closely connected to the fourth point on Wedgwood’s list, that is, “Muscular motion, or activity” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28486). Bodily discomfort, in his theory, leads directly to poor health and low spirits. If a child is forced to “remain torpid & inert for some time, the health is deranged” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28452). Furthermore, “Pains of the body, whether from hunger, sickness or external injury, when long continued, induce a depression of spirits, or painful Emotion which endures a considerable time after the painful Sensation has ceased” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28457). “Stretching,” on the other hand, “augments pleasure” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28457). Emotion originates in the pleasurable or painful states of the infant body. “Consider[ing] the early states of being in infancy,” Wedgwood conjectured that breastfeeding, or the satiation of hunger, is a “most agreeable state” in which the baby is “using muscular exertion” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28457). During this activity of nursing, the child’s “body is thrown into action, kicks & stretching” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28457). Thus, movement is pleasurable and restraint painful.

39.        As pleasure and pain are always accompanied by the basic emotions of fear and love in Wedgwood’s materialist theory of cognition, these bodily states lead to affective states. If a child suffers from excessive bodily pain by being forcibly restrained, not having its basic needs met, or from being neglected when in distress, the long-term consequences can lead not only debility and depression, but even to wickedness or malevolence. Wedgwood theorized that the unsatisfied desire to have pain relieved leads,

Perhaps in this kind of progress [to]
Revenge. (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28457)
Unrelieved pain, in Wedgwood’s conception of affective stages, causes individuals to pass through the abovementioned phases until eventually they want to seek revenge for the hurt caused them. Continued exposure to uncomfortable situations results in bad tempered adults and even violence. After being freed from restraint, for example, a child moves “with more violence than he would otherwise do & then a habit of violent Muscular Exertion when under provocation, is daily strengthened” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28457), leading a child to respond with violence when provoked. The response to pain in childhood becomes a habit that is not only carried into adulthood, but forms the basis of a person’s emotional character. “Hence, children, from rudely pushing each other, come to repeat the pushes, or in other words, to beat each other;” they develop the “mechanical” habit of responding with violence even when there is no pain present, “as in the case of a choleric man” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28457). The “muscular energy” that accumulates in painful circumstances “must expend itself on something;” hence, “Choleric men stamp the ground, tear their hair, grind their teeth, break furniture” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28457). [19]  Thus, children should not be “left to fight out their own battles [or] settle their own disputes” for “[w]hat can result from such a method but tyranny & injustice on the one hand & dejection and cunning on the other” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28467). The implications of this observation are that an unjust society is made up of violent and “cunning” individuals.

40.        Wedgwood urged “every parent [to] conceive of himself as one of the Trustees of a benevolent power that wishes the happiness of Mankind, and of his children as the instruments of its production” (qtd. in Tremayne and Boole 82). To create a society founded on equality and justice, parents and educators must rear children who literally embody these principles. That is, they should not merely claim to value democratic ideals such as liberty and equality but must enact them with their whole beings, which includes both the actions they take and their emotional natures. In addition to disallowing children to hit each other, Wedgwood argued that “no violence should be done to the feelings of the child” (qtd. in Tremayne and Boole 82). Teasing children, abruptly disrupting their pleasure, startling them, or using insensitive methods to get them to comply with parents’ wishes creates youngsters who are timid and easily frightened. Washing and dressing them against their wills while “they supplicate for liberty and a cessation to their pain” (qtd. in Tremayne and Boole 78) or “feigning to set out” while pretending not to care if the child follows as a way to get them to leave a place desensitizes them to the sufferings of others (79). If a parent or caregiver ignores children’s pleas to stop hurting them, they learn to disregard others’ pain. Likewise, feigning indifference teaches them indifference. Wedgwood described these standard parenting tactics as “a picture of brutal insensibility” that is “set before children who are afterwards expected to sympathise in the distresses and attend to the complaints of all about them!” (qtd. in Tremayne and Boole 78). “Children,” he exhorted, “must be kept happy” if they are to grow up into benevolent adults (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28525/116).

