Dr. Watts composed for copy-books moral rhymes beginning with every letter of the alphabet, and verses enumerating the signs of the Zodiac and the order of the planets. One of the latter placed the earth in the centre of the solar system, according to the vulgar belief of the time, and another agreed with more modern ideas. Sombre as is the theology of half the hymns, the others and the moral songs are so sweet and lovely in spirit that they are as good for the children of to-day as they were for the little girls at Theobalds.
Bishop Ken’s hymns, even earlier than Watts’s, should be held in grateful remembrance. In the later editions of his “Manual of Prayers for the Use of the Scholars of Winchester College” are the hymns for morning, evening, and midnight, two of which, “Awake, my soul, and with the sun,” and “Glory to Thee, my God, this night,” are still loved by children.
The fairy-tales and wonder-stories sold in England by chapmen, and now treasured in libraries, were, many of them, of French origin, either from the old metrical romances, or tales collected by Perrault and the Comtesse d’Aulnoy. Cinderella, Valentine and Orson, The White Cat, The Yellow Dwarf, Beauty and the Beast, are all of direct French descent, and were once as dear to storylovers of all ages as they have always been to children. Some of the chapbooks are distinctively English, as, for example, The History of Thomas Hickathrift, in whose adventures Thackeray thought that he could discover the robust style of Henry Fielding. This story is less known than many of the other old tales, and is worth recounting. There is a Norfolk legend of a giant called Hickafric, from whom Thomas’ adventures are probably derived. He lived in the reign of William the Conqueror, had more strength than six horses or twenty men, became a brewer’s servant, fought with and killed a giant, taking possession of his cave and riches, and living happy ever after, with an occasional fight to keep his spirits up. It is in the description of the battle with the giant that Thackeray finds traces of the hand which wrote of the immortal contest between Molly Seagrim and Goody Brown, and the previous Homeric village battle.
In Queen Elizabeth’s reign, one Ralph Newberie, whose name is still seen in black-letter copies of Hakluyt, Holinshed, and Stow, was a London publisher. More than a hundred years later, a boy named John Newbery, claiming descent from him, was growing up on a farm in the little village of Waltham St. Lawrence, Berkshire. Like many another country boy, he preferred town life to the farm, and, being fond of books, went into the office of a printer in Reading. The printer died within ten years, and Newbery, who was one of his executors, married his widow, and continued the business; printing a newspaper, compounding and selling medicines, and keeping something like one of our “country stores.” In 1744, he had become successful enough to open two shops in London, one near Temple Bar, the other at the Royal Exchange. The next year, he gave up both, and established himself in St. Paul’s Churchyard, combining the sale of patent medicines with that of books. Both branches of business prospered, and Newbery began to try his hand at a third, — the writing and publication of little books for children. Of three hundred books, published by him and his successors between 1744 and 1802, of which copies or advertisements are still in existence, nearly two hundred are for children. The first of these, issued before the removal to St. Paul’s Churchyard, is “A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, intended for the Instruction and Amusement of Little Master Tommy and Pretty Miss Polly, with an agreeable letter to read from Jack the Giant Killer, as also a Ball and Pincushion, the use of which will infallibly make Tommy a Good Boy, and Polly a Good Girl. … Price of the Book alone, 6d., with a Ball or Pincushion, Sd.” A Circle of the Sciences followed, in ten small volumes, beginning with The Royal Battledore, a folded stiff sheet, with letters, pictures, and
He that ne’er learns his A B C,
For ever will a blockhead be;
But he that learns these letters fair,
Shall have a Coach to take the Air.
After this the young learner was allured into the study of spelling, grammar, arithmetic, rhetoric, poetry, logic, and geography, with chronology, which was all that history meant to children of the eighteenth century. The series was so popular that it was published in part in various corrected and revised editions up to 1793. The little books, less than four inches by three in size, were dedicated to children of the royal family, or noble personages, and no doubt were as useful in their day as Mangnall’s Questions were later. They were even called snuff-box or waistcoat-pocket volumes, to be kept for ready reference in the large pockets of the time, that students might extract a date, or disputants clinch an argument at need.
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, — 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.