The artifact of choice is a book published in 1828 by an author named John Harris. The book, titled “Easy Rhymes For Children from Five to ten years of Age” is a small, pocketbook sized collection of poems, with eight additional engravings. There are several publications of this book that have been found, with the first publication January 1st, 1825, this one from 1828, and one in 1831.
“Easy Rhymes for Children From Five to Ten Years of Age” was published in St. Paul’s Church Yard by John Harris of London, a well known publisher of popular children’s literature in early nineteenth century England. He lived in St. Paul’s Churchyard and published texts from home. He was an active member of the publishing industry, and was responsible for publishing of approximately 419 items (History of John Harris).
John Harris’s books are small in size and contain detailed black and white etchings. His rhymes contain moral lessons based from tales that appear as realistic circumstances. The rhymes are also known as moral or cautionary tales that serve to “arrest the attention” and to educate children to comprehend right vs. wrong.
Children’s literature started from oral tradition, tracing back as early as Irish folk tales in 400 BCE and earliest versions of Aesop’s fables on papyrus scrolls around 400 AD. Stories and fables have been developed all over the world. Instructive books, such as “Easy Rhymes For Children” and Hornbooks (texts containing Prayer and ABC’s) popped up around the 1400’s.
In 1693, John Locke was the first to suggest that children, like adults, should read for pleasure. He noted Aesop as a good introduction for first time, young readers. This opened the door for children to read for enjoyment and learning rather than being seen as apart of the general market (A History: The Early Years). The 19th century marked a shift where children were finally gifted with their own separate literature, Europe then producing books specifically to accommodate of children.
Children’s literature varied widely, ranging from fairy tales to adventure tales, and from morals to nursery rhymes. The content of the books, but also the visual aspect of size, color and mobility within the text complimented the story or lesson gave way to an increasing market. By the early 1900’s, interest in children’s literature produced new markets and innovators. Exploration amongst new methods of print, typography and artistry allowed for greater literary and artistic freedom (Picturing Childhood).
In “Easy Rhymes For Children” the author is anonymous, going simply “By A Lady,” which suggests the author was a woman of high status or class and did not want to associate herself directly with her work, perhaps due to the perceived ‘roles’ of women in patriarchal, victorian England. In the Romantic Era, this type of ambiguity due to shame driven through societal norms. The female author of this collection of poetry was most likely of very high social standing; “Gentry were loath to have their names associated with commercial publication for fear of diminishing their social status by appearing to be “in trade.””(Feldman) Though most women were proud to be authors, some women feared social rejection.
Included in the book is a preface which divulges to the reader the motives behind the books production. It states the book as intended for the “entertainment” and education of children, but also to “serve as a caution to [children] in their own conduct.” In asserting itself as so, the book identifies itself with the indoctrinated or morally-driven children’s literature at the time, but also adds to it a more lurid character that existed in this genre: a character derived through the scare tactics of nursery rhymes or other children’s stories similar to those in “Easy Rhymes for Children.” The text is quite short with only 92 pages, and approximately one poem for every two pages. The book is full of images printed in black and white, displaying realistic drawings in pen and ink with stippling and cross hatching to make up the figures in the images (Hockliffe).
Binding and Printing Information
The book is printed in a very progressive or contemporary 19th century style, but bound and backed in a more traditional technique. The binding reflects the medieval trend of ”raised bands” in which the pages were sewn together through the use of “bands” which can then be seen in the ridges along the book’s spine. The cover of the book exhibits gold and black marbling. Paper marbling is an ancient technique involving water and colored inks, giving paper a visual texture similar to marble, or stone. This mix of traditional and contemporary binding and printing styles suggests that “easy Rhymes” may have been produced somewhat cheaply, but was not antiquated in its physical appearance. The printing process he used was the traditional process of using wooden hand presses to print individual pages. Since the text was published in 1824, it is certain that Harris had to use this 300 year old process because the printing process doesn’t begin mechanization until the 1830-50’s (Leurs).
-Laura Hiserodt, Dylan Hooley, Bebe Shelly, and Abby Dann