41.        Wedgwood also advised not allowing children to have toys of their own. Instead, with “regard to Property, it would be advisable that children should have everything perfectly in common” to abolish the notion of private property (qtd. in Tremayne and Boole 89), which he saw as the root of many social ills. “The moral error of these notions is fully exposed,” he claimed, “by our attempt to answer a child’s questioning of ‘What does mine mean?’” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28467). There is “[n]o reply [that] can be made that does not directly inculcate selfishness & injustice” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28467). Personal possessive pronouns, in Wedgwood’s view, are necessarily predicated on self-interest and promote self-seeking and personal gain at the expense of others because conceptually they refer to private ownership. He advocated the “extirpation” of these words from children’s vocabulary—“those mischievous particles, My, Mine, His, Yours, Hers, must never be pronounced in their hearing” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28467). For “children [who] have already imbibed the corrupt notion of property to the evident risk of injuring their temper,” he recommended “mak[ing] common presents to the whole nursery” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28515/34). To further abolish the notion of individual ownership and to reinforce the notion of shared property, children “shou’d have all articles of dress in common that their different sizes will admit of” and “[a]ll Playthings” should “be common—the same of chairs, beds, &c &c” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28467). The goal, again, was to mould children to grow into adults who espouse ideals of social equity.

42.        Wedgwood drew his conclusions, in part, from his observations of his nieces and nephews. In a plain grey notebook with the words “Baby Wedgwood [...] her faults & the associated habits” written lightly in pencil across the front, Wedgwood makes the following observations:

B—subject to occasional dejection of spirits & frequent fits of peevishness—These often arise from want of food—And often from very slight provocations—the origin of her extreme irritability must be searched for in the method of her education. [...] When B. is vexed by any trivial provocation, & dejection of spirits strongly marked in her countenance is associated with the events, wholly disproportionate to the real nature. (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28467) [20] 
These remarks synthesize Wedgwood’s thoughts about the relationship between the body, pleasure and pain, emotions, and pedagogy. Characterizing his niece’s temperament as peevish, irritable, and prone to “dejection,” he theorized that “One part of the mischief done to B’s temper arises from the strong notions infused into her of exclusive property” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28467), which he saw as adding to her misery by increasing her desire for things belonging to her brother and by causing anxiety when he played with her toys. Equally notable, however, he observed that her distemper often arose from physical causes, such as “want of food.” Her tendency to overreact to “any trivial provocation” and “her feebleness of spirits & irritability of temper” are “[o]wing partly to a weak frame, & partly to injurious treatments” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28467). Though Wedgwood did not consider his brother and sister-in-law abusive parents, he believed that even mild physical mistreatment, neglect of her basic needs, and the inculcation of incorrect principles were responsible for B’s disordered personality.

43.        The typical childrearing strategies of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, which failed to carefully heed the needs of the child’s body, were to blame for sickly, distempered children. These practices were implicitly based on the common belief that the soul and the mind are immaterial principles that inhabit, but exist separately from, the material body. If the mind and body are separate entities, then the body needs little attention because it has little bearing on a child’s temperament. Or, conversely, this view of the mind-body relationship could lead to a theory in which the body must be mortified so that children do not become tempted by sensual pleasures or the enjoyments of the flesh. With the emergence of materialist theories of mind that privileged the body’s role in cognition, thinkers such as Wedgwood looked more closely at how children were treated physically, mentally, and emotionally.

44.        In addition to outlining the flaws in B’s “method of education” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28467), Wedgwood also offered suggestions for rectifying the flaws in his niece’s character, which he also applied more generally to his theory of education. To correct B’s tendency towards temper tantrums, “[o]ne mode of cure, derived from medical analogy seems to promise, at least alleviation consisting in shortening & mitigating the fit[s]” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28467). He proposed an “experiment” for increasing B’s capacity to “bear [...] sudden privations with little discomposure” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28467). In “this experiment it wou’d be worth while to prepare some new & diverting toys—the more striking the better” to divert her from her “suffering” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28467). To cure her of the invitiating effects of “exclusive property,” Wedgwood suggested that “Playthings shou’d be given which require assistance from another & being left alone with her brother, she wou’d naturally be led to associate him with her amusements [...] If left much together, they wou’d soon become necessary to each other” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28467). The purpose of these suggestions and experiments was to train B to become more capable of bearing hardship cheerfully, to increase her ability to make herself happy, and to encourage a sense of cooperation and fellowship with her siblings. These qualities would allow her to mature into a healthy and benevolent adult.

