|Fables and Fairy Tales||Stories Before 1850||Stories After 1850||Periodicals and Annuals||Religious Books, Bibles, Hymns, etc||Books of Instruction||Nursery Rhymes and Alphabets|
|Movable and Toy Books; Myths and Heroes||Poetry, Verse and Rhymes; Games||Games and Pastimes||Natural Science||Geography and Travel||History and Biography||Mathematics|
|Author:||Anon. (Solomon Sobersides)|
|Title:||Christmas tales, for the amusement and instruction of young ladies and gentlemen, in winter evenings. By Solomon Sobersides|
|Publisher:||J. and M. Robertson (no.18) Saltmarket|
|Pages:||1 vol., 160pp.|
|Size:||10 x 6 cm|
|Illustrations:||Title-page and outside back cover vignettes and frontispiece plus 41 further wood-cuts|
Images of all pages of this book
Christmas Tales is a miscellaneous collection of short stories and anecdotes, apparently randomly selected, but nevertheless, constantly in print, in more or less the same arrangement, throughout the last decades of the eighteenth century. The first edition was probably published by John Marshall in London in about 1780. Marshall produced new editions of the work all the way through the 1780s, and thereafter new editions followed from the presses of both American and provincial British presses. The British Library has editions published by 'Mozeleys' Lilliputian Book-Manufactory' in Gainsborough from 1795, for instance, and by Thomas Wilson and Son of York in 1811.
Of the two editions in the Hockliffe Collection, only one is dated. This is 0219, published by J. and M. Robertson of Glasgow in 1806. They had published earlier editions in 1782 and 1793, according to the English Short Title Catalogue. The title-page of the other Hockliffe edition (0220) proclaims that the book was 'Printed for the Booksellers in Town and Country', perhaps meaning that a collection of small provincial booksellers clubbed together to pay for the printing which they would then sell as best they could. On the other hand, a book-list at the back of the volume (only part of which has been reproduced here) advertises books 'printed for and sold by T. Saint in Newcastle'.
The text remains fairly constant in all these various editions, as does the subject matter of the wood-cuts, although the exact rendering of each image does change. These wood-cuts are for the most part lively and engaging. The allegorical frontispiece is a masterpiece of its kind, for instance, depicting Wisdom (looking rather like Britannia) giving a book to a young boy, while Folly (distinguished by her fool's hat) tries to distract him with a rattle. Behind them, we see the solid and magnificent temple built by Wisdom, and the ruined temple which must be the result of heeding the 'Lures of Folly'.
The title Christmas Tales was probably an attempt to create a market for the book, the hope being, presumably, that the book would be bought as a present at Christmas-time. The tales themselves have nothing to do with Christmas. Many are Oriental tales, often descended from the Arabian Nights. In 'Story V' (0220: p.27ff or 0219: p.34ff), for instance, a dervise has stayed in the home of a poor but hospitable woman. To thank her he has drawn out a stone from the wall of her house, pronounced some words over it, replaced the stone, and attached a tap to it. Whenever the poor woman turns the tap, he has told her, wine will flow, providing her with as much as she wants for herself and for sale at the market. This would continue so long as the woman did not seek to look at what the dervise had put behind the stone. The woman soon became rich, but inevitably her curiosity became too much for her and she removed the stone. She found a solitary grape, but even though she replaced the grape and the stone exactly as it had been before, the tap never flowed again.
Other tales are longer, and stronger on narrative. 'Story III' (0220: p.14ff or 0219: p.17ff), for example, tells of a Dutch sailor's adventures. He came across a Spanish slave trader, and bought the liberty of as many slaves as he could afford. Amongst them was Orramel, who revealed himself to be the son of a wealthy 'Bassa' of Constantinople. Rather than accept any payment in return for the rescue of the Turk's son, the Dutchman merely hoped that Orramel's father would free all his Christian slaves. This generosity was enough to convert Orramel to Christianity. And when the Dutchman was himself captured and sold into slavery, it was Orramel, now a Christian, who bought him and set him free. Orramel then aranged the marriage of the Dutchman to one of his sisters who had also secretly embraced Christianity. All live happily ever after.
The third sort of tale provides short moral lessons, but they are so mild that they do not really address the complaint made on the first page of Christmas Tales, that children were not taught the principles of religion and virtue by their parents (0220: p.5 or 0219: p.5). 'Story I' does go on to recommend filial duty, for instance, but when compared with the increasingly Evangelical children's literature of the early nineteenth century, it seems rather quaint in its relaxed didacticism. A rich father gives over his whole fortune to his son, but no sooner is the son married than he and his wife rudely expel the father from their company, spending his money while ordering him to dine alone in his room. The father's only consolation is the birth of a grandson, Tommy (pictured in skirts on 0220: p.9 or 0219: p.10). Tommy and he grow great friends. When the grandfather happens upon his son and daughter-in-law entertaining company he is banished to his room, but Tommy protests. He threatens to expel his own father when he grows older. This rebuke brings Tommy's father to a sense of his duty, and he welcomes Tommy's grandfather back into the bosom of the family.
At least one of the tales in the volume was either poached from, or reused in, another publication. 'Story XXI' (as it is in 0219: p.145ff) or 'Story XX' (as it is in 0220: p.114ff) features as one of the inset narratives in The History of Primrose Prettyface (0131), first published by John Marshall in the years before 1785. It tells of a gentleman, our narrator, who has returned to England from the Grand Tour to find his father dead. The father left a letter acquainting our narrator with the fact that he, the father, had made a marriage contract between his son and the daughter of Sir George Home-Stead. The narrator is on his way to the Home-Stead household when he falls in with another traveller. Together they tease a third traveller on the road, pretending to be coarse and lewd so as embarrass him. The narrator arrives at Home-Stead's house, is very cordially received, and falls in love with the daughter. Then suddenly he is treated very differently - everyone shuns him and he is clearly no longer welcome. His engagement is terminated, and he is asked to leave. When he asks for an explanation, a letter arrives telling him that the gentleman whom he taunted on the road had informed Home-Stead of his behaviour and had revealed that the other traveller, with whom the narrator appeared to be on very close terms, was in fact a notorious brothel-keeper and gambler who has now been forced to flee the country after cheating at dice. The narrator learns that his intended bride has married another, and he mediates that the path of rectitude is very narrow.
0220 ends with a description of each of the Seven Wonders of the World (p.128ff: the Temple at Ephesus, the Walls of Babylon, the Tomb of Pharos, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Tomb of Mausolus, the Colossus of the Sun at Rhodes, and the Image of Jupiter carved by the Elians in Greece.