Back to my favorite young Farmington woman, Charlotte Cowles. We know from her letters that she was well-educated. In a letter to her brother Samuel on June 21, 1835, she mentions several books she is reading– Abbot’s Young Christian, “which is one of the best books I ever read” (and is in our library); Abercrombie’s Intellectual Philosophy, “It is very pleasant indeed, and very, very difficult”; and David Hume who wrote Treatise of Human Nature. Her opinion of Hume was not very high. She wrote, “Among other absurdities, Hume professed the belief that there was no world– no mind– nothing in the universe except imaginations and ideas. Poor man!”
Jacob Abbott (1803-1879) wrote Young Christian to explain and illustrate, in a simple manner, the principles of Christian duty; his audience was mainly children. Charlotte would have been 15 years old at this time, so not exactly a child. John Abercrombie (1780-1844) was a Scottish physician, common sense philosopher, and writer of popular tracts on religion and philosophy. David Hume (1711-1776) was a Scottish philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist. His central tenet was that reason should be governed by passion, not the other way around, which Charlotte evidently found very strange. These are not exactly titles students read in school now.
Maybe to today’s families, Charlotte’s schedule would not seem particularly daunting. I know I get tired just reading about it. I also have not read any of the titles or studied any of the subjects she mentions. I feel rather inadequate compared to her! Here is how she describes her day:
I will give you an outline of the daily routine. The regular hour for commencing study is 5. Two hours is little enough for a lesson in Intellectual Philosophy: including the interruptions of breakfast &c, I can hardly finish before half past seven, or even 8. Then I am reading Blair’s Rhetoric, (no paltry abridgement), which must be attended to, if possible in the morning. Then at nine we enter the schoolroom, religious exercises occupy about 15 minutes, and after one little recitation, the Philosophy is recited which always occupies an hour, and usually more. At eleven is a recess of about 20 minutes, and between that time and half past three, (exclusive of the interval at noon), 130 lines of Virgil, and a Greek lesson are to be learnt “some how or other”, and with these recitations school closes. It is usually about five when school is out, and then I have to write an abstract of my morning lesson, then comes tea, and after it I am too tired to do any thing of consequence. When the time for reading and music is to come, I cannot tell. Besides, we have every week to write compositions and sentences alternately. So that I think you will forgive me, if my epistles are few and far between.
Charlotte’s letters to her brother and his back to her can be read in the Research Center by asking for Ms 101754. Her depiction of everyday life in Farmington is what makes these especially appealing and a great resource.