CTS logo
Hockliffe logo
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
Previous Next

Stories Before 1850. 0158: Mary Ann Kilner, Jemima Placid

Author: Kilner, Mary Ann
Title: Jemima Placid; or, the advantage of good-nature exemplified in a variety of familiar incidents. Third edition
Cat. Number: 0158
Date: No date
1st Edition: 1783?
Pub. Place: London
Publisher: J. Marshall & Co., No.4 Aldermary Chruch Yard, in Bow Lane, & No.17 Queen Street, Cheapside
Price: Unknown
Pages: 1 vol., 91pp.
Size: 12 x 8 cm
Illustrations: Frontispiece plus 28 cuts
Note: Bound in Dutch flower boards

Images of all pages of this book

Page 002 of item 0158

Introductory essay

See below for synopses.

Dorothy Kilner (1755-1836) and Mary Ann Kilner (1753-1831) were not sisters but sisters-in-law, Mary Ann, née Mazé, having married Dorothy's brother. They certainly formed a close working partnership. Their books are similar in both content and style. They also took every opportunity to recommend one another's work within their own books, although this may have had more to do with the fact that they shared a publisher, John Marshall, who was a past master at publicising his list at all opportunities. Marshall was the leading publisher of children's fiction in the last decade of the eighteenth century, if either the quantity or popularity of his publications is the criterion applied. By these same two tokens, the Kilners were probably Marshall's most important authors. Of the thirty books which featured in an advertisement for Marshall's books in 1785, fourteen were written by Dorothy Kilner, and six by Mary Ann (a further eight were by Eleanor Fenn: Pickering, John Locke and Children's Books, p.186).

Considering the Kilners were two of the pre-eminent children's writers of the 1780s, '90s and beyond, very little is known about them. Both Dorothy and Mary Ann published anonymously. Dorothy used the nom de plume 'M.P.', for Maryland Point, her home in Stratford, Essex (then some distance outside London). Later she expanded this to 'Mary Pelham'. Mary Ann published under the pseudonym 'S.S.', for Spital Square, her home for a time. (When Dorothy dedicated The Holyday Present to 'Mr. S. S.' she may have meant to signify her sister-in-law but still felt obliged to pretend that Mary Ann was a man, or perhaps she was jokingly referring to her brother.) As the book-list at the back of The Life and Perambulation of a Mouse (0159) shows, the Kilners were extremely prolific writers. Dorothy probably wrote at least twenty-five books for children (see below for a brief list). Mary Anne was responsible for fewer (see below), but they were just as successful as Dorothy's. Their best titles were published in America, Ireland and France, and for some distance into the nineteenth century - indeed, Mary Ann's Jemima Placid made an appearance as late as 1870 in C. M Yonge's A Storehouse of Stories.

