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Stories Before 1850. 0185: Anon., The New Children's Friend

Author: Anon.
Title: The new children's friend: or, pleasing incitements to wisdom and virtue conveyed through the medium of anecdote, tale and adventure. Calculated to entertain, fortify, and improve the juvenile mind. Translated chiefly from the German. Fifth edition
Cat. Number: 0185
Date: 1806
1st Edition: 1797
Pub. Place: London
Publisher: John Harris and Darton and Harvey
Price: Unknown
Pages: 1 vol., 171pp.
Size: 13.5 x 8 cm
Illustrations: None (frontispiece missing from digitisation)
Note: Title-page and frontispiece missing from digitisation. Inscription on inside back cover: 'Maria Burgess'

Images of all pages of this book

Page 003 of item 0185

Introductory essay

It seems most likely that the copyright of The New Children's Friend was purchased jointly by a group of children's publishers. The first edition of 1797 bears the imprint of Elizabeth Newbery and Vernor and Hood. The second was by Vernor and Hood and Darton and Harvey (appearing in 1798 or 1800). The next extant version is this 'fifth edition' in the Hockliffe Collection, jointly published in 1806 by Darton and Harvey and John Harris, successor to the Newbery firm. Together, Harris and Darton went on to produce a sixth and seventh edition in 1810 and 1815. The joint purchase of a copyrights was not uncommon. The publishers bought shares in a work, then paid the costs of publication, and took the share of profits, in accordance with their stake in the project. Such a plan could help to cover the costs of a particularly expensive project, or it could spread the risk of a publication which might fail to sell. On the face of it, it seems odd that The New Children's Friend should be considered either a great risk or particularly expensive to produce. Perhaps, then, the book was deemed a sure-fire success, so the publishers combined to prevent mutually disadvantageous competition. After all, the work might already have proved a success on the Continent (its tales are 'translated chiefly from the German' the title-page boasts), and its consanguinity to the hugely successful work of Arnaud Berquin might have been thought to guarantee an extensive market.

In fact, The New Children's Friend is rather similar to Arnaud Berquin's L'Ami des Enfans, translated as The Children's Friend from 1782 onwards (see 0060-0069 in the Hockliffe Collection). Twenty-six short narratives or dialogues are contained in the volume, each teaching useful moral or secular lessons. The first, for example, called 'The fruits of industry', teaches the advantages of hard work. Two children, Theodore and Catharine, happen upon a substantial house, above the door of which is inscribed the motto 'Acquired by Industry'. The house's owner explains that he has paid for his home by his hard work as a silver-smith. He worked his way up from an apprenticeship to affluence, and he now enjoys and contented retirement. As well as being taught the rewards of diligence, the two children learn that it is nothing but 'false pride' to hide one's roots when one becomes wealthy. Rather, one should be proud of having 'obtained affluence by means of labour, trade, or merchandise'. Were people not to work hard, feeling it beneath their dignity to earn their living, 'The treasure collected by our ancestors would be quickly spent, and arts and sciences would totally sink into oblivion' (pp.11f.).

The New Children's Friend belongs to the rational tradition of late eighteenth century children's literature. During the first two or three decades of the nineteenth century this kind of secular didacticism tended to be replaced by more Evangelical material. For the 1815 'seventh' edition, Harris and Darton added a new chapter to the end of the work: 'The Pious Child'. This was a dialogue between Little Henry and his father, strongly Evangelical in tone and reminiscent of the work of Mary Martha Sherwood. 'You have heard of Jesus Christ;' one of Henry's lectures begins, 'this is God's own son, whom he sent into the world to die for us; and he now lives with God in heaven, where he hears all our prayers and confessions, and intercedes with God for us ... But you cannot properly understand this till you read it in the Bible' (p.169). A comparison of this chapter with what has gone before in the book (all of which was first published in 1797 and is to be found in the Hockliffe's 1806 edition too), shows just how much children's literature had changed in just the few years on either side of 1800.

Mrs. Markham published another work called New Chidren's Friend, consisting of Tales and Conversations in 1832. This had no connection with the earlier work.