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Stories Before 1850. 0193: Lucy Peacock, The Little Emigrant

Author: Peacock, Lucy
Title: The Little Emigrant, a Tale. Interspersed with Moral Anecdotes and Instructive Conversations. Designed for the Perusal of Youth. By the Author of The Adventures of the Six Princesses of Babylon, Visit for a Week, Juvenile Magazine, etc. etc.
Cat. Number: 0193
Date: 1799
1st Edition: 1799
Pub. Place: London
Publisher: Peacock: 'For the Author, at the Juvenile Library, No.259 Oxford Street'
Price: Unknown
Pages: 1 vol., iv + 203pp. plus one page advertisement
Size: 17 x 10 cm
Illustrations: Engraved frontispiece

Images of all pages of this book

Page 002 of item 0193

Introductory essay

For a synopsis see below.

Lucy Peacock was an author and seller of children's books. An advertisement for both her published books and her shop, at 259 Oxford Street in London, appears on a fly-leaf at the back of this volume. 'Peacock's Juvenile Library' operated at the same address from at least 1796 to 1807 (Brown 1982: 147). The business may also have taken in some printing and publishing work.

The Little Emigrant was first published in 1799. It is set perhaps a few years earlier than this, for the wave of emigration to Britain, away from the terrors of the French Revolution, was at its height in about 1793. The heroine, Annette d'Aberg, is one such emigrant, as are her parents, who make their appearance towards the end of the book. None of these French refugees make much reference to what they were fleeing from. Annette simply says that it was 'in consequence of the troubles in France' that she was brought to England (p.14, and see p.143). But for a children's book to enlist contemporary politics in this way, even if it was only for contextual, 'scenic' use, was still unusual (c.f. Mary Pilkington's New Tales of the Castle [London, 1800]).

In the 1790s there was a substantial debate in Britain about how French emigrants, often Catholic and possibly (it was feared) inherently opposed to British interests, should be treated. Hannah More's Address in Behalf of the French Emigrant Clergy (1793), for example, describes several evidently widely-held objections to offering charity to French refugees before urging the British people to follow the Biblical injunction to take in and care for the stranger. This is also the response enjoined on her readers by Lucy Peacock. Peacock wrote in her 'Advertisement' that she wished her book to cultivate 'that universal spirit of philanthropy, which teaches us to embrace all mankind as brethren' (pp.ii-iii). She commends not only Louisa and her father, but also the village landlady, for taking in the friendless Annette, despite her Frenchness, as signified by the 'outlandish tongue' she speaks (p.15).

Moreover, More's argument - that it should be easy for almost everyone in Britain to sacrifice some small luxury so that they might contribute some small amount to a fund for the emigrants - is fully in key with late eighteenth and early nineteenth century children's literature as a whole, and particularly The Little Emigrant. Hannah More was writing for the daughters of middle and upper classes families - surely the intended audience for Peacock's work:

Even your young daughters, whom maternal prudence has not yet furnished with the means of bestowing, may be cheaply taught the first rudiments of charity, together with an important lesson of economy: they may be taught to sacrifice a feather, a set of ribbons, an expensive ornament, an idle diversion. And if they are on this occasion instructed that there is no true charity without self-denial, they will gain more than they are called upon to give: for the suppression of one luxury for a charitable purpose, is the exercise of two virtues, and this without any pecuniary expense. - An indulgence is abridged, and Christian charity is exercised. (More 1840: 1:344-45)

The duty of charity, and of self-denial to enable it, is preached throughout the children's literature canon. In many books, it stands almost as an emblem of virtue itself. In The Little Emigrant, to take this one example, Louisa gains the favour of the reader by her charitable acts and anxieties (pp.11-13) and later, the sympathy she and Annette feel for a poor brick-layer and his family is detailed at some length (e.g. p.109). Charitably, they give up their old frocks to dress the family. Peacock, like More, attacks luxury when there is so much poverty and hardship which cries out for relief (e.g. see pp.111-112). Indeed, the book as a whole is anti-luxury, anti-metropolitan (see pp.125-126), and anti-court (see p.107). Annette is a French aristocrat, cast adrift from her social mooring by emigration. But she is applauded for her diligence and industry, rather than for any courtly qualities. The book draws to a close with a satirical attack on the new acquaintances Annette makes once she has been restored to her aristocratic circle. Though Miss Gould, their representative, has been expensively educated and has lived amongst the finest society she is both ignorant and lacking in the virtues which Annette has developed while in the much humbler company of Louisa and Mr. Vincent.

