The History of Children's Books

"There have been children's stories and folk-tales ever since man first learned to speak. Children's books, however, are a late growth of literature"

In 1751, the first number of "The Liliputian Magazine, or, The Young Gentleman and Lady's Golden Library," appeared. It was probably issued monthly, at threepence, had copperplate cuts, and aimed "to amend the World, to render the Society of Man more amiable, and to re-establish the Simplicity, Virtue and Wisdom of the Golden Age." The history of George II.'s time, it may be noticed, shows no marked effect produced by this work.

The list of Newbery's books has none for children, save for school use, published during the next ten years. Nevertheless, he was all the time writing and printing little volumes, all trace of which has perished. Before 1760, Oliver Goldsmith and the brothers Griffith and Giles Jones were in his employ as writers and compilers, and it is to them that many of the children's books are due. A writer in Notes and Queries says, "There are probably scores of his [Goldsmith's] contributions to this branch of literature which will never be traced, & #8212; like the ballads we are told he used to scribble off at a crown apiece, wandering about the streets to hear them sung, and listen to the remarks and criticisms of the casual audience." From 1760 to 1767, John Newbery and his family lived in Canonbury House, Islington, a building dating from the fourteenth century, where poets and statesmen have lodged. Newbery's son Francis says that Goldsmith was at one time a dweller in the upper story, and often read to him passages from his poems, such as the Traveller and the ballad from the Vicar of Wakefield. Goldsmith's money affairs were always hopelessly entangled with his publisher's, and the scene where "the philanthropic bookseller in St. Paul's Churchyard," with his red pimpled face, lends a few guineas to Dr. Primrose, ill and penniless at a little alehouse many miles from home, is no doubt not far from the truth.

In 1765, the following advertisement appeared "Mr. Newbery intends to publish the following important volumes, bound and gilt, and hereby invites all his little friends who are good to call for them at the Bible and Sun, in St. Paul's Churchyard; but those who are naughty to have none. 1. The Renowned History of Giles Gingerbread; a little boy who lived upon learning. 2. The Easter Gift; or the way to be good; a book much wanted. 3. The Whitsuntide Gift; or the way to be happy; a book very necessary for all families. 4. The Valentine Gift; or how to behave with honour, integrity, and humanity; very useful with a Trading Nation. We are also desired to give notice that there is in the Press, and speedily will be published either by subscription or otherwise, as the Public shall please to determine, The History of Little Goody Two Shoes, otherwise called Margery Two Shoes." It is doubtful whether Newbery, Griffith Jones, or Goldsmith wrote Goody Two Shoes; but it is hard to read Mr. Welsh's preface to the facsimile edition of 1882 and believe that the kindly humor of the tale, the characters, so different in their individuality from the wooden little men and women of many of Newbery's books, the raven, little dog Jumper, and the ghost in the church did not spring from the same source as Moses and the Flamboroughs.

John Newbery died in 1767, leaving his medicine business to his son Francis, and directing him to carry on the sale and publication of books with his stepbrother, Thomas Carnan, and his namesake cousin, Francis Newbery. The three were not on good terms, and the latter Francis opened a shop by himself, while the others remained at the old stand. The new shop was managed by the nephew until his death in 1780, and then by his widow, who, when she retired, gave up the business to John Harris, but drew a yearly income from it until her death in 1821. Carnan and Newbery published books under their firm name until 1782, and Carnan alone until 1788.

Francis Newbery, the son, married in 1770 Mary Raikes, of Gloucester, sister of Robert Raikes, the founder of Sunday-schools; and Robert Southey, born four years later, speaks of her as the friend of his aunt, with whom he lived. Mary Raikes married, he says, "Francis Newberry, of St. Paul's Churchyard, son of that Francis [sic] Newberry who published Goody Two Shoes, Giles Gingerbread, and other such delectable histories in sixpenny books for children, splendidly bound in the flowered and gilt Dutch paper of former days. As soon as I could read, which was very early, Mr. Newberry presented me with a whole set of these books, more than twenty in number. I dare say they were in Miss Tyler's possession at her death, and in perfect preservation, for she taught me (and I thank her for it) never to spoil or injure anything. This was a rich present, and may have been more instrumental than I am aware of in giving me that love of books, and that decided determination to literature, as the one thing desirable, which manifested itself from my childhood, and which no circumstances in after life ever slackened or abated."

Presented by

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus


The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"


This Japanese Inn Has Been Open For 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.


What Happens Inside a Dying Mind?

Science cannot fully explain near-death experiences.


Is Minneapolis the Best City in America?

No other place mixes affordability, opportunity, and wealth so well.

More in Entertainment

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In