Benjamin Harris’s Protestant Tutor (1679): Teaching Religion, Reading, and Writing in a Time of Crisis

Soft metal cut from the T. Norris and A. Bettesworth edition, ca. 1715. Cotsen 2039.

Late seventeenth century journalist Benjamin Harris probably would have gotten his bearings pretty quickly in our toxic media environment.   Familiar with bad actors, feverish conspiracy theories,  succession crises, bitter factional combat, and brutal rhetoric, only the technologies would have been new to him. As a channel for rumors and gossip, he surely would have quickly grasped how much mightier social media was than the coffee house.  His fellow bookseller John Dunton remarked that, “I should have been much concerned if Ben Harris had given me a good word, for his commendation is the greatest reproach that an honest man can meet with. He is so far from having any dealings with truth or honesty, that his solemn word, which he calls as good as his bond, is a studied falsehood, and he scandalises truth and honesty in pretending to write for it.”

Title page of the 1707 edition. Cotsen 379.

Someone with these particular gifts would not seem especially well-suited for a sideline writing children’s books. Examine the contents of his Protestant Tutor, Instructing Children to Spel and read English, and Grounding them in the True Protestant Religion, and Discovering the Errors and Deceits of the Papists, and his loudly proclaimed priorities have quite a bit in common  with those of contemporary American authors on the right who have self-published children’s books than one might suppose.   Harris was, like many of them, neither a professional educator or writer, but he felt confident enough to offer the public a book that would challenge dangerous mainstream ones circulating pernicious ideas and values.

He abhorred Roman Catholicism with the deadly fury of a conspiracy theorist and a cultural warrior.  A member of the Particular Baptists, who believed Christ died only for the elect like Calvin, he rejoiced in the letter dedicatory that the Papists’ diabolic strategy “ to  destroy King Charles II, his government and the Protestant religion by disseminating “their cursed Opinions among the Ignorant, as they have demonstrated by vast numbers of Popish Primers, Catechisms, Manuals, and a multitude of such Romish Trash and Trumpery, which they intended to have dispersed like a General Infection  among the youth of this nation” had been foiled.

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To convince parents and heads of school “to strengthen and confirm this young Generation in Protestant Principles, by the methods whereby they [the Roman Catholics] intended to Debauch them,”  he argued that now was the time “to arm our Innocent Children against the cursed and continual practices of our Romish Adversaries, who designed not only the Murder and destruction of the bodies, but the ruin and Damnation of the souls of our poor Children with the utter Extirpation of the Protestant Religion from under Heaven.”  Better they die than “be bred up in Popish Superstition and Idolatry, or otherwise to be Imprisoned, Rackt, Tortured and Burnt at the stake as our Fathers have been before us.”

Harris attempts to plant seeds of hate so deeply in his young readers’ minds so that they will never forget the horrors Protestants suffered.  The reading lessons retelling the scriptural accounts of Moses, Christ’s  crucifixion, and long quotations from Revelations invite children to identify with God’s chosen ones and turn fear ears to the call of Babylon.  The blatantly sectarian catechism says little about  justification by faith alone, its chief preoccupation being to list all Romish practices to be shunned, like obeying the Pope, worshipping images or saints’ relics, praying to the Virgin Mary, and buying pardons.

The martyrdom of John Rogers, better known from its inclusion in The New England Primer. This version of the scene is more detailed and better executed than most. Cotsen 2039.

Cotsen 379.

