Some temerity is needed to embark on a history of English children's books because F. J. H. Darton covered the ground so adequately in his Children's Books in England. Any later historian must pay ample tribute to this great work on the subject; and I should like it to be clear from the beginning that the present book makes no pretensions to supplanting him. On the contrary, I have leaned heavily on Darton throughout, and his book has been constantly at hand at all times. Had it not have been long out of print my book might not have been attempted.
My purpose has been more limited than his: I have not attempted the detail of his portrayal; but rather a broader sweep within a smaller compass. If I may venture to put it so, I have concentrated on a picture of the wood as a whole rather than the trees that compose it. And yet that is misleading: what I have rather tended to do is to select certain noble or outstanding specimens, grouping round them the separate parts of the forest.
This preference for a selective rather than an inclusive method was initially dictated by considerations of space; but in the sequel it has resulted in considerable changes of emphasis, so that, in fact, the picture that emerges differs in many essentials from Darton's.
There is, however, another fundamental difference in my approach to the subject as compared with Darton's, deriving from a firm conviction that all such matters as this should be approached from a bibliographical angle. Therefore, while I have confined check-lists and postscripts of a bibliographical order to places where they may be skipped by the reader, they are in fact the anatomy of this book, around which its body has been fashioned. In general the lists were compiled first, and the book takes its pattern from the indications given by them.
Darton, moreover, was writing more than twenty years ago, and in the interval interest in children's books of earlier days has greatly deepened and widened. New discoveries have been made: above all, the Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, so eruditely edited by the Opies, has appeared. This book stands only second to Darton in my indebtedness. References both explicit and implicit will be found, especially in my early chapters; but it is in its general reorientation of the history that I have found it most valuable, especially in the evidence it provides of pre-Newbery activity.
The general background of this history has been the Cambridge History of English Literature in fifteen volumes, 1932, and the Bibliography thereto, four volumes, 1940. Details of the lives of some authors and publishers have been taken from the Dictionary of National Biography and from Allibone Critical Dictionary. Indispensable to any study of the subject is the extensive catalogue issued in Paris in 1930 by . . .