45.        Wedgwood’s propositions for educating children at home or in an institutional setting were similar. He recommended attention to children’s bodily and emotional wellbeing by attending to diet, physical examinations, and exercise so as to encourage children to develop characteristics and qualities that allow them to succeed in life. The qualities that would produce benevolent beings of genius included:

1. Sound health, body robust & active
2. Even, firm spirits
3. Presence of mind
4. Fortitude
5. Good humour—inirritable [sic] temper
6. A clear & constant view of his duties to himself & to his species
7. A perfect assurance—inaccessibility to all diffidence, bashfulness, confusion
8. Strong understanding, quickness of parts &c.
9. Conciliating manners
10. Correct taste in Arts, Music, &c. (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28463)
This list gives insight into the ideal subject that Wedgwood hoped to produce through the process of education. This being would hypostatize the social ideals of the political radicals with whom he consorted and be free of the physical and emotional debilities from which Wedgwood, himself, suffered.


46.        Wedgwood’s pedagogical goal was to “form by education” individuals who would not ignore the social ills found in “our jails, hospitals, [...] our Bridewalls [sic] and Poor Houses,” but would “hunt out and expose that misery in its gloomiest recesses and combat those fatal prejudices which have chiefly occasioned it by splitting society into subordinate classes” (qtd. in Tremayne and Boole 70). In order to create these concerned and motivated future citizens, he argued that educators should determine which qualities they wished to cultivate in their pupils then implement a plan of education based on the principles of materialist cognitive science, which privileged the body by making it necessary to cognition. He held that it is “important [. . .] in Education [. . .] [t]o implant as early as possible habits of real industry and serious occupation, such as will exercise the body and [. . .] furnish that happiness of pleasure for which alone we live” (qtd. in Tremayne and Boole 69). [21]  Thus, he believed that attending to the body was the way to properly form the mind.

47.        Wedgwood’s theory is wonderfully idealistic, but aspects of it are extreme. For example, in the interest of controlling early association he cautioned that “the child must never go out of doors or leave his own apartment,” as the “explication of Nature would be attended to with great difficulty” (qtd. in Erdman I: 431). This was an idea that Wordsworth and Coleridge, with their idealized concept of the child of nature, found repugnant, as Erdman notes. Furthermore, it is highly impracticable. Elsewhere, Wedgwood suggested that in order to instil fortitude and tranquillity in the face of danger

the parent might invite an attack of a fierce bull, stand with perfect composure till the animal be within two or three paces of him, then suddenly expand an umbrella, hold his hat before his face, or somehow contrive to amuse or terrify the foe; whilst his child, on the other side of the stile, shall witness his intrepidity and address, and by degrees, practise the same feat himself in company with his parent. Or the child might begin his triumph with a raging turkey-cock. (qtd. in Tremayne and Boole 85)
More realistically perhaps, but radical for his day, was his suggestion that “Hospitals, prisons, madhouses should be visited, but in so cautious a manner that the mind might experience no shock, but be gradually familiarised with their horrors” (qtd. in Tremayne and Boole 85). Though Wedgwood spent time with his nieces and nephews, clearly he had no children of his own or he may not have made such far-fetched suggestions. Nonetheless, his goal was to inculcate children with steady emotional character, physical health, and moral fortitude—characteristics that could not be taught, but must be embodied.

