Engines of Instruction, Mischief, and Magic: Children's Literature in England from Its Beginnings to 1839

Engines of Instruction, Mischief, and Magic: Children's Literature in England from Its Beginnings to 1839

Engines of Instruction, Mischief, and Magic: Children's Literature in England from Its Beginnings to 1839

Engines of Instruction, Mischief, and Magic: Children's Literature in England from Its Beginnings to 1839

Synopsis

When John Newbery published A Little Pretty Pocket-Book in London in 1744 he was onto something new: the writing and marketing of books devoted wholly to children. Although it was the Age of Reason and Newbery and his contemporaries believed that even the poorest young-ster could "look to his book" to achieve worldly success, there was an element of fun in the juvenile productions that soon flowed from the presses. The adventures of Dick Whittington, Giles Gingerbread, and Little Goody Two-Shoes delighted as they instructed. To read Engines of Instruction, Mischief, and Magic: Children's Literature in England from Its Beginnings to 1839 is to trace the origins of a cherished part of our cultural history.

Mary V. Jackson's entertaining, lavishly illustrated book sets a new standard for the study of children's literature in England. Going beyond previous scholarship, she shows how social, political, religious, and aesthetic considerations shaped the form and content of children's books. These books have always been sensitive barometers of shifts in taste and belief, a means of inculcating in the young the prevailing values of the adult world. They brought about a revolution in publishing, as revealed in Jackson's discussion of marketing strategies and innovations. And they were indebted to adult literature and art: classics like Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver's Travels were eventually categorized as children's books, and Romantic poets and illustrators like William Blake pointed the way from Puritan piety to fantasy and freedom. This fascinating history is rich in implications for children's literature of today.

Excerpt

When I first considered a suggestion that I write a history of English children's books before 1900, I was uncertain that it could be done or, given F. J. Harvey Darton's monumental Children's Books in England (1932), that it needed doing. What of significance could be said that he had not already said so eloquently? and if there had once been anything left to add, had not Mary F. Thwaite in fact done so in her splendid history, From Primer to Pleasure in Reading (1963; revised ed., 1972), or if not she, then Brian Alderson, in the superbly revised third edition of Darton (1982)? To be sure, heretofore unknown books and publishers have come to light, and of course Darton, Thwaite, Percy Muir, Francella Butler, and the other pioneers in the field have not pretended to have discussed everything, but did the new material or any new approach actually justify a reevaluation of the field? Such were my misgivings.

Although there have been several important learned books since Darton's and Thwaite's, few are scholarly histories of the field: To cite only three examples that have proved especially helpful, Victor Neuburg's The Penny Histories (1968) and Popular Education in Eighteenth-Century England (1971) provide crucial bibliographical data on the chapbook industry and the corollary issues of its readership and the nature and extent of literacy among the poor. and Samuel E Pickering's erudite John Locke and Children's Books in Eighteenth-Century England (1981) tackles a vast and complicated body of material from a specialized angle, illuminating many previously half-understood and misunderstood matters. But it was not meant to account fully for this huge motley of a field.

As I pursued my research, which had begun with the study of the debts of Blake and other English Romantics to a variety of children's books at the British Library, what convinced me there might be some . . .

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