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most children the taste for Robinson Crusoe will be carried out into
But to return to the present liberty of indiscriminate reading:
We are aware that a small party exists who not only deny the utility of the modern juvenile school, but go so far as to question the utility and policy of children's books altogether. Tieck, a true genius as well as a most learned man, is said never to have allowed one to enter his house. Such a mode of prevention, however, is worse than
VOL. LXXIV. NO. CXLVII.
good advice and personalities were carefully summed up in three awfully dry lines at the conclusion, labelled, for fear of mistake, 'MORAL,' which you treated at will, and either swallowed whole or skipped altogether. The consequence, it is true, of this plan was, that children became accustomed to look on tale and moral as two utterly distinct concerns, in no way connected except by conventional proximity; and the little girl of ten years old, who had just been devouring a story where this usual appendage was failing, on being questioned as to the moral, earnestly denied the fact of there being any at all, and brought up her book to prove it! Certain it is that if the moral does not find its way to the heart through the narrative itself, it will scarcely reach it in a subsequent set form; yet the present plan of general distribution is by far the worst of the two, inasmuch as, by the perpetual interruption to the sympathies, you lessen the effect of the tale, and with it the chance of edification. We should always bear in mind that the instruction, whether moral or intellectual, arising from works avowedly of amusement, can be only incidental. It is of no use endeavouring to teach in hours which children consider exempt from learning: they like neither lessons nor lectures in their wrong places, or they cease to be children if they do.
We pass on to another description of juvenile works, which, considering all the parade of protection implied in those we have quitted, have rather puzzled us. It would seem that parents who would on no account permit their children to wander among the absurd extravagances of fictitious life, will not hesitate to introduce them to the pitiful meannesses of real life-would far rather they should dwell on the vulgarities of mere fashion-the nonsenses of mere convention, or the behind-the-scenes of what is most contemptible in the world that is about them-than on the high-flown exaggerations and impossible atrocities of a world with which they have nothing to do. With a certain class of writers facts are truth, and fable falsehood-no matter what either may be in themselves. Children are welcome therefore to know all about the petty hopes and contrivances of a modern dasher— the vanities and flirtations of a modern coquette; but Heaven forbid their being tempted to imitate the cabals of the grand vizier, or the loves and intrigues of Shelsemnihar and the Prince of Persia. Accordingly we have the mean calculations of mushroom manufacturers, the dirty tricks of low lawyers, the personal animosities and emulations of their wives and families, and the eventual smash of all parties, with other scenes of domestic and professional degradation, put into a familiarity of form which is ten times more disgusting as reminding us for whose eyes it is especially intended. God knows, parents need be in no hurry to
give their children this kind of information-the world will help them to it soon enough; and who likes it when he has got it? There is no degree of ignorance so unbecoming to a child as the least premature knowledge. At best, an acquaintance with the melancholy truths of this world is only a defensive weapon: why, then, seek to put it into the hands of those who are, or ought to be, under the protection of others? And it were well if such writers stopped here; but in their fear lest the omission of any of the wickednesses, as well as the weaknesses, of mankind should be laid to their charge, or in the anxiety to supply constant novelties for dainty palates, they lay open a side of human life which it might be thought the particular privilege and purpose of parental protection to conceal. For can anybody suppose that it is necessary to acquaint children with those scenes of violence between man and wife which generally terminate in one of the parties being bound over to keep the peace? Does anybody imagine it can be edifying for a child to know that there exists in this world so vile a creature as the grown man son who can lift up his hand against a mother? Children do not require to be shocked into the avoidance of crimes like these; if they are not shocked at such representations, the idea of affecting them in any other way is hopeless; and yet these, and similar occurrences, are by no means uncommon in a set of books which have been admitted into families in lieu of the much vilified fairy tale.
