Marks in Books 15: The Taylor Sisters’ Annotations in Limed Twigs to Catch Young Birds

Ann and Jane Taylor by their father Isaac Taylor, oil on canvas, circa 1792

Collaboration isn’t anything unusual in the performing arts or the sciences, but the construct of the solitary literary genius is so strong that writers who work together can be slighted as less talented.  How texts are created by a team isn’t perfectly understood, especially when evidence for working methods can be elusive.   Some divide up the tasks according to individual strengths.  At the beginning of a project, the great folklorists Iona and Peter Opie did just that: she did the field work, he did the library research.  It’s unclear if the division of responsibilities was so clear cut when they got down to writing the manuscript.

When the collaborators don’t describe their creative process anywhere and no working manuscripts survive, chance survivals may be the only means of learning about how they worked.   Early in their careers, the trio of siblings Ann, Jane, and Isaac junior known as the Taylors of Ongar, together wrote and illustrated works for children.  All three had been trained as engravers, but they also had a turn for writing.   Some hints survive in Ann’s memoirs about the way the girls worked when they were little.  They found skipping rope was condusive to thinking up verse, which sounds a bit like William Wordsworth composing in his head while he walked.

One of the Taylors’ rarest collaborations, the graded reader Limed Twigs for Young Birds (1808) came on the market recently. (The title pays tribute to Lady Ellenor Fenn’s best-selling reading lessons, Cobwebs to Catch Flies.) Cotsen was very lucky to acquire a special copy, which the sisters presented to the Taylors’ old neighbors the Watkinsons after they had emigrated to America years before.

“J” for “Jane” at the end of “The Two Games.”

Isaac signed the copper plate for frontispiece, showing a conversation between the nurse, who is holding a baby,  and her big sister, stockings sagging.  Her dolly has been thrown face down on the floor.  The text is divided into twenty-six storylets in words of one to five letters, then one to four syllables.  At the end of every one is an initial assigning authorship: “A” for “Ann” or “J” for “Jane.”  Each of the young women contributed thirteen passages.  Ann penned “The Bee,” “The Cut,” “Getting Up,” “The Cat,” “The Poor Old Man and the Cakes,” “Learning to Read,” “The Dark,” “The Bird’s Nest,” “The Babe,” “The Kites,” “Disappointments,” “The Church Yard,” and “The Two Sixpences, That at Last Made One Schilling.”  Belonging to Jane are  “The Gay Book,” “The Careful Ant,” “The Idle Fly,” “The Frog,” “Old Dobbin,” “The Blind Man,” “The Two Games,” “The Birth-Day,” “The Rabbit,” “The Evening Play,” “The New House,” “The New Dresses,” and “The Old Mariner.”

Limed Twigs was a rather dreary little book  according to bibliographer Lawrence Darton.    He thought it reflected “The Taylors’ preoccupation with the theme of child mortality and physical distintegration,” but the only storylet to which that is applicable is  “The Church Yard,” an conversation between mother and daughter about the body and the soul that arises during a  walk through the church yard.  They do see a human bone in freshly dug earth, which turns into an object lesson about death, but it is short and short on details.

“A” for “Ann” at the end of “The Poor Old Man and the Cakes.”

All the other storylets’ subjects focus on the mundane experiences of ordinary children and they reflect real familiarity with the interactions of parents and children.  In Ann’s “The Cut,” a little boy says to his father, “O, do see my sad cut!  Is it not a bad one?” as if he is happy to show it off to get some attention.  His father doesn’t take the bait, remarking that yes, it is all red, but not worth crying over. “It is so sad to be cut, do let me cry,” the boy replies, making a play for sympathy.  Papa holds the line, “O no; a boy may not cry!”  And why not, asks his son, arguing that cats cry when they are hurt, and so should he.  Papa points out that he is bigger and older than a cat, and besides, seeing and hearing his son cry makes him sad.  Only when the boy concedes that he’ll try not to cry if it’s not allowed, his father praises him for being brave and tells the cut “Now dry up, sad cut, for my boy did not cry.”  It’s not a strategy acceptable to many parents now, but it’s important to see when it could be used without question.

In “The Two Games,” Jane captures the authentic whine of sibling snark:

James. Charles, pray come out and have a game of trap-ball out on the lawn.

Charles. I shall play at nine pins to day.  I do not like trap-hall half so well as I did: one has to run such a way after the ball, and then I am so often out, and and you do not play fair, I know.

James. O, as to that, I could cheat at nine pins too, if I pleased; but I do not though, I am sure.  I do not cheat in any game; so if you will not come and have a game at trap, you may go where you like. –I shall not play at any thing else, I can tell you.

Jane’s  “The Old Mariner” teaches children that putting sugar in their tea is not an innocent act. It’s not  at all uncommon in a volume composed of short passages to find material with a political slant where the title gives no indication of its presence.  Does the “fine little gentleman” realize that his favorite tea comes from a country half way around the world?  Does he take it with sugar?  “Well then,” says the mariner, “away we sail to the west, to those sultry islands where the sweet sugar-cane is cultivated.  Aye, Sir, and there one may see thousands of poor black negroes, that are brought slaves from their native country, toiling all day long, in the burning sun to cultivate this sweet nicety, for the gentlefolks in England.”