What is not known are the precise dates of publication of most of the Kilners' works. Both Dorothy and Mary Ann probably published their first works around 1780. While Dorothy began with rather laboured books of advice to children before quickly moving onto fiction, Mary Ann's first work may well have been The Adventures of a Pincushion, an early and successful example of the genre in which an inanimate object narrates its encounters and observations as it passes through the world. Jemima Placid (0158) followed shortly afterwards, perhaps c.1783 (Companion to Children's Literature, p.292). The title-page of the version in the Hockliffe Collection proclaims it to be the 'Third Edition'. The only clue which hints at a publication date is the address of John Marshall and Co., the publisher, which is given on the title-page as 4, Aldermary Church Yard, where Marshall had been since 1782, and 17 Queen Street, Cheapside, premises Marshall occupied from 1787 to 1798 (although it is possible that he was there longer: Maxted, London Book Trades, p.148). Publication sometime after 1787, but not much after, seems most likely for this third edition therefore. The same logic can be applied to the Hockliffe Collection's editions of Dorothy's The Holyday Present (0157) and The Life and Perambulation of a Mouse (0159). While the title-page of the latter bears only the Aldermary Church Yard address, and thus probably dates from before 1787, the title-page of the former, which describes itself as the third edition, also has the Queen Street address suggesting a publication date of the late '80s or early '90s. The dates of first editions of these works can be estimated with a little more confidence. The two volumes of The Life and Perambulation of a Mouse - of which the Hockliffe Collection has only the second volume - were published separately, and the dedication in the second was dated 13 April 1784 (p.vi).It seems likely that volume one appeared in the previous year. The Holyday Present was first published a little earlier, as the signature to its dedication reveals: 'M.P., Hampstead, Jan. 23, 1781'. This date does not appear in the Hockliffe edition, and one or two other changes had also been made from the first edition. The title itself had been altered, with earlier (and later) versions being called The Holiday - not Holyday - Present. There was also a new, more elaborate title-page in the third edition, and a very different, and finer frontispiece - although the wood-cuts from within the body of the book remained unchanged. The text itself was differently laid out, but had, by and large, remained the same. The books which are given to the children as rewards on pp.74-75 have altered a little, Dorothy shamelessly advertising her sister-in-law's new publications: George and Charlotte receive Mary Ann's William Sedley (1783) and Jemima Placid instead of Solomon Sobersides' Christmas Tales (0219-0220) and the anonymous History of Goody Goosecap. Because the publication dates of these books are also unknown, they provide no help in pinning down the date of the Hockliffe edition.

It is Dorothy's Life and Perambulation of a Mouse and Mary Ann's Adventures of a Pincushion which have usually been singled out as representing the best of the Kilners' work. They have both been congratulated for weaving their moral lessons into an engaging and entertaining picaresque fabric, the one following the adventures of an amiable, not to say cute, mouse, and the other a pincushion with a talent for insinuating itself into interesting situations. Though both were influential and popular, it is Dorothy's Holyday Present and Mary Ann's Jemima Placid which are perhaps more revealing of the changes taking place in children's literature in the 1780s. It is important to realise that these books were sent into a vacuum. In 1780, there were very few children's books being published, and certainly very few of any lasting merit. The new wave of children's books had not yet emerged, and those books which were still available were still in the mould cast by John Newbery and his contemporaries in the 1740s, '50s and '60s. Dorothy Kilner herself, usually so reserved, pronounced herself totally dissatisfied with the current state of children's literature. Most children's books were filled with 'intollerable [sic] and generally uninteresting nonsense', she lamented in the 'Dedication' to The Holyday Present (p.v). Exactly the same was being said by Maria Edgeworth (see essay to 0098) and by Sarah Trimmer, the two other writers who, along with the Kilners, did so much to rejuvenate the form. And yet, when it came to writing The Holyday Present, Dorothy produced something recognisably in the tradition of Newbery. The central device of the book - the two boxes, one filled with prizes for good children and the other with whips and badges of shame for the bad - is reminiscent of Newbery's attempts to bribe and threaten his readers into good behaviour, and of the pin-cushion which accompanied Newbery's A Little Pretty Pocket Book (1744), which, like Kilner's boxes, gave morality a corporeal form. Kilner uses several more of Newbery's techniques. She has a habit of referring in the text to the woodcuts which illustrate it (e.g. 'Look here is the picture of Tom going home with the kite on his back', p.30). On occasion, she enters the narrative herself to harangue her protagonists in the first person, even though this compromises the narrative's coherence (e.g. 'I think I never heard such an unpleasant manner of receiving a present in my life', p.31).And she has a tendency to manipulate the narrative to create opportunities to advertise her own and her sister-in-law's books.

