Main content

Education of the Heart

The dangers of friendship as conveyed to children in the 18th and 19th centuries. Dr Thomas Dixon's history. From April 2014.

As the nature and depth of our friendships comes under scrutiny in an era of Social Networking, Dr Thomas Dixon presents a major new history of the changing meaning of friendship over the centuries.

Episode 7: Education of the Heart

Today, we tend to view friendships among children as a good thing, but in the 18th century, improving "conduct manuals" tended to warn children off friendship, seeing it as fraught with danger. In an era of large families, friendships among siblings were considered far safer.

Thomas Dixon learns from the distinguished expert on the history of childhood, Professor Hugh Cunningham, how the reduction of family size and the spread of mass education in the 19th century began, inevitably to challenge this notion.

But the idea of the dangers of friendship for children persisted.

Thomas Dixon goes on to explore with children's literature specialist, Dr Matthew Grenby, how the classic school stories of the 19th century - from Matthew Arnold's Tom Brown's Schooldays to Angela Brazil's A Fourth Form Friendship - continued to provide moral advice about friendship, buried within their depiction of algebra, lacrosse and midnight feasts in the dorm.

Producer Beaty Rubens.

Available now

15 minutes

Related Reading

Hugh Cunningham, The Invention of Childhood (BBC Books, 2006)

Ginger S. Frost, Victorian Childhoods (Praeger, 2009)

Matthew Grenby, The Child Reader, 1700–1840 (Cambridge University Press, 2011)


What makes friendships last?

What makes friendships last?

How familial, instrumental and emotional bonds keep people connected over many years.