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Stories Before 1850. 0252: Anon., The Visits of Tommy Lovebook to his Neighbouring Little Misses and Masters

Author: Anon.
Title: The visits of Tommy Lovebook to his neighbouring little misses and masters. Embellished with cuts
Cat. Number: 0252
Date: 1815
1st Edition: 1792
Pub. Place: London
Publisher: J. Harris, at the Corner of St. Paul's
Price: 3d
Pages: 1 vol., 64pp.
Size: 9.5 x 6 cm
Illustrations: Frontispiece plus 12 further wood-cuts

Images of all pages of this book

Page 003 of item 0252

Introductory essay

The Visits of Tommy Lovebook was first published by Elizabeth Newbery in 1792 (Roscoe 1973: 268). John Harris took over her business in 1801, and he brought out a new edition under his own imprint in 1804. A third and fourth followed in 1806 and 1809, then this fifth edition of 1815.

The attribution of the work to Richard Johnson derives from his own day-books, in which he recorded what he wrote and how much he was paid. An entry for October 1791 records that he received £2 2s for writing 'The Visits of Tommy Lovebook' (see Weedon 1949: 88). Johnson is one of the neglected figures who did so much to steer the uncharted course of children's literature in the late eighteenth century. He is usually described as a 'hack-writer', that is to say he would take on whichever kind of writing he was paid for. He was certainly happy to abridge the works of others, and even to plagiarise. His day-books reveal that he became reasonably affluent from little bits and pieces of work which were irregularly put his way, generally by the successors of John Newbery. Johnson's routine use of pseudonyms makes it difficult to establish exactly what he was responsible for - he often used the name 'Revd. W. D. Cooper', but also worked under more generic names such as 'Master Tommy Littleton'. Yet neither his originality and influence, nor his commitment to his craft, should be underrated. The Oriental Moralist (c.1791), for instance, was the first translation of The Arabian Nights designed specifically for children and had many direct descendants. This book, along with The Looking-Glass for The Mind (pillaged from Arnaud Berquin) and The Blossoms of Morality, all by Johnson, are mentioned in The Visits of Tommy Lovebook as suitable rewards for the hero's charitable behaviour (p.43).

The Visits of Tommy Lovebook tells the story of a boy who, from his earliest years, even before he could read, loved books. By the age of eight, his age when the book opens, Tommy 'had collected a little library, which consisted of all the gilt books sold at the corner of St. Paul's Church yard from one penny value to a shilling. Indeed he had done more than merely collect them; for he had read them all, and could tell such a variety of pretty tales and stories, that every young person was fond of his company' (p.7f.). If this ability to win friends was one advantage of his reading, another was the maturity which the books endowed him with. To call him precocious is a huge understatement. Tommy bows with grace, makes the most polite conversation, admires those of his friends who can pour tea with elegance, is spontaneously charitable, and in all other respects acts like an adult rather than a child. He is consistently congratulated for this by the text. When asked how he has come by this maturity he answers that it is as a result of his books. Where, one of his friends asks, for instance, has he learned to observe that the rose is just like a young person, for it blooms for a while but soon fades and grows old? 'Indeed, madam,' he replies, 'all my gilt books tell me the same thing' (p.16). His books, Johnson would have us believe, have fully equipped him to face life and all its perils. No sooner does he hear of the sad case of a wilful girl who has eaten so much green fruit that she became ill and died, for example, than he says 'I have read accounts of several young masters and misses, who have accustomed themselves to behave in the same naughty manner' (p.12).

Through the book Tommy pays several visits. The first is to Madame and Miss Shirley, both equally as genteel as Tommy. The second is to the cottage of Giles, a poor man whose family is starving because he has sprained his leg. Tommy donates to the family all the money he has, denying himself the pleasure of buying more books, along with food he has saved. When this is discovered by his own family, they are highly delighted with Tommy's generosity. They reward him with more money with which, naturally, he buys books.

The third visit is to the home of Master Harry Amiable. There, in company with Master Billy Fretful and Master Joey Peevish, they play a game called 'Genealogical Pastimes' which may, of course, be purchased from Newbery or Harris' shop in St. Paul's Church-yard. The game ends in a fight between Billy and Joey. The responsible Harry and Tommy do not join in.

Finally, Tommy visits the home of Lady Arabella Lovetruth on Twelfth Night. It is apparently customary to choose a king and queen for the occasion, and Lady Arabella's parents decide that the choice shall be made on the basis of what each boy or girl gathered there has recently achieved. Accordingly each child describes what they have accomplished. The first boy tells how proficient he is at hunting (he has already succeeded in training his dogs to hunt a cat). The second tells how accomplished he is at all the arts of a young gentleman - spinning tops, making kites, whipping gigs, playing marbles, and so on. Master Broughton candidly urges his claim by explaining that he has always been king because he hits anyone who disagrees with him, 'and, as I always take care not to strike one who is stronger than myself, I constantly retain my dominion over them' (p.54). Another boy thinks he should be congratulated for pushing one of his servants into a well. Tommy repudiates all these claims - to hunt is cruel, to bully is wicked, and so on - and modestly advances his claim by saying that he loves only innocent pleasures, especially reading, because in books he finds truth, wisdom and knowledge. Naturally, Tommy is instantly elected king. The competition to be queen is just as fierce. One girl thinks herself qualified because she loves dresses and grandeur as much as any queen; another thinks herself the best candidate because her mother always tells her that she is a little queen. A third, Miss Giddy, is in love with the idea of monarchy, but thinks it insufficient to be queen just for one night. Eventually Miss Prudence is chosen, for she knows that the thought of being a queen is enough to turn a child's head, and she explains that she has learned from 'Mrs. Newbery's little books' 'that those who do their duty in this life are sufficiently great, and indeed much greater than those who abuse the power with which they are invested, and who endeavour to grieve and oppress those whom they ought to protect and comfort.' (pp.61-63) Which books these might have been is not immediately clear. The children's fiction published by Elizabeth Newbery shied away from such political subjects. It seems most likely, then, that Miss Prudent was referring then to the range of historical titles published by Newbery and his successors. A New History of England, from the Invasion by Julius Caesar, by John Newbery and revised by Richard Johnson himself, would certainly have contained its fair share of stories of the abuse of power and the oppression of the weak.

Roscoe, Sydney, John Newbery and his Successors, 1740-1814: A Bibliography, Wormsley, Herts., 1973

Weedon, M. J. P., 'Richard Johnson and the Successors to John Newbery', The Library, 5th series, 4, i (1949), 25-63