Fun and Frolic: Stories for the Young from the 1800s

Such a pleasant peek into the

simple family life of the late 1800’s

Ah, the simple innocence of that era. It makes one want to time-travel there for a day, or a year! Obviously, not everyone in 1888 had the leisure shown in this book, there were certainly just as many who had hard and meager lives. But no doubt a book like this brought smiles to many.

This sweet picture book of 45 pages has a short story or vignette that fits on one page, and an illustration in color or black and white to go with it. In tiny writing on the bottom left corner of the cover it says, “Copyright 1888 by J.L. Blamire.”

 

On the front cover, children are spending time indoors with an unhurried mother, playing with wooden animals and soldiers. It’s interesting to me that children throughout history have enjoyed playing with toy animals, and that animals in general have drawn the attention and affection of children.

I have also seen toys, and toys in books, from various periods in history that include soldiers and equipment for battles. Does that mean that wars are constantly raging throughout history, and children are aware of them because their fathers are away fighting? Or perhaps many of the famous men and women in countries all over the world have been war heroes, and the children grow up wanting also to be heroes?

The inside cover has the neatly hand-written name of the book’s owner, whose last name appears to be Ratledge. But with a little imagination it could instead be Routledge, to match the name of the publisher…a gift from the publisher, Uncle Routledge?

The stories in the book are not earth-shattering or dramatic. They are everyday happenings. But they are related here as the little joys that are present in each day, if we pay attention to them.

The first story pays homage to the world’s grandmothers, which I appreciate, being a grandma of 14 months. It tells of a grandson who learned to whistle before his first birthday, from hearing the other boys in the neighborhood whistling as he was wheeled around in his carriage.

The next story is in noticeably larger type, and includes dashes in the words to divide the syllables for the benefit of young readers.

These little stories told in first person talk of domestic life and the regular events of mothers and their children, who dearly love their parents, siblings and grandparents.

Fun and Frolic Stories includes poetry and information about nature and animals.

The poem “Blowing Bubbles” is surprisingly philosophical, likening the bubbles to our dreams.  It asks a question of the adult reading the book:

Will it be always so–are we the same?

We blow our bubbles too, changed but in name.

We have fond hopes, that expand and look bright;

We watch our fancies with eager strained sight.

Tucked between the back page and the back cover is a drawing of a butterfly on 5″ x 7″ lined paper, likely inspired by the “Butterflies” poem. I doubt that this is was drawn by the book’s first owner in the late 1800s, or even from the early 1900s. I suspect it was drawn on a lined pad for letter writing from the 1950s or later.

 

The back cover shows another scene of mother relaxing with her child outside on a grassy slope. In the scene are baby birds nesting in a woman’s bonnet, looking for worms from their busy mother.

There are remnants of some dried blue flowers tucked into the pages. I always love little surprises like that!

Various artists contributed their talents to the book, but at that time they apparently didn’t include the names of the illustrators, although some of the drawings include signatures of initials or names in the corners.

I couldn’t find another copy of this book anywhere online, but there are many books from the late 1800s published by George Routledge & Sons, such as Little Snowdrop’s Picture Book, published in 1879, available as a Kindle book. J.L. Blamire appears to be the manager of a New York Routledge & Sons bookseller and possibly an author, and/or editor.

I hope you enjoyed “reading” this with me. What fun to have such a pleasant and colorful history lesson couched in with a lovely piece of literature!

A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson

What a joy to know that this 1885 book is still current,

and still bringing the same wonder and delight to new generations of children–and adults!

                       Illustration for the poem “The Lamplighter”

 

A Child’s Garden of Verses is my VERY favorite children’s book

…as evidenced by the fact that I have 3 versions of it. It is the author’s imagination and remembrance of his own childhood that I love the most.  One of the introductions to his books says that Stevenson “writes as a child, rather than about children”. He was “able to enter into the heart of a boy” –and, I might add, also into the heart of this tomboy!

Robert Louis Stevenson grew up in Scotland. He wrote many other works besides poetry, including short stories, travel writings, plays and novels. Two of his best known novels are Treasure Island, a book the author wrote to keep his stepson amused during a very inclement summer; and Kidnapped, inspired by real events in Scottish history. It is said that Stevenson has never been out of fashion, and that there was an increased interest in him and his works in the 1980s.