The minister John Roger’s exhortation to his wife and nine children days before he was burned at the stake leads off the history of “Cruelties, Treasons, and Massacres committed by the Papist” since Bloody Mary’s reign illustrated with ghoulishly crude but effective cuts of the faithful being disemboweled upside down,  the Spanish Armada, the Gunpowder Plot, the Irish atrocities against the Protestants in 1641, the Huguenot massacre in Paris, the great fire of London of 1666 supposedly Papist arson.   Rome is ridiculed through the account of the pope-burning procession through London in 1679.   It took place on November 17, the day Elizabeth I ascended the throne which was observed as a Protestant holiday. The description of the order of the groups in the parade, their costumes, the exchanges between the Pope and his privy counsellor the Devil, the crowning of Elizabeth’s statue, the fireworks, and great bonfire are  drawn from the explanation on the satirical print “The Solemn Mock Procession of the Pope, Cardinals, Jesuits, Fryers” published by Jonathan Wilkins in 1680.   In spite of having to reformat the procession from the print’s much larger horizontal format to a small vertical one, Harris’s cutter preserved a remarkable amount of detail.Even after the tumult of the Exclusion Crisis died down, the explosive mix of faith, fear, and ridicule in The Protestant Tutor remained available for another forty years: the English Short Title Catalog lists editions in 1680, 1683, 1685, 1690, 1707, 1713, 1716, and ca. 1720.  One factor could be the way Harris bulked up the sections of reading instruction to make it more widely useful without cutting the anti-Catholic propaganda.. Attractive additions to the 1707 edition include two engraved leaves of writing samples, directions for cutting pens, and a section of model letters for business correspondence, while ca. 1720 featured an engraved alphabet lottery plate.  He also brought the little book of martyrs down to the present day, there being plenty to document since 1679 when the book first appeared.A greater motivation to keep the Protestant Tutor in print must have been Harris’s fear of a Stuart restoration to the English throne, a fear that was not groundless in light of Irish and Scottish Jacobite activity from the 1690s into the 1700s.   The title page of the 1713 edition states bluntly that the text will inform readers of what can be expected from a “Popish successor” to the ailing Queen Anne, who had failed to produce an heir, then throws its support behind the future George I.   The anti-Jacobitism is even stronger in the last known edition, issued by Thomas Norris and Andrew Bettesworth, which includes a new section,  “A Timely Memorial to all true Protestants, Demonstrating the Certainty of a horrid and damnable Popish Plot carried on in Great Britain, in order to destroy his Majesty King George, and Royal Family, introduce a Popish Successor, and involve these Kingdoms in blood and Fire.”  It contains a passage on the 1715 Jacobite uprising in Scotland with an explicit reference to its leader,  John Erskine, 6th Earl of Mar, suggesting that it may have been issued as earlier than the date the English Short-Title Catalog proposed.  If Benjamin Harris had lived to see the Jacobite army headed up by Bonnie Prince Charlie defeated at the Battle of Culloden, (or his sons shared in his anti-Papistical fervor), perhaps another edition would have been issued in 1745…

For such a notorious children’s book, Harris’s Protestant Tutor has not received much serious attention, perhaps because it has been hard for us in the 20th and 21st centuries  to believe that it was actually put into children’s hands. Indeed it was, as this opening from Cotsen’s 1707 edition with the illustration of London on fire shows, the blank filled up with annotations in a childish hand.  Its preliminary pages are likewise filled with signatures of its owners, as are the ones in the ca. 1715 edition.    While not as famous or influential as The New England Primer, in which Harris was also supposed to have had a hand, this preliminary look at the contents, illustration, and publication history of the much more radical Tutor demonstrates why it is important to understand, not dismiss, the motives and methods of authors who believe children (or at least those of their tribe)  must be saved from the dark forces of their times.

Adventures in Bookstores: Celebrating Read-A-Book Day 2022

In recognition of Read-A-Book Day 2022 (well, two days late), here’s a 2015 post Jeff Barton wrote about some great places to find books he discovered in Northern California.  At the end, he points eager readers to other posts about independent booksellers and foreign book fairs.

What does a bibliophile or a librarian who is interested in children’s books do on vacation?  Well, some of us like to look at bookstores and libraries (along with doing other things too, I hasten to add!). When I was at the ALA Annual Conference and Rare Books & Manuscripts “Preconference” in San Francisco and Oakland, sight-seeing  led me to  happen upon some amazing small bookshops, run by real book-lovers, by pure serendipity.  (For all the great aspects of having the world of books accessible via online shopping, nothing quite compares to just stumbling upon a bookstore or catching a glimpse of an attractive book cover or dust-jacket you’ve never seen before, does it?)