On the other hand, the Kilners were just as clearly developing a new kind of children's literature too, namely the moral tale. They were writing not just what they thought a child ought to read, but what they thought a child would like to read, although, of course, not to the extent that this compromised their didacticism. The narrative, except for a few lapses, is strong and, in itself, provides the lessons without the author having recourse to explicit moralising. These stories are presented so realistically that the reader should have no difficulty in recognising him or herself, and applying the lessons that much more directly as a result. This was the Kilners' avowed intention, as Mary Ann made plain at the close of Jemima Placid:

The only use of reading, is to acquire instruction; and if you seek not to resemble the good, and avoid the bad examples with which you are presented, your studies will tend to little purpose. If the characters you meet with in any degree resemble your own, and if the foibles of those characters disgust and offend you, instead of throwing the book aside with resentment, you should endeavour to improve the failings of which you are conscious, and then you will no longer meet your own portrait, in that which the Author has described. (p.89)

To prove Jemima Placid's central moral that 'Unavoidable disasters are beyond remedy', Mary Ann was even prepared to go so far as to depict one character vomiting all over herself and the other occupants of a carriage, a most unusually vivid and unpleasant scene (p.90 and p.29). This is indicative of her faith in the power of realism in fiction to improve the behaviour of her readers.

The Kilners do not attempt to teach broad moral or ethical truths, nor religious lessons, but rather to improve the day-to-day conduct of their readers. The importance of obedience to parents is most emphatically stressed, and lying to a parent or flouting their rules when they cannot see the transgression is particularly reprehended (e.g. Holyday Present, pp.83-84 and pp.43-52).The Kilners also emphasised the importance of civility - Dorothy using the episode of Charles's kite to recommend courteous treatment of one's peers as well as one's elders (pp.59-67), and Mary Ann devoting substantial sections of Jemima Placid to the education in good manners of the heroine's brothers (e.g. pp.55-56).The punishments which the Kilners dish out to enforce these lessons seem extraordinarily harsh today. In The Holyday Present, Charles' father ties him up by the hands and feet for a day and a night after he has stolen his brother's apple, and the modern reader might not wonder that, after such treatment, Charles ended up a solitary and embittered man (pp. 15, 34 and 90). The use of 'stocks', into which the girls of the Jennet family are forced to fix their feet while they work, so as to improve their posture, also sounds barbaric (pp.38-42). But irrespective of the severity of these punishments, the important thing is that Dorothy, and to a lesser extent Mary Ann, were endorsing a transparent disciplinary code that would be enforced by parents. The children were not learning merely from the happy or unhappy fates which befell them, as in so many cautionary tales (which were really no more than elaborate fables, only with humans instead of animals). Instead they were learning directly from the discipline enforced by their parents. In this sense, the books can be read as manuals for parenting as well as manuals for childhood. But this is also the result of the Kilners' faith in realism. Readers of their books were more likely to be disciplined by a parent than to find themselves in any of the specific sets of circumstances described in the cautionary tales. Occasionally they do use cautionary tales, rather in the style of Berquin or Edgeworth, but only in inset stories, which depart from their overall plan of allowing parents, rather than fate, to punish or reward children (e.g. Holyday Present, pp.43-51). The idea of the Kilners was to provide a practical and applicable system of discipline, rather than merely generalised, vague and random moral lessons, and to unite parents and children in the common cause of social education.

It has been suggested by Mary V. Jackson that the Kilners, and particularly Mary Ann, were engaged on a more gender-specific programme of socialisation, that for the first time, a 'double gender standard of conduct' was being developed in books like Jemima Placid which 'de-natured' girls by insisting that their highest goal should be the service of others (Engines of Instruction, Mischief and Magic, p.139). At first glance, the Kilners do seem to have been in favour of segregating the sexes. Mary Ann's Adventures of a Pincushion, its title-page reveals, is 'designed chiefly For the Use of Young Ladies', and in the Holyday Present, not only are the boys and girls of the Jennet family educated apart (p.36), but Charlotte is explicitly criticised for her lack of gender propriety:

