Special Collections
Rare Books and Prints

To all the Little Masters and to all the Little Misses

The Exhibition Commentary

This exhibition was held in the Baillieu Library from 20 October until 19 December 1997 and was curated by Merete Smith, past Curator of Rare Books. The chief sources used for the compilation may be seen in the accompanying bibliography.

Children's Fiction - Educational and Recreational

The strength of the Morgan Collection lies in its late 18th-century and early 19th-century material and there are examples of books which might have been owned by middle class children of that period. The philosophy of John Locke (1632-1704) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) in particular were important in forming the adult view of what constituted suitable reading for children. There was a shift in attitude from the mid-18th century to the late 18th and early 19th century away from frivolous or imaginative works towards moral and exemplary tales.

The Governess

The Governess may well have been the earliest continuous piece of fiction written for children. It was first published in 1749 without the name of the author on the title page which described it as being 'by the author of David Simple'. By inference that is Sarah Fielding (1710-1768), sister of the well known author Henry Fielding (1707-1754). It is a collection of stories told to or by the nine pupils at a girls' school kept by a Mrs. Teachum. The book contains two fairy tales which, although they appear to a modern reader to be very moral in nature, were strongly condemned by the later writers Mrs. Trimmer (1741-1810) and Mrs. Sherwood (1775-1851), though these had both enjoyed reading The Governess in their youth.

Towards the end of the 18th century fairy tales became widely condemned by 'enlightened' people as going against truth and reasonableness and the attitudes of Mrs. Trimmer and Mrs. Sherwood reflect this shift. Mrs. Trimmer started writing an imitation of The Governess but gradually realised that the book which she had enjoyed as a child was 'in some respects very exceptional' and gave up the venture. Mrs. Sherwood, in her own right a prolific author, published an 'edited' version of the book which in the process became practically a re-writing. The fairy tales and other matter considered exceptional had been left out and many other changes of the original were made. The first edition of Mrs. Sherwood's Governess was published in 1820, with many later editions.

All early editions of Sarah Fielding's original Governess are now rare, in particular the first edition of 1749. The book was reprinted many times until 1804. A modern facsimile of the first edition exists and is also held by the Library (London: Oxford U.P., 1968).

Entertainment For Children

These books are intended to amuse rather than just to educate. In his preface to his Gigantick History of the Two Famous Giants Thomas Boreman writes 'During the Infant-Age, ever busy and always inquiring, there is no fixing the attention of the mind, but by amusing it'. It is one of the first English children's books intended primarily to amuse children.

The miniature format, pretty Dutch floral paper bindings and woodcut illustrations would certainly appeal to any child as would the preface to the 'Little Masters and the Little Misses' for whom the books were intended. The language of the main part of these travel guides, however, appears directed at adults rather than young children. The 'Little Masters and Misses' become a favourite way of addressing the young readers, as can also be seen from the title page of A Pretty Book Of Pictures For Little Masters And Misses, a book originally published by John Newbery. This book includes a story of a giant - creatures which contemporary educationalists found particularly objectionable.

Adventure And Exotic Characters

Children have always shown an interest in exotic characters as may readily be seen from the continued popularity of Swift's Gulliver's Travels and Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, now both children's classics though neither was originally written for children. There are many 'versions' of Robinson Crusoe - a few children's books were inspired by the 18th-century love of exotic places and particularly the discoveries of new lands and people.

Many of the books in the Morgan Collection have inscriptions and dates and these say something about ownership, though there is not any proof of readership. One particular group of books which belongs to the original Morgan Collection, as donated by Frederick Morgan, was obviously gathered from one source as they are all connected with a family with the surname Broome.

The name of Broome is very common, so although it may be possible to find the members of this family through genealogical sources, this is by no means certain. There is no location information on the books, but the family may come from Northampton, since P. J. Broome writes in a book that he brought it from Northampton in 1819.

The family was one of book lovers judging by the children's books from their collection which also shows concern for the moral education of the children. There are at least 21 books in the collection with a connection to the Broome family, 11 of these belonging to Isabella Broome, acquired during a period from 1789 to 1803, that is, over a period of 14 years, which must span most of her years of being a reader of children's books. 5 books belonged to Mary Broome, possibly Isabella's sister, from 1808 and 1809. Two books have just the inscription of 'Broome', from 1801 and 1805 respectively; they may have been enjoyed by several members of the family. The books inscribed 'Slade Baker' are connected with this family also since he was given a book from Grandmamma Broome in 1831. She may have been the mother of the Broome girls, as she has also given a book to Mary Broome. P. J. Broom,e who brought a book from Northampton Nov. 1819 many years later, in 1836, donated a book to Slade Baker, Jun.