Ann  slips an in-joke into “Learning to Read,” which is a conversation between two girls, who just happen to be named…Ann and Jane.  When Jane asks her friend Ann if she can read, the answer is, “No, to be sure: what need have I to take so much time with a dull book?”  Ann, the resistant reader, is unconcerned if people will think she’s a fool if she never learns her A, B, C. “O, I do not care for that; for I have got a new doll, and a tea-pot, and some cups, and a nice bed for my doll to lie in; and I mean to play all day long and not care for my book.  Will not that be a good way?”  Jane stoutly defends herself, and points out that she doesn’t feel at all like a “mope” when she sits down to look at her lovely picture book, “I am sure you will love it much when you try.”  Jane has the last word, so the reader does not learn if she convinced Ann of the error of her ways!  The reader may not realize that the two anonymous authors are poking fun at themselves, but that doesn’t necessarily spoil their fun.

Critics tend to give the Taylors a bad rap, but they should be given more credit for lively dialogue and humor in their children’s books.


Made by a Child: Vivie Wivie Redesigns The Flapper’s Magazette: More Issues of a Manuscript Magazine Acquired

Our favorite girl journalist resurfaced miraculously a few weeks ago, when the New Jersey antiquarian bookseller Between the Covers offered Cotsen two issues of The Flapper’s Magazine edited by “V. V.” and published in Teddington, Richmond by Vivie Wivie & Co. in 1918. The address, which is the same as the editorial offices of The Flapper’s Magazette, leaves no doubts as to the brains behind the operation.

Would the two issues contain information that would lead us to the real young woman? Absolutely!

One issue has no publication date, but the second carries an announcement that starting with this, the May issue, the magazine will be issued every two months.  Flip through the new issues and it’s obvious that Vivie Wivie & Co. decided that the magazine needed a make-over.  The silly jokes and contests that were an endearing feature of the Magazette are history.  More sophisticated young women in daring hats are featured on the covers.And the contents? Each issue consists of more portraits of devastating modern beauties billed as “V. V.’s famous girls,” any one of which can be obtained as a full-page picture from Vivie Wivie & Co., according to another announcement.  No price is given, however. V. V.’s glamorous creatures, some with bobs, a few with wide-brimmed chapeaus, others bedizened with huge bows or artificial flowers, and some with long braids down the back (a “flapper,” according to OED), are signed “Viven Furniss 1918,” “V. Furniss 1918,” or “ViviE 1918.”   The sole man admitted to the Magazine’s pages is a handsome square-jawed aviator,  whom the reader may suspect, is the object of the editor’s dreams.  The only copy in the two issues are the captions.  Vivien’s artwork in the 1918 issues of The Flapper’s Magazine is much more accomplished than that in the Magazette, so it seems safe to say the Magazine is the work of a teenager, and the other of a little girl.

But can it be puzzled out how old she was when she made the manuscript periodicals?

Yes! Almost exactly.

It was pure wishful thinking on my part to have imagined that Vivien must have been the daughter (or other relative) of Harry Furniss (1854-1927), the Irish-born British artist famous for his humorous drawings and caricatures for Punch and illustrator of Lewis Carroll’s Sylvie and Bruno (1889) and Sylvie and Bruno Concluded (1993).  He also illustrated G. E. Farrow’s Wallypug series, sometimes collaborating with his artist-daughter Dorothy.  Dorothy was Harry’s only daughter.

So it was back to the drawing board.  Now that I knew that Vivien F. Furniss put together those two issues of The Flapper’s Magazine in 1918, I could search Ancestry Library with a bit more confidence.  It didn’t take that long to find our girl journalist Vivien Florence Furniss.   She was the daughter and oldest of the four children of the assurance clerk Percy Furniss and his wife Maude of Richmond on Thames in Surrey.  Her birth in 1903, parents, place of birth can be found in England and Wales Civil Registration Birth Index 1837-1917.  That would have made her 15 when she drew the “famous girls” of the Magazine.

This inconvenient fact blows out of the water my original dating of the Magazette to the 1920s.  The only evidence I could squeeze out of the text appeared in a limerick.  I leapt to the conclusion that its first line “There was a young lady of Bow, / Who attended a cinema show. / She was heard to remark / “Oh George! It is dark….” (the reader to provide a last line) contained an allusion to the It Girl, Clara Bow (1905-1965) who made her first picture in….  1921.   I should have checked to see if there were other limericks that began with that line.  There were several.

Is there other evidence that might establish how old Vivien was when she edited and illustrated the Magazette?   The picture of “The Little Patriot” showing a blonde girl draped in the Union Jack suggests that she might not have started her first publication project until Great Britain had entered World War I in August 1914.  That would have made her eleven.  Without any dates in the Magazette, it is impossible to know exactly when she was inspired to begin the project, but it seems safe to guess between 1914 and 1917.

This just goes to show how easy it is to give into the temptation to invent an origin story for child-made works on the few “facts” the text seems to contain. Revising the first post is a small price to pay for the discovery that Vivien didn’t abandon her project after one number, and if any thing, she seems to have become more interested in clothes and boys.  Who knows, maybe she did more than these three issues and those may surface on the antiquarian market one day.  What I’d like to know is, did the future Mrs. Philip W. Hume continue to draw after her marriage?  She lived to the ripe old age of 82, passing away in 1985.  Vivie, take a bow!