Old-Time Schools and School-Books

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Johnson, Clifton
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This is a reprinting of the 1904 original with a new introduction by Carl Withers. It is one of those large -- 381 pages -- Dover editions that probably cost $4 new in 1963. It seems to contain a wealth of specific knowledge. Johnson was a collector of grade-school readers and textbooks, gathered by exploring the nooks and corners of the old bookshops from New England to South Carolina (xviii). Just after the beginning T of C, a list of illustrations lasting some thirteen pages offers a good introduction to the book's subjects. That help becomes important because there is no AI at the back. And one of the great contributions of this book lies in its more than 200 illustrations. My search for fables yielded a number of texts, references, and images. Fables begin on 50 with several fables from the landmark book of Thomas Dilworth, A New Guide to the English Tongue (1740), specifically Of the Fisherman and the Fish, Of the Waggoner and Hercules, and Of the good natured Man and the Adder. Fenning's speller in 1755 seems to have been Dilworth's major rival; from it The Town in Danger is offered here (54). Every townsman has a different method to propose for saving the town. I am surprised to learn that originally a primer was a book of private devotions (69). Noah Webster's speller offers the fable of the boy who stole apples (179) with an illustration. When the old man catches a boy stealing apples in his apple-tree, he first asks him to come down and then throws tufts of grass, which provoke only laughter from the boy. Then he throws stones and the boy comes down. A second illustration from 1829 appears on 184. Also from Webster's 1789 speller comes a text and illustration of MM. The Columbian Spelling Book of 1799 offers The Dove and the Bee and The Old Knight and his Wig (194-6). The New England Spelling-book of 1803 includes as a moral tale The Child and the Serpent, a development of the fable of the frozen serpent. Now the serpent gives the snakes' view of the story: the man thought the snake dead and took it home for its colorful skin (204-5). On 210 one finds an illustration of WL from Perry's Only Sure Guide to the English Tongue of 1818. Jones' Analytical Spelling Book of 1823 dismisses fables as unsuited to the rising generation in the United States. Animals are not the equals of people. Children need literal examples, not analogies. Picket's Juvenile Spelling-book of 1823 has A Poetical Fable about a caught fish; the story dramatizes the danger of temptation (219).
Dover Publications
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