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Stories Before 1850. 0076: Maria Budden, Always Happy!!!

Author: Budden, Maria E. (née Halsey)
Title: Always happy!!! or, anecdotes of Felix and his sister Serena. A tale. Written for her children, by a mother. Second edition
Cat. Number: 0076
Date: 1815
1st Edition: 1814
Pub. Place: London
Publisher: J. Harris, Corner of St. Paul's Church Yard
Price: 2s 6d (from advertisement at end of William Mackenzie, The New Tom Thumb (London: J. Harris, 1815)
Pages: 1 vol., viii + 170pp. then two pages of advertisements
Size: 14 x 9 cm
Illustrations: Engraved frontispiece

Images of all pages of this book

Page 003 of item 0076

Introductory essay

See below for synopsis

Maria Elizabeth Budden (1780?-1832) was one of the most prolific and best-selling children's authors of the first half of the nineteenth century. Her earliest and most celebrated book, Always Happy, which first appeared in 1814, had gone through fifteen editions by 1847. The Hockliffe Collection possesses the second edition of 1815. Many of her other books were similarly long-lived. A Key to Knowledge, or Things in common use simply and shortly explained (1814) was in its eleventh edition by 1841; Claudine, or Humility the basis of all the virtues (1822) was in its seventh by 1835 and its tenth by 1881; Hofer the Tyrolese (1824) was also still in print in 1881; and Chit chat, or Short Tales in short works (1825) was in its fifth edition by 1841. Her three books of history lessons - True Stories from Ancient History (1819), True Stories from Modern History (1819: 1154-1155), and True Stories from English History (1826: 1153) - each went into at least five editions. Other work - including Right and wrong, exhibited in the history of Rosa and Agnes (1815), The pleasures of life. Written for her children, by a mother (1818), Nursery morals, chiefly in monosyllables (1818), Woman, or minor maxims (1818), Nina, an Icelandic tale (1819), Valdimar; or, the career of falsehood: a tale for youth (1820), and Helena Egerton, or traits of female character (1824) - show that Budden's work spanned all the popular genres of contemporary children's literature and suggests how diligently she must have worked to produce so many books in such a short span of time. Marjorie Moon has constructed a bibliography of that part of Budden's oeuvre which was produced for John Harris (John Harris's books for youth, p.20).

At first glance, Always Happy appears as sodden with didacticism as any moral tale of the early nineteenth century. Its aim and method are straightforward enough. Budden takes two children, Felix and Serena, and shows their faults, and then the correction of those faults by their parents. And very minor faults they are too. Serena cries when her brother leaves for his boarding school, and she hankers after fine clothes. Felix, if he has any flaws, is perhaps a little peevish. But they are soon persuaded out of these errors by the usual combination of parental lectures and the plot proving their desires to be counter-productive. Serena, for instance, falls ill during the coach-ride which she has so long wished to take. In fact, despite what Budden wishes her readers to believe about these two children being only averagely good, just as she insists that they are only averagely rich, and averagely clever, Felix and Serena are from the outset annoyingly virtuous. It cannot have been particularly easy for readers of the book to empathise, or even like, a child like Serena, who suppresses her desires and turns away a second helping of plum pudding, her favourite food, because she knows it is too rich for her. And Budden's didactic scheme leaves precious little room for plot. The only narrative tension in the book comes from a brief anxiety when Felix does not return from school on time, and even in this instance, Serena, the reader's representative, is warned by her stern and patronising mother against giving in to any anxiety. When Felix returns safe and sound from school, the sum total of the book's excitement is over, and the children can quickly grow into the paragons of virtue that they have always seemed destined to become.

So what accounts for the success of Always Happy? It is possible that the book sold out its fifteen editions without a single child ever deriving any enjoyment from the text, and purely because parents thought this was a book which would improve their children. Certainly, there is much in Budden's work which seems calculated to inspire this conviction in parents. Always Happy is about instilling values which will be useful in later life. Both children receive the fundamentals of a commercial education. Felix learns the value of thrift and the evils of miserliness. In the central episode of the book, when he has to choose whether to buy a cheap or expensive pocket-knife, he learns the value of money (pp.75-80). Serena similarly learns the values which will stand her in good stead when she 'directs the household cares, provides the neat, though frugal meal, regulates the duties of the day, and smiles away its cares' (p.169). One of the few compliments her father bestows is 'I see you understand the rights of property, Serena.' (p.32) Not for Budden the understanding of childhood shared by Rousseau and Wordsworth that it was an era of freedom and happiness, to be cherished for its own sake. For Budden childhood was a time of preparation for adulthood, and more specifically for the sort of 'honourable station in life' which Felix carved out for himself 'by a course of steady and persevering exertion' (p.167).

