Learning to Make Invisible Inks and Other Projects from The Young Gentleman’s and Lady’s Magazine (1799)

If you are interested in learning more about how adults have tried to keep children from being bored by dreaming up interesting projects, this post about a pioneering magazine for children may be of interest.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a child with time on its hands must be in need of something to do.  This was a truth understood very well by Dr. William Fordyce Mavor, the editor and chief compiler of The Young Gentleman’s and Lady’s Magazine, which appeared in monthly numbers between February 1799 and January 1800.  One of the features that sets The Young Gentleman’s and Lady’s Magazine apart from its predecessors, The Lilliputian Magazine (1751) and The Juvenile Magazine (1789-1790) was the promotion of learning through doing across the disciplines.

One of the magazine’s chief selling points was its engraved plates.  Their function was to encourage accurate observation and artistic activity.   A subject from botany or natural history was reproduced in two versions, one professionally hand-colored, the other in outline “intended as an Exercise for the juvenile Pencil.”  The passion flower graced the pages of the seventh issue, and the male bird of paradise the third.

No instructions to the juvenile wielding the pencil were offered, as if Mavor assumed most of his readers’ parents employed drawing masters. Perhaps to remedy this oversight, in the sixth issue Mavor ran an article with directions for mixing colors.  It seems to have been contributed professional artist, who noted that he hoped this would alleviate the frustration he had observed in children attempting to complete the plain copies.

Brainteasers could be found in every issue.  There were complicated charades and enigmas to solve, with the understanding that readers were invited to submit their clever verse answers or original specimens for possible publication. In the correspondents’ sections, Mavor always politely acknowledged the receipt of readers’ efforts, but accepted only the best ones (most of them were probably by himself).  Arithmetical word problems only appeared in the first three issues and they may have been too forbidding to have very wide appeal (how many children in the audience were burning to learn how to convert French livres to pounds sterling?).  Another more engaging example of a different kind of brainteaser was a piece that consisted of a model dialogue of two boys playing “Twenty Questions.”

Raising the spirit of enquiry was among Mavor’s other educational priorities.  He did not  want to spark his readers’ passive sense of wonder through descriptions of inventions and discoveries, he wanted them to roll up their sleeves and try to replicate the results of easy experiments.  One that many children probably would have wanted to try at home was making “sympathetic (i.e. invisible).”  The recipes are vague as to quantities, so I suspect there were unsuccessful trials and tears of rage.  One of the suggested uses of sympathetic ink was the sprucing up of artificial flowers, an inducement to the young ladies in the audience.  They probably employed them in the writing of letters whose contents were supposed to be kept secret.. Much messier would have been the preservation of birds and butterflies caught in the field.  Directions for butterflies follows, being the less gory of the two.  I wonder how well this method actually works and if similar methods can still be found in children’s books now.

While none of these features looks revolutionary to us now, it gave The Young Gentleman’s and Lady’s Magazine a much more modern feel than eitherThe Lilliputian or Juvenile Magazine, whose contents were very similar to any eighteenth-century miscellany.  Dr. Mavor’s attempt to include more hands-on projects for children may well have been a response to the increased anxiety in the 1790s about making sure children did not waste leisure time in stupid, cruel, or unproductive ways, at least in families that were sufficiently well-off not to need children’s paid labor for the unit’s maintenance.  Dr. Mavor may not have been among the great writers for children of this era, but he certainly deserves recognition in the history of British magazines for children for mixing up the contents of The Young Gentleman’s and Lady’s Magazine with non-fiction materials to appeal to a much broader range of interests..

“The Beginning, Progress and End of Man:” Rare Harlequinades of Emblems Acquired

The title page of the J. Deacon edition, a recent purchase by Cotsen, is printed parallel to the folds of the harlequinade. Adam is wearing a fig leaf. (Cotsen unprocessed)

Among the earliest moveable books are harlequinades, whose