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Books of Instruction. 0550: George Fisher, The Instructor: or, Young Man's Best Companion

Author: Fisher, George
Title: The instructor: or, young man's best companion. Containing spelling, reading, writing, and arithmetick, in an easier way than any yet published; and how to qualify and person for business, without the help of a master. Instructions to write variety of hands, with copies both in prose and verse. How to write letters on business or friendship. Forms of indentures, bonds, bills of sale, receipts, wills, leases, releases, etc. Also merchants accompts, and a short and easy method of shop and book-keeping; with a description of the product, countries, and market-towns in England and Wales. Together with the Carpenter's Plain and Exact Rule: shewing how to measure carpenters, joiners, sawyers, bricklayers, plaisterers, plumbers, masons, glasiers and painters work. How to undertake each work, and at what price; the rates of each commodity, and the common wages of journeymen; with Gunter's Line, and Coggeshall's description of the sliding-rule. Likewise the practical gauger made easy; the art of dialling, and how to erect and fix any dial; with instructions for dying, colouring, and making colours; and some general observations for gardening every month of the year. To which is added, The Family's Best Companion: with instructions for marking on linen; how to pickle and preserve; to make divers sorts of wine; and many excellent plaisters and medicines, necessary in all families: and also, A Compleat Treatise of Farriery; or, good advice to gentlemen and farmers; with a choice collection of remedies, very fit for all farriers and grooms. By George Fisher, accomptant. The fifth edition revised and corrected
Cat. Number: 0550
Date: 1740
1st Edition: 1727
Pub. Place: London
Publisher: S. Birt, at the Bible and Ball, Ave-Maria Lane
Price: 2s 6d
Pages: 1 vol., 380pp.
Size: 17 x 10 cm
Illustrations: 10 wood-cuts

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Page 002 of item 0550

Introductory essay

The instructor: or, young man's best companion was a hugely successful title. The English Short Title catalogue has some sixty-six entries for versions of the work published in the British Isles between 1727, from when the earliest known edition dates, and 1800, when the catalogue ends. There were many more thereafter, the latest in the British Library dating from 1853. An American version of the book also had a long run, generally under the title The American Instructor: or, Young Man's Best Companion.

The copy in the Hockliffe Collection was published in London by S. Birt in 1740, and, according to its title-page, comes from a revised fifth edition. Curiously, the British Library holds another version of this revised fifth edition, identical in all respects except that its title-page credits James Hodges as the publisher and that it contains an engraved frontispiece missing from the Hockliffe edition. Successive editions added or omitted various sections, so that the book grew fatter and thinner over the years. Often omitted in later editions were 'The Family's Best Companion' and 'The Gentleman's and Farmer's New Guide: with Good Advice to a Groom'. The second of these probably featured for the first time at the end of the revised fifth edition. Its final page is signed 'J.R.' and dated 'Sept. the 27th, 1739' (p.380). Certainly this section had not been present in an earlier undated edition now in the British Library, generally thought to date to c.1735.

The contents of The instructor: or, young man's best companion are set out clearly on its title-page. The desirability of the accomplishments that the book will teach is expatiated on in the preface (beginning p.iii), where it first becomes clear that the book is supposed to provide an education to fit a boy to succeed in business. The book's first section, 'Instructions for Youth, To Spell, Read, and Write', for instance, is commended on the basis that such skills are 'acknowledged by all, to be a due and principal Qualification in writing Business' (p.iii). The other lessons taught by the book are all dedicated to the same end (save only perhaps the final, short section which offers gardening advice (beginning on p.307). Thus the book teaches how to write business letters, how to draw up indentures, bonds, bills of sale, wills and so on, the best method of book-keeping, business arithmetic, the products manufactured in each part of the country, and all manner of commercially useful lessons. There are even sections describing most major artisan trades, explaining how they are conducted and how the output is measured, and, above all, how much one might be expected to pay for certain amounts of work. The section on bricklaying, for example, specifies that one should not pay more than 1l. per rod, if materials are supplied, and 1l.10s. if the bricklayers supplies his own materials, and it explains, with examples, how to calculate how many rods-worth of bricks have been laid, even at gable ends and on chimneys (p.214ff.). The Hockliffe's copy of the book has sums written into the margin, suggesting either that the book was used for its intended purpose - to prevent workmen from swindling the reader - or that these calculations were set as arithmetic practice.

In fact, for all that The Instructor was ostensibly designed to prepare boys for business, it may also have served as a general text-book to teach reading, writing and arithmetic, geography and geometry (see the lengthy section on sun-dials, p.268). The business slant may have been added, in part at least, to show to boys, and perhaps their parents, why this kind of education could be valuable, in material as well as personal terms. On the other hand, the book was surely not meant to be read through from front to back, the lessons incrementally increasing in difficulty, as was the case with many school-books. The index at the front of the book suggests that the work was designed primarily as a reference book, to be taken up as occasion demanded.

At the end of the Young Man's Best Companion was added the much shorter 'The Family's Best Companion', designed, its first page reveals, for 'the Instruction and Benefit of the Female kind'. The lessons and skills taught were not so commercially useful. Marking linen, pickling and preserving, basic medical techniques including the manufacture and use of medicines, were all taught here. It is not clear whether the author envisaged women using the earlier sections of the books too, to learn to read and write say, for the first page of 'The Family's Best Companion' identifies all that has gone before as having been 'for the Information of the younger Sort of Male-kind' (p.311).

Last, on p.311, came the longer 'Gentleman and Farmer's New Guide', providing practical advice on how to treat horses.