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BOOKS FOR CHILDREN.
“ NOW GO WRITE IT BEFORE THEM IN A TABLE, AND NOTE IT
IN A BOOK.” “GO AND TAKE THE LITTLE BOOK WHICH IS OPEN.” “WE UNDERTAKE GLADLY THIS GREAT PAINS."
In an age like the present, when our press teems with works for every class of readers, it is not to be imagined that that of childhood should be left unprovided for. In fact, the books professed to be for children of all ages have been published in such numbers, that to read and comment on all would be an undertaking requiring the labour of several years to bring to a conclusion.
Yet is the utility of a child's book, in promoting the important object we have in view, very great; it is true that we have publications without end, but it is also true, that those things in nature or art which are offered to us in greatest profusion, are in general most necessary to us in some way or other. Grass, for instance, is not the less useful because it covers the solid surface of the earth ; nor are books less admirable because the warehouses of every dealer in these productions throughout the united kingdom are filled with them. Grass, to turn to profit for pasture, or hay, should possess certain qualities in colour and growth. He who wishes his cattle to thrive, will examine and judge whether the food is of such a quality as that he may expect it to afford some, or no nourishment, or to constitute a deadly poison. This examination is also necessary with books for children: of which some are good, wholesome food for the mind; others are poison ; and others starve, or nauseate, and destroy in a child all relish for every similar provision.
Previous to offering a few remarks upon the examination here spoken of, let us give a thought to the pens from which these compositions or compilations spring.
The barren soil, and the sandy, the rank and marshy, the rich and luxuriant, or the dull and choaking, severally produce corresponding crops, each according to its respective quality. So the author of talent who writes for children, the humble author, the affected or pedantic author, and the injurious author, severally produce works which correspond with their peculiar qualities, good or bad.
The author of talent, who, as a relaxation from severe studies, or from a kind wish to benefit the rising generation, bends his genius to a theme which shall interest, and discovers a moral which must enlighten,
who adopts a style and language which a tender capacity may receive and retain, is, after their parent, the children's first and best friend. All the charm of genius plays in his thought, and captivates in every variety and motion ; whilst a beautiful simplicity of expression, making way directly to the mind, glides into the understanding, and twines round every fibre of memory, influencing the senses, the heart, and the very being. The child does not read the work of such a writer: he seems to devour it; meals, play, conversation, amusements, are all neglected to hold the engaging volume. His eye, his ear, his sense is all absorbed, and he suffers himself to be drawn forward until he is exhausted, or that the book is forced from his hands. As soon as it is finished, he sighs to think that it is so, and in two or three days he again seeks the enchanting pages, and begins to peruse them anew. Such is the homage of childhood to genius, when genius deigns to lower the imagination and expression in order to set off a precept of morality, and to bring the whole down to very young capacity; and such is the homage which childhood pays the works of Edgeworth, Barbauld, Trimmer, Fenn, and Day.*
* And the unknown author of “ Mary and ber Cat.” If I were called upon to name the most perfect piece of fiction that was ever offered to a child, I should, instantly and unhesitatingly, point out this beautiful, touching, moral, and exquisitely natural little tale, the price of which is only twopence. Any mother who may wish to make the experiment, may give the book to her little girl or boy; if his simple taste be not corrupted, she will soon see how deeply he will be interested;
The humble writer for children is one of great value to the public, and is generally high in the regard and estimation of those for whom he labours. He never professes more than he is fully equal to perform ; nor does he ever aim at anything beyond a little work which is to instruct and amuse a mere child. With unpretending modesty he sends forth his offering, which he calls a mite for the benefit of the rising generation. Amongst this class of authors, all romance, all novel abridgments, and all sentimentality are equally unknown. Plain morals and interesting facts are cast in simple forms, and robed in artless, unconstrained language. All that is requisite to make such a writer, are the plain, sober qualities of common sense, some experience in the ways of childhood, much morality, and simple expression. Very quiet scenes are sufficient for simple minds, and little or no plot is required, or indeed given, by plain writers who address them. A grown person might pronounce the work to be a very tame performance, but the child is pleased, instructed, and satisfied; he reads with attention, and though he can lay down the book of his own accord, yet unbidden he will take it up again, and will number the volume amongst his treasures.
The affected and the pedantic author may be either ignorant or learned : using long words to cover the barrenness of his mind, or the faultiness of his morality, if he pretend to set forth any moral, and to offer any instruction ; as, on the other hand, his pedantry and affectation may spring from a learned source, and be embodied into a work for children, with as much propriety and fitness, as the lady of quality would evince who should array herself in a court dress and diamonds, to go and pay a visit to a poor peasant in his humble cottage. The hard words and complex sentences of both authors produce nearly the same effect. A great and respected name, it is true, will sooner obtain purchasers than that which is 'only partially or slightly known, people not considering that the learning which has been advantageously displayed in the resolving of a difficult problem, and the graces and heightenings of language which have been employed in the production of a new theory, are materials and ornaments utterly useless, and wholly disregarded when embroidered in the web of a child's tale, If the man of science will throw down his garb and trappings of philosophy, and take up the plain attire of simplicity, he may be of service; but if one who has walked in stilts, will persevere in using them, can he expect that he and a little child should meet and embrace? The most learned of men are, in general, least fitted to the task of instructing young children ; and I should look with 'severer scrutiny upon a book for children from the pen of a deservedly esteemed author of grave works for adults, than on the production of any other description of writers whatever. I should not be prepared to question the morality of a work whose au. thor had once pleased and instructed great and good men, but I should dread the filling of my child's mind with disgust and weariness at a perusal, if he were forced to peruse words, and sentences, and sentiments,