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Books of Instruction. 0628: William Darton Snr. (?), A Present for a Little Girl

Author: Darton, William, Snr. [?]
Title: A Present for a Little Girl
Cat. Number: 0628
Date: 1805
1st Edition: 1797?
Pub. Place: London
Publisher: William Darton and J. Harvey
Price: 1s
Pages: 1 vol., 50pp.
Size: 16 x 10 cm
Illustrations: Title-page vignette plus 24 engravings (6 of which full-page)
Note: 0626, 0627 and 0627 have the same text but different illustrations. Title-page has an inscription: 'Elizabeth Clarke 1810'.

Images of all pages of this book

Page 004 of item 0628

Introductory essay

The Hockliffe Collection contains four copies of A Present for a Little Girl (0625-0628). This edition (0628), published in 1805, contains more or less the same text as the others, albeit arranged in a new order, but it has different illustrations.

The book offers a fairly miscellaneous series of often unconnected cautionary tales, natural history lessons, fables, Biblical episodes, and so on. Indeed, so undemarcated and rambling are these various sections that the text sometimes seems rather like a stream of consciousness discourse. The principal themes, in so far as there are any, are the necessity of listening to advice offered by one's elders and the wickedness (and danger) of cruelty to animals. Thus the reader is told of the danger of tormenting a goat, for instance, and what happened to Little Ann when she defied all advice and climbed onto the back of the chair on which her nurse was sitting (the chair overset when the nurse stood up and Ann fell and hurt her head on the floor). But this kind of lesson is mixed in with a discussion of the homing habits of pigeons, say, or the story of Daniel in the lion's den. There are one or two poems too. And there is a set of high-quality engravings too, most of which depict the anecdotes to be found in the text rather than a menagerie of exotic animals, as had been the case with the earlier editions (compare 0625).

Most of the lessons contained in A present for a little girl are not relevant only to girls. Indeed, the companion work, A present for a little boy (not in the Hockliffe Collection), contains many very similar episodes. Some of its sections, though, were addressed specifically to boys, such as the warnings against birds-nesting and the danger of mill-wheels, in a way that does not seem to be the case with A present for a little girl. One section, though, was perhaps aimed particularly at teaching girls the limits of their 'proper place' in society. First, the narrative of two tame geese is unfolded. The geese stray from the farm on which they have been brought up, preferring to live with wild geese. When a fox discovers the flock, the geese fly off, but the farm-yard geese cannot fly as well as the wilds ones, and the fox is soon able to catch and devour them. The moral is made clear:

From this short tale we may learn, that those who forsake the state for which they are fitted by nature, will be in danger of sharing a like fate to that of the poor tame geese; and perhaps have cause to lament their folly, when it is too late for them to correct their error.

These two geese, the narrator continues, 'remind me of two little girls which I once heard of.' Walking by a canal, they saw a boat rowed by men, and the girls 'thought they could do so too.' They could not, however, and soon lost control of the boat. When it began to rain and they could not bring the boat back to shore, they began to cry, and at last were rescued by a gardener. 'And they now learnt by experience, that it was not proper for little girls to row in a boat.' (p.13ff.)

A present for a little girl was probably by William Darton Snr. himself. The attribution comes from the bibliography of a fellow Quaker, Joseph Smith, whose A Descriptive Catalogue of Friends' Books (1867) lists Darton's own contributions to his children's books list. The combination of illustration and text on one page shows Darton's debt to the work of Thomas Bewick. Darton had trained as an engraver and preferred to use the intaglio method of engraving copper-plates. By the 1790s Bewick had perfected techniques of wood-engraving which, unlike metal-engraving, enabled high-quality images and type to be printed together on single pages. The intaglio engraving on metal favoured by Darton and others could not be printed onto the same page as text because it required a rolling press rather than a letter-press. Darton's solution was to print the text first, leaving spaces where the illustrations were to go, and then to put the same sheets of paper through the rolling-press to print the engraved images. The excellent effects of this laborious process can be seen here in A Present for a little girl.