48.        “Moral sensibility [could be] nicely cultivated during education,” but only because “Feeling connects copiously with due notions of things, [and] creates a species of intuition in conduct” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28470). Thus, Wedgwood proposed an educational programme that educated children’s emotions by focusing on their bodies. In keeping with his mentors and his contemporaries, Wedgwood theorised that cognition is an embodied phenomenon. Like the Edgeworths, Beddoes, and other rationalist educators he drew upon the principles of association as he formulated his plan. Unlike these thinkers, however, he emphasized the importance of feeling, not just in association but also in education. Writing from his own experience of mental, physical, and emotional torment, Wedgwood strove to formulate a plan that would not only free individuals from depression and ill health, but would also create citizens capable of enacting the ideal society of which he and his radical associates dreamed. Had he been healthier or lived longer perhaps his experimental school would have made it beyond the hypothetical stage; or perhaps he would have been able to have children of his own on which to experiment. As it stands, his legacy remains in primarily archival form, but gives us rich insight into the interconnections of the mind-matter debates, theories of pleasure and pain, and pedagogy in the early Romantic period.

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank The Wedgwood Museum for granting me access to Tom Wedgwood’s archive and for permission to use these materials in my research. I would also like to thank Louise Harrington, Clare Mulcahy, and Brianna Wells for reading and providing feedback on early drafts of this essay.

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Priestley, Joseph. Hartley’s Theory of the Human Mind on the Principle of the Association of Ideas, with Essays Relating to the Subject of It. London: J. Johnson, 1775. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Gale Group. Web. 3 June 2012.

Richardson, Alan. Literature, Education, and Romanticism: Reading as Social Practice, 1780-1832. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Print.

Robertson, Lisa Ann. “Soulful Sensorium: The Body in Early British Romantic Brain Science.” La Questione Romantica 3.1 (2011): 17–28. Print.

Tremayne, Margaret Olivia, and Mary Everest Boole. The Value of a Maimed Life: Extracts from the Manuscript Notes of Thomas Wedgwood. London: C.W. Daniel Print, 1912. Print.

Vickers, Neil. “Coleridge and Tom Wedgwood.” Coleridge Bulleting: The Journal of the Friends of Coleridge 14 (1999): 87–97. Print.

Wedgwood, Barbara, and Hensleigh Wedgwood. The Wedgwood Circle 1730-1897: Four Generations of a Family and Their Friends. London: Studio Vista, 1980. Print.

Wedgwood, Thomas. MS Notebooks. E40-28451, E40-28452, E40-28457, E40-28463, E40-28467, E40-28470, E40-28476A, E40-28478, E40-284580, E40-28482, E40-28486, E40-28490, E40-28515, E40-28515/14, E40-28515/28, E40-28515/34, E40-28515/47, E40-28515/107, E40-28515/116, E40-28515/515. Wedgwood Museum. Barlaston, Stoke-On-Trent, Staffordshire.


[1] See Meteyard, Litchfield, and Tremayne and Boole. BACK

[2] Some of Wedgwood’s papers are held in the Wedgwood Museum archives located in Barlaston (indicated by V&A/Wedgwood Collection in the text); other materials are held by Keele University in Staffordshire. BACK

[3] His publications include “Experiments and Observations on the Production of Light from Different Bodies, by Heat and by Attrition,” published in the Royal Society’s Philosophical Transactions (1792), and “Account of a Method of Copying Paintings upon Glass, and of Making Profiles, by the Agency of Light upon Nitrate of Silver,” a paper authored by Humphry Davy that describes Wedgwood’s experiments and successes with photography, published in the Journal of the Royal Institution (1802). BACK

[4] See part one of Erdman’s two-part series as well as Tremayne and Boole. BACK

[5] On 19 February 1802, Coleridge wrote to Thomas Poole that he was “finishing the History of the opinions concerning Space & Time for Mackintosh” (CL II: 787). Earlier that month Southey informed William Taylor that Wedgwood was working on a book with Mackintosh as “the man midwife” (qtd. in Beer 29). BACK

[6] Wedgwood frequently used abbreviations in his notebooks (e.g., “consq” for consequent). For the sake of readability, I have silently provided the full word for abbreviations as necessary. In other quotations from archival material, I have silently included additions and removed crossed out words, again for ease in reading. BACK

[7] For a brief but biased history of Association, see Chapter V of Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria, volume I. BACK

