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Stories Before 1850. 0147: Richard Johnson?, The Blossoms of Morality

Author: Johnson, Richard?
Title: The Blossoms of Morality; intended for the Amusement and Instruction of Young Ladies and Gentlemen. By the editor of the Looking Glass for the Mind, with Forty-Seven Cuts Designed and Engraved by J. Bewick. The Seventh Edition
Cat. Number: 0147
Date: 1821
1st Edition: 1789
Pub. Place: London
Publisher: J. Harris and Son
Price: Unknown
Pages: 1 vol., 235pp.
Size: 13.5 x 8.5 cm
Illustrations: Forty-seven wood engravings

Images of all pages of this book

Page 004 of item 0147

Introductory essay

In the 1770s and 1780s the British and French traditions of children's literature coalesced. The moral tale was the dominant form on both sides of the Channel, and the writing of Jean-Jacques Rousseau inspired books in both languages. Indeed, French writers such as Madame de Genlis were frequently translated into English, and in return, Maria Edgeworth, Thomas Day and others were routinely translated into French. One of the major figures in this cross-Channel exchange was Arnaud Berquin (1747-91). His name, or at least his work, would have been as familiar to British children growing up in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries as that of almost any indigenous writer.

Berquin's most famous achievement was L'Ami des Enfants, a part-work published in Paris in twenty-four monthly instalments during 1782 and 1783. A London edition, though still in French, followed hard on its heels, and half of this set is in the Hockliffe Collection (0060 through to 0065; oddly here the title always gives the archaic spelling: L'Ami des Enfans). Although this edition bears the date 1782 on its title-page, it was in fact published in 1783-84, as a fly-leaf note makes clear:

Cet ouvrage a commencé en France le 1er Janvier 1782: et quoqu'il soit réimprimé Londres en 1783, on a cru devoir laisser chaque volume la date du mois et de l'année o il a paru dans le principe, afin qu'étant parvenu une fois au pair de l'édition de Paris, il n'y ait pas de confusion dans la suite des Numéros, et qu'on puisse faire parotre les nouveaux volumes la fois dans les deux villes, ce qui aura lieu incessamment.

[This work began in France on the 1st January 1782, and although it was reprinted in London in 1783, it was thought that the date and month of the year in which it first appeared should be left on each volume, so that having once reached parity with the Paris edition, there would be no confusion in the sequence of numbers, and so that new volumes might appear at the same time in the two towns, which would take place without interruption.]

Presumably this French-language London edition was aimed at British children, its primary purpose being to help teach them French (and one paid extra for French publications - a 4 volume set of these tales in French cost 10s. in 1788, whilst four volumes of The Children's Friend cost only 8s. according to an advertisement for children's books published by Dilly, Stockdale and others: The Friend of Youth ... complete in two volumes, 1788, British Library copy). But clearly the book soon proved popular enough for a translation into English, which appeared from November 1783, running in twenty-four numbers, two a month. Less than two years after this, Berquin's original was re-translated by the Rev. Mark Anthony Meilan and published as The Children's Friend in London. Its twenty-four parts, of which the Hockliffe Collection possesses the first two (0069), were all dated 1786. Meilan went on to produce his Friend of Youth in 1787-88, partly taken from Berquin, partly from other Continental writers, and partly his own work, and the Hockliffe Collection has a volume of a slightly later edition of this, published in 1788 (0070).

The 1786 edition of The Children's Friend is particularly interesting because it is prefaced by a subscription list. This is not the 'little miss this' and 'young master that' type of list which Newbery had pioneered as a sales technique in the 1740s, but a genuine register of those who had promised in advance to purchase a set of the two-volume work. As such, it provides an insight into the sort of person who was patronising this kind of new, high quality children's literature (although, of course, sales were not limited to subscribers). 112 individuals subscribed to the project. 65 were women and 47 were men, but what is most striking is that of the 107 subscribers whose addresses we know, none gave an address beyond London and the Home Counties. 42 gave their address as in the City of London (including the peripheral areas in the East End and Southwark), and 36 were resident in the West End and Kensington. 14 lived in what might be regarded as the suburbs - Islington or Stoke Newington say - and 15 lived further out in the Home Counties. Of course a bare list of names and street-names reveals little about the social class of these patrons of children's literature. But it does seem remarkable that so many subscribers came from the City, an area where affluence certainly existed, but a predominantly middle-class locale in the late eighteenth century by which time most wealthy families had migrated west. A comparison of this subscription list with those to be found at the head of many novels also suggests a more middle class readership of children's books. Whilst an aristocratic clientele was assiduously sought by the authors and publishers of adult fiction so that their names could feature prominently on the subscription lists, only five titled subscribers feature here. When St. James's Palace or Windsor is listed, as they are, it is members of the royal household who subscribed, not members of the royal family. The importance of institutional sales is also hinted at by the list. If the likes of Mrs. Green were guaranteeing to buy four sets for her Ladies' Boarding School, or Mr. Miln to buy six for his Academy in Tooting, then the success of the venture would be more than likely.