All of these books are moral of nature; most of them are concerned with the proper education of children. They are all fairly contemporary publications, mostly by authors still alive at the time the books entered the Broome collection. The books are all educational with the then fashionable middle class educational values of Rousseau and Thomas Day dominating. In accordance with this philosophy, for instance, servants are seen as un-educated and not suitable educators for children. That role is seen as the duty of the parents.

The books are generally of a quality destined to be classics. Poetry seems not to be represented in the collection, but there are a couple of history books. There are no Greek and Roman classics, but a couple of titles in French. This is probably because the owners were girls who generally were required to learn French but not Latin. All the books from the library of this well-educated family are on display here because the cumulation gives a very graphic idea of the kinds of books which adults found suitable for children around the year 1800.

Religion: Sugaring the Pill

The religious books and games are colourful, amusing and entertaining. In line with the educational ideas expressed, it was generally agreed that children had to be amused and entertained to take in learning.

Sunday School Reward Books

Sunday Schools, established from the late 18th century in Britain, taught simple literacy to children from a less educated background and they were then found to need simple wholesome reading material.

The Morgan Collection of Children's books contains several hundred 'Sunday School Reward Books' from the first half of the 19th century. They reached the height of their popularity in the 1850s. These simple booklets consist of a quarter, a half or a whole sheet of paper, generally with paper wrappers. They are deliberately made to look similar to the chapbooks which were generally sold throughout the country by peddlers but which evangelical people viewed with suspicion as they were at best worldly (for instance fairy tales) and often of an immoral nature.

There is range of 'Sunday School Reward Books' from the early 19th century to about 1860. The earlier ones tend to be the most overtly religious; some of the later ones are simple works of fiction. The evangelical movement was found on both sides of the Atlantic and popular titles were often published in the USA as well as in Britain.

Religious Tract Society

The Religious Tract Society (RTS) was founded in 1799 by a number of evangelicals who wished 'to promote the dispersion of religious tracts'. The Society began publishing specifically for children around 1812. The Society published an extraordinary variety of children's books throughout the second half of the 19th century - all of a 'wholesome' nature but not always obviously evangelical, or even religious.

Geography

Following in the wake of the many geographical discoveries in the 18th century a huge market was generated for travel descriptions and of far-away places. Numerous such descriptions were published for adults but simplified accounts and descriptions for children were also very popular.

Although the fascination with far-away places may have been more romantically appealing to children than the more familiar home country, it was considered important that British children should also learn about their own country and a large number of books with illustrations and descriptions of famous or notable places were published, particularly in the first half of the 19th century.

Several works are by the engraver, Isaac Taylor. There is also a travel book about London by his children Ann, Jane and Isaac Taylor, Jun.

Toy Books and Picture Books

The Morgan Collection is rich in lavishly-illustrated books and in books which contain a toy element, such as moveable books and paper doll books. There are also some toys in the collection which supplement and illustrate the books and place them in a fuller context of the world of the child.

Paper Doll Books

The publishing firm of S. and J. Fuller of 'The Temple of Fancy', Rathbone Place, London, published between 1810 and 1816 11 little books which were accompanied by paper dolls: a costume for each part of the story and a loose head which can be inserted into the costume. The University of Melbourne Collection is very fortunate to have copies of five of these books, all of them complete or nearly complete, including the first one, The History of Little Fanny, 1810.

As can be expected, virtually only copies which came into the hands of adult collectors at an early stage have survived relatively intact. We are particularly fortunate to have three of them (Ellen, Frank Feignwell and Phoebe) from the collection of Percy Muir, author of English Children's Books. The stories are not of great literary merit but mainly serve as an excuse for the beautifully hand coloured costumes.

Moveable Books

Moveable books, where tabs can be pulled to reveal a different picture, or flaps can be turned, exist from the 18th century. The earliest such books were the 'Harlequinades' where folded halves of the picture fold back to reveal a new picture which fits in with the original one. These early moveable books are usually hand coloured.

Moveable books do not become common until the mid 19th century when colour lithography became sufficiently inexpensive to be used extensively for children's books. Many of the most splendid examples were produced in Germany. These books are fragile and few copies have survived the use by children.

The Butterfly's Ball and Imitations

William Roscoe - a banker, a botanist and a Member of Parliament for Liverpool amongst many other occupations - was one of the first authors to abandon any didactic approach and to write nonsense verse for children and his lavishly-illustrated and commonly hand-coloured Butterfly's Ball (1807) became hugely popular. Roscoe wrote the poem for his young son.

It was first published in the Gentleman's Magazine in 1806 but the prolific publisher of children's books, John Harris, published the illustrated edition for children soon after.

A lot of imitations of varying quality were published in the years after 1807, most of them with attractive illustrations and several commissioned by the publisher John Harris to follow the success of The Butterfly's Ball. There are also numerous later editions of The Butterfly's Ball.