But it is also possible that children did relish what Budden provided for them. Always Happy is a very empowering book. Though their parents do not hesitate to lecture Felix and Serena on how they should behave, they are always urged to take responsibility for their lives. Serena looks forward to having an allowance, for example, 'because then I can be very, very careful, and save something for the poor, and do as you often have done, mamma, go without a new cap or a new ribbon, and give the money they would have cost to the sick and needy. How much I should like that.' (p.32) This is language cleverly designed to inspire in young readers a similar desire for independence. It is in the reader's own power to become a good boy or girl, and thence a good man or woman, Budden insists. This is flattery. It connects the reader with the lives of the protagonists. But moreover, it makes the reader feel able to control his or her own future - a heady prospect. Budden plays on this skilfully. The peroration to the whole work is an exercise in making the reader feel powerful, in control of his or her life, and at the same time, willing to abide by the values which the book has recommended. Is it possible, she asks, that the petulant boy and the thoughtless girl should have grown into the successful and virtuous Felix and Serena?

My youthful readers be assured it is - be assured that you can every one of you prove a Felix or a Serena. - That whatever are your faults you can conquer them, whatever are your virtues you can improve them - make the experiment. - For your own sakes - for the sake of all that are dear to you - make the experiment. - It cannot fail of success. - The very endeavour will bestow joy. - For, bear in your minds, and never let it escape from your memories; that you need only be Always Good, and then you will assuredly be ALWAYS HAPPY.' (pp.169-170)

This sounds almost like the close of a modern-day evangelical or self-help rally. Seen in this light, moral tales, at least in the hands of Budden, seem more appealing. Their sermonising was charismatic, not pedantic. It succeeded because it reposed trust and confidence in the judgment of the children to whom it spoke.

The Hockliffe copy of Almost Happy has two inscriptions on its fly-leaf. The earlier signature, that of Eliza Dorman, is dated Ashford, Nov. 9 1815, the year of publication. The other records that the book was a gift to Alice Deane from her mother. That this was the type of book that was passed from child to child, probably through the generations, is also evidenced by the copy of this same second edition in the British Library. Again, there are two named owners, 'W. B. Thomson, Feb. 1842' and 'H. G. Thomson, from his Grandmamma'. We know from this that the book was deemed suitable for boys as well as girls, as Budden had clearly hoped. An interesting insight into the way in which such books were read is available from the British Library copy. Almost all words of three or more syllables, and some of just two syllables, have been broken up into their constituent syllables by small pencil marks (e.g. 'di|rect|ed', 'im|pris|on|ed', 'a|vo|ca|tions', 'e|co|no|mi|cal' or 'com|pre|hen|sion'). The neatness of the marks strongly suggests an adult hand was responsible. It seems likely then that an adult and a child read the book alongside one another, the adult helping the child with the more difficult words. That Always Happy should have been used as a primer is a little surprising, given the quite sophisticated theme of the book and the fact that Budden made no obvious effort to keep her vocabulary simple. However, pencil marks continue to the end of the book, providing evidence of perseverance, even if not necessarily enjoyment.


'Dedication': Dated Devonshire, 20 April 1814. In the winter of 1812-13 the author made up tales for her children which produced beneficial effects. She has written this in the same spirit. It is dedicated to her 5 children.

Ch.1 (p.1): Felix and Serena are the children of ordinary, reasonably prosperous parents. Just as their father was no peer of the realm, but rather simply a good, hard-working man, so the children had their own faults, but they honestly tried to improve themselves. What's more, Felix always felt better for having controlled his temper and Serena was always glad to have held back her selfish, unnecessary tears. In the opening episode, Serena is sorrowful because it is so cold. Her mother reminds her that she has warm clothes, hot food and a fire, but there are others much worse off. The children's mother invents a scheme whereby whichever child is best behaved each day will be allowed to give a few half-pence to the beggars at the door. The father reprimands his wife for giving to 'common street-beggars', to which she replies that she only does so at Christmas (p.7). The children work hard in their attempt to become that day's best child. Felix learns Latin while Serena hems a handkerchief.

The parents continue to lecture their children throughout the day - about not chattering during stories, about the necessity of finishing the tedious needlework before going to their more enjoyable music lessons, and so on. The father tells a story about mice frightening young girls by over-setting a cake tin. The girls' fear is reprehended. As the mother in the story says to her daughter:

'Fy Mary, you make me ashamed of you; but perhaps you would wish to be pitied for your delicate weakness.' 'No indeed, mother.' 'I say no indeed, too Mary, and beg of you to try, and rather be respected for your resolution, than despised, as you surely must be, for such contemptible fears.' (p.16)

The rest of the chapter is about the necessity of overcoming fear, especially of the supernatural. Such courage is just as amiable in women as men. (p.20)

Ch.2: Felix is peevish. He is told he must account for all his time to God, and that it is all therefore equally precious and not to be wasted. The family fill their time with a visit to a poor cottage where the mother lies ill. The scene is piteous. How can the children help, they wonder. Serena can help her mother to make a bed-gown and cap for the invalid, and Felix can give her the shilling he has saved. If he does so, his father will even add a shilling of his own. Their father is overheard declining to subscribe to a new public charity. Why, asks Felix. His father explains that he cannot afford to subscribe to public charities as well as giving privately, as he so frequently does. As for Serena, she looks forward to having an allowance of her own so she too can be charitable. But her mother explains that riches are not always an advantage. If one dresses finely, she explains, people will not like you more. And Serena's rich cousins were prevented from seeing a peacock because they were afraid of dirtying their new blue shoes. Serena, in her more humble apparel, could get a good view (p.34).