First, there was Village Books, in Ukiah, California, about 100 miles North of San Francisco.  We spotted this small shop across the street from our lunchtime retreat from 100+ degree heat.  As soon as we entered, I knew we’d found a great bookstore!  Even the check-out counter was covered with books, as you can see:

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Village Books, Ukiah, California

That introductory “prologue” was certainly borne out by another look around:

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Books from floor-to-ceiling, convenient reading spaces throughout… a bibliophile’s delight… mostly used books, but some new ones too.

Of particular interest to me were the sections with children’s (and young adult) books, packed almost to the rafters:

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And especially eye-catching was a dedicated children’s reading area, clearly meant to welcome young readers into a comfortable setting and encourage them to sit and read books of all sorts:

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But this is a bookstore after all, not a library, so what did we buy?

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Upper cover of Tom Brown’s Schooldays, with color-printed paper onlay (Harper & Bros., 1911) author’s collection

To name just a few, some nice French-language children’s books (for a YA reader learning French), a vintage copy of Lord of the Flies (bought by an adult for aforementioned YA reader, since Lord of the Flies seems to have fallen off the assigned list of books for middle schoolers), and a very nicely illustrated 1911 edition of Tom Brown’s School Days, with artwork by Louis Rhead, and a paper onlay on the upper cover that reminds us reminded me just how much work went into late 19th- and early 20th-century publisher’s bindings.

Tom Brown’s School Days (1857) is one of those “children’s classics,” hugely-influential and once widely read, but seldom read by child readers any more.  (Actually, a surprising number of “children’s classics” fall into the category of well-known but not much read now.)  It’s a landmark example of a “school story,” fiction focusing on children or adolescents within a school context (usually a boarding school), a genre especially popular in England from the mid- to late-1700s through the mid-1940s.  Some other prominent examples include: Sarah Fielding’s The Governess (1749) and Kipling’s Stalky & Co. (1899).

Think school stories are utterly passé?  Well, think again… J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels drew heavily on the genre — Hogwarts, focal point of the action, is, after all, a school, and most of the main characters are students or masters there — and many critics have discussed how Rowling both made use of and extended the school story genre.  Like Tom Brown, Harry Potter comes somewhat timidly to a new school, has to learn the ropes, and undergoes various trials and bullying in the course of making moral choices, learning about himself, and growing up.

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As that venerable and learned poet…says

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Poor old Benjy!

Although Tom Brown is set in Thomas Arnold’s reform-oriented Rugby School of the 1840s, the story details quite a bit of unruly hijinks by the boys, as well as a lot of fighting and some harrowing bullying — all of which no doubt fascinated boy readers, at whom the book seems clearly aimed. Rhead’s full-page illustrations in  this edition compellingly depicted many of these events, and in addition, he provided small historiated letters at the beginning of chapters, which I particularly like. A real window onto another era.

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But time to move on… How about continuing our bibliographic travelogue and moving from Northern California to Seattle … and from school stories to Wonderland?

Again, serendipity plays a major role in the story — sometimes you find bookstores where you would least expect to find them, as was the case for us in Seattle.  Seattle’s Pike Place Market is famous: the usual tourist souvenirs, fresh fruit and veggies, and lots and lots of fresh fish, including “flying fish,” tossed around by energetic fishmongers! (This fish-tossing is so renowned that it serves as the subject of a movie titled “FISH!,” which is about improving customer service, workplace morale, and motivating workers. If you don’t believe me, do a quick online search!)

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A fun place to visit — but hardly a place you’d expect to find a bookstore…  But tucked away in a downstairs corridor, around the corner from a cookie shop, a coffee bar, and a take-out food place, we happened to see a brightly-colored bookstore wedged into a space not much more than ten or fifteen feet wide: Lamplight Books.