Besides this involvement with what might be considered political debates, The Little Emigrant also functions as propaganda for learning, as so many children's books had from Newbery onwards. Louisa and Annette are commended for their studiousness. The book is full of passages such as this, attempting to prove how much fun learning could be:

The same generous principle actuated them in their studies; each aimed at excellence, but was pleased to see it attained also by her friend. "My dear Annette," Louisa would say, "shall I shew you how to do that problem? I have more frequently heard my father explain it than you have." - "Dear Louisa," would Annette say, "you are mistaken in the government of that verb; let me fetch the grammar that you may alter it." (p.26)

This is complemented by numerous sometimes rather clumsily interpolated factual lessons delivered by Mr. Vincent. They treat a variety of subjects from Egyptology to Spenser's poetry to the wonders of modern industry.

The Little Emigrant was clearly popular, reaching a fourth edition by 1820.


A young girl is found in tears by our heroine, Louisa Vincent, on the Norfolk seashore. Louisa and this girl, Annette d'Aberg, become friends. In order to escape the perils of the French Revolution, Annette had been placed in the care of an uncle who was supposed to bring her to England. But the ship was wrecked on the coast, and only Annette survived. Annette is taken into the Vincent family. She and Louisa pass their time pleasurably teaching one another. Louisa learns French whilst Annette learns English. And Annette teaches Louisa the quintessential French arts - drawing and music, as well as some French songs. This leads onto a discussion about hieroglyphics between father and daughter. The reader is told of Egyptian society, and of the latest theories of hieroglyphic meanings. Various other behavioural or factual lessons follow - on the nature of sound, mythology explained, the dangers of going off into the wood on one's own, etc.

Mr. Vincent loses his curacy when the ownership of the living passes to another man, who destines the curacy for his nephew. Mr.Vincent takes the whole family to London in an attempt to find a new position. In London, the family relieve the all too evident distress wherever they find it. They see some of the sights of London, including a fashionable levée in St. James's. But they find themselves quickly bored, and more weary from seeing such sights than from their usual work. 'I never in my life got up weary from a book', says Annette (p.107). For her part, Louisa adds,

London ... is certainly a fine city: what noble buildings! what extensive squares! and then the shops! one would wonder where all the find things they are set out with come from; but, for all that, the walks we used to take in the country were far more pleasant and entertaining. (pp.125-126)

However, under Mr Vincent's instruction, Louisa comes to appreciate the wonders of the man-made world as well as those of the natural.

Their money is running out so Annette and Louisa take out-work from a tailor. They sew various articles, and one day a handkerchief turns up which Annette had long ago made for her mother. Mr. Vincent advises her not to be too optimistic, warning obliquely that her parents might well have been killed in France: 'the troubles which exist in your native country, my dear girl, leave no favourable conclusion to be drawn from this circumstance.' (p.143). Yet if Annette does once more see her family, it will surely be, says Mr. Vincent, the reward of her industry:

the happiness she will, I hope, in a few months enjoy, in the society of her parents, will be a just reward for the goodness of her heart, and the unremitted assiduity with which she has exercised her talents. (p.154)

They go to the home of the woman who owned the handkerchief, and Annette notices a portrait of her mother hanging on the wall, and her old dog, Bijou, recognises her (pictured in frontispiece). Yet into the room walks a stranger.

This is Mrs. Staples, a friend of Annette's mother. A messenger is sent to stop Annette's parents from leaving for Switzerland. After a moment or two of suspense, the messenger does manage to catch them. Mr Vincent hears of a curacy. Annette meets her parents. They meet Mr. Vincent. Mr. Vincent gets his curacy. Annette lives with her parents, but sees much of Louisa and Mr. Vincent, who continues to direct her reading. Only Louisa's new acquaintances interrupt her happiness. They are proud and insult her because of her humble upbringing. A discussion between Annette and one Miss Gould about how and what to read is given at length. Miss Gould is pompous and scorns Annette's willingness to read only what Mr. Vincent recommends. He prepares extracts of authors such as Voltaire for Annette to read. But Miss Gould's position is undermined by the exposure of her ignorance. Under questioning it appears that she believes that Hector fought Julius Caesar and that Marlborough fought in Henry VI's battles.

Monsieur D'Aberg arranges for Mr. Vincent to receive a remunerative living worth £700 per annum. The D'Abergs buy a home in the vicinity of his new parsonage. They visit Norfolk to see their old friends, and all live happily ever after.

Brown, Philip A. H., London Publishers and Printers, c.1800-1870, London: British Library, 1982

More, Hannah, The Miscellaneous Works of Hannah More. In Two Volumes, London: Thomas Tegg, 1840