C. Stephen Finley, who reminds us that John Wesley, one of the early promoters of Methodism, acted "as a conservative counterweight to the liberating influence of Rousseau," explains the relation between his evangelical convicton of corrupt human nature and his attitudes toward raising children:
Wesley believed that man was by his very nature a "mere atheist." Children were, foremost, afflicted by "natural atheism," an atheism chiefly inherent in their innate capacity to enjoy and to love nature. Thus, the "wise parent" was impelled to break their will because such will would lead them to two damning desires: the "desire of the flesh" and the "desire of the eyes." Children desired first to enjoy earthly happiness, to experience what gratified the outward senses, such as taste or touch. More inimical to their spiritual well-being was the complementary "desire of the eyes": the "propensity to seek happiness in what gratifies the internal sense, the imagination, either by things grand, or new, or beautiful." Both desires for Wesley were only incriminating evidence of a child's inclination to fatal error, that is, to be "a lover of the creature, instead of the Creator." Parents could only deepen and harden such error by ascribing "the works of creation to nature," or by praising the beauty of man or woman or the natural world. Hence children were to be brought up in extreme austerity of diet and dress and were to be taught repeatedly how they were "fallen spirits." Such instruction would help them to realize that they were "more ignorant, more foolish, and more wicked, than they could possibly conceive." From this method of education they would emerge with firmly held conviction that their natural propensities were akin on the one hand to "the devil" and on the other to "the beasts of the field." How does Finley's characterization of Wesleyan attitudes illuminate the childhoods of Jane Eyre and Pip? The Alice books?
Finley, C. Stephen. In Nature's Covenant: Figures of Landscape in Ruskin. University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 1992.
Last modified 2000