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. 0240: Anon., The History of Giles Gingerbread

Author: Anon. (but by John Newbery?)
Title: The History of Giles Gingerbread, A Little Boy, Who lived upon Learning
Cat. Number: 0240
Date: No date but c.1820?
1st Edition: 1764?
Pub. Place: York
Publisher: James Kendrew
Price: 1d
Pages: 1 vol., 31pp.
Size: 10 x 6.5 cm
Illustrations: 12 woodcuts

Images of all pages of this book

Page 003 of item 0240

Introductory essay

See below for a synopsis.

The History of Giles Gingerbread is the epitome of the children's books produced by John Newbery in the middle of the eighteenth century. It is enjoyable, being filled with likeable characters, little jokes and a satisfying narrative which is reminiscent of the popular story of Dick Whittington. But fundamentally, as with Newbery's Goody Two-Shoes, published a year later, the narrative is designed to function as a frame for Newbery's familiar advocacy of learning as a means to temporary success and spiritual well-being.

It seems fairly certain that The Renowned History of Giles Gingerbread was written by John Newbery himself. The author of the preface to the earliest editions (not in the Hockliffe Collection) professes himself to have been born in Waltham. Newbery was born in Waltham St. Lawrence, Berkshire, in 1713. Giles Gingerbread would have been one of his last projects, since he died in 1767, three years after the earliest extant edition of 1764. That this is also the first edition is supported by an advertisement in the London Chronicle of December 1763 promising that the work would be published at the beginning of the following year (Sydney Roscoe, John Newbery and his Successors). Further editions published by Newbery and his successors were forthcoming in 1765, 1766, 1769, 1777 and 1782, and perhaps even more frequently, but the version in the Hockliffe Collection dates from the early nineteenth century. It was published by James Kendrew of York, a company famous for producing fairly high quality short books and chapbooks for the children's market. Kendrew published at least two editions of the work, making slight changes for the second edition, which is the version held in the Hockliffe Collection (see Davis 1988: 93). James Kendrew took over the firm in c.1803, and handed it on to his son John in 1841. This edition of Giles Gingerbread might date from anywhere within that range of dates. For more on Kendrew's publishing operation see the essay accompanying 0028.

Besides the slight alteration to the title (Kendrew dropped the word 'renowned'), and the playful attribution of authorship (Kendrew has 'Tom Trip' as author), several further changes had been made to Newbery's book by the time it was published by Kendrew. Some are minor. For instance, 'N' is for 'Nuts and Nonpareils for ever' in the Newbery's edition, but 'nuts and Nancy' in Kendrew's (p.20), and Kendrew omits the well-known verses about the Lion and the Unicorn which Newbery had used to illustrate the letter 'U'. More noticeably, the wood-cuts, though they show the same subjects, are different, and fewer, and of a worse quality, in the York edition, which is testament to the high standards set by Newbery. The contents of the book have also been markedly revised. Surrounding the narrative, the Kendrew edition has a short verse below the frontispiece (p.2) and a set of alphabets just after the title-page (p.4); then the volume is concluded by a short rhyme about Giles and how he loves his books (p.27) and two poems, 'The Boy Who Knew Nothing' (pp.28-30) and 'Praise for the Gospel' (p.31). Both of these are from Isaac Watts' Divine Songs (see 0462-0463). Very little of this had appeared in the Newbery edition. There, the central tale itself had been larger, so that less additional material was needed to fill out the volume. Several of the gingerbread books which Giles is given are printed in full. One sets out many commonly found syllables; another, How To Be Happy and Go To Heaven, provides basic religious lessons; a third contains four short fables which teach four lessons not particularly germane to the main narrative of Giles Gingerbread.