The introductions in two of these versions are interesting, and endearing, and tell more about the author…

 

 

In elementary school, I learned several of the poems in this book, and I just realized that I can still recite one from memory. Some I memorized because they were an assignment from my teacher (remember memorizing poems and reciting them at an assembly?), others I probably remembered because the rhythm and rhyme held me spell bound and I couldn’t stop reading them over and over.

 

This first version is near and dear to my heart. It was the first book I bought, and may have been the first thing I ever bought with my own money.

We had a carnival at our elementary school and this was for sale for 75 cents. It never occurred to me before today, but…why would they have sold it? How could my school library have wanted to part with it? I hope it was because they were getting a new copy.

The inscription on this is my mom’s, recording the special event, “School carnival March 5, 1965.” When she wrote that, could she have imagined I’d be sharing it in the new millenium, in cyberspace for all the world to see?

 

 

“The Swing” and “Happy Thought” are my two favorites.

This next version I found about 5 years ago at a used book store in Denver, Colorado, while visiting my family. It is dated 1902 and has, of course, illustrations from that era which are quite different, very antique-looking.

 

I love that each of my copies has an inscription in them for the child receiving it! And I love knowing that it is still on the shelves of bookstores and libraries for more children to enjoy, and to receive as a gift.

 

 

I think “The Swing” is my favorite poem because I can feel the wind, the sunshine, and the FREEDOM…

 

This older version has a word list at the end.  Just look at all those “juicy” words (as we call them at my school)!!!

 

The last version I bought was at a thrift store in Calgary. It is the newest one I have.

I thumbed through it for a long time, but put it back on the shelf because I already had two of them at home. Then I changed my mind. I decided that this one’s illustrations were a glorious feast for the eyes on every page. No doubt it cost me just a little more than a current cup of coffee, and for the joy that it brings my heart it’s so worth it.

 

Again, here is my favorite poem “The Swing” in this version. Illustrations can sure make a book!  Look at the girl’s hair, and her shoe–brilliant!

 

I can hardly believe it took me so long to post about this book! But in my mind, it wasn’t a vintage book to be reviewed. It was one of my most treasured possessions.

 

 

It’s so sweet how Robert Louis Stevenson devoted many pages of this book–apparently written when he was in his mid-30s–to his beloved family, nanny and friends.

This lovely book is EVERYWHERE — as it should be!

May many more generations have the opportunity

to lose themselves in A Child’s Garden of Verses,

its fun, delight, wonder, imagery, peace… and its beauty.

Review of The Little Hunchback Zia by Frances Hodgson Burnett

“And it came to pass nigh upon nineteen hundred and sixteen years ago”

Front page, The Little Hunchback Zia

This begins Frances Hodgson Burnett’s little book published in 1916 about a rejected, deformed orphan boy who is sent to beg for the cruel woman who keeps him.

The Little Hunchback Zia

The Little Hunchback Zia

One day, hiding in the brush near the road to Bethlehem, he watches a surprising number of families and animals pass by on the road, playful and happy. But Zia falls asleep sobbing in unbearable loneliness.

The Little Hunchback Zia

Yet in the night Zia awakens smiling, feeling an unexplainable calm, without and within. Soon he sees one part of the sky growing lighter, and the sheep nearby suddenly attentive. In the darkness, a weary man walks slowly up the road, leading a donkey which carries a woman. A radiance surrounds her.

 

The Little Hunchback ZiaAlthough he thinks he is dreaming, Zia nevertheless feels compelled to follow them. And as the crippled and diseased boy climbs the steep hill toward Bethlehem, he does not waver or stumble.

Whatever had led Zia to Bethlehem now leads him to find the radiant woman and her husband in the mangers of the cave. The woman invites him to come near to the new born baby.

But he refuses, warning her that he is an unclean leper. Yet she insists. “Draw nigh,” the woman says, “and let his hand rest upon thee!”

Front cover, The Little Hunchback Zia

Zia obeys. He bows his head to the Holy child and feels the feather light touch of his tiny fingers. Soon Zia is healthy and standing upright for the first time in his life.

