A recent lay publication — the January 2016 issue of the KLewis Carroll Society’s Bandersnatch — purports to present “Victorian psychiatric practice”, with Lewis Carroll’s “engagement” with it, and his part in “the wider Victorian discourse of the sciences of the mind” outside the genre of children’s literature. Whilst indications have already been presented other parts of this discussion, for the need of extreme caution in any hurried lay assessments of these complex and ambiguous mental issues and their historical materials, the present section will address the further and equally crucial question, of ‘When may a formally-structured Child Study [involving Pedagogy, Education, Developmental Psychology, Diagnosis-Therapy] be historically encountered?

Informal initiatives may be seen from various earlier centuries, though these were often by solitary champions of childhood, and inevitably imperfect, incomplete and inevitably flawed. J. J. Rousseau’s Emile, ou de l’Education, 1762, was an idealistic project for child upbringing, by an itinerant/absent father whose own five children, to a maidservant, were all abandoned to foundling charities en viagem. His later influence was real, however, via Pestalozzi (1801), and more so by Froebel (1837), associated with the famous Kindergarten movement. The more structured approach of German educator Johann Friedrich Herbart, c.1816, has all but disappeared from English-language sources, though there can be little doubt that he marked the new epoch of educational and cognitive child psychology, albeit largely unknown in Victorian England.

J. J. Herbart (1776-1841), who knew Fichte, Schiller, and Pestalozzi at the latter’s Swiss Burgdorf School, appears to have been the first, and certainly the most rigorous, in conceptualizing such required psychological-cognitive concepts as ‘spatial-temporal representation’, ‘Higher Cognition’, ‘conceptual thinking’ per se, perception and his ‘Apperception’, ‘ego consciousness’, together with his ‘Limen’ or threshold of consciousness; Fusions, complications, Aesthetics, the ‘beautiful’, psychological ‘conscience’, character and much else.

Victor Hugo, 1802-1885, perhaps through his great novel Les Miserables (1862) has at times been credited with ‘the discovery’ of childhood (Vol. I, Pt. iv). The truth appears somewhat different, even from a brief look into his treatment of 8 year-old heroine ‘Cosette’, the enslaved factotum of the evil Thenardiers, and later protected by Valjean who would characteristically “sign to Cosette to be silent”. No introspection by the child is allowed or divined; no empathic perception by the adult qua author follows. ‘Cosette’ is simply snuffed out, like the candles she has to guard. Then - “Come”, said [Valjean] to Cosette. He took her by the hand and they both went out.” For a truer insight into, and newer ‘discoverer’ of childhood, see the closely contemporary and detailed descriptions of Lewis Carroll’s Alice, from the very start in the first chapter of Alice’s Adventures Underground and the twelfth chapter of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. which mentions her “bright eager eyes” and “that queer little toss of her head”; and later depictions, as his heroine collects scented rushes with “a sudden transport of delight.”

Observational studies by people working with children in the earliest three years of life, such as W. T. Preyer and H. W. Brown, were known at this time, though the detailed parental reports seem to dwell mainly on the infant’s fears, as of being dropped; speech development, echolalia etc.

Of any formal childhood psychopathology, however, with the required dynamic, developmental and ‘inner-world’ psychological frameworks and models, there appears to have been little or nothing, beyond an unknown Viennese neuro-pathologist, Sigmund Freud, 1856-1938, who for the winter of 1885-86 was studying in Paris, at the Salpetriere Clinic of J. M. Charcot and Josef Babinski; witnessing child-cases of hysteria and fitting; saw further child-cases in Berlin; and on his return to Vienna was given charge of the neurological section of the Kassowitz Institute for Children’s Diseases, the first public entity of its kind anywhere. By 1897, and probably earlier within his own family, he was recording and analysing for his burgeoning ‘Dream Book’ (Traumdeutung, 1900), the sleep-dream mutterings of his youngest child, Anna, then eighteen-months old (Jones, Bk. 1, Chap. 10). Only c.1905, however, do we see the emergence of any more formal Child Psychopathology — again at the hand of Freud — and now based on developmental-psychological, child-oriented lines in his “Three essays on the theory of sexuality” with its notable genetic-developmental scheme of oral-anal-genital phases. Freud’s new methodology, in addition to earlier reconstruction of childhood from analyses of the dreams and symptoms of adult patients, by then came to include interviews with the parents of the child, rudimentary data on the play and behaviour of children, and so forth. The classic case of ‘Little Hans’, 1909, which involved animal phobias, especially with horses, was also begun in 1905, as noted many years later by Anna Freud (Dyer 3-6).

1905 also saw the introduction, in France in the Public School system, of the early I.Q. scales for children, of Alfred Binet and Th. Simon, giving that year an overall aura of annus mirabilis in child studies, academic and applied. If Dodgson-Carroll had lived to be ‘a mere’ 73 by today’s standards, he would doubtless have then had much to say on the new developments and his ‘engagement’ with them.

Related material


Dyer, R., Her Father’s Daughter. The Work of Anna Freud. London & New York: Jason Aronson Inc., 1983.

Freud, Sigmund. “Three essays on the theory of sexuality” S. E., (1905) 7: 129-140.

Herbart, J. F. A Textbook in Psychology [Lehrbuch zur Psychologie, 1816]. Trans. M. K. Smith. New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1891.

Preyer, W. T. and Brown, H. W. The Mind of The Child. Observations concerning the mental development of the human being in the first years of life. 2 vols., New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1888.

Last modified 31 July 2016