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Books of Instruction. 0569K: Anon., The Monkey's Frolic

Author: Anon.
Title: The monkey's frolic a humorous tale
Cat. Number: 0569K
Date: No date but c.1824?
1st Edition: 1823
Pub. Place: London
Publisher: J. Harris and Son
Price: 1 s 6d
Pages: 1 vol., 17pp. printed on one side only
Size: 17 x 10 cm
Illustrations: 16 coloured engravings
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 60B of item 0569K

Introductory essay

The Hockliffe Collection has two copies of The Monkey's Frolic, one from the first edition of 1823 (0809) and this one from an undated edition, probably published a year or two later.

The comic verse tells of a monkey, sometimes called Pug, who apparently lives as a pet in an affluent household. The monkey begins by trying to shave the whiskers of a cat. The cat objects, but is tied down by the monkey. After the cat's face has been lathered, but before the operation can begin, the scene is interrupted by a servant, and the monkey flees with the cat to the roof. For a while, the monkey frustrates all attempts to get him down again, but eventually both monkey and cat fall down the chimney and land in the chamber of a bed-ridden man suffering from gout. The invalid apparently believes that the two soot-covered figures are some kind of supernatural apparition or 'Imps of darkness' (p.12). Terrified, he scampers out of the room and downstairs where he runs into a doctor. The cat and the monkey have pursued, but they vanish when other humans arrive. At last their owner, a young man (judging from the illustration: p.15), arrives, and finds the missing creatures hiding in the chimney. Far from being angry, both the doctor and the patient congratulate the monkey and cat, for the excitement has cured the invalid's gout. Indeed, we are told that the doctor means to try a similar cure in other cases.

This is primarily a humorous caper, then, well supported by handsome and well-coloured illustrations. Only the prefatorial stanza hints at a more didactic ambition. 'Our tale is a true one,' it begins, 'from which may be taught / A maxim for youth, with utility fraught'. The maxim is that 'Nor Goblins and Spectres on earth have a station, - / These phantoms are all of ideal creation'. This manifesto proclaims, in other words, that the purpose of the work is to teach that there are no such supernatural creatures as the invalid thinks he has seen. It was a point made by a great deal of late eighteenth century children's literature. It had been made most famously by John Locke in the late seventeenth century, who had warned in his Some Thoughts Concerning Education that children were being encouraged to believe in sprites and goblins by the stories which their nurses were prone to telling them. Even in a comic tale like The Monkey's Frolic, then, this enlightenment emphasis found a place. However, it seems most likely, that the warning against the supernatural which appeared as a preface was really little more than window-dressing, an attempt to propitiate those critics who demanded that children's literature should fulfil some useful purpose. After all, the text itself is anthropomorphic in the extreme, and hardly discourages a belief in unlikely, not to say preternatural, events. Indeed, so human-like is the monkey that it is possible that he is meant at some level to represent a naughty child who teases other animals and resists authority. Certainly, the work is notable, and unusual, for featuring no child protagonists.

The Monkey's Frolic 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, 0569E, 0569G, 0569I, 0569J, 0569L, 0569M, 0612 and 0668.

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