A recent lay publication — the January 2016 issue of the Lewis Carroll Society's Bandersnatch — purports to present "Victorian psychiatric practice," 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. This section will address the further and equally crucial question, of when formally structured child study, involving pedagogy, education, developmental psychology, diagnosis, and therapy, might be historically encountered.

Informal initiatives are evident in earlier centuries. These initiatives, often undertaken by solitary champions of childhood, were inevitably imperfect and incomplete. J. J. Rousseau’s Emile, ou de l’Education (1762) presented an idealistic project for child upbringing. Ironically Rousseau's own ideas seem to have been lost on him, as he was an itinerant/absent father whose own five children, to a maidservant, were all abandoned to foundling charities en viagem. His influence endured, however, via Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746-1827), and more so via Friedrich Froebel (1782-1842), associated with the famous Kindergarten movement. The more structured approach of educator Johann Friedrich Herbart (1776-1841) 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.

Herbart, who knew Fichte, Schiller, and Pestalozzi at the latter’s Swiss Burgdorf School, appears to have been the first, and was certainly the most rigorous, conceptualizer of such important psychological-cognitive concepts as spatial-temporal representation, higher cognition, conceptual thinking, perception and so-called "apperception," and ego consciousness, together with his "Limen" or threshold of consciousness, the role of aesthetics, psychological conscience, character and much else.

The French novelist Victor Hugo (1802-1885) has at times been credited with the "discovery" of childhood, perhaps through his great novel Les Miserables (1862; vol. I, pt. iv). The truth appears somewhat different, even from a brief look into his treatment of his eight year-old heroine Cosette, the enslaved factotum of the evil Thenardiers who is 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. "Come," said [Valjean] to Cosette. He took her by the hand and they both went out."

Clearer insight into childhood may be found in the closely contemporary and detailed descriptions of Lewis Carroll’s Alice, from 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"; as well as in later depictions, for instance, as his heroine collects scented rushes with "a sudden transport of delight."

Observational studies by people working with children in the first 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 Salpêtrière Clinic of J. M. Charcot and Josef Babinski. There Freud witnessed pediatric cases of hysteria and fits. He saw additional pediatric cases in Berlin, and on his return to Vienna, he 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, he was recording and analysing the sleep mutterings of his youngest child, Anna, then eighteen months old, for his burgeoning "Dream Book," Die Traumdeutung (1900) (The Interpretation of Dreams; see Jones, vol. 1, chap. 10). Only around 1905, however, do we see the emergence of any more formal concepts of child psychopathology. At this time Freud developed such ideas on developmental-psychological, child-oriented lines in his “Three essays on the theory of sexuality” (1905) 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, included interviews with the parents of the child, rudimentary data on the play and behaviour of children, and so forth. In 1905, Freud also began his classic case of "Little Hans," (1909), which involved animal phobias, especially of horses, as noted many years later by Anna Freud (Dyer 3-6).

1905 also saw the introduction, in the French public school system, of the early I.Q. scales for children developed by Alfred Binet and Thomas Simon, giving that year an overall aura of annus mirabilis in child studies, academic and applied. Had Lewis Carroll lived to 1905, he would doubtless have had much to say on the new developments.

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.” SE (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 H. W. Brown. 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.

Created 31 July 2016

Last modified 15 February 2022