But the most intriguing section omitted from the Kendrew edition is Newbery's preface. It was unabashedly political. Newbery's egalitarianism comes through strongly. The reader might wish to know the birth, parentage, and country of the hero, he wrote, but, if so, the reader will be disappointed, 'for a good Man, may be born any how, and any where; of any Parents, and in any Country.' (Giles Gingerbread: London, 1766, p.4). Such sentiments fit in well with the overall theme of Newbery's works. Anyone, Newbery's philosophy held, could achieve anything they wished if they but paid attention to their studies and worked hard enough. This was the lesson to be drawn from the social elevation of Goody Two-Shoes (see the essay for 0123-0124) and from the histories of Sir Toby Thompson, and Giles himself, in Giles Gingerbread. Gaffer Gingerbread spelled it out - in all versions of the text - when his son explained why he had simply hitched a ride on the back of Sir Toby's coach rather than sought to enter by the door:

Yes father, said the boy, but that place is not for poor folks. Not for poor folks, replied the father, yes, but it is; a poor man or a poor boy may get a coach if he will endeavour to deserve it. Merit and industry will entitle a man to any thing. (p.6)

Newbery may have really been a democrat, but this sort of egalitarian idealism was also well-suited to the demands of his publishing business and was surely part of a concerted public relations strategy. To sell books which were not primarily concerned with religion nor designed exclusively for an elite market, he needed to explain why they would be useful, particularly to the poorer sections of society at which he aimed (as did Kendrew, who still charged only one penny for Giles Gingerbread). Their obvious selling point was that the books would be able to improve the reader's position in society, that through the education which the books provided, or recommended, or symbolised, would come social mobility. This is precisely what Giles Gingerbread was designed to demonstrate. Without misrepresenting its contents, its sub-title might well have been 'How To Become Rich'. And it was essential that Newbery add that 'If a Man is a good Man, and an honest Man, it is no Matter where he was born', as he insisted in the original preface. That such sentiments were missing from Kendrew's later edition might well be due to the concerns of Sarah Trimmer and her cohorts who came to dominate the production of children's literature in the 1790s and 1800s. To them, Newbery's egalitarianism must have smacked of social levelling and even Jacobinism. Even to urge a poor boy like Giles to climb in through the door of a fine coach must have seemed like social insurgency. Newbery's wilful politicisation of children's literature might have appeared worse still. In the preface he had written: 'if those who have lately made such a Noise about Country and Party had been Scholars to Gaffer Gingerbread, he would have knocked their Heads together for being such Boobies', to which he added, by way of an explanation, 'Why should the People quarrel any more because they are divided by the Tweed, than because they are divided by the Thames?' (p.4) This was presumably a reference to the political crisis over George III's appointment of the Scot, the Marquis of Bute, to the premiership in 1762, the crisis which was to launch John Wilkes on his radical career. Of course, this would hardly have been relevant to the audience of Kendrew's edition, and Newbery was in any case not being obviously partisan in his condemnation of the brouhaha, but it is still inconceivable that this kind of direct political reference would have occurred in the children's books of the early nineteenth century.

In fact, a certain political tension exists in Giles Gingerbread. The tale clearly endorses the idea of social aspiration and mobility, but the means to achieve social elevation are debated. Sir Toby manages to rises from poverty to riches by virtue of his modesty, humility and uncomplaining resignation. He first attracts the notice of his patrons by his self-effacement and self-denial when he tells them that he does not cry because he himself is hungry, but because he has nothing to feed his brother and sister. He gains attention because 'he could forget his own wants' (p.11). Later, it is his modest and self-effacing honesty (he does not even sign the paper accusing his fellow servant of being a thief) which wins him the favour of his master. Giles takes utterly the opposite route to the worldly success which it is assumed he will achieve. The boy who literally 'lives upon learning' (by eating the gingerbread books: p.26), to repeat and extend Newbery's pun, always follows his appetite - for food, for learning, for a coach and horses. He is always in a rush. He runs to hear his father's story of how Sir Toby became rich, arriving out of breath (p.8). He runs to start his education once the story has been finished (pp.18-19). He does not wait to be noticed and pitied, as had Sir Toby; nor does he rely on luck, as did Dick Whittington, whose fortune depended on the chance adventures of his cat (see 0036). He puts his own desires first. Once he realises he wants something - an education, a coach and horses - he goes at it full tilt. The different approaches taken by Toby and Giles represent two different paradigms of behaviour for the poor. Sarah Trimmer, Hannah More and most other writers for children (and conservative social theorists) of the generation after Newbery would have favoured the approach adopted by Toby who patiently waits for Providence to reward him for his virtue. Newbery apparently favoured the much more proactive self-help ethos of his eponymous hero.

