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Books of Instruction. 0612: Anon., The Paths of Learning Strewed with Flowers or English Grammar Illustrated

Author: Anon.
Title: The paths of learning strewed with flowers or English grammar illustrated
Cat. Number: 0612
Date: 1820
1st Edition: 1820
Pub. Place: London
Publisher: Harris and Son
Price: 1s 6d
Pages: 1 vol., 16pp.
Size: 17.5 x 10.5 cm
Note: Part of Harris's Cabinet of Amusement and Instruction'

Images of all pages of this book

Page 003 of item 0612

Introductory essay

The vignette which opens The paths of learning strewed with flowers announces the book's purpose as 'to obviate the reluctance children evince to the irksome and insipid task of learning the names and meaning of the component parts of grammar'. The chief method by which this was to be accomplished, it soon becomes clear, was to use illustrations to engage readers with the text. The idea was that the grammar being taught would become the basis for the traditonal pleasures of a book, rather than remaining merely an end in itself. Thus when interjections are being explained, for instance, we see a boy (dressed as a sailor) exclaiming 'my Sister!' as he encounters a girl, who replies 'Ah! my Brother'. We also have a parrot squawking 'O dear!' and sailors, out at sea, greeting their shipwreck with their own interjection: 'Alas!' None of this is explained in the accompanying text which appears below the illustration. It is left for the reader to construct the narrative or the shipwreck, the siblings' meeting, and what the parrot has to do with it all (p.16). The author doubtless envisaged that a discussion about what was happening in each illustrations would take place with another reader, probably an adult reading alongside the child, which would enhance the didactic efficacy of the book.

The world referenced and brought to mind by the book is familiar from much contemporary children's literature. It is predominantly rural and middle class, and it features many of the most frequently recurring themes of children's books. At the beginning of the book, the examples drawn upon to illustrate parts of speech are 'cow', 'apple', 'gentleman' and 'garden'. Towards the end, the scenarios become more exciting: sailing a boat on the river, riding to London, getting shipwrecked with a parrot. It will come as no suprise to find that the adverbs selected for inclusion are 'industriously', 'sweetly' and 'neatly' (p.13), that the participles page depicts boys playing at soldiers holding a (rather out-of-date) Union flag (p.12), and that adjectives are illustrated with 'A Good Girl relieving a poor lame Man. Good is the quality of the Girl, lame and poor of the Man.' (p.8)

The paths of learning strewed with flowers formed part of the second series of 'Harris's Cabinet of Amusement and Instruction', published in the early 1820s. According to Marjorie Moon, 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. Moon calls The paths of learning strewed with flowers 'one of the most charming books in the series' (Moon 1987: 88). A list of some of the books to feature in Harris's 'Cabinet' appears at the end of The paths of learning, along with the 'logo' of the series: a roundel showing Harris's shop at the corner of St. Paul's churchyard in London. The Hockliffe Collection possesses several other works from the series - see for instance, 0175, 0194, 0196, 0569A, 0569B, 0569C, 0569D, 0569E, 0569G, 0569I, 0569K, 0569L, 0569M and 0668.

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

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