For centuries, children began learning to read with the alphabet and the Lord's Prayer. Shown here is a facsimile of a small hand-held horn-book, named for the thin sheet of horn that protected the printed alphabet from which the child would learn to spell out letters and words.
With the horn-book are displayed three early nineteenth-century American alphabet books, showing the interrelation of reading and religious instruction, both in the home and in the Sunday School movement. Displayed: Peter Piper, Philadelphia: Johnson, 1836; The Picture Alphabet in Prose and Verse, New York: the American Tract Society, ?1840; and Turner & Fisher's Infant Primer, Philadelphia: Turner & Fisher, 1845.
Following the model of alphabet rhymes, this collection of mnemonic rhymes was designed to teach the multiplication tables. It was originally issued by John Harris in four parts in 1816-1817, with the subtitle A Merry Method of Making Minor Mathematicians.
The instructional focus of children's books is also seen in this twice-monthly magazine, founded by Samuel Griswold Goodrich in 1833, which emphasized geography, travel, natural history, and simple technology, along with Bible stories.
These two works, in the very small format favored for children's books in the earlier nineteenth century, illustrate the overlap between children's literature and the religious tract. Early Piety, or Memoirs of Childhood (Baltimore, 1821) mixes such stories as that "Of a very good girl; that died very happy before she was seven years old," with others like "the history of a sad wicked child, and his miserable death." Letter to My Young Cousin (Philadephia: American Sunday School Union, 1845) is a book of religious advice on behavior in the family, written as from one teenage girl to another.
Two older religious books of Puritan origin were constantly reprinted in children's format. The Baptist tinker John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress (first published in 1678), and its second part about the pilgrim's wife Christiana (1684, shown here in a Philadelphia reprint of 1857), were not originally for children, but appealed because of their fairy-tale like allegory of giants and bravery. Divine Songs, Attempted in Easie Language for the Use of Children by the English dissenting minister Isaac Watts, first published in 1715, is shown here in an illustrated reprint (London: Sampson Low, 1836). Lewis Carroll's Alice memorably misremembers some of Dr. Watts's songs in Alice in Wonderland.
Later nineteenth-century religious books for children were often more attractively produced, and also much gentler, even sentimental, in religious message. Displayed here is The Pretty Village (American Sunday School Union, 1867).
This beautiful illustrated alphabet, The Alphabet Rendered Instructive and Entertaining upon a Plan Entirely New (London, 1775) was produced by copperplate engraving, a relatively-expensive reproduction method used also by the great late eighteenth-century children's publisher John Newbery. The book was originally sold plain at 9d. or hand-colored at 1s. 6d (this copy was probably colored later). Only one copy (which lacks plate S-Z, present in this copy) is recorded elsewhere in North America--in UCLA's Children's Literature Collection.
Recent donation by Patrick Scott.
One of the most influential and frequently-reprinted early children's books was The History of Sandford and Merton by the Oxford-educated lawyer Thomas Day (1748-1789). It tells the story of two boys, the rich Tommy Merton and the virtuous farmer's son Harry Sandford, to show how moral behavior is rewarded and how children may be made virtuous by the wise reasoning of an adult mentor (in this case their tutor, the Rev. Mr. Barlow). It was originally published in three parts in 1783-1789; the edition shown is from 1887 with notably Victorian engravings.
The Irish novelist Maria Edgeworth (1767-1849) is also recognized as the first classic British children's author. With her father Richard Lovell Edgeworth, she published a pioneer work, Practical Education (1798), which argued that fairy stories misled children but allowed the usefulness of adventure stories like Robinson Crusoe for educating boys; the copy displayed here was in the original South Carolina College library. Also displayed is a volume of her stories for children, The Parent's Assistant, from the first American edition, published in Georgetown in 1809.
Mrs. Hannah More (1745-1833) was a pioneer in religious education for the poor. During the 1790s wrote some seventy cheap tracts to help children learn to read. Displayed here is a later American reprint of her story "The Shepherd of Salisbury Plain" (Philadelphia: American Tract Society, c. 1850).
The revolution in children's books in the late eighteenth century took place against a background of seismic social disruption, reflected in this work by G. R. Hoare, The Young Traveller . . . A Tale for Youth, about a young aristocrat who lost his privileged life because of the French Revolution (New York reprint, 1815).
Mrs. Barbauld (1743-1825), now increasingly recognized as a poet, was also long influential for her instructive, educational reading primers. She had no children of her own, but wrote her first children's series Lessons for Children (1778 etc.) for her adopted nephew Charles. Displayed here is a Victorian reprint of her later Hymns in Prose for Children (Murray, 1880), open to show the rather stilted if haunting poeticism of her language.
Ann Taylor (1782-1866) and her sister Jane (1783-1824) collaborated on several books of poems for "infant minds," chiefly but not exclusively religious poems. Ann was author of "My Mother" and Jane of "Twinkle, twinkle, little star." Shown here is an 1829 Philadelphia reprint of their Original Poems for Infant Minds, illustrated with woodcuts.