Charlotte was a very good-humoured girl, but was rather too great a romp, and often got herself into disgrace by means of her carelessness; for though her papa and mamma liked to see their children cheerful and merry, yet they did not like to see their little girls quite like boys, and clambering over gates, and chairs, and tearing their clothes from their backs. It certainly is not pretty for little girls to be so rude; but Charlotte was rather apt to forget herself, and not behave always quite so well as her mamma wished her. (p.23)

On the other hand, The Holyday Present, with its cast of three boys and three girls, is manifestly a book designed for both sexes. Dorothy also depicts the boys and girls who feature in the book swapping amongst themselves, and being encouraged to do so by their parents, the books which they have been given as their reward for good behaviour. This little library included such apparently gender-specific titles as Jemima Placid and Adventures of a Pincushion. This is a clear indication that the Kilners did not design their books for one or other sex, and, incidentally, provides an insight into how these authors designed their works to be used and how long they thought a book would entertain a reader (p.75). Indeed, given that the education and sometime play of these children is carried on separately, books provide the one area of common ground for girls and boys.

In Jemima Placid, the Rev. Placid also educates his sons and his daughters separately, but one telling passage undermines the idea that Mary Ann saw the behavioural programme she offered as applicable only to one sex. When Jemima returns home after her stay in London, her brothers are so pleased to see her that they rudely ignore the cousins who have accompanied her. Their father reprimands them for their impoliteness, prompting one of his sons to reply, 'But as we are boys, Sir ... such a neglect is not so bad in us, as it does not so much signify. We are not, you know, expected to sit prim all the day, as the girls do, and play the lady.' (p.54)To this, his father answers,

you are mistaken, I assure you, if you think the study of politeness is unnecessary to a man: and however you may flatter yourselves with an exemption from those more confined rules of behaviour which young ladies are expected to observe, yet I would advise you to remember, that a constant attention to your carriage is at all times necessary, if you would wish to be loved and esteemed, or to meet with success in your undertakings. (pp.56-57)

What happens during the course of the following pages bears this lesson out. The boys quickly realise that they prefer the refined, decorous Colonel Armstrong over the boorish, less feminine Sir Hugh Forester, and they agree to suppress their instincts and imitate the soldier's polite behaviour (p.56). Then Kilner turns their attention, along with the reader's, to the children in their vicinity. They soon come to appreciate the polite and uncomplaining behaviour of Jemima over the querulousness and griping of Sally and Nelly, and the prank-playing, affectation and teasing of the girls and boys of a neighbouring family. The boys, just as much as their female cousins, are warned by Kilner to conquer their natural impulses and subordinate themselves to the rules of civilised society. In a sense, this is an attack on Rousseau's endorsement of the natural child, who should be allowed to remain free from the constraints imposed by society for as long as is feasible. The point here is that Kilner's injunction against children's freedom to act as they see fit, and her insistence that they should conform as quickly as possible to established modes of propriety, applies equally to her male and female characters. To use Mary V. Jackson's word, both boys and girls, in Kilner's opinion, need to be 'de-natured' as soon as possible.

Works attributed to Dorothy Kilner, with estimated dates of publication:

1.Dialogues and Letters on Morality, Economy, and Politeness, for the improvement and entertainment of young female minds. In three volumes..., 1780?-1787?

2. The First Principles of Religion, and the existence of a Deity, explained in a series of dialogues adapted to suit the capacity of the infant mind, 1780

3. The History of a Great Many Little Boys and Girls..., 1780?

4. Letters from a Mother to her Children..., 1780?

5. The Adventures of a Hackney Coach, 1781

6. A Clear and Concise Account of the Origin and Design of Christianity [2nd part of The First Principles of Religion], 1781

7. The Holiday Present..., 1781?

8. Life and Perambulation of a Mouse, 1783? and vol.2 in 1784?

9. A Father's Advice to his Children. Written chiefly for the Perusal of young Gentlemen, 1784?

10. The Good Child's Delight, 1785?

11. Little Stories for Little Folks..., 1785

12. Miscellaneous Thoughts in Essays, Dialogues, Epistles, etc.., 1785

13. Poems on Various Subjects, for the amusement of youth [ten poems by Dorothy Kilner], 1785?

14. Short Conversations; or, an easy road to the temple of Fame..., 1785?

15. The Rotchfords; or, the Friendly Counsellor: designed for the instruction and amusement of the youth of both sexes, 1786?

