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Books of Instruction. 0479: Richard Johnson, The Drawing School for Little Masters and Misses

Author: Angelo, Master Michael [i.e. Johnson, Richard]
Title: The drawing school for little masters and misses: containing the most easy and concise rules for learning to draw, without the assistance of a teacher. Embellished with a great variety of figures curiously designed. To which are added, the whole art of kite making; and the author's new discoveries in the preparation of water colours. By Master Michael Angelo
Cat. Number: 0479
Date: 1774
1st Edition: 1773
Pub. Place: London
Publisher: T. Carnan, at Number 65, in St. Paul's Church Yard
Price: 6d
Pages: 1 vol., 106pp.
Size: 11 x 8 cm
Illustrations: Engraved frontispiece plus 49 further wood-cuts
Note: Bound in Dutch flower boards. Inscription on fly-leaf: 'Isabella [?] F. Walker / Frances H. Walker'

Images of all pages of this book

Page 002 of item 0479

Introductory essay

'Master Michael Angelo', the purported author of The Drawing School, was in fact Richard Johnson, the freelance writer of many children's books. This is evident from his day-books, which record that on 16 November 1772 he 'Delivered to Mr. Carnan The Drawing School for Little Masters and Misses. Value Five Guineas' (see Weedon 1949). The first edition appeared in 1773, and this second, revised edition in the following year (see p.iv for details of the revisions). The third and final edition was published in 1777 (Roscoe 1973: 46-47).

As its preface makes clear, The Drawing School was designed to teach children the rudiments of drawing. Its pages are full of sketches to be copied, and tips on how this may be achieved. Johnson's hope was that, in time, if his book was introduced to children when they were very young, it would foster the artistic development of 'many Prodigies'. Sharing William Hogarth's mix of patriotism and concern for the arts, he hoped that his book could help to produce 'Artists equal to those of Italy.' (p.iii)

Johnson also shared Newbery's understanding, based on Locke's ideas, of the necessity of fusing amusement with instruction. 'I would advise such Parents, as may chuse to put this little Work into the Hands of their Children' he wrote in the preface, 'not to impose these Lessons on them as a Task, but merely as an Amusement; not to treat them with Severity, if they do not properly attend to them, but to encourage them by trifling Rewards (such as are great in the Eyes of Children) when they make any remarkable Improvements.' (p.iii)

Another core Newbery characteristic exhibited in The Drawing School is the assertion that the book offers superb value for money. Other books of drawings were available for five or six shillings, Johnson acknowledged in his preface, but they did not include nearly so many sketches as were to be found in his book, a work costing just sixpence. Moreover, the publishers were also throwing in, at no extra cost, two additional treatises: 'The whole art of kite making' and 'Of the preparation of colours'. Indeed, the book as a whole was advertised as a work which could save, rather than cost, the purchaser money. Its sub-title recommended the book as 'containing the most easy and concise rules for learning to draw, without the assistance of a teacher'. Here, then, was an opportunity to obtain the sort of genteel education which the child of a noble, refined and affluent family might be expected to receive from a private tutor, but without the necessity of paying more than sixpence for it.

Richard Johnson was 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, analysed by M. J. P. Weedon in 1949 (Weedon 1949), 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. The five guineas he received for The Drawing School was one of the smaller payments he received.

Sydney Roscoe, Newbery's bibliographer, has suggested that Weedon was perhaps too eager to attribute so many works to Johnson purely on the basis of his day-books, for when they suggest that he had written these texts, he may simply have abridged, altered or merely transcribed them (Roscoe 1973: 150). Furthermore, 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. His Juvenile Trials for Robbing Orchards, telling fibs, and other heinous offences (1771: 0167 in the Hockliffe Collection) can be credited with starting a vogue for narratives which sought to educate their readers into good behaviour through the description of a trial and consequent punishment. Likewise, his The Oriental Moralist (c.1791) was the first translation of The Arabian Nights designed specifically for children and had many direct descendants. Moreover, the prefaces to The Looking-Glass for The Mind (0150) and his other collections of moral tales sound every bit as sincere and thoughtful as any of the more approved writers of moral tales of the era. Johnson may well have been the 'faithful friend and sincere well-wisher' of 'the Misses and Masters of Great Britain', which is how he portrayed himself in the dedication to his Juvenile Rambles through the paths of Nature (0925-0927), rather than the mercenary writer who simply wrote what he was told would sell. See also 0092, 0148, 0147, 0161, 0233, 0604 and 1101 for other examples of Johnson's work in the Hockliffe Collection.)

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

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

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