I Love Old Books! (Part 3)

Happy New Year!  I wonder what books 2013 holds!

I enjoy everything about old books: hunting for them, inhaling the smell of leather and studying them: their covers, publishers, inscriptions, signs of aging, and knowing that I am holding something that was on this earth in a different century. I don’t necessarily need to read all the gems that I find; it’s enough to surround myself with them. But reading them is the frosting on the cake!

In my first post on old books, I mentioned McGuffey’s Eclectic Fourth Reader, published in 1853 by Winthrop B Smith. After digging it out of storage (behind some other books), I thumbed through it and was curious to know what exactly the students were learning from those readers at that time. So I started on page one and made the commitment to read the entire book (over 300 pages of small font). It was a big commitment because I assumed that the lessons were going to be hitting-over-the-head moralizing, boring history, monotonous poetry and irrelevant essays.

But I was in for a pleasant surprise. I wish my school reading assignments (and my children’s) had been as full of such disturbing, dramatic, eye-opening fiction and non-fiction as these. They would motivate a student to read. Even the moralizing stories were great. Yes, there was tough slogging through some, but I was usually rewarded by the end of the piece.

I admit that I skipped most of the diction, articulation, pronunciation and vocabulary lessons. But from time to time, I would read those, and I found it humorous to see how the “incorrect” pronunciations were a Southern U.S. accent:

“E-spe-cial-ly, not ‘spe-cial-ly…
Gov-erns, not gov-uns…
Win-dow-blind, not win-der-bline”

As I was noting my favorite selections, I was curious to know a bit more about the authors, and found most of them well-represented on the internet. One that stood out for me was The Steamboat Trial, by Jacob Abbott, and not so easy to find online, so I’ve included the first 2 pages here, and the last 2 pages here.

Here are a few other poems, plays and essays well worth checking out: Washing Day, by Mrs. Anna Letitia Barbauld, Shylock (from The Merchant of Venice, by Shakespeare), Remarkable Preservation by Professor Wilson, and Religion the Only Basis of Society by William Ellery Channing.  Hope you find something that grabs you!

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2 Comments

  1. Having grown up in Tennessee, it was years before I discovered that “walla-go” was actually “a-while-ago” and that “wash” doesn’t have an “R” in it (warsh), and that “worser” really isn’t a word 🙂

    • Thanks, Dave. It gives me such a warm feeling to read (or hear) that dialect, because it reminds me of my family, my roots in southern Illinois and Missour-uh. 🙂

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