Old Deluder Satan

In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, when Alice is trying to work out who she is, she attempts to recite a poem she had learned in school. She says, “the words did not come as they used to do” meaning that the words she did manage to recite were not the correct words to the poem. Alice says:

 ‘How doth the little crocodile
      Improve his shining tail,
     And pour the waters of the Nile
      On every golden scale!

     ‘How cheerfully he seems to grin,
      How neatly spread his claws,
     And welcome little fishes in
      With gently smiling jaws!’

The actual poem is “How Doth the Little Busy Bee” by Isaac Watts. The poem talks about how the busy little bee build her home, laboring all the time. In the third stanza, Watts says, “In works of labor or of skill, I would be busy too; For Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do.” During this time, it was a common belief that if children did not have something to do, Satan would be lurking in the shadows and would tempt them to do something sinful.

This reminded me of the 1647 Old Deluder Act implemented to keep people away from sin, and furthermore, to establish grammar schools for children to be taught at. I learned about this in my Social Foundations of Education class in the context of setting up schools to educate the youth, so it interested me to see this sort of reference in a book written in 1865.

It really made think about the way children were perceived: as something that is corruptible by the wicked ways of Satan. Poems like these, and other catechisms made a way for children to remember what do do and how to act, in a way that is moral and good.

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