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Stories Before 1850. 0090: Various, The Children's Miscellany

Author: Various, but edited by Thomas Day?
Title: The Children's Miscellany. ... Ornamented with a Frontispiece
Cat. Number: 0090
Date: 1788
1st Edition: 1788
Pub. Place: London
Publisher: John Stockdale, Opposite Burlington House, Piccadilly
Price: 3s 6d (?)
Pages: 1 vol., viii + 339pp. and 13 pages of advertisements
Size: 17 x 10.5 cm
Illustrations: Engraved frontispiece, possibly by Thomas Bewick
Note: Title-page missing. Bibliographic data is derived from the British Library copy. This volume contains: 1. 'Advertisement'; 2. 'The History of Little Jack', by Thomas Day; 3. 'The Little Queen'; 4. 'The Elephant'; 5. 'The Three Sisters'; 6. 'The Contrast'; 7. 'The Natural History of the Lion'; 8. 'Fatal Effects of Delay'; 9. 'The Nosegay'; 10. 'Description of the Two-Horned Rhinoceros'; 11. 'The Three Brothers'; 12. 'The History of Philip Quarll'

Images of all pages of this book

Page 002 of item 0090

Introductory essay

See below for synopsis of The History of Little Jack.

Although the Hockliffe Collection's copy lacks its title-page, this volume can be identified by its contents as The Children's Miscellany, published in a single volume by John Stockdale in 1788. Two further editions were forthcoming, in 1790 and 1804, but these have different pagination and contents to the Hockliffe copy, confirming that the Hockliffe copy is the first edition. In any case, the manuscript inscription bearing the date on the '1790' on the fly-leaf precludes a later date of publication. The title-page of a 1789 Dublin edition of the Miscellany claims that the work had been 'altered and improved' by Sarah Trimmer, but this was not in fact the case. Rather, her story 'The Two Farmers', and her revision of Isaac Watt's Divine Songs, had simply been appended to Stockdale's 1788 edition.

An account of the publication history of The Children's Miscellany is given in the 'Advertisement' which opens the volume in the Hockliffe Collection. It reveals that 'some gentlemen of fortune and literary abilities' had originally intended to produce a periodical magazine for children, perhaps on the basis of Arnaud Berquin's L'Ami des Enfans (0060-0067), which Stockdale was already publishing in the Rev. Mark Anthony Meilan's translation (0069), but that 'accidents, which it is unnecessary to relate' forced them 'to abandon their design' (pp.v-vi). It can be assumed that one of these 'gentlemen of fortune and literary abilities' was Thomas Day (1748-89), whose story 'The History of Little Jack' is the first piece in the collection. Whether there were actually any other contributors, or whether Day was also responsible for the remaining ten pieces in the volume, remains uncertain. An advertisement for The Children's Miscellany in the back of Stockdale's separate edition of The History of Little Jack (1800) is ambiguous on the subject. It offers 'The Children's Miscellany; to which is prefixed the History of Little Jack. By Thomas Day, Esq. In 1 Volume 12mo. Illustrated with a Frontispiece. Price 3s.6d. bound'. At least one of the pieces which forms the Miscellany, 'The History of Philip Quarll', was a well-known story in its own right, and had been in print since at least 1727 (it is sometimes attributed to Peter Longueville). The prefacing encomium (pp.194-198), though, is so perfectly representative of Day's Rousseauistic principles that it seems certain to have been newly written by him, so perhaps he also revised the narrative too.

In any case, The History of Little Jack soon overtook in popularity the collection in which it had originally appeared. Stockdale published it separately within a year at just a shilling, slightly altering the text, but adding twenty-two wood engravings by Thomas Bewick (the engraved frontispiece to the 1788 edition of the Miscellany is sometimes attributed to Bewick too, but there is no obvious evidence for this). There were frequent new editions, often in chapbook format, and it was still in print in 1870 when it appeared in C. M. Yonge's Storehouse of Stories. Its success is probably due to its fast-paced narrative (see below for synopsis), but Day clearly constructed the tale as a demonstration of his philosophical convictions, derived directly from Rousseau's writings. Jack, with a goat for a mother and a marginalised ex-soldier for a father, was clearly another Emile, given a 'natural' education outside of corrupt society and, as a result, a purer, freer, more talented and more vigorous boy. His adventures prove the point. The boys and men whom he meets are all pusillanimous, depressive, lazy and skilled in useless arts such as hair-dressing and dancing; they have been made decadent by the society in which they had been brought up. Jack not only excels them in everything that he does - working harder, never despairing, never complaining, always quick to put his talents to good use, able to survive on a desert island - but is virtuous to boot. He even escapes from his imprisonment among the Tartars by using his skill as a blacksmith, one of the two professions which Rousseau proposed for boys in Emile (1762).

