Of «salutary slaps» and «laced waistcoats»: depictions of ‹natural› upbringing in the periodic press of the early nineteenth century

In 1845, the satirical magazine the Fliegende Blätter published a «pedagogy»: a father educates his son with a club to «see whether [he] cannot teach the boy to feel some affection for [him].» The representation ironized the objective of «affection» with the image of an act of physical punishment. To the contemporary reader, the caricature lent itself to multiple readings. Allegorically, it could be read as a criticism of the harsh censorship of the Metternich system: the painful instruction of the child stood in for the education of the people through the father qua government. Literally, it could be related to a popular discourse about education that had been entertained by an abundance of popular medical writings since the late eighteenth century: public health writings bristled with unresolved tensions between filial insight and physical punishment, between the enlightened ideal to further the «natural» striving for «improvement» and the need to meet «evils» with «coercive measures». Ultimately the two readings run together: the educators of children were always already instructors of «humanity» writ large. The Fliegende Blätter pricked into a dense nexus of late popular enlightenment, pedagogy, medicine, and authority, in which ‹nature› was tightly bound to ‹nurture›.

This paper examines how the periodical press of the early nineteenth century negotiated the notions of ‹nature› and ‹nurture› in pedagogical and medical discourse. Based on an analysis of popular magazines such as the Fliegende Blätter, the Pfenning-Magazin and the Illustrirte Zeitung, I argue that journals took an active position in shaping contemporary semantics: they created new audiences for scientific and medical knowledge, and articulated, negotiated, and scrutinized pedagogical styles and medical ideas. I suggest that the shifting semantics of ‹nature› and ‹nurture› can partly be understood as media-specific engagements with a politicized commercial culture of child-rearing.