Frances Hodgson Burnett, the well-known author of The Secret Garden, Little Lord Fauntleroy, and many other books, writes in a way that immediately engages and grips her reader. Every page of this little book seemed to draw me deeper into Zia’s experiences and emotions. Even though the story is based on the well-known events in the Bible, and the ending is predictable, every compassionate word of this beautiful story is precious.

The intricately drawn illustrations were done by Spencer Baird Nichols and W.T. Benda. I always love it when a book has a beautifully hand-written presentation in the front pages, and this brand-new book was a gift to a Sunday School student for faithful attendance during 1916.

Inscription, The Little Hunchback Zia

You can buy a printed copy of this sweet book on Amazon, read the Kindle version for free on Amazon, and various versions for free on www.gutenberg.org, www.childrenslibrary.org, and http://www.online-literature.com/burnett/3042/ .

I Love Old Books! (Part 4)

Even though I don’t necessarily need to read all the gems that I find at the book sales—it’s enough to surround myself with them—I do read them.  Now, to be honest, if a book is more than 50 or 100 years old, after quickly thumbing through it to touch and smell the pages, I generally don’t feel excited enough to sit down and read it on the spot.  I confess that I expect to find it dry, pedantic, colorless or irrelevant.  But I am almost always wrong.

I find surprisingly relevant, valuable words, stories and messages written by authors with extraordinary depth, thoughtfulness, insight, and wholesomeness, and a different internal perspective than many contemporary authors.  Their attitudes and perspectives very often inspire and elevate my own.

Some antique books are actually difficult to read because they are visually and verbally dense, but they are well worth the effort.  An example is R.D. Blackmoor’s Lorna Doone, written in 1869.  The first time I ever saw this book was at a library in Sylvan Lake, Alberta, where we were camping.  I had an afternoon to relax so I decided to see what kind of love stories people in the ­­­­19th century wrote.  But the “old” definition of romance is not focused entirely on a love story.  I was surprised and at first disappointed that the Romance of Exmoor was not the kind of romance that Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer wrote.

Lorna Doone falls under the definition of “a novel depicting heroic or marvelous deeds, pageantry, romantic exploits, etc., usually in a historical or imaginary setting.”  I muddled through the first several chapters and then realized I didn’t know what was going on with the characters or the plot.  I had to restart it about four times, but after that, something magical happened and I got into the language.  Then I couldn’t put it down!  I encourage you to give it a try, in the original or a more recent version.  It’s a story of loyalty, love, courage, heroism—and it’s not just the men who risk their lives.

titus

Another example is one published in 1894, Titus, a Comrade of the Cross, a book my mom gave me.  Apparently, the original publisher of this book offered a $1,000 reward to anyone who could produce a manuscript that would set a child’s heart on fire for Christ. In six weeks, the demand was so great for Florence Morse Kingsley’s book that they printed 200,000 additional copies.  Can you imagine that in 1894?

For years I was thrilled enough to just look at the unique cover and text.  But again, once I finally started reading it and got a feel for the language, I was immersed in a suspenseful adventure.  In the midst of the gripping plot, I discovered that a whole chunk of the pages was missing (don’t tell Mom!), but I just picked it up on the next available page and devoured the rest of it.  In fact, I felt such admiration and affection for one of the characters, we ended up using his name for the middle name of one of our children.

Are you a kindred old-book-loving spirit?  Leave me a comment, or a Like, so I can find you!

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!

I Love Old Books! (Part 2)

Ever since the Crossroads Used Book Sale, I’ve been enjoying my new old books and writing about why they are such a delight to me. I treasure them because I believe these books were far more precious in their day than a book is now, simply because of the relative scarcity of books and the cost of publishing. Only the cream of the crop would be published. Owning something that was highly valued by the society that produced it makes me value it, too. It is evident that these volumes were made to last, and they did last. Would a book published in 2012 last until 2112? Maybe, but probably not as well as those leather covers and thick pages have lasted.

Here is a well-travelled Christmas present.  Notice the “This is My Book” section from Edmonton, Alberta, and the sticker from Santa Monica, California.  It is Myths Every Child Should Know, originally published in 1905, edited by Hamilton Wright Mabie.

