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Books of Instruction. 0569E: Anon., Wonders! Descriptive of some of the most Remarkable of Nature and Art

Author: Anon.
Title: Wonders! Descriptive of some of the most remarkable of nature and art. St. Michael's Volcano. Pyramids and Sphinx. Giant's Causeway. Palace and Statue of Memnon. Termites, Anthills, and Pyramids. Ice Mountains. Great Wall of China. St. Winifred's Well. Mausoleum of Hyder Ali. Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre. Stonehenge. Pompey's Pillar, and Cleopatra's Needle. Fingal's Cave. Grotto of Antiparos. Colossus at Rhodes. Pont du Gard
Cat. Number: 0569E
Date: 1823
1st Edition: 1821
Pub. Place: London
Publisher: J. Harris and Son, Corner of St. Paul's Church-Yard
Price: 1s 6d
Pages: 16pp. printed on one side only
Size: 17 x 10 cm
Illustrations: 16 coloured engravings (the text is engraved on the same plate as the image)
Note: Part of 'Harris's Cabinet of Amusement and Instruction consisting of the most Approved Novelties for the Nursery'. Bound with 0569A-M

Images of all pages of this book

Page 63B of item 0569E

Introductory essay

Like so many of the books in 'Harris's Cabinet of Amusement and Instruction' this work uses the text to provide a verse commentary on the illustrations. Both were engraved on the same plate, with the images subsequently being coloured by hand. It could plausibly be argued that the book was educational, but its real function was to allow its readers all the pleasures of vicarious travel, and to amaze them with the wonders of the world.

The sixteen phenomena seem selected to provide a balance between British sites and those to be found abroad, between modern and ancient places, and between natural and man-made wonders. Most still feature on any list of the wonders of the world, and only a few require explanation. St. Michael's volcano, the first wonder in the book, is presumably that on the Azores island of San Miguel which had erupted periodically throughout the eighteenth century. St. Winifred's well is a medieval holy well in Flintshire, Wales, the site of much veneration before the Reformation. Hyder Ali's mausoleum was built for him by his son, Tippu (or Tippoo) Sultan in the 1780s. Both Hyder Ali and Tippu Sultan died fighting the British, as the text makes clear, in the Mysore wars of the 1780s and '90s. It still stands in Seringapatam, Karnataka (formerly Mysore) in India. The tone of the text is curiously respectful of their 'proud dynasty', whilst also evidently proud of the British victory. The introduction of 'Historians' to explain whose the mausoleum is makes the empire-building of the British more distant than it actually was, a strategy which effectively characterised what was still an emerging empire as solid, stable and sanctioned by time.

The pictorial representation of Hyder Ali's mausoleum is not inaccurate. The same cannot be said for the representation of the Sphinx or Fingal's Cave. The latter, on Staffa, one of the islands of the Inner Hebrides, had only recently become famous, after Sir Joseph Bank's 'discovery' of the cave in the 1770s. It is apparently Banks, the biologist and president of the Royal Society, who is the 'knight of the pen' whose words are paraphrased in the verse which accompanies the picture.

Banks would presumably have been happy that the book pours scorn on the idea that it was giants who built the Giant's Causeway in Ireland. But although the supernatural was rejected, no more scientific explanation of its geology is put forward. Neither does the text venture an explanation for Stonehenge or the rock formations in the caves on the Cycladean island of Antiparos, preferring to retain a simple sense of awe. If no geographical or archaeological instruction is offered, nor is any morality, save once, when discussing icebergs, the text advises children to spend their time at home in Britain improving themselves with those who they are 'bound to revere and love.'

This work formed part of the second series of 'Harris's Cabinet of Amusement and Instruction', published in the early 1820s. According to Marjorie Moon, John Harris's bibliographer, the first series was brought out with great rapidity in 1807, 1808 and 1809, following the huge success of William Roscoe's Butterfly's Ball. These were 'funny, imaginative and altogether different from the pious moralisings that up till now, with a few honourable exceptions, were the literature of childhood.' (Moon 1987: 153) The second series included more instructional material, but still in a light-hearted way. The Hockliffe Collection possesses several other works from the series - see for instance, 0175, 0194, 0196, 0569A, 0569B, 0569C, 0569D, 0569G, 0569I, 0569J, 0569K, 0569L, 0569M, 0612 and 0668.

Moon, Marjorie, John Harris's books for youth, 1801-1843, revised edition, Winchester, 1987