[8] Dissenters were Christians of various beliefs (Anabaptists, Diggers, etc.) who broke with the Church of England in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. Priestley was a Unitarian. Dissenters, Hartley included, were barred from becoming clergy in the Anglican Church because they refused to subscribe to the Thirty-Nine Articles. BACK

[9] See Robertson, “Soulful Sensorium: The Body in British Romantic Brain Science.” BACK

[10] Elsewhere, I argue that Darwin deliberately uses obfuscating philosophical language in order to protect himself from the sort of persecution that Priestley experienced when his laboratory was destroyed in the Church and King Riots of 1791. BACK

[11] Determining Wedgwood's exact stance is sometimes difficult because his notes are fragmentary and undated. In the quoted passage, which is just a few jotted notes, he was considering “pure reasoning” (V&A/Wedgwood Collection E40–28476A). His stance seemed to be that the mind begins as a “mere transcript” and becomes active as it develops. This difficulty determining which views represent Wedgwood’s most developed or recent line of thought is part of the problem of working with archival material. BACK

[12] Hartley offered his physiological account of cognition as part of a larger theological theory about the perfectibility of humankind and cultivation of virtue and vice. He sets out a moral taxonomy that will lead humanity, both ontogenetically and phylogenetically, to reunion with God. Pleasure and pain are, thus, important to his theory of character formation with respect to virtue and vice. When he uses the word feeling it sometimes seems to refer to affective experience as well as sensation. BACK

[13] In an 1803 letter to Robert Southey, Coleridge expresses a similar idea. He writes, “association depends in much greater degree on the recurrence of resembling states of Feeling, than on Trains of Idea [. . .] Ideas never recall Ideas . . . it is the Soul, the state of Feeling” that recalls ideas (CL II: 961). BACK

[14] Though it was declining in popularity in the eighteenth century, the ancient theory of humours held that a person was born with a sanguine, choleric, melancholic, or phlegmatic temperament. BACK

[15] Recent research has shown that “facial configurations” do, in fact “differentially affect [. . .] peoples [sic] felt emotions” (Glenberg et al. 121). Individuals experienced “strong physical sensations when they contracted muscles that produced facial configurations that resembled the universal facial expressions for certain emotions” (Levenson, Ekman, and Friesen 364). BACK

[16] The issue of how abstract ideas such as distance, magnitude, shape, and even concepts such as benevolence or justice could exist or be perceived if they were not Platonic ideals or transcendental abstractions was a matter of intense debate amongst materialist and dualist cognitive theorists, such as Darwin, Beddoes, Davy, Thomas Brown, and others. BACK

[17] In this excerpt from a notebook, Wedgwood added the word “unretrievably” and crossed out “whom he is unable to relieve.” I, uncharacteristically, included the crossed out material because it was unlike Wedgwood to discourage sympathy for “the unfortunate.” He generally encouraged benevolence and charitable acts. The fact that these individuals cannot, for whatever reason, be helped is the important defining attribute that makes sympathy for them detrimental rather than desirable. BACK

[18] As a point of interest, in one of his notebooks, Coleridge refers to the unstructured nature of association as “an unintelligible affrightful Riddle, […] a chaos of dark limbs & trunk, tailless, headless, nothing begun & nothing ended” (CN III: 4057). BACK

[19] Here we see Wedgwood drawing on the theory of humours, but making the assumption that these character types are not innate but formed through association. BACK

[20] The excerpted words are “with Bessy Wedgwood,” which presumably references Elizabeth Allen Wedgwood, Josiah’s wife and mother to the child in question. Baby Wedgwood was most likely Charlotte Wedgwood, Jos and Bessy’s second daughter born in 1797, though Wedgwood and Wedgwood suggest that it might have been Elizabeth, their first daughter born in 1793 (111). BACK

[21] While Wedgwood's discussions of education often assume male pupils, here, as with his discussion of B's temperament, he is discussing the benefits of exercise for women and girls. He argues, along the lines of Wollstonecraft, that women are “delicate, feeble, and sickly” because, unlike men, they do not exercise their bodies (qtd. in Tremayne and Boole 68). BACK

Published @ RC

May 2016