Berquin's work remained popular in France, Britain and beyond well into the nineteenth century. 0066 and 0067 are from a Paris edition of 1802 for instance. And sixty years later the same stories were still deemed a good foundation for the British empire - Berquin's Children's Friend translated into Gujarati for the use of Government schools in the Bombay Presidency was published in Mumbai in 1860. But probably the most popular of all re-workings of Berquin was a 'very free' (0148: p.iii) translation of L'Ami des Enfants anthologised and revised by Richard Johnson and appearing under the title The Looking-Glass for The Mind; or Intellectual Mirror. Being an Elegant Collection of the Most Delightful Little Stories and Interesting Tales in 1787. One thirteen year-old reader apparently knew better and annotated the title of her copy to read 'the unintellectual mirror: being an inelegant collection of the most disagreeable silly stories and uninteresting tales. With twenty-four ugly cuts' (Carpenter 1984: 325). But this work remained popular enough to be reprinted for at least half a century after its first appearance. The Hockliffe Collection has two editions, one of 1821 by Harris and Son, heirs to Elizabeth Newbery, the original publisher (0149), and the other a handsome edition of uncertain date from J. Brook of Huddersfield (0150). The imprint 'J. Brook' appears on books from as early as 1798 to as late as 1855, but this work probably dates from c.1820-1840.

Richard Johnson, who condensed The Looking-Glass for The Mind, was one of the neglected figures who did so much to steer the uncharted course of children's literature in the late eighteenth century. He is usually described as a 'hack-writer', that is to say he would take on whichever kind of writing he was paid for. He was certainly happy to abridge the works of others, and even to plagiarise. His day-books reveal that he became reasonably affluent from little bits and pieces of work which were irregularly put his way, generally by the successors of John Newbery. We know, for instance, that he was paid sixteen guineas (though he was expecting eighteen) by Abraham Badcock, manager of Elizabeth Newbery's business, for pillaging Berquin to construct the first edition of The Looking-Glass for The Mind, and that he asked for a further £1.11s. 6d. for 'writing Heads [i.e. contents, titles and headings] to the Looking-Glass' in 1792 (for details of Johnson's financial dealings see Weedon 1949).

Sydney Roscoe, Newbery's bibliographer, has suggested that M. J. P. Weedon was perhaps too eager to attribute so many works to Johnson purely on the basis of his day-books, for when he claimed that he had 'written' these texts, he may simply have meant 'abridged', or 'altered', or even 'transcribed' (Roscoe 1973: 150). Furthermore, Johnson's routine use of pseudonyms makes it difficult to establish exactly what he was responsible for - he often used the name 'Revd. W. D. Cooper', but also worked under more generic names such as 'Master Tommy Littleton'. Yet neither his originality and influence, nor his commitment to his craft, should be underrated. His Juvenile Trials for Robbing Orchards, telling fibs, and other heinous offences (1771; second edition, 1774: 0167 in the Hockliffe Collection) can be credited with starting a vogue for narratives which sought to educate their readers into good behaviour through the description of a trial and consequent punishment. Likewise, his The Oriental Moralist (c.1791) was the first translation of The Arabian Nights designed specifically for children and had many direct descendants. Moreover, the prefaces to The Looking-Glass for The Mind and his other collections of moral tales sound every bit as sincere and thoughtful as any of the more approved writers of moral tales of the era. Johnson may well have been the 'faithful friend and sincere well-wisher' of 'the Misses and Masters of Great Britain', which is how he portrayed himself in the dedication to his Juvenile Rambles through the paths of Nature (0925-0927), rather than the mercenary writer who simply wrote what he was told would sell. (See also 0092, 0161, 0233, 0479, 0604 and 1101 for other examples of Johnson's work in the Hockliffe Collection.)

