‘The Village of Innocence’: Rare Early 19th-Century Children’s Books from the American Antiquarian Society

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Early American Imprints, Series II: Supplement 3 from the American Antiquarian Society makes available more than 1,700 rare and unique publications printed between 1801 and 1819. Included in the newest release, and highlighted below, are several illustrated works of juvenile literature intended to instruct and uplift.

A Premium (1803)

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It can be striking to observe how many stories for children used to refer to death occasionally to attribute it as a naughty youngster’s fate . A verse of the poem which opens this tale:

Do whate’er thy hand shall find,

With all thy might with all thy mind,

Now in works of love abound,

None can in the grave be found.

This somber poem is followed by another titled “On the Death of a Favorite Cat.” The ensuing illustration depicts three children pointing to a dead cat which had been hanged from a branch. This cat had been enticed by a trap set to catch a fox.

The text includes a sprinkling of aphorisms, including:

He that is his own appraiser, will be disappointed in the value.

A brief section called “Conjugal Affection” includes a poem that begins “…Woman, born to dignify retreat…” and is followed by a story of a besieged castle wherein only one woman was housed. She negotiated safe passage from the castle which allowed her to carry all she could on he back “when to the surprise of the besiegers she brought out her husband; and by this stratagem saved his life.” However, despite this example of a woman’s wit and courage, the author saw fit to conclude:

Though many of the fair sex have often deserved commendation, we have heard of some who have misplaced their affections for animals, giving up their time and property for their support, whilst many helpless children and diseased parents were neglected.

Many naughty boys in pursuit of mischief fall from trees and break their legs or into rivers nearly drowning. But not all the stories are admonitions. There are discourse on such subjects as acorns, glow-worms, turtles, and bathing and shaving.

The rare imprint is richly illustrated by intaglio prints, some of which have been hand-colored.

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The History of Beasts (1812)

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This unique imprint, published and sold by Daniel Coolidge at his Concord, New Hampshire, bookstore, is illustrated with relief prints that include the store itself.

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The first beast presented is the lion which the author describes this way:

The Lion is commonly called the king of beasts; and indeed if royalty consists only in cruelty, strength, and power—in raising terror, instead of confidence and love—in being a destroyer, and not a safe-guard—a tyrant, and not a father to his subjects—this beast must have an undoubted claim to the honor of being the sovereign of the woods and desarts [sic].

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He continues to depict the stag, the bear, and the leopard:

The Leopard, in his shape, resembles a Lioness, but he is not quite so large; his short hair is of a bright yellow, smooth, and adorned with round black spots. He is fierce, cruel, and thirsts after blood. He conceals himself under bushes, or thick branches of trees, from whence he leaps forth to seize his prey. He is thought to be produced by the conjunction of a Panther with a Lioness.

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And the fox:

Their prey is fowls, geese, hares, and rabbits; they are also fond of grapes, in places where there are plenty of vineyards. They are very cunning in catching of birds that frequent the rivers; for they will play so many odd tricks upon the banks, that ducks, bustards, and other birds, seem to be diverted with them; and when any of them come within the Fox’s reach, he first wags his tail with a design to bring them nearer; and the foolish creatures will often come and pick at his tail, at which time the Fox jumps, and rarely misses of his prey.

And the cat:

The age of the Cat terminates between six and ten years: a nimble creature, abounding in spirit; eats voraciously, and swallows without much chewing: she catches her prey by leaping.

The illustration of the cat is disconcerting.

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Dame Partlet’s Farm: Containing an account of the great riches she obtained by industry, the good life she led, and alas good reader! Her sudden death; to which is added, a hymn, written by Dame Partlet, just before her death, and an epitaph for her tomb stone (1810)

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Also unique to this collection, this imprint presents Dame Partlett—a widow of relentless goodness who, despite her poverty, is generous, loving, and caring not only to her six children but to the whole neighborhood. She is a nurse, comforter, and teacher to all about the virtue of work and how to do it. She lives in the village of Innocence where Mr. Lovetruth is the rector, Mr. Wheatear is the farmer, and Squire Takeall is the lord of the manor.

Over the years of her life Dame Partlett is increasingly rewarded for her virtues and her lot is significantly improved as becomes a wealthy woman. Despite her good fortune, she never ceases her activities to help all who are in need. It is a story both saccharine and compelling at once. The relief print illustrations, some of which are hand-colored, are a charming enhancement of the story, the moral of which is clear.

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For more information about Early American Imprints, Series II: Supplement 3 from the American Antiquarian Society, 1801-1819, please contact readexmarketing@readex.com.


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