That Day had been long mulling over a literary vindication of Rousseau is evident from a letter from Robert Lowell Edgeworth to Day dated 19 September 1789: 'We admire Little Jack very much', wrote Edgeworth, adding 'I see you were resolved to introduce Nurse Goat somewhere or other' (Gignilliat 1932: 306). The suckling goat is indeed the most ridiculous element of the story, but it clearly provided such a perfect symbol of the natural upbringing which Jack was to benefit from that Day could not force himself to dispense with it. Little Jack was not Day's first attempt to translate his understanding of Rousseau into fiction. His Sandford and Merton had already appeared (see 0091 and 0092), but although it would go on to become more famous, Little Jack scores over it in a number of ways (even with the goat still in place). First, the philosophical purport of the Little Jack is carried wholly by the narrative, not, as in Sandford and Merton, by interjected spoken harangues. Second, it is much shorter. As Peter Rowland has pointed out in his recent biography of Day, these factors make Little Jack appeal to a much younger audience (Rowland 1996: 313). They would also make Little Jack suitable for 'persons of the labouring classes', for whom, says R. A. Davenport, author of a very early 'Life of Thomas Day' (1822), Day designed the book (Davenport 1822: 156). The price - just one shilling for the separate edition - would also have supported Day's ambition, as would the fact that the book's hero, unlike either Sandford or Merton, starts off the tale as poor as it is possible to be (although he finishes it rich, rather in the manner of one of Newbery's 'how to grow rich' narratives - e.g. Goody Two-Shoes or Dame Partlet's Farm). Jack's initial poverty also solves one of the intrinsic problems of Rousseau's philosophy as appropriated for Sandford and Merton - how should a rich child acquire the hardihood and labouring skills which will make him or her a worthy adult? It is natural that Jack should acquire them through his deprived upbringing; but it seems overly contrived, not to say extremely unlikely, that the son or daughter of a rich family should spend his or her youth actively seeking out such character-building deprivation.

After Little Jack, the rest of The Children's Miscellany is a mixture of fiction and factual natural history with only one piece, Philip Quarll, occupying more than twenty duodecimo pages. It is of course highly appropriate, and not at all coincidental, that the 'Robinsonnade' Philip Quarll should round off a volume which had started with Little Jack. Rousseau had recommended Robinson Crusoe, and Day's preface makes the case for Philip Quarll, taking it as evidence of the superiority of 'natural man' and as a wake-up call to civilised society. 'Surely', he asks, 'the uncultured Savage that inhabits the woods, and asks no more than a skin to repel the winds of winter, a hut to defend him from the storms, and a moderate quantity of the coarsest food, is happier far than we' (p.195). Compared with him, the inhabitant of a city is little more than an oyster or a muscle, attached to one spot and unable to fend for himself because his decadent idleness has gradually eroded the ability to move his limbs or even to think for himself (pp.196-197). The ship-wrecked Philip Quarll, forced to rely on the 'latent resources' of his mind and body, shows what nobility man is capable of when he throws off the shackles of civilisation and stretches himself to the limit of his powers (p.198).

Synopsis of The History of Little Jack

Jack is abandoned as a baby on a wild moor in the north of England. A lame, ex-soldier, himself a pauper who lives in a nearby hut, finds the boy and takes him in. His goat, Nan, suckles Jack, and Jack comes to regard the goat as his mother and the old man as his father. The man teaches Jack how to read and write, by tracing letters in the sand, and then some basic arithmetic. When Nan dies, Jack's lamentations attract the attention of a woman passing in her carriage. She gives him half-a-crown to buy some shoes and clothes, but when Jack tries them he finds them cumbersome and he soon rejects them.

When Jack's adopted father dies, the boy sets out to seek his fortune. After briefly working on a farm, he finds work at an iron foundry, but having told them his life-story, he is teased by the other boys there, who call him a beggar and bleat at him. Jack attacks one of his tormentors just as the master, showing off the foundry to a group of ladies and gentlemen, walks by. He is dismissed, but one of the tour-party turns out to be the lady who had been charitable to him earlier, and she takes him on as a stable-boy. He learns how to shoe a horse and make a saddle, and is rewarded for his industry by some additional teaching. This peaceful situation is shattered when a fashionable young visitor to the household takes a dislike to Jack. Jack quickly buys a monkey and dresses him up to mock the visitor. The visitor kills the monkey, which provokes Jack to fight him. When Jack refuses to apologise he is turned out of the house.

Jack enlists in the marines and is sent to India. On the way, the troops stop off at Cormo Islands, off Africa, but Jack gets lost onshore and his ship sails without him. The island is not uninhabited, but he decides not to join the indigenous population, fearing that they will make him a slave. Instead, like Robinson Crusoe, he creates a life for himself there, until he is rescued by a British ship which takes him to rejoin his regiment in India.

Jack is promoted and is selected to form part of a force exploring a region ruled by the Tartars. After a Tartar attack, the British are forced to agree to an armistice which sees several men taken as hostage. Jack is one of them. He manages to ingratiate himself with the Tartar chief, the Khan, by preserving the life of his favourite horse. Able to provide saddles and shoes for all their horses, Jack soon becomes a favourite of the Tartars, unlike his fellow hostages. When the hostages are set free, Jack is given two horses and valuable skins which make him a rich man. He leaves the army and returns to Britain.

Though rich, Jack returns to the foundry where he had formerly been employed and is taken on as a foreman. Subsequently he earns promotion to become a partner, and then sole manager of the business. He becomes rich enough to buy his native moor, and to build a house on the site of his 'father's' hut. He lives happily there, dispensing charity to his less fortunate neighbours and never failing to tell them his own life-story as evidence that hard work and dutiful behaviour will raise a person from even the humblest origins.

Gignilliat, George Warren, Jr. The Author of Sandford and Merton. A LIfe of Thomas Day, Esq., New York: Columbia University Press, 1932

Rowland, Peter, The Life and Times of Thomas Day, 1748-1789. English Philanthropist and Author. Virtue Almost Personified, Studies in British History, Vol. 39, Lewiston/Queenston/Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1996

Davenport, R. A., 'Life of Thomas Day', in The British Poets. Including Translations. In one hundred volumes, Chiswick, 1822, vol.58