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"

Mary Wollstonecraft died in 1797, not long after her marriage to William Godwin. He married again within a few years, and his wife, a woman with a fondness for business, but without much experience in managing a publishing-house, formed the plan of opening what he calls "a magazine of books for the use and amusement of children." He wrote in 1802, "I think Mrs. Barbauld's little books, four in number, admirably adapted, upon the whole, to the capacity and amusement of young children.... As far as Mrs. Barbauld's books I have no difficulty. But here my judgment and the ruling passion of my contemporaries divide. They aim at cultivating one faculty; I should aim at cultivating another.... Without imagination, there can be no genuine ardor in any pursuit or for any acquisition, and without imagination there can be no genuine morality, no profound feeling of other men's sorrow, no ardent and persevering anxiety for their interests. This is the faculty which makes the man, and not the miserable minuteness of detail about which the present age is so uneasy." Godwin's own ideas on all subjects were so revolutionary that he knew children's books written under his own name would never sell, and he issued a series of little volumes purporting to be by one Baldwin, printed for Thomas Hodgkins at the Juvenile Library. Baldwin's Fables Ancient and Modern, The Pantheon, or Ancient History of the Gods of Greece and Rome, and Histories of England, Greece, and Rome, are still interesting, though useless from a modern historical standpoint. After a while Mrs. Godwin managed the business (which went on for twenty years, but was a series of failures), under the name of M. J. Godwin & Co., translating and publishing several books from the French.

The children of to-day owe Godwin a debt of gratitude for suggesting, and the firm for publishing, Charles and Mary Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare and Adventures of Ulysses. The authors also wrote, in 1809, Mrs. Leicester's School, "for M. J. Godwin at the Juvenile Library, No. 41 Skinner Street." Its popularity encouraged the brother and sister to compose two very small volumes of poetry for children. Charles Lamb wrote to Coleridge in the same year, "Our little poems are but humble; but they have no name. You must read them, remembering they were task-work; and perhaps you will admire the number of subjects, all of children, picked out by an old bachelor and an old maid. Many parents would not have found so many." The whole edition was soon sold out and out of print. About one third of the poems were printed during the next year in two books of selections. In 1812, all the poems but three were reprinted in Boston. The existence of the reprint was, however, unknown in England, until in 1877 a paper was published describing a copy of the original two volumes which had been bought by a South Australian gentleman at a sale in Plymouth, England, eleven years before. This paper, quoted in United States newspapers, brought to light two copies of the Boston edition.

Jane Taylor's first appearance in print was in the Minor's Pocket-Book, in 1804, and in the next few years she and her sister Ann published Original Poems for Infant Minds and Hymns for Infant Minds, familiar to children nowadays through Kate Greenaway's illustrations.

The Butterfly's Ball, a poem by William Roscoe, author of the Lives of Lorenzo de Medici and Leo X., appeared in 1807, as the first of a series known as Harris's Cabinet, but reprinted from the Gentleman's Magazine. It has always been a favorite poem in collections and school reading-books, and is not yet forgotten. It was followed by imitations: among them, Mrs. Dorset's Peacock at Home aud Lion's Masquerade, with Mulready's illustratitons. One, at least, of these books has been reprinted in facsimile by Mr. Welsh, within a few years.

In 1799, "J. Walker, E. Newbery, and all other Booksellers and Stationers in Great Britain, Ireland, and America" had for sale "The Young Gentleman's and Lady's Magazine, or Universal Repository of Knowledge, Instruction, and Amusement. Intended to open the tender Mind to an acquaintance with Life, Morals and Science, and the Works of Nature and Art; and to serve as a useful auxiliary to Public and Private Tuition. Edited by Dr. Mayor, Vol. I." It is a small duodecimo. The prospectus on the fly-leaf informs the public that instruction, not amusement, is the object of the magazine. Several persons who have been teachers, the preface explains in Johnsonian English, "observed that the young of both sexes had no appropriate periodical publication, which might serve as an incentive to study, as an auxiliary to oral instruction, or as a companion of the vacant hour." Dr. Mayor had been for many years a tutor and compiler of schoolbooks. He had also edited and rewritten the collection of voyages and travels that bears his name, and has no doubt excited the first longings for sea-life in many a future officer of the royal navy. He was therefore found to be a suitable person to edit the magazine, and it started off with an emblematic frontispiece, representing "Apollo and Minerva conducting youth of both sexes to the Temple." The first number had also "a beautifully coloured Plate from Nature of the Moss Rose, with a plain Duplicate, intended as an Exercise for the juvenile Pencil." The magazine begins with a prologue in verse, followed by arithmetical recreations, a lecture on botany, two fables in verse, an article on the political situation in Egypt, the beginning of a catechism of health, a description of the hydrostatical lamp, some maxims and precepts of ancient philosophers, a few anecdotes of Mahometan justice, a letter on the union of male and female studies, a game of twenty questions, an Oriental tale, a review of school and juvenile books, a dialogue, a hymn by Dr. Blacklock, an Ode to Childhood, Memoirs of Dick the little Poney and another story, an extract from a book of travels in China, and one or two charades. The first number has eighty-four pages, and several of the articles are continued. From the character of the magazine, it could hardly have been long-lived. It is a far cry through this, and the Young Misses' Magazine that existed for a few years in Brooklyn, early in the century, to the really excellent ones for growing-up boys and girls of to-day. There is hardly a subject which any reader of intelligence cannot find treated in these periodicals in a way that tells him clearly, precisely, and attractively, something of which he is ignorant. Popular science, manufactures, descriptions of strange countries and animals, suggestions for home and school life, thrilling stories from history, & #8212; what more can a child want, with two or three good, sometimes very good, stories in each number?

The tendency in the United States had been all this time, as we have seen, to reprint English books, either exactly, or with very slight modifications to suit republican taste. From Franklin's little volumes of Bunyan, which he sold to buy some small chapmen's books, a historical collection, his Plutarch, Defoe, and Spectator, there was little change to the end of the century, when Buckingham, the Boston printer, had, besides the last-mentioned work, Robinson Crusoe, Goody Two Shoes, Tom Thumb, Michael Wigglesworth's Day of Doom, a file of almanacs, Gulliver's Travels, The History of the Pirates, The Vicar of Wakefield, Tristram Shandy, Tom Jones, and Junius. But school-books were scarce and dear during the Revolution, and Noah Webster, foreseeing that works like Dilworth's New Guide to the English Tongue, probably intended for charity schools, would not long be useful in a new country, published his Grammatical Institute, containing a little general information for country boys and girls who had few books, and later his typical New England spelling-book.

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