Ch.3 p.(37): On the way to their grandfather's house the question is raised of how it is that sound travels more slowly than light. Their father begins to explain but trails off with 'this subject is too difficult for you at present' (p.39). More efficient didacticism is to be found in the lesson that those travelling in a coach, as Serena and Felix's cousins often did, do not notice all the sights and sounds of a beautiful day. Serena is later sick from her coach ride home - and she vows that she will never seek to ride in a carriage again. Serena and Felix meet up with their cousins, but the cousins spend their time fighting one another. Serena and Felix forbear to join in, earning them the praise of their grandfather. At dinner, Felix reminds Serena that, though she loves plum pudding, it is very rich and she should not ask for a second helping. A cousin who ignores her advice is sick from eating too much.

Ch.4 (p.51): Budden once more inveighs against giving way to one's emotions when Serena is maudlin about the departure to school of her brother. Instead, she is counselled to be useful to him, by sewing articles for him to take to school:

'How much better was this active kindness [viz. sewing him things], how much more useful these proofs of her affection, than if she had blinded herself with weeping, or with sickly sensibility denied herself, and all around, every source of pleasure.' (p.52).

As he goes to school, Felix's father, rather in the manner of Polonius, lectures him on how he ought to behave. His principal edicts are that he should not tell tales on others, nor lie, nor fail to admit his faults. Once at school, Felix soon gets the chance to follow this advice. He tells the master the truth about his breaking of a window, despite there being an opportunity to hide the sin. And, having rescued a swimmer from the river, he risks chastisement himself by not exposing the swimmer to the punishment his bravado has merited. He gains the good will of both boys and master for this.

Ch.5 (p.72): At school, Felix sees a boy with a hoard of money which, like a miser, he has saved. Felix scorns him, although remaining polite, counselling the boy to spend his wealth, since he would be relieved of his fear of losing it. Felix and a friend go to a fair. It is crowded and unpleasant but Felix makes some purchases - a red morocco 'housewife' (to hold needles, thread, etc.) for his sister, gingerbread for him and his friend, and a knife. He had been shown a very pretty knife, but that would have exhausted his savings so he bought a cheaper, but adequate one, for two shillings less. His friend, accusing Felix of stinginess, spends all his money on buying the expensive knife. Then they come across a poor, black man, begging for charity. Seeing that he is not a 'common street beggar' - and Felix thinks such men and women are 'generally idle cheats' - he gives him money. 'Ah, massa,' says the man, 'if all your countrymen were like you! I should not be here a poor, despised, helpless beggar!' (pp.79-80) Others passers-by, having heard this, also give alms to the beggar. Felix's friend now repents having been so profligate and withdraws his accusation that Felix was mean.

Chs.6 and 7 (p.90 and p.110): We return to Serena. She is read a lecture on accuracy of spelling and vocabulary. She contracts measles. She procrastinates about feeding her rabbits and the older ones apparently get so hungry that they eat the young ones. But she shows virtues too. She studies to please her grandfather, she starts off big projects, even when they seem hopeless, and so on.

Ch.8 (p.125): Serena learns from her mother that every age of life, every place of residence, and every station in life, has its problems and its blessings. This is one of Budden's most important lessons:

'Ah! I see there are particular advantages for every place and every station.' - 'There are, Serena, and it is a truth that can never be too frequently inculcated, for it leads to containment with our lot, and a cheerful resignation to our station in life - be it what it may.' (p.134)

Ch.9 (p.141): Various lessons against laziness and in favour of early rising start the chapter. Felix is due to return home from school, accompanied by his father. Serena is very impatient to see her brother. She determines to beguile the time with hard work and constant occupation. Felix and his father do not return as scheduled.

Ch.10 (p.157): Serena's mother condemns sensibility, a word she uses ironically. She sees it as a purely selfish ploy designed to draw attention to the person grieving. Even though they are both worried about the fate of Felix and his father, she insists that there is no excuse for hysterics nor for not eating properly. As if as a reward for this sensible approach, the longed-for carriage suddenly arrives. The family is now together once again, and happy. Budden describes what well-adjusted and successful adults Felix and Serena will become having been so careful during their childhood to learn how best to behave.

Moon, Marjorie, John Harris's books for youth, 1801-1843, revised edition, Winchester, 1987