Chapbooks

Chapbooks were cheap little booklets, often sold by itinerant pedlars. They are found from the 16th to the 19th century but chapbooks particularly for children are not common before the late 18th century, when many popular stories and nursery rhymes were published in this form.

They generally consist of a sheet or half sheet of paper folded and provided with a cover. For many people, particularly in the country, they were the only source of reading entertainment readily available.

From the late 18th century this type of popular literature came to be resented by authors such as Hannah More, who considered them morally corrupting. Rather than attempting to have chapbooks suppressed, however, Hannah More and others imitated this format and published a huge number of 'Cheap Repository Tracts' to provide cheap reading matter for ordinary people.

Educational Books

Educational books are well represented in the Morgan Collection, both in the form of elementary readers for the purpose of teaching basic literacy and more elaborate material.

The elementary readers were commonly produced by publishers of chapbooks, such as for example Kendrew, publisher of numerous chapbooks as well as The Silver Primer in this case. Battledores were cheap modifications of horn-books (alphabet books mounted on wood and covered with horn for protection). Battledores were printed on cardboard for sturdiness and folded to form two leaves and a flap, supposedly for use as a handle in the game of battledore when school was not in session. Primers are slightly more elaborate readers, which also usually contain some basic short pieces of text.

The Infant's Delight, The Historical Alphabet and The Path of Learning are attempts at making literacy and grammar interesting to learn, obviously expensively produced and aimed at young children of more well-to do parents. The History of Flowers is a fairly advanced botanical teaching aid, beautifully produced, probably in very small quantities, for some very lucky young ladies.

The Latin grammar by Lily and Comenius' 'Dictionary' were each in common use for several centuries to teach boys Latin. Girls were not required to learn Latin, but were often taught French - a couple of basic French texts are displayed in the 'Isabella Broome' section.

Robinson Crusoe

Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, first published in 1719, was not originally written for children, but it almost immediately became popular as a children's book. There are many versions of the story found in the Morgan Collection which were made especially for children, whether in the form of chapbooks or moveable pop-up books. A large number of imitations also exist. The genre has come to be known as the 'Robinsonad'.

Walter Crane

Walter Crane is an illustrator very strongly represented in the Morgan Collection.

He was one of the first artists to consider children's book illustration as a serious art form. He studied wood engraving as well as Fine Arts and developed a distinctive, elaborate style which was particularly well-suited to colour printing. The particular quality of his illustrations owes much to his partnership with the colour printer Edmund Evans (1826-1905), the foremost Victorian printer of children's books in colour. Evans developed colour printing from wood blocks rather than printing by chromolithography and many of the children's books originally produced by him are still in print.

Many of the Walter Crane books are versions of fairy tales, often made into rhymed verse by Crane's sister, Lucy Crane.

Randolph Caldecott and Kate Greenaway

Randolph Caldecott (1846-1886) and Kate Greenaway (1846-1901) were, after Walter Crane, the most important artists to supply illustrations for the children's books engraved and printed by Edmund Evans.

Both illustrators have remained popular and their books are still being reprinted.

Randolph Caldecott was extremely prolific and from 1878 onwards produced with Evans two 'toy books' with colour illustrations every year for Christmas for the rest of his short life (he died at the age of 39). Most of the 'toy books' were nursery rhymes.

Kate Greenaway had published a number of illustrated books before any of her work was engraved by Edmund Evans. Evans had a huge edition of 20,000 copies printed of the first edition of Under the Window in 1878 and even at the then high price of six shillings this edition sold out almost immediately.

She continued her association with Evans for the rest of her life and a large number of story books as well as almanacs, birthday books and other ephemera were published with her distinctive bright and sunny illustrations.

Pictorial Cloth: Stories for Boys and Girls

Eighteenth-century children's books are usually either bound in plain leather or provided with plain or printed paper wrappers. Cloth bindings with colour illustrations and heavy gilt decoration only became technically and economically possible for large editions of children's books during the second half of the nineteenth century and from then on and well into this century children's books with covers in vivid colours became the norm. Many of these books are also illustrated, often with colour plates.

There are many hundred such colourful 'pictorial cloth' books in the Morgan Collection, for instance a near-complete collection of the works of the prolific author W. H. G. Kingston and most of the works of his equally prolific contemporary, G. A. Henty.

Both these authors wrote adventure stories for boys, often featuring boy heroes involved in exciting events such as mutinies, wars and shipwrecks in far-away places, including Australia. These appear to have been read by girls as well but, although the boys' stories predominate, there are also some books written especially for girls.

Picture Books

There is a range of 19th- and early 20th-century picture books for young children in the Morgan Collection.

top of page