And now that we are on the subject of tale-writing, we must allude to a department of juvenile literature to which it has been much applied—a department so extensive in a numerical amount as to forbid all close analysis, though, from its uniformity of character, it may well permit of a few general remarks. We mean the juvenile religious reading of the day, which, under one shape or another, frequently engrosses the larger share of a child's bookWe trust there is no danger of our being misunderstood. The high religious tone which pervades some of the best of the modern children's books, we regard as the greatest boon which these times of nominal improvement have bestowed on them: we might almost add the only one-just as the mere deistical morality which pervaded so many beautifully-written books of the last generation might be said to be their only deficiency. The works to which we point are that herd of second and third rate publications which, having religion ostensibly as their theme, are indiscriminately put into the hands of childhood, but which, in point of fact, supply motives as little calculated for the regulation of the heart as the unchristianized elegance of those just mentioned. The usual form is that of a tale: but this seems in general to be adopted not as conveying in itself an illustration
of the writer's doctrines, but merely as providing the necessary foundation work, mechanically speaking, to which they may be affixed-a kind of scaffolding by which the expounder holds on-and intended, like any other temporary support or connexion, to be cut away and cast aside as soon as the purpose has been effected. No scruple, therefore, seems to exist
as to the clumsiness or flimsiness of materials which are not wanted for any use or beauty of their own, and which, moreover, no usefulness nor beauty could save from neglect. For the pious reader is evidently expected to be far too impatient to get to the religious parts, to care to look close into a story which only serves to hold them together. Renouncing, therefore, equally from expedience and principle, all the pomps of composition, and vanities of invention, nothing, artistically speaking, can be more contemptible than the construction of such tales; which are generally as grossly unnatural as may be consistent with the strictest common-place. Such indeed, in some, is the boldness of nonconnexion between plot and dénouement, such the utter unconcern with which an individual is made one character in description and another in action, that were it not for the constant interference of Scripture, no deficiency in one source of amusement Iwould be felt.
So much for the secular part of this little tribe-as for their religious side, were we not convinced that children, who are children indeed, will never have the patience of perusal requisite to be much influenced by them, we should stigmatise in no lenient terms that style of writing where they are represented as lisping over all that is most solemn in Revelation with a flippancy that can only lessen their respect for it, and confessing the wickedness of the human heart, upon the most trivial occasions, with an off-hand frequency that can only dull their sense of it :— -where children preach to their elders and betters, without the slightest regard for their being such, and end by keeping an open deathbed for the edification and applause of a crowd of strangers. In the words of one of their own writers, it is so horrid to make religion a matter of show-off, which I really think these stories could teach children to be guilty of.'* And here again much of this evil may be attributed to the dismissal of the imagination as a means of assistance. Everything now-a-days is to be brought home to a child's mind: his eyes are to be opened at any cost, regardless of the film which has been designedly cast over them. Instead, therefore, of taking advantage of that sphere of fictitious or allegorical life, in which his ardent feelings may expatiate freely without risk of wrong personal application, he is intruded
* Children's Friend for 1841.
into a field of reality where no other result can possibly ensue. On this account we hail with the more satisfaction a rising class of religious books where the fancifulness of the story or the remoteness of the times does away with that so-called truth for which a child's mind is not ripe. Personalities are never more dangerous than when pressed into the service of religion; and who can question that it is infinitely safer for a child to read of the conversion of a pagan king or queen than of that of his father, mother, or next-door neighbour?
Another very reprehensible feature in these books is the little tenderness for the sensitive feelings of childhood, evinced in their choice of illustration. In order to impress them with the vices and miseries attendant on an ignorance or disregard of the lessons of Christianity, all the worst abominations of idolatry and tortures of slavery are brought into requisition. Wretched Hindoo mothers in whom the voice of nature is perverted, and execrable slave-drivers to whom the dictates of mercy are unknown, are their favourite topics; and the tender minds and ready imaginations of childhood are harrowed with descriptions which we have known to haunt their hours of sleepless darkness quite as effectually as any of the old apparitions and hobgoblins. While deprecating those works where the legitimate use of an extraneous interest has been denied, or one of a pernicious kind adopted, we are so far from proscribing subjects of a religious nature from the hours of juvenile relaxation, that there are none we should more strenuously encourage. Of all the subjects which fascinate a child, none can compete with those in which religion is the mainspring-the narratives of persecution and conversion, with all their high-souled faith, strong endurance, or deep contrition, have a charm, for the key to which we must look to a higher feeling than imagination. What book is more popular with children than the Pilgrim's Progress? What child will not hang over the tales of the Covenanters in Lights and Shadows of Scottish Life,'-or, to take a soberer example, what young heart has not been impressed with the cheerful piety that animates the Vicar of Wakefield?' How salutary are such representations, compared with those where religion is professed without reverence, and self-condemnation without humility; or where children are made to see sacrifices for which there are no motives, and sufferings under which there is no consolation, and which at this tender age can only harden or wither the heart!
We may here say a few words upon a set of books which, professing to facilitate and promote the reading of the Scriptures, in reality sometimes exclude them. Endless, now-a-days, are the assistances for the understanding of that which we can neither add