This said, it must be acknowledged that Newbery was sufficiently aware of his audience's anxieties to stress the more traditional virtues demanded of the poor and of children (who are often conflated in children's literature). Episodes cleverly woven into the fabric of the narrative emphasise that for all his avidity to learn, Giles must also attend to his routine chores and learn to be obedient. When pigs escape - on two separate occasions - Giles rushes off to recover them before continuing his lessons, 'for he had learned to do as he was bid, or he would never have made either a good boy or a great man.' (p.7) As much as a Tom Paine might have approved of Newbery's determination that each child must be able to forge his or her own fate, Newbery was clearly no social revolutionary. The child schooled on Newbery's books, if he or she followed their dicta, would grow up obedient and industrious above all, and with a conciliating faith in the possibility of social mobility rather than a determination to level social distinctions. It is this moderate and pragmatic reasonableness which meant that the children's books published by Newbery's were still being published by firms like Kendrew of York well into the nineteenth century.

For other books in the Hockliffe Collection published by Kendrew of York see:
The Entertaining Story of Little Red Riding Hood (0028 and 0029)
Mrs. Lovechild's Golden Present for all good little boys and girls (0685)
The Silver Penny for the Amusement and Instruction of good children (0702)


One day old Gaffer Gingerbread sees his son, Giles, climbing onto the back of Sir Toby Thompson's coach (pictured p.5). He berates him, insisting that he should endeavour to get in through the door of the coach. When Giles laments that such coaches are not for the poor, his father insists that anyone may possess a coach and horses if they try hard enough. Sir Toby was poor once, he says, and after Giles recaptures their escaped pig, Gaffer Gingerbread tells him how he acquired his fortune. Toby had been a poor boy in the village, and was often left in charge of his siblings while their mother went out to seek work. Mr and Mrs Goodwill passed by one day, and asked why Toby and his siblings were crying. While his brother and sister explained that they were unhappy because they had no food, Toby replied that he cried because he had no food to give his brother and sister. This answer so impressed Mr and Mrs Goodwill that they not only fed the children and donated money to the family, but also sent Toby to school. Soon Toby is taken to the house of the Goodwills in London. Mr Goodwill, though good, is not 'altogether so wise and prudent as one would expect a man to be who lived in London, and knew the world', for he was addicted to horse racing and gambling (p.14). He also had a dishonest servant, who stole from his master. Toby writes anonymously to his master, exposing the thief, but the thief accuses Toby himself. Toby is thus obliged to give up his anonymity, and to prove himself the author of the letter (by a secret mark in the corner of the paper). As a result of his honesty Toby becomes Mr Goodwill's partner, becomes rich and soon acquires his own coach (pictured p.17).

'As soon as Gaffer Gingerbread had finished this story of Sir Toby and his coach, little Giles ran up to his father, and begged that he would give him a book, and teach him to read, that he might become as great a man as Toby Thompson.' (pp.18-19) Gaffer Gingerbread provides a gingerbread alphabet. At first Giles does not believe that all words can be spelled from these twenty-six letters. His first attempts at spelling are wrong and mocked by his father, but he soon improves. His father provided him with a new gingerbread book every day. Sir Toby (now knighted) heard of this good behaviour, and took Giles up to London with him. At last, then, he has travelled in a coach - and 'no doubt, he will soon get one of his own' (p.26).