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Stories Before 1850. 0208: Anon., Select and Entertaining Stories for the Juvenile or Child's Library

Author: Anon.
Title: Seleet and entertaining stories for the juvenile or child's library
Cat. Number: 0208
Date: No date but c.1790?
1st Edition:
Pub. Place: London
Publisher: John Marshall
Price: Unknown
Pages: 1 vol., 60pp. plus a full-page advertisement
Size: 11 x 7 cm
Illustrations: None
Note: A title-page for Views of the Principal Buildings of London is inserted as an advertisement at the end of the volume

Images of all pages of this book

Page 003 of item 0208

Introductory essay

John Marshall was operating as a publisher in Aldermary Church-Yard from 1782 to at least 1807. He also owned premises in Queen Street, Cheapside from 1787 to 1798, which he generally listed in his imprint. Since this Queen Street imprint is missing from Select and Entertaining Stories, a publication date of either the early 1780s or the early 1800s seems most likely.

The title-page of the edition in the British Library, though the book is identical in almost every other respect to the Hockliffe edition, proclaims this work to be merely the first volume of a longer work. The final page also bears the words 'End of Vol.I' where the Hockliffe copy has 'The End'. Which version came first is a matter of speculation, although in the title of the third section, 'Diaogue' in the Hockliffe version has been corrected to 'Dialogue' in the British Library edition (p.43). The English Short Title Catalogue also lists a two volume edition of the work (which it guesses to have been published in c.1800). It would seem most likely therefore that Marshall originally published the work in one volume - which is what is in the Hockliffe Collection - and later added a second, amending the title-page accordingly (along with the errata).

The target audience of Select and Entertaining Stories is clearly indicated as early as the second page of the first story. 'I cannot forebear observing,' interjects the narrator, 'how necessary it is for all young gentlemen and ladies to treat their inferiors with condescension and good-nature, if, from no better motive, for their own convenience; since they may frequently have occasion to ask little favours of servants, which it is in their power only to grant; and surely, my young reader has too much delicacy not to conceive, how irksome and disagreeable it must be to receive a favour from one whom we have treated with rudeness and contempt' (p.4).

In fact, this first story, 'The Little Hay-Makers', is all about the place of the individual in the social hierarchy. As the narrative opens, two sisters, Frances and Georgiana, are playing at hay-making. They are enjoying themselves hugely, but complain that their governess and their mother, Mrs. Miners, curtail their fun by insisting on good deportment and that they return to the house at a set time. A poor girl, Jannet, who is making hay near them overhears their complaints, and tells them that they would be of a different opinion if they had to work as hard as her. Georgiana and Frances doubt this, and claim that they would willingly swap their lives for Jannet's, who, for her part, says that she too would instantly exchange with them if she had the chance. Mrs. Miners hears all this, and hits upon a plan. She will arrange for Georgiana and Frances to work as hay-makers for three days, and for Jannet to live for three days 'in a higher station of life than her own' (p.8).

The plan is put into practice. Jannet comes to the house in the morning and is vastly pleased when she gets to exchange her 'round-eared cap and straw hat' for the elegant dress of a fine young lady. She spends the first part of the day exploring Mrs. Miners' garden, but her enjoyment of this soon wears off. That afternoon she is introduced into company. She is too nervous of so many fine ladies and gentlemen to feel comfortable though, and her embarrassment is complete when she knocks a drink onto the gown of her neighbour and upsets a plate of food into her own lap. The rest of the day brings many more mortifications, some of which seem to have been deliberately engineered by Mrs. Miners and her friends, most of whom are in on the experiment. Jannet is sent off to the garden with two girls of her own age, for example, but is made aware of her unfittedness for her new role by their questions about literature, botany and her inability to speak French. Later music and dancing occupy the assembled company, but though Jannet claims to like music and dancing, she finds herself bored by the Italian and English airs ('songs sung by the lads and lasses of the village ... pleased her a thousand times better') and unable to join in with the cotillions and minuets. After a sleepless night, during which she was 'harassed with dreams of grandeur', Jannet finds the next days crushingly empty. True, there were books to read in an excellent library, but Jannet could not read. Likewise, though there were musical instruments, crayons and pencils, and embroidery frames, all for her use, she did not know how use them. '[A]ccustomed to employment, idleness was irksome to her', and 'Jannet was obliged to confess ... that many more things were required to make a lady than money and fine clothes' (pp.21-22 and p.18).

