Sarah Trimmer was an educationalist who pioneered the use of animals, birds and the natural world in children’s moral literature, introduced in her Fabulous Histories.
Who was Sarah Trimmer?
While educating her own 12 children, Sarah Trimmer established a Sunday School in 1786 and later a weekday school of industry for girls. This established a model which she promoted widely: girls were to be given Christian moral instruction and basic skills to equip them to be servants. In creating teaching materials she popularised the use of images in books and the use of animals as anthropomorphic models of good behaviour. She also advocated the avoidance of abuse of animals and the natural environment.
How is her work related to William Blake?
As a strong believer in the need for children’s stories to have a moral purpose, Trimmer’s stance is considerably simpler than the complexity of William Blake’s duality in the Songs of Innocence and of Experience. Yet in standing out against the use of animals as merely a resource, she echoes the anti-birds-nesting stance of Christopher Smart and Blake’s position of outrage at the abuse of those that cannot protect themselves. Blake engraved images for at least one of Trimmer’s works, so he may have been familiar with this book.
In the pages shown, the children of the family are told not to feed birds before humans, and the birds are given human attributes as well as names.
- Article by:
- Julian Walker
- Childhood and children's literature, Romanticism
Julian Walker looks at William Blake’s poetry in the context of 18th-century children’s literature, considering how the poems’ attitudes towards childhood challenge traditional ideas about moral education during that period.