It was only a century ago, as everybody remembers, that literary sucklings were nurtured on the Bible, Pilgrim's Progress, Paradise Lost, and Fox's Book of Martyrs. This was not in all respects an admirable diet for readers of any age, but it had its good points. There is a chance that an imaginative child may be helped toward a taste for good literature by having to amuse himself with that or nothing; he may delight in the rhythm of great poetry or the stately march of great prose before he can get an inkling as to what it is all about. But the situation is hardly imaginable nowadays, since children have plenty of reading to amuse themselves with besides the best. They are no longer required to be seen and not heard, or to put up with the scraps of literature which may fall from the wholesome (that is, tiresome) table of their elders. A much pleasanter bill of fare is being provided for them, and it is confidently expected that the early courses of sugarwater and lollipop will gently and kindergartenly induce an appetite for the ensuing roast. The fact is, our guilt has come home to us. We have not been treating the child properly for the past ten thousand years or so, and we are in a creditable hurry to make it up to him, at the expense of our own rights if necessary; and we do books, among other things, in his honor, by way of propitiating him.
Our earlier attempts were pretty clumsy, we must admit. When it occurred to us that the child was a person, we perceived first that he must be worth preaching to. We hastened to provide him with Guides for the Young Christian, and Maiden Monitors, and such; and later, relenting a little, we declined to the secular frivolity of the Rollo books and Sandford and Merton. There is no doubt that the child, or a considerable part of him, enjoyed this concession, paltry as it now seems; and presently his dutifulness was rewarded by such books as Water Babies, Tom Brown at Rugby, and Alice in Wonderland, which perfectly established his right to be amused as well as instructed. Since then affairs have gone very smoothly for him; the rill of literature for children has grown to a torrent, and there is no saying that it may not soon develop into a deluge. The number and character of current books advertised to be for the young is a little appalling; but there is no use in grumbling about such a condition; probably the wisest course for the observer is to cultivate an attitude of resigned and friendly speculation.