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Poetry, Verse and Rhymes; Games. 0794: Anon., The House that Jack built

Author: Anon.
Title: The house that Jack built; to which is added, some account of Jack Jingle, showing by what means he acquired his learning and in consequence thereof got rich, and built himself a house. Adorned with cuts
Cat. Number: 0794
Date: No date, but c.1823
1st Edition:
Pub. Place: York
Publisher: J. Kendrew
Pages: 1 vol., 23pp.
Size: 8.5 x 6.5 cm.
Illustrations: 15 wood-engravings, including those on outside front and back covers

Images of all pages of this book

Page 002 of item 0794

Introductory essay

The house that Jack built had probably been circulating in oral form for many years before it was first published in the mid-eighteenth century by John Newbery. It remained a popular subject for chapbooks and children's books throughout the later eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The standard version is to be found here, accompanied by simple but attractive wood-cuts, but the poem has been re-cast as an educational work. As the frontispiece makes clear, the ostensible aim of the poem is now to encourage those who 'from being quite destitute, friendless and poor, / Would have a fine House, and Coach at the door'. This is because the Jack of 'The House that Jack Built' is here identified as Jack Jingle, the hero of the history which forms the second half of the volume. Jack Jingle is a hard-working, cheerful boy, who loves his books and knows how to invest shrewdly what money he has. It is these qualities which, ultimately, enable him to build his substantial house (pictured on the first page of The house that Jack built: p.5).

'The History of Jack Jingle' is similar in many ways to The History of Goody Two-Shoes (for which, see 0123-0124). Jack, like Goody, succeeds by hard work and a willingness to learn. Yet both children rise socially only because of the patronage of their superiors, who recognise their talents and send them to school. Both works also contain somewhat surprising critique of modern society. The 'Introduction' to the original editions of Goody Two-Shoes attacked modern agricultural practices and the rapacity and negligence of modern farmers and landlords (see the essay accompanying 0123 for a discussion of this). 'The History of Jack Jingle' is similarly political. Sir Luke Lovel, Jack's patron, is kind and generous to his tenants. 'This was being a gentleman', we read, and 'had but your gentry, at this time, more compassion for the poor, we should not see so many shocking spectacles as we do in all parts of this great kingdom' (p.16). This is followed by some light satire of 'our great folks now a days, who lie in bed till one third of the day is over' (p.18).

In fact, the two sections of this volume are also linked more subtly than merely by the rather artificial assertion that Jack Jingle was the Jack who built the famous House. 'The House that Jack Built' was, of course, an accumulative rhyme, the cow tossing the dog which had worried the cat which had killed the rat which had eaten the malt which lay in the House that Jack Built. Jack Jingle's progress from poverty to affluence was similarly structured. He caught a fish, which he presented to Sir Luke Lovel who gave him cash in return. With this cash, Jack bought a hen. He sold the chicks, and used the profits to buy a lamb. Thus, slowly, were his profits ploughed into evermore valuable commodities, enabling his gradual rise from the freely-got fish to the manorial House, each stage symbolised by an animal, as in 'The House that Jack Built', and building upon the one before.

It is difficult to determine with any certainty the date of James Kendrew's publications such as this. Kendrew started printing in York sometime between 1801 and 1803 according to his bibliographer, Roger Davis (Davis 1988: 12). However, from a watermark in the Birmingham Reference Library copy, Davis has been able to suggest a date of c.1823 for The House the Jack Built (Davis 1988: 97).

When Kendrew died he was a fairly rich man. In his will he left £765 in addition to the business, which suggests that provincial printing was reasonably remunerative (Davis 1988: 15). Diversification was necessary to survive, though. When Kendrew's son took over the firm, he listed book-selling, provision of stationery and book-binding as equal or greater parts of the operation.

However, cheap chapbooks for children were what the firm was famous for. As Davis' bibliography shows, Kendrew senior specialised in half-penny books of 16 pages, penny books of 24 pages, and 32-page books, also sold for a penny, such as those in the Hockliffe Collection (as listed on the outside back cover). For these, a single sheet was printed in one impression, with the wood-engravings set alongside the text. It was then folded to make a 32 page book which was stitched together in one gathering. The outside pages were left unprinted because a cover was then pasted on to the outside of the book. This was made of 'sugar paper' (so-called because it was often used by grocers to hold sugar), and could be any one of a variety of colours. Not only would this cover be more decorative and durable, but it would conceal and protect the stitching used in the book-binding. Also, new outside covers could later be printed and pasted onto unsold stock so as make it appear a new edition (which is doubtlessly also why publication dates were not listed on these books). The two versions of Kendrew's Little Red Riding Hood in the Hockliffe Collection, for example, have very different outside covers. One set acts as a title-page and an advertisement for Kendrew's series of penny books (0028: front and back)); the other bears some apparently miscellaneous verses and vignettes (0029: front and back). As Davis points out, this was standard practice for Kendrew, as was the format of the chapbooks. As in the Hockliffe Collection editions, the inside front cover was always a frontispiece accompanied by a few lines of verse, not always germane to the particular book, and sometimes clearly directed at adults rather than children. The opposite page was always the title-page, and its verso generally displayed alphabets. Then the main narrative began, and if it did not fill the remaining 27 pages of the book, additional material of various sorts was added, often with little or no connection to what had gone before.

Kendrew also used his wood-engraving blocks fairly promiscuously, using illustrations to one narrative in many other publications. Davis suggests that Kendrew had a stock of about 500 wood blocks available to him at the time of his death (Davis 1988: 72). Many of these, Davis suspects, were plagiarised from other books, sometimes so well that it is difficult to be absolutely certain that the original blocks themselves were not sold on to Kendrew and used by him. Most often copied was the work of Thomas Bewick, the foremost wood-engraver of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. His images of animals and birds which first appeared in the famous A General History of Quadrupeds (1790) and A History of British Birds (1797-1804) were especially targeted, probably because they could be pressed into service to illustrate almost any story.

For other books in the Hockliffe Collection published by Kendrew of York see, amongst others, The History of Giles Gingerbread, A Little Boy, Who lived upon Learning (0240) and Mrs. Lovechild's Golden Present for all good little boys and girls (0685).

Davis, Roger, Kendrew of York and his chapbooks for children with a checklist, London : The Elmete Press, 1988

Davis, Roger, Kendrew of York and his chapbooks for children with a checklist, London : The Elmete Press, 1988

Davis, Roger, Kendrew of York and his chapbooks for children with a checklist, London : The Elmete Press, 1988

Davis, Roger, Kendrew of York and his chapbooks for children with a checklist, London : The Elmete Press, 1988