London: T. Cadell, P. Elmsly, and T. Durham, 1781. First edition in English. Contemporary polished calf with morocco labels and gilt to spines. Joints professionally strengthened on all volumes. A wide-margined copy, with pages measuring 130 x 200mm; it is internally fresh, bright, and unmarked. Bookplate of Jonathan Nevin to front pastedown of volume I; illegible pencil inscription to rear pastedown of volume III; contemporary ownership signature of Charlotte Sophia Home to front endpaper of volume IV. Upper margins of full title pages excised (likely to remove a signature) not affecting any text. Collating , 522, ; , 463, [1, blank]; , 432; , 408: complete including half and full titles and advertisements to all volumes. According to ESTC, the first edition was not issued with plates or illustrations, though some catalogue entries note a later-inserted frontis to some copies. ESTC further reports 20 copies worldwide, with the caveat that many are "held as mixed sets containing one or more volumes from the 2d edition," making full first edition sets more rare. With the last copy at auction selling in 1907 and the present as the only one available on the market, this early women's education text has become quite scarce.
"A prodigious writer of novels and educational treatises, Stephanie the Countess of Genlis became the first woman to serve as the governor of royal princes when she was appointed to direct the education of the children of Phillipe, Duke d'Orleans...Madame de Genlis proved herself a rigorous instructor not only in academic subjects like geometry and mathematics...but also in stressing the importance of charity and good works among the poor" (Encyclopedia). While a decade later she would create a more overt treatise in favor of universal education of boys and girls (Discours sur l'education publique de peuple, 1791), the present work was among her earliest on the topic. Appearing for the first time in English in 1781, the Theatre of Education contains 24 original plays by Genlis, which correspond to her Rousseauian philosophy that schooling assist children in maintaining their innate goodness while participating in communities that are ultimately a corruptive presence (Emile). Genlis' frequent focus on young female characters implies a concern that such readers are less likely to get formal instruction on navigating the social constructs around them; meanwhile, her Preface to volume IV overtly gestures to her desire to fill a class lacuna by bringing such instruction to "shop-keepers and mechanics...ladies maids...and shop-women." The familiar tone, the conversational format, and the distillation of more complex concepts through entertainment would soon become a standard in women's education, picked up by scientists such as Priscilla Wakefield and Jane Marcet.
ESTC T127391. (Item #4259)