Goody Two Shoes

The Early History of Children’s Books in New England

favor and was often reprinted. It professes to be “an exact account of the conversion, holy and exemplary lives and joyful deaths of several children.” In it babies of two and three are depicted as “admirably affected by the things of God,” “savingly understanding the mysteries of the Redemption”; as “dear lovers of faithful ministers.” They constantly endeavored to induce their friends “to get Christ into their souls”; their sayings “were wise and weighty and might well become some ancient Christians”; and one “had such extraordinary meltings that his eyes were red and sore with weeping for his sins.”

A once famous English book, reprinted in Boston in 1702, was Thomas White’s “Little Book for Little Children.” The first page contains material probably reprinted from a hornbook, which is followed by the famous “A was an archer who shot at a frog,” the sole feature of the book which has endured; its miserable theological teachings have been utterly forgotten. Mr. White tells us “how precious it is to hear a child praying as soon as, nay sooner than, it can speak plain”; and he gives many discouraging examples of the good who die young. One child of eight wept inconsolably because he thought he had lied. His mother asked if he felt cold, and he said, “Yes,” but afterwards doubted if he really was cold; and one sin which weighed very heavily upon his mind was that he had whetted his knife on the Lord’s day. Hideous accounts of the tortures endured by martyrs further embellished this precious volume.

Even at this period the wisdom of placing such books in the hands of the young appears to have been brought into doubt, and to have excited some controversy; for several pamphlets were published inquiring into the question of how early piety affected the after life of children, and one of them was several times reprinted. Happily most of us have made up our minds about all this long ago, although the spirit of these old writers infused many of the books for children until well along into the present century, and it still lingers in those which lie dust covered and undisturbed on the shelves of many an average Sunday-school library.

“There have been very many interesting children,” says the Professor at the Breakfast Table, “who have shown a wonderful indifference to the things of earth and an extraordinary development of the spiritual nature. There is a perfect literature of their biographies, all alike in their essentials: the same ‘disinclination to the usual amusements of childhood,’ the same remarkable sensibility, the same docility, the same conscientiousness, in short, an almost uniform character, marked by beautiful traits, which we look at with a painful admiration. It will be found that most of these children are the subjects of some constitutional unfitness for living, the most frequent of which I need not mention. They are like the beautiful, blushing, half-grown fruit that falls before its time because its core is gnawed out. They have their meaning,—they do not live in vain; but they are windfalls. I am convinced that many healthy children are injured morally by being forced to read too much about these little meek sufferers and their spiritual exercises ... Now, when you put into such a hot-blooded, hard-fisted, round-cheeked little rogue’s hand a sad-looking volume or pamphlet, with the portrait of a thin, white-faced child, whose life is really as much a training for death as the last month of a condemned criminal’s existence, what does he find in common between his own overflowing and

1Cotton Mather also wrote: “Good Lessons for Children in Verse.” Other books of the kind were, “A Looking Glasse for Children,” “The Life of Elizabeth Butcher in the Early Piety series;” “The Life of Mary Paddock, who died at the age of nine;” “Divine Songs in Easy Language;” and “Praise out of the Mouth of Babes;” “A Particular Account of Some Extraordinary Pious Motions and Devout Exercises observed of late in many Children in Siberia” Also accounts of pious motions of children in Silesia and of Jewish children in Berlin; “Small book in easy verse, very suitable for children, entitled The Prodigal Daughter or the Disobedient Lady Reclaimed, adorned with curious cuts, Price Sixpence.”

Transcribed by Laurel O’Donnell. These pages are © Laurel O’Donnell, 2006, all rights reserved
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This page was last updated on 20 Feb 2006