Another of Johnson's compilations was The Blossoms of Morality (1789), of which the Hockliffe Collection has the 'fifth' edition of 1810 (0148) and the 'seventh' of 1821 (0147). The preface claims that the stories which Johnson had selected were mostly translated from Berquin, but they seem not to be taken from L'Ami des Enfants. The respect with which the author of the preface to Blossoms of Morality speaks of Berquin's works is testimony to the esteem in which he was held. The 1810 preface says they 'undoubtedly merit the highest encomiums,' and though foreign ( - an interesting suggestion that by 1810 British readers were more sceptical about French works than they had been thirty years earlier, before the Revolution and Napoleon), they 'claim the most extensive patronage' (0148: p.iii). By 1821, this praise had been amplified even more, demonstrating the popularity of Berquin well into the nineteenth century (although apparently it was thought expedient for the price to drop a little for a book of the previous generation):

In proof of the generally received utility of this celebrated foreigner's works, it is sufficient to remark, that the Looking-Glass for the Mind has experienced the undiminished patronage of the public for thirty years; during which period it has passed through numerous editions, to the amount of 60,000 copies. The present publication being derived from the same source as the above, of which they [the publishers] adduce so decided a criterion of merit, they venture to hope that the reduction of its form and price will be compensated by a more extensive circulation (0147: pp.iv-v)

This begs the question of what made L'Ami des Enfants, in any of its forms, so popular. John Dunkley has suggested that the work was popular in both France and Britain because adults saw it as forestalling the intrusion into the child's world of material which was deemed unsuitable - namely crude, ribald, scatological and sometimes dangerously unorthodox material in chapbooks and la littérature de coleportage (Dunkley 1993: 187). This is doubtless true, and Dunkley can point to the very conservative understanding of social and economic relations that permeates Berquin's portrayal of society. Marilyn Butler concurs, calling Berquin 'unworldly', rather in the manner of a Watteau painting, and certainly there is little sense of any harsh economic realities in his work (Butler 1972: 157). Yet this safeness alone does not really explain why Berquin, among all the other writers of similar stuff, retained his pre-eminence. After all, in Britain at least, there was a great deal of new work appearing in the 1780s and '90s which took a very orthodox ideological stance and aimed to plug the gap in the market between the over-earnest books of morality for children and the chapbooks. Perhaps the best explanation of his success amongst both parents and children is Berquin's own. His 'Prospectus' describes what he hoped to provide for his readers. He insisted first that his stories would contain nothing that was fantastic or alien to children, but only such episodes as they might encounter any day of their lives (0060: p.vi). This would be appealing to an audience reared on Trimmerite concerns about the dangers of the fabulous. Moreover, Berquin was fundamentally an optimist about human nature, convinced that there was no need for an explicit lecture to influence the reader because any child could inherently tell what was right and what was wrong once they had had it pointed out to them. His stories, he hoped, did just this (0060: p.vii) - and see below for synopses of some of Berquin's tales which demonstrate his method. This was a formula guaranteed to please both parents and children, the former because they felt their sons and daughters (and he stressed that he wrote for both sexes) were safe with Berquin, and the latter because they were spared the usual literary lectures. In addition, it can easily be inferred that Berquin regarded reading as a communal activity. Some of the sections of L'Ami des Enfants are short plays which, he hoped, would be acted out by his young readers. This, he assured their parents, would teach them deportment. But to children this must have been a welcome change to the more normal, more sedate patterns of their reading. Berquin specifically recommended that the whole family join in with these performances, making each drama into 'une fte domestique' to unite the family through mutual amusement (0060: pp.ix-x). Indeed, if Berquin's work has a theme, it is that parents and children live in a perfect symbiosis, the parents looking after their children's interests and the children, if behaving properly, filling their parents with joy (an idea expressed best in 'The Little Brother' and 'The Children Their Own Master' in 0069 - see below for synopsis). To the modern reader this seems a truism, or at least something that it is natural for a family to aspire to. It should be remembered, though, that the paradigm of the nuclear family was not so universally accepted, especially in upper-class households, in the eighteenth century. Moreover, for children schooled on books in which parents seem to intrude only to castigate their children and ram pious lessons home, Berquin's approach must have been refreshing. Perhaps more than being a rather earnest Looking-Glass for The Mind, Berquin's work was in fact, as he himself claimed, The Children's Friend.

The Looking-Glass for The Mind and The Blossoms of Morality might well have owed some of their popularity to the wood engravings by John Bewick, younger brother of the more famous Thomas. The illustrations which he created for the second edition of The Looking-Glass in 1792, just three years before his death, were retained in subsequent editions right through to the 1820s at least, and it is easy to see what a difference they make to the text by comparing them with the Huddersfield edition in the Hockliffe Collection which lacks them (0150). This demonstrates the problems of a provincial publisher producing a pirated edition (although, under the rather abstruse English copyright laws, if this edition was published after 1815, and Johnson was dead, there would have been no breach of copyright). The text could be appropriated easily enough, but the wood blocks for the illustrations were far harder to come by. Readers of this Huddersfield edition had to content themselves with small, between-the-tales wood-cuts mostly of plants and animal, of dubious relevance to the stories.

