The Popular Educator – and lessons for women

The Popular Educator was a series of heavyweight books published by the firm of Cassell, Petter and Gilpin, of the delightful address La Belle Sauvage Yard, London. Founded by John Cassell, the books were a way for people from all walks of life to educate themselves, in their own homes. And the first Cumbrian ‘connection’ is that the books met with the approval of Lord Brougham, of Brougham Hall, Westmorland.

Lord Brougham

Henry Peter Brougham (1778-1868) never achieved his desire to be county MP for Westmorland, nor to lead the Whigs in Parliament. But he threw his tremendous energies and skills as a debator into public office, the law – and education.

Lord Brougham had

long been the English champion of education for the masses… Brougham was not only the leader in the movement that led to the establishment of the University of London; in another sphere he was the begetter of that first of “mechanics’ institutes,” the Birkbeck. He was inevitably drawn to make the acquaintance of the man who had conceived and brought forth the “Popular Educator.” They acquired a mutual liking and respect.

The Popular Educator vol 5 & 6

The copy of the Popular Educator that has somehow found its way on to my bookshelves sadly isn’t dated. The title page tells us:

Studies serve for delight, for ornament, and for ability…

a quote by Francis Bacon. The first lesson in volume 5 was written by Thomas W Jenkyn, who had died in 1858. But the only dates I could find anywhere were in the Lessons in Bookkeeping. Where the account sales book is based on a firm’s coffee sales in 1864. But that only proves the edition was printed later than that. 

Popular Educator, lessons for women, Cumbrian Characters,

The inscription: Mary E Douglas

My copy of the The Popular Educator belonged at some point to Mrs M E Douglas, of High Longthwaite, Watermillock. Who for some reason wrote her name and address twice at the front.

The 1939 ‘census’ has the following:

High Longthwaite, Watermillock 

John Douglas born 20 3 1897. Occupation mixed farming heavy work.

Mary E Douglas born 30 10 90. Unpaid domestic duties. (ie ‘housewife’).

I have no idea who John Douglas or Mary E Douglas were – if anyone reading this does, do please get in touch via the Contacts page (SEE UPDATE). I can only guess the book came into my family via a second-hand bookshop, most likely in Penrith.

As the first name/address is written in thick purple pencil, I also guess that the thick blue pencil marks on one page in the book mean Mary E Douglas was interested in logarithms. 

Other topics in the volumes include chemistry, physics, geography, mechanics, Italian, Spanish, biography… So perhaps it is a little unfair to ‘pick on’ page 396 of volume 5.

The Popular Educator on ‘Female Education’

Page 396 volume 5 is a contribution by ‘Silverpen’ headed: ‘Female Education – no. IV’. No idea what Silverpen wrote in articles I-III, but IV is actually about etiquette.

Silverpen starts by saying young men and women in mills, factories and shops ought to know how to dance, walk, and enter a room as gracefully as any young gentleman or lady born to a fortune instead of labour.

His/her egalitarian view on social class doesn’t quite extend to equality of the sexes. As the article then focuses on etiquette for women only.

At table, a young woman, whether married or single, should strive to be the goddess of her home.

A woman should, for example never sit with her legs crossed or her elbows on the table, as not only is this ‘unfeminine,’ doing do ‘hints at the pot-house, and the brawl and the low evil tongue.’

Silverpen’s call for good manners is fair enough, to a point. And perhaps millworkers did need to be told ‘no one with the remotest pretension to good breeding ever lifts the knife to the mouth’. For he had apparently, in ‘humble homes,’ seen people helping themselves to food throughout a meal, with ‘sometimes three or four knives or spoons in a dish at once, to the utter destruction of all order’.

Never be too familiar

Having addressed the dinner table, Silverpen turn to social encounters. And the ‘gross vulgarity’ of being ‘hail fellow, well met’. 

Nothing repulses educated persons as as address of this character; however desirous of being kind, they are at once necessitated to act upon the defensive by assuming an outwardly cold manner they do not feel.

Never have this manner; be as loveable and kind with your young female friends as you please, as courteous at the mill, at the shop, at the school as you may, as thoughtful and as good a wife or daughter as you can be, but never let those relations descend into gross familiarity; it takes away from our own self-respect as well as that of others and is sure in the end, like over-confidences and over-intimacies with persons we know little of, to lead to evil.

The Popular Educator – still useful

I’d not looked inside the Popular Eductor for many years, but tucked away inside I was surprised to find two A5 sheets of paper with my handwriting on them – and a lot of algebra equations. I don’t remember, but it looks like I found the book useful at some point in my schooldays.

And a further sheet of paper, in my schoolgirl hand, has the chemical formula for acetic acid, and some words in Greek, copied from the book. Including the Greek for ‘love’, ‘hope’ – and randomly, ‘I desire an army’!!


A reader has informed me:

Mary and John were tenants of the farm at High Longthwaite, Watermillock. They left the farm in 1945. As well as Mary Eleanor and John, there were two children.