‘Pray lett none see this impertinent Epistle’: Children’s Letters and Children in Letters at the Turn of the Eighteenth Century
‘Pray lett none see this impertinent Epistle,’ wrote 16-year-old Betty Clarke to her father’s steward, John Spreat, in November 1698: ‘I was in such a vein of writt this morning that I could not stop my pen.’ Betty’s letters to Spreat were long and chatty, full of personal news and witty observations, unlike her letters to her father, the Somerset landowner and politician Edward Clarke (John Locke’s closest friend for more than two decades), which were short and formal, primarily expressions of her duty to him. This chapter analyzes a selection of letters written by the 8 Clarke children and by the adults in their lives and shows how they shed light on children’s relationships with their parents, siblings, servants, relatives, and friends. The adult members of the Clarkes’ circle (including Locke) wrote about the children constantly and assiduously. The letters written by the children themselves, at different ages and stages of their lives, varied in style and content depending on whom they were addressed to and for what purpose. The Clarke family letters make it possible both to study the experiences of the Clarke children in detail and to distinguish elements that were common to many early modern childhoods from those that differed, even within a single family, based on gender, birth order, ability, and personality.