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A glimpse inside the shop…

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Lamplight Books, Seattle Market.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cover of Through the Looking-Glass (Dodge & Co., 1909?) author’s collection

 

Sightseeing again took a back-seat to book-browsing, as we went through the hidden garden gate or down the rabbit hole into another magical world of books…

Among the books we discovered was a hard-cover second printing of one of Durrell’s Alexandra Quartet novels, well-read but still with its original dust-jacket — and still cheaper than a new paperback edition elsewhere — and an even more well-read 1909 edition of Through the Looking Glass by American publisher Dodge & Co., which interested me for several reasons.

First, the illustrations by Bessie Pease Guttmann present Alice as a dark-haired girl — quite unlike Tenniel’s depiction, but much like Carroll’s own artwork in his original Alice manuscript edition — with the Queen of Hearts as the blondie — and one looking very much like Tenniel’s chess piece depiction in Looking Glass, not a playing card or Queen Victoria parody a la Alice in Wonderland.

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But even more arresting were the unique markings and colorings in this copy of the book, presumably made by a child-reader. As we see on the pictorial endpapers, printed in a blue-outlined pattern, an apparently quite young reader has “embellished” things!  (I’d say she/he was young, based on the roughness of the coloring.)

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Blue-printed patterned endpapers colored by child reader.

And this embellishment continues throughout the book, whose blue-printed outline borders were apparently irresistible to the reader.  Sometimes, the child embellisher fully colored the illustrations on an entire page, and sometimes he/she has focused in only on details apparently of particular interest to him or her, as we can see in the instances below:

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Instances of selective coloring by child reader

This is pattern of varied “levels” of markings in children’s books is something I’ve observed before and discussed here on the Cotsen blog.  Was the reader of this book simply focusing on things of particular interest to her/him, or responding to the story and somehow trying to foreground characters and aspects discussed on particular pages by coloring them in there — in effect providing a reader’s commentary of sorts?  Of course, there’s no way to be sure. But since identifying agency by child-readers and making sense of reader-response is certainly a topic of considerable interest to those analyzing child readership today, I wonder if patterns of marking like those found in this book might conceivably shed some light on these areas of inquiry?

This copy of Through the Looking Glass also manifests evidence of another possible  sort of reader “appetite” on quite a number of pages, as we can see on the example below:

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It’s a little hard to tell what these are? Bite-marks?  If so, made by a child?  By several different children?  By the family dog?  Or just marks of rough handling?  They certainly look like bite marks to me!  And if so, what might this suggest to us about the reader(s) of this book or child readers, in general?  Along with the markings, this definitely suggests that this copy of Through the Looking Glass did indeed “find its reader” who extensively handled and “interacted with” the book in several ways, even if we can’t be sure that he/she necessarily read the text on the pages.

I think the signs of book use here also underscore an important aspect of children’s use of books; it’s frequently unpredictable — often spontaneous and unplanned — and thus it can be hard to “interpret” what this “evidence” means, as well as dangerous to read too much into this by adults who are coming along later and trying to investigate child reading.  Child readers leave a lot of clues, but how can we be sure that we’re “reading” them accurately from our adult critical vantage-point?  There’s always an element of speculation in this critical approach, isn’t there?

Apart from an opportunity to think about children’s marks in books and talk about a couple of interesting editions of children’s “classics,” I guess the broader “moral” of my story here is really to highlight that independent bookstores — and great ones too! — can still be found out there, sometimes when and where you least expect them.  There’s real pleasure to be had in browsing them with no particular book or aim in sight, especially if you’re a book-lover. Sometimes you find amazing things that you had no idea you were looking for! There can be real serendipitous pleasure in simple serendipity…

If you can’t pass by a bookstore without walking in,  you can read posts by Andrea and Minjie about their adventures in Cape Cod, Los Angeles, Shanghai, and Abu Dhabi