The disillusionment of Georgiana and Frances with their newly-assumed station in life is more straightforward. Mrs. Miners had been 'careful to place proper persons about them to inspect their conduct, and, if occasion should render it necessary, to protect them from insult', but otherwise Georgiana and Frances work amongst 'their papa's day-labourers' who affect not to know them and who insist that they work just as hard at hay-making as themselves (pp.11 and 23). The girls are too exhausted by their work to enjoy the communal meal at the end of the day, and though they are kindly taken in for the night by one of the labourers they find themselves disgusted by the food set before them, the rustic music played for their entertainment and the straw bed they are given to sleep on. On the next day they resolve to avoid the heavy labour of hay-making, and they slip off to ramble in the woods. A group of travellers comes their way, and 'a hundred disagreeable stories, which they had heard of children who had been stript and murdered, or stolen away by gypsies, crouded [sic] into their minds, and made them repent their folly' (p.29). They hide in a hedge until the danger passes, and heartily wish that they had had the company of their governess or mother to protect them.

Within two days then, both Jannet and Georgiana and Frances return to Mrs. Miners begging to be allowed to go back to their former stations. The lesson is quickly drawn: 'I hope, my good children', says Mrs. Miners, 'that this little adventure, as was my intent it should, will teach you in future to rest satisfied with the station of life in which Providence has placed you; for, be assured, you will in the end find it the more calculated to render you happy' (p.33). All three children happily return to their old lives. Jannet, though, rather like a losing contestant on a game show, does not go away from her attempt at the high-life empty-handed for Mrs. Miners had ordered for her a new gown, and new caps, shoes and stockings, all, however, well designed to suit her humble station.

Clearly this is a very conservative tale, emphasising the propriety and necessity of an inflexible social order. Many such works were written for adults during the lengthy crisis precipitated by the French Revolution, their aim being to counter the levelling which was held to be a part of Jacobin ideology. But for such an overtly ideological work to be directed at children was much rarer. In a sense, though, 'The Little Hay-Makers' is very much part of the tradition of late eighteenth century children's literature. It is, after all, most directly aimed against the sort of books inspired by Rousseau which were being written for children from the 1780s on. Thomas Day's Little Jack (0090), for example, argues that a child, irrespective of the station into which he or she is born, might attain any social position. Jack, after all, starts as an orphan, suckled by a goat, but ends a rich, powerful and cultivated man. 'The Little Hay-Makers' asserts the opposite - that children can only be happy while they remain in the station into which they were born. Viewed in this light, 'The Little Hay-Makers' may be read as a direct riposte to Day's recently-published Sandford and Merton (17833-89: 0091-0092). Tommy Merton comes from a prosperous family and Harry Sandford from a much more humble background. The narrative begins with Tommy's father meeting and being impressed by Harry, and deciding that the two boys should be educated together. '[T]his little peasant', he says, meaning Harry, 'has within his mind the seeds of true gentility and dignity of character'. Both he, and the narrative which unfolds over the next three volumes, utterly refute his wife's initial contention that Harry 'had a certain grossness and indelicacy in his ideas, which distinguishes the children of the lower and middling classes of people from those of persons of fashion.' 'Nothing', he argues, 'was more easily acquired that those external manners, and that superficial address, upon which too many of the higher classes pride themselves as their greatest, or even as their only accomplishment'. It is the 'greatest absurdity', he concludes, to think that rank consists of 'affected tones of voice, particular grimaces, or extravagant and unnatural modes of dress; which far from being the real test of gentility, have in general no other origin than the caprice of barbers, tailors, actors, opera-dancers, milliners, fiddlers, and French servants or both sexes.' (0091: pp.9-10) This, of course, is exactly the opposite of what is being suggested by 'The Little Hay-Makers' where such manners apparently do constitute rank. Jannet is unhappy as a patrician child precisely because she does not possess the 'external manners, and superficial address' of Georgiana and Frances.

