The Amusing Instructor: or, Tales and Fables in Prose and Verse, for the Improvement of Youth with Useful and Pleasing Remarks on Different Branches of Science.

Detail from The Amusing Instructor, Frontispiece

The Amusing Instructor: or, Tales and fables in prose and verse, for the improvement of youth, with useful and pleasing remarks on different branches of science (1777) is one of the earliest educational books once owned by Sarah Manning Vaughan (1753-1834) and now held at the American Philosophical Society (APS) in Philadelphia. 

The story centers on a wealthy aristocrat named Philander (from the Greek, meaning “to love man”). Having become disillusioned with the extravagance and dissipation of life at Court, Philander decides to move to his country estate and devote his life entirely to cultivating the “infant genius” of six youths and six young ladies through a series of regularly scheduled Socratic dialogues.

Sarah Manning Vaughan at 26

Sarah Manning in 1779, age 26.

Not unlike Philander, Sarah Manning Vaughan gave up the luxuries of London society when she moved with her family to Hallowell, Massachusetts (later, Maine), along the Kennebec (or Kennebeck) River, in 1797, and devoted herself in a similar manner to cultivating the minds of her seven children, fourteen grandchildren, and the other young people of that rural community.

Born in Jamaica in 1753 to a wealthy merchant family, Sarah Manning was sent at an early age to England, where she was tutored privately and received the finest education available to young women at the time. 

By the age of 28, when she married Benjamin Vaughan (1751-1835), she had traveled throughout Europe and was accomplished in French and music.

Sarah Vaughan and Benjamin Vaughan's signatures. Piano music hand-written by Sarah Manning Vaughan.

Sarah Manning Vaughan's signatures.

This exhibition reveals the "genius" of Sarah Manning Vaughan through Sarah's personally signed and often annotated collection of children's books, as well as manuscripts and letters in the American Philosophical Society's Vaughan collection. 

When brought together, these fragments form a picture of an exceptionally intelligent and vivacious woman, who, by supplementing the children's books in her collection with the art of enlightened conversation, inspired a rising generation of American writers and educators.




18th Century Children's Books

In the 18th century, books were luxury items that only the affluent could afford. The importance of Benjamin and Sarah Manning Vaughan's extensive library to the rural community in Hallowell cannot, therefore, be overstated.