Children Naughty and Nice for St. Nicholas’s Review

Christmas comes but once and year and when it does it brings….annual performance appraisals of children. This belief  that St. Nicholas passes judgment on us may evaporate soon enough, but not before planting the idea that December means the person in authority decides if you have been productive/nice or unproductive/naughty.   In the spirit of the season, let’s put under the microscope some child characters in eighteenth-century books, who were very, very good or very, very bad.

Kindness to animals often indicated a good heart in an age when cruelty to animals was tolerated to a degree unimaginable today.  In this illustration, Jacky Lovebook is buying a cat from a man, who had stolen it while it was playing on the steps of its house.  Afraid that the cat will be abused by its abductor, Jacky runs after the man and offers to take it off his hands.  The man names a shilling as the price, so Jacky gives him the sixpence in his pocket plus a top worth twelve pence (seen in his hand).  Even though he made a bad deal, Jacky happily returns the cat to its owner.  The second illustration shows a fly, who is the story’s hero and narrator, entangled in a spider’s web in a shop he flew into, lured by the delicious smell of barley sugar and molasses.  The little girl rescues him with her brush, only to nearly kill him with kindness by kissing him, unaware that exposure to the blasts of her hot breath would be unbearable to such a small creature.

Stephen Jones, The History of Tommy Lovebook and Jacky Playlove (London: E. Newbery, 1783) p. 46. Cotsen 6732.

Stephen Jones, The Life and Adventures of a Fly (London: E. Newbery, ca. 1787), p. 53. Cotsen 6777.

Sad but true, the bad children are more interesting than the tender-hearted ones, at least in fiction.  Despicable little girls are highlighted today in the interests of equal opportunity, horrid little boys having been the subject of a previous post. 

Here is six-year-old Fanny Dawdle, who has been coddled all of her short life.  Considered a delicate child, she has spent so much time lounging on the sofa that her legs and body have grown crooked.  Her mind has been completely uncultivated so she has not yet learned the letters of the alphabet or how to thread a needle.  Having nothing to do, she orders the servants around all day and they hate her.  She ought to make the acquaintance of Miss Fiddle Faddle who spends her time  “eating, drinking, gossiping, dressing, undressing, and sleeping.”   An eighteenth-century fashion victim, she sits in front of her mirror trying to place a beauty patch on her face.  If she can’t do it to her satisfaction after an hour, she may get so angry that she will break the mirror.

Richard Johnson, The Juvenile Biographer (London: E. Newbery, ca. 1790), p. 22. Cotsen 5362.

Richard Johnson, The Juvenile Biographer (London: E. Newbery, ca. 1790), p. 62. Cotsen 5362.

Literary critics usually turn up their noses at characters like Miss Fanny and Miss Fiddle Faddle as completely unbelievable compared to the rounded ones in today’s children’s books.   It is as if they believe children have no ability to distinguish the realistic delineation of character and the distortion of it for satiric purposes.  But lots of children find the grotesques in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory absolutely hilarious.  The young ladies from the eighteenth-century novels are surely sisters under the skin to Veruca Salt or Violet Beauregard: they are funny because they are all so awful.  And readers can congratulate themselves for being free from such obnoxious traits.

But will St. Nicholas give them a pass?  Probably not…  It will be switches and coal in their stockings for eternity.

Grindelwald’s Wand and Other Snapshots from a Busman’s Holiday in England

The allee of wands near Peter’s Hill. There are two young ladies collecting contributions to Lumos, the  international non-governmental charity founded by  Rowling to end the institutionalization of children.

On the walk from St. Paul’s Cathedral via Peter’s Hill towards the Millenium Bridge over to the Tate Modern, I passed through a sculpture installation promoting the next installment of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.

A detail of the wand at the head of the left rank.

A detail of the wand’s base.

The visit to the Tate Modern concluded with an obligatory visit to the children’s section in the main museum gift shop.  This political satire masquerading as a Ladybird book caught my eye.  Ladybirds are the British equivalent of Little Golden Books, but they never made it across the pond to America.  The book’s preparation is supposed to have been overseen by Dr Idiculous Bluff, emeritus proponent of Bloviation at the UKIP (the University of Knowledge in Practice).  The authors, J. A. Hazeley, N. S. F. W. and J. P. Morris, O.M.G. also wrote Cheese and Onion or Salt and Vinegar: A Nation Divided–by crisps. 

Exiting the European Union will preserve the tight little island in the North Sea…  Incidentally, all the illustrations were selected from actual Ladybird Books.

Thanks to Brexit, the editors at the Oxford English Dictionary are guaranteed full employment, at least until the terms of leaving are worked out.

Naturally the British ruling classes support the will of the common man expressed via the ballot box.  The lord in the hot pink waistcoat looks as if he was repurposed from a Prince Charming in some Ladybird Cinderella. Never apologize, never explain, because there will always be an England, right?

The selections in the Tate Modern’s gift shop was a lot more edgy than its literature for visitors, which consisted of floor plans and gallery guides.  For something completely different, I had to visit the  Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, where I picked up a copy of this guided tour across the University of Oxford’s collections.

With prefatory notes by Stephen Fry and Richard Bruce Parkinson, the twenty-four-page illustrated brochure highlights two objects or creatures that connect LGBTQ+ to their history on display at the Ashmolean, the Museum of Natural History, the Pitt Rivers Museum, the Bodleian Library, the Museum of the History of Science, the Botanic Garden, and the Bate Collection.  The alternative natural histories are especially fascinating in the way they raise ideas about gender and sexual activity.