On the other hand, however, there is common ground between Day's Rousseau-influenced understanding of rank and that presented in 'The Little Hay-Makers'. The author of the latter criticises both Jannet, and Georgiana and Frances for mistaking the signifiers of rank for the real nature of their different stations in life. Jannet initially wants to be rich so that she can wear pretty clothes; Georgiana and Frances wish to be hay-makers so that they can frolic in the meadow and eat their dinner on the grass. Each of the girls fail to appreciate that there is more to their different ranks than these external things. Day would have agreed that there was more to being rich, say, than wearing fancy clothes. The difference is that he sought to teach the rich to know the real duties of their own rank, while Jannet's experiences are designed to tell the poor that there was more to their superiors than met the eye. Furthermore, Day would also surely have agreed with the author of 'The Little Hay-Makers' in attributing the behaviour of the three girls to their upbringing and education rather than any natural and inherent quality. Jannet has not been trained to operate in polite society, but rather to work hard and enjoy the simple pleasures of rustic life, and this is why she cannot be happy in her new station. Georgiana and Frances find themselves unable to be happy as hay-makers because they have not been used to such work all their lives. Even at the ages they have reached by the time they exchange places - say nine or ten years old - they are already too old to change. However, in 'The Little Hay-Makers' this is not a matter of regret, but the natural order of things. For Day this was unfortunate, a case of society unfairly inflicting an arbitrary destiny on every child. Yet, for Day, the fact that every individual's fate was not set in stone from birth, but could be shaped by education, also provided hope for the individual, and that a fairer society would in time emerge.

The other three sections of Select and Entertaining Stories are shorter. 'The Broken Wheel' (p.36ff.) tells of Frank Holt's frustration when he breaks a wheel of the toy wagon he has been making. Petulantly, he determines to have nothing more to do with the project, and he spends the afternoon breaking up that part of the waggon that was already completed and scratching his name on the shutters with a pin. His mother reprimands him for wasting his time, a criticism doubly wounding since Frank himself had complained that he had wasted his time in making the wagon. The lesson is two-fold. One should perservere in a project, and seek advice if necessary. And one should never waste time. This last moral chimes with the lesson Jannet learns in 'The Little Hay-Makers'. After the initial embrassment of being in her elevated station, her main problem had been in finding things to do in her new life. She could not read, nor play music, nor embroider, nor use crayons and pencils, and, accustomed to industry but unable to pursue any useful occupations, she became listless and unhappy. The chief duty of affluent children, it seems from both these stories, is to find useful and worthy occupations for themselves.

'A Dialogue on Beauty' (p.43ff.), the third story, is a short discussion between a mother and her daughter on personal beauty. Anne, the daughter, wishes that she was prettier, arguing that people treat beautiful girls better. Her mother reconciles her to her plainess by explaining that virtue, knowledge and a cheerful characater are more valuable than looks.

Last is 'The Angler' (p.49), in which the young Frank Bingley comes across a school-fellow fishing. Frank is fascinated at first, but then become disgusted when his friend spears a worm on the hook to bait his line. This is unreasonably cruel, Frank thinks, and having failed to dissuade the angler from carrying on with so barbarous a practice, he bribes him to stop by exchanging his new battledore and shuttlecock for the lives of the remaining worms. This seems a surprising degree of sensibility on the part of Frank, and one half expects Frank's father to reprimand him for too effete an attitude. This is not the case, though, for Frank's father is very impressed by his son's attitude, and both of them condemn outright all 'rural sports' unless they are undertaken solely to provide food. Angling may be permitted, they decide, only if artificial bait is used.