Blending Science and Classicism in a New Moral Pedagogy: A Fresh Look at Hawthorne's Wonder-Book

By Burr, Sandra | Nathaniel Hawthorne Review, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Blending Science and Classicism in a New Moral Pedagogy: A Fresh Look at Hawthorne's Wonder-Book


Burr, Sandra, Nathaniel Hawthorne Review


While traditionally considered the first creative American children's book to value childhood imagination over didacticism, Nathaniel Hawthorne's A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys, published in 1852, may be explored more usefully as a key text in the history of science education. (1) That notion may sound peculiar to those familiar with Wonder-Book, a collection of stories that appear to be simple, cheerful retellings of the Greek myths of Perseus and Medusa, King Midas, Pandora's Box, Hercules' eleventh labor, Philemon and Baucis, and Bellerophon and Pegasus. Yet Hawthorne uses these classical myths in a pedagogically innovative way--to promote a scientific mode of thinking among girls and boys at a time when scientific training for youth in the United States was haphazard at best.

Today's readers often miss the dense layers of science in the book because they have lost interest in botany and classicism, popular transatlantic subjects in the mid-nineteenth century. In Wonder-Book, Hawthorne trades upon botany's pedagogical reputation as a moral restorative and an excellent intellectual, spiritual, and emotional self-cultivator. His choice dovetails well with his use of Greek myths, which offered connotations of purity, morality, and pedagogical probity by virtue of their place in nineteenth-century Anglo-American classicism. (2) Hus Wonder-Book stands as a pedagogical specimen doubly strengthened by the nineteenth-century elite's appreciation for the civic and personal virtue that botany as well as Greek culture could propagate.

Rousseau's influence on Wonder-Book adds another resonant layer. The protective countryside that in Emile forms the ideal sphere in which to raise a well-born child emerges in Wonder-Book's framing devices, which surround each myth, as a hortus conclusus, or inviolate garden, where twelve children named after wild flowers safely nourish their budding imaginations with healthful doses of Greek myths, as told to them by visiting college student Eustace Bright. By creating this Edenic kindergarten, (3) Hawthorne reminds us that the imagination's organic qualities must be carefully cultivated for meaningful cultural advancement. Thus Eustace's stories, which are themselves experiments in recasting Greek myths, suggest to readers that the imagination is the visionary power that leads to wholesome self-cultivation and cultural progress, an idea that Quicksilver, Hawthorne's version of Hermes, subtly conveys. Mental machinery, in other words, trumps metal machinery because its ingenuity, teamed with farsighted perspective, is the most fertile tool with which humans work. The fictive children's imaginations, supported with what today we would call a scientific demeanor--that is, one that respects and uses observation, objectivity, critical thinking, and teamwork--promises a morally advanced and highly able next generation capable of raising the young nation to new heights.

By relying so heavily upon botanical discourse, Hawthorne creates a world in which morality, pedagogy, and science emerge as imaginative play, exploiting what John Keith Limon calls "the possibilities of science" at a time when the boundaries between magic and natural philosophy were still porous. As Limon says, "it requires an insistent ahistoricity to assert that the differences between scientific quackery and scientific respectability could have been neatly defined in the nineteenth century, as the reader of the respected 'Silliman's Journal' (in which one can read about unicorns and self-moving rocks) well knows. Where science philosophy left off and pseudo-philosophy began was unclear." Indeed, he continues, there were "so many versions of science available to the writer (so many possible alliances) between 1798 and 1859 that it is not far-fetched to conclude that, whatever personal or intellectual or aesthetic problem the litterateur may have run into, there must have existed a 'science' that responded to it" (12, 6, 14).

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Blending Science and Classicism in a New Moral Pedagogy: A Fresh Look at Hawthorne's Wonder-Book
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.