Myths Every Child Should Know

And those marvellous inscriptions! Did everyone have such exquisite handwriting? Judging from the old school books which made handwriting such a priority, I think  most did. (I used to have legible handwriting, until my fingers got out of the habit of writing slowly and gracefully!) Not only is the penmanship a work of art, but reading the note makes me feel like I’m getting a peek into the personal life and family of the original owner.

Here is one of my favorite signatures, in The Pleasures of Life by Sir John Lubbock (copyright 1887).  I also love the embossed designs and flowers on the cover.

Any book can transport you to another world and another time in the same way a traveler goes on a holiday, but old books can be like the person who actually lived in that other place and time. You can’t help but notice the differences in language, attitudes and the political climate that come through unintentionally by what the author writes. It makes me feel like I know the author’s world, instead of just reading about it in a history book.

Here is a sweet children’s story book with an inscription from 1923, given as a birthday present.  (Don’t you just love how they used the term “Master” for boys?)

And this 1915 book was a reward for a job well done, learning the Ten Commandments…

Do you have any old books that particularly thrill you? Do tell! Send me a message on my About page if you want to send me photos to include on another post.

Happy hunting, and happy reading!

I Love Old Books!

As I mentioned in a previous post, my strategy when tackling huge used book sales is to go to the old books first. But I wonder why? What is it that makes the old books such a delight to me? It was probably my mom who instilled in me a love for old things that stand the test of time, and how I appreciate that, because otherwise I may have skipped the old for the new and missed such joys!

What really excites me is that a hundred-year-old book feels like my little piece of history; these bundles of paper have survived—with little or no aging—for a century! What else do we have that is a hundred years old? For example, can you imagine that the book you hold in your hand with the hundred-year-old copyright was ON THIS EARTH when the Titanic sank, all during World War I (did a soldier have your book in his backpack?), when the first talking movies were invented, when Alexander Fleming was discovering penicillin (could he have owned it?) and during the stock market crash of 1929?

Who bought it first? And how did it get from its first owner to its most recent owner (me)? Did it get handed down to a relative, who loaned it to a friend, who lost it while traveling on a ship and it was eventually found by another passenger years later, who kept it safe and sound in a drawer until giving it to a library, which eventually put it on a bargain table where someone bought it for an antique-lover, who finally donated it to the Calgary Crossroads Book Sale where I bought it?

Here is the first really old book I found, McGuffey’s Eclectic Fourth Reader, published in 1853 by Winthrop B Smith. In about 1990 I was browsing around one of the wonderful used book stores on 16 Avenue NW (that is no longer there), and when I told the owner that I collected old school readers, he said he didn’t have any upstairs, but I could look around in the basement. I picked through boxes and bags of books and found this gem. I think I paid $5 for it.

The spine is in rough shape, and it shows another document under the spine and the top left corner of the front cover. If anyone knows what that practice was for, let me know.

The front cover has a name stamped on it, my best guess being “J. Bruce Smith, HC CALGARY”. It makes me wonder if the schools stamped each book with the student’s name, or if that particular student stamped his own name on it. Or is the Smith on the cover related to the publisher Smith?

Inside the cover on the first page is an inscription (I love inscriptions!). It looks like “Elias N. ___, Jan. 3rd, 1859”.

It actually looks like 1839 to me, but in the text it says it was published in 1853.

The Table of Contents is filled with “Directions for Reading” and interesting-looking Prose and Poetry Lessons, some by authors we still read today.   Here is a readable version of the Table of Contents.

In the back there is a refund notice: “Refund 2.50 if returned before June 20, 1932, A.W. ___”. It’s interesting to think that around 1932 the book was already 80 years old, so perhaps it was in the reference section of a library.

Wow, this book was around during the California Gold Rush, and in the same year the Washington Territory was created from the Oregon Territory. Maybe some of the children in the covered wagons did their schooling from my book. Vincent Van Gogh was born, in 1953, and Napoleon was married that same year. This book on my shelf was published almost 10 years BEFORE the U.S. Civil War began. Did a ten-year-old student worry about his father fighting in Gettysburg while turning these very pages?

Enough pondering. I would so love to hear about some of your favorite old books! I hope you’ll post a comment below, or even send me photos, so we can trade stories.