The one other text by Berquin in the Hockliffe Collection is his translation into French of the Dutch book, Le Petit Grandisson (0071). Although Samuel Richardson's Sir Charles Grandison had been abridged for children several times in English (as early as 1756 indeed, just two years after the novel's original publication), Berquin's version was not taken from Richardson but from a wholly separate work for children, first published in Holland, which had been loosely based on the same scheme. 'Little Grandison', a translation into English Berquin's translation into French constitutes part of the 1788 edition of The Friend of Youth (0070), starting on page 143. The London publication of Berquin's French version in 1801 must have been designed for the French tutoring market or, just possibly, for export to France. As for Berquin himself, he stopped writing for children when the Revolution came. His Bibliothque des Villages (1790) is aimed at the peasantry, recommending a life of hard work and endorsing the primacy of the family. Despite its kinship with the writing for adults of Hannah More, Sarah Trimmer and others, this, Berquin's last work, was never translated into English.

Synopses of sample tales from Berquin's The Children's Friend, trans. Meilan (1786):

'The Little Fiddler. A Drama in One Act' (0069: starts vol.1, p.89)

Charles and Olivia live in the house of their father, Mr Waller, as does their poor dependent Percival. Percival is courteous to all, as is Olivia, but Charles is a nasty boy. At first this is exhibited in his laziness, for he refuses to do a little piece of school-work, pressuring Percival to do it for him. The first scene of this drama is taken up by his excuses as to why he cannot, and will not be able to do it - he has to exercise before lunch to get an appetite, he cannot work after lunch for that is bad for the digestion, then the Miss St. Legers are coming and he will have to entertain them, then he cannot work by candlelight, and so on. When the Miss St. Legers do come he makes himself their enemy too by spilling tea on one, refusing to dance with them (despite his two years of dancing lessons) and taking for himself all the sugar for the tea. Percival has arranged for a young beggar to play the fiddle for them, which he does in order to support his poor, blind father. Only Charles does not relish this and goes so far as to steal the cake set aside for the boy and then - shockingly - to rob him of all the money the other children had given him, and to smash his fiddle. The fiddler returns to explain his loss and Olivia and Percival give him their own buckles and thimble, but the fiddler thinks that he cannot accept these gifts and waits for Mr Waller to get home. When he does, the fiddler tells him all. To punish him, Mr Waller sends Charles to a strict school in Yorkshire, apparently a sort of 'boot-camp'. The fiddler is taken into service as Percival's man-servant, and his father is placed in an alms house. All Charles' vices stem, we infer, from his initial indolence at his school-work. He has progressed to impertinence, lying and theft - and Mr Waller predicts that this will too soon lead to murder. In this light, the initial sin of not studying is made to seem as bad as the others.

'The Children Their Own Master' (0069: starts vol.2, p.23)

Selima and Casimer are fed up with parental authority, and wish to be their own masters. Their father allows it. The children will receive no orders until such time as they voluntarily return to their parents' authority. Next day, the children rise late, and think of games to play. They propose cards, blind-man's buff, leap-frog and many other games, but they cannot agree a game and fall to quarrelling. A game of draughts is proposed, but Casimer owes Selima some prunes from previous games and he refuse to pay, saying he has no master. Selima threatens to tell her father, but Casimer points out that their father is not in command any longer. Their plans to play fall apart.

At dinner they drink wine and eat rich sauces, not wishing to be led by their parents. Then they go to the lake they are usually not allowed near, and go out in a rowing boat (their father watching, hidden). They fall in. Their father rescues them. They are sick. They are put to bed. When they wake the next day they beg their parents to resume their authority. Their father gives them unpleasant medicine, which restores them to health. This tale works as a political fable too, of course, but Meilan enters into no overt allegorising.

Carpenter, Humphrey & Pritchard, Mari, The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature, Oxford: OUP, 1984

Weedon, M. J. P., 'Richard Johnson and the Successors to John Newbery', The Library, 5th series, 4, i (1949), 25-63

Roscoe, Sydney, John Newbery and his Successors, 1740-1814: A Bibliography, Wormsley, Herts., 1973

Dunkley, John, 'Berquin's L'Ami des Enfants and the hidden curriculum of class relations', British Journal for Eighteenth Century Studies, 16, ii (Autumn 1993), 185-96

Butler, Marilyn, Maria Edgeworth. A Literary Biography, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972