Stories Before 1850. 0246: Anon., Useful and Useless
||Useful and useless
||Religious Tract Society: Depository, 56, Paternoster Row, and 65, St. Paul's Churchyard
||1 vol., 8pp.
||10 x 7 cm
||Vignettes on outside front and back covers plus one wood engraving
||Tract number 610
Images of all pages of this book
Useful and Useless introduces two girls to the reader. The first, Susan Meadows, though poor, is hard-working and cheerful. She helps her family in any way she can, but still finds time to attend her Sunday school and even teach her siblings what she has learned there. The second girl, Mary Anne Jamieson (perhaps meant to register as an Irish-Catholic name), is lazy and cross. Though her father is dead and her elder sister is so ill that she cannot work, Mary Anne lives only to please herself. She does not seek to help her poor mother, nor does she willingly attend to her own education. The aim of the book is straightforward: the author hopes that each reader will 'diligently examine her own conduct, to find out which of the two she is most like.' (p.5) The evidence presented to the reader in support of Susan's way of life, as superior to Mary Anne's, is two-fold. First, for all Mary's Anne's attempts to seek pleasure rather than follow her duty, it is Susan who is actually much happier. 'Idle people are never really happy', after all (p.7). Second, the author warns that Mary Anne and other such people 'will have to give an account to Christ, when he shall call them to judgment, and punish the unprofitable servant' (p.8).
The Religious Tract Society was founded in 1799 to distribute to the poor precisely this kind of material. Though undated, it seems most likely that Useful and Useless was one of the Society's early efforts, dating from the first or second decade of the nineteenth century. Its title-page records that it was tract number 610.