16. The Adventures of a Whipping Top, 1790?

17. Anecdotes of a Boarding-School, 1790?

18. Sunday School Dialogues: being an abridgment of a work ... Entitled, "The First Principles of Religion...", 1790?

19. The Histories of More Children than One; or, Goodness Better than Beauty, 1795?

20. The Village School, 1795?

21. The Rational Brutes; or, Talking Animals, 1799

22. First going to school: or, The Story of Tom Brown and his Sisters, 1804

23. Essays on moral and religious subjects..., 1807

24. The Child's Introduction to Thorough Bass, in conversations of a fortnight, between a mother and her daughter..., 1819

25. Village Stories: Being a Sequel to the Village School-book, 1819

26. Edward the Orphan. A Tale, 1824?

Works attributed to Mary Ann Kilner, with estimated dates of publication:

1. The Adventures of a Pincushion..., 1780?

2. A Course of Lectures for Sunday Evenings. Containing Religious Advice to Young Persons, 1783?

3. Jemima Placid, 1783?

4. William Sedley; or, the Evil Day Deferred, 1783?

5. Memoirs of a Peg-Top, 1785?

6. Familiar Dialogues for the Instruction and Amusement of Children..., 1790?

7. The Happy Family; or Memoirs of Mr and Mrs Norton..., 1790?


Dorothy Kilner, The Holyday Present

George, Charles and Thomas, Maria, Charlotte and Harriet, are the six children of the Jennet family. The text gives no details of where they live, but the accompanying woodcuts depict a small cottage in a rural and fairly wild setting (p.11).

George and Thomas are given apples by their father for performing their lessons well. Charles, who was given no apple because he did not deserve one, demands first George's apple and then, when George refuses, Thomas's. Although George can resist, Thomas, being the youngest, is forced to relinquish his apple, and Charles ties his brother's legs together to prevent him resisting further. Mr Jennet has witnessed all this, and finding Charles unrepentant, punishes him by tying his hands and feet together (vividly depicted in a wood-cut, p.15).Charles is tied up for the rest of the day, and throughout the night too, until, at last, he repents of his actions.

George and Thomas, meanwhile, are allowed to go into the village to buy a cricket ball. They encounter a three-year-old girl, named Nance, crying because she has been deserted by the brother who was charged to look after her. George in unable to persuade the boy to leave off his play to take charge of his sister, so he takes Nance back to the Jennet home. She is comforted there, until the children take her back to the village and return her to her by now frantic mother.

Charlotte has not been allowed to escort Nance back to the village because in her impatience to greet the girl, she tore her dress. This is typical of her careless behaviour. She is also criticised by her mother and sister for disobeying the wishes of her parents when they are not present to see her transgress. For instance, she plays with knives as soon as her mother's back is turned, and takes her feet out of the 'stocks' (apparently designed to improve her posture) when her mother leaves the room (p.39).Charlotte's hasty attempts to return her feet to the stocks results in a table being overturned and ink being spilt all over the floor and Charlotte herself. The ink stains allow her brothers to tease her by calling her 'Tawny' and 'Charlotte Blacky'. (p.42) Mrs Jennet tells Charlotte the story of Miss Polly Ingrate. She always argued with her parents, and disobeyed them, when they told her not to do something. Thus she fell in the lake having been forbidden to approach it; she ate unripe apples and got sick; she had a finger bitten off by pigs she was forbidden to play near; and she fell out of a window, and broke her back. As a result of her accident she never grew any taller and her back remained horribly crooked (pp.43-51).

A kite which George bought for Charles in a burst of spontaneous generosity is ungraciously accepted. The kite is lost and when Charles goes in search of it he finds other boys playing with it. He demands it back; they refuse, and he fights them. He gets beaten by their leader, then, when Charles destroys the kite out of spite, the other boys turn on him and he is almost killed. His father censures Charles' behaviour and lectures him about the wisdom of being courteous, which would doubtless have got him his kite back.

Two big boxes arrive at the house. In the first is a dunce's cap, rods and switches, and medallions bearing various inscriptions. This is to be known as 'the naughty child's box'. The second chest is filled with good things - books, bats, balls, dolls, and 'housewives' (small cases for needles, pins, thread, etc.). This is 'the good child's box' (p.72 - an illustration of the arrival of these boxes forms the frontispiece).Mr Jennet explains that the contents of the boxes will be distributed as the children deserve.

As the children all behave well for the next week, they are given books from the good child's box. When Charles refuses to lend his book to his sister, their father insists that he wear a medallion from the naughty child's box. It is inscribed with the words 'Whoever wears this is a cross child'. This inscription, and the ridiculous yellow ribbon on which the medal hangs, ensures that he is laughed at and despised wherever he goes (pictured p.78).

Later, Charlotte gets her dress very dirty, urges her sisters to follow suit, and, worse, pelts their maid with mud. Her punishment is the fool's cap from the naughty child's box (pictured, p.82). When she pretends to her mother that she has already apologised to the maid, she is forced to wear a medal which has been inscribed with the words 'The wearer of this has told a lie' and she is whipped.

Charlotte repents, but Charles remains wilful, and the narrator reveals that he will end unhappily. He will not be able to find anyone to live with him, and no servants will stay with him because he is so cross. The narrator urges all readers to follow the example of the good children, and if not them, then Charlotte, who, at least, has repented and reformed.

Mary Ann Kilner, Jemima Placid

Preamble: the narrator was walking in St. James's Park when she met a friend. One of this friend's daughters - Eliza - was constantly complaining and angry. Our narrator mentioned Jemima Placid as a proper model for her behaviour, and on being asked to do so, she sent Eliza an account of Miss Placid. She now publishes the account that she sent.

Six-year-old Jemima Placid lives in Smiledale with her two brothers, Charles (three years older than her) and William (eighteen months older), and their parents, the Rev. and Mrs. Placid. Since her mother has to travel to Bristol for a few months, Jemima is to live with her uncle and aunt Piner in London. Her mother lectures her on how to behave, and her brothers give her a list of things to buy in London.

Jemima meets her two cousins, Sally and Nelly, in London. They are mischievous, fretful and they frequently quarrel and even fight with one another. Jemima tries to remain aloof. She is not at all vexed when they girls are prevented from going to a ball. Sally and Nelly have been preparing for it for ages, and although she feels ill, Sally refuses to contemplate not going. In the coach on the way to the ball she vomits, spoiling the dresses of all three girls, and they are forced to return home.

Eventually it is time for Jemima to return to Smiledale. Her cousins accompany her. So excited are Jemima's brothers about her return that they neglect to be polite to Sally and Nelly, for which they are censured by their father. When the entire family is invited for dinner at a nearby house, they witness the bad manners and mischievousness of other children. The Rev. Placid enforces the lesson about the importance of politeness with an account of Ben and Peggy, who were cured of their bad manners by a man who poked them with a spur whenever they forgot how to behave (pp.71-75, pictured p.72).

New contention arises when Nelly and Sally squabble over who shall sit in the window seat, and various precious things are overturned and smashed during their quarrel, including Jemima's doll. Because Jemima resigns herself to her loss, her mother promises to provide a replacement doll.

The narrator finishes her report of Miss Placid here. She leaves her readers with the principal lesson of the book: 'Unavoidable disasters are beyond remedy, and are only aggravated by complaints. By submitting with a good grace to the disappointments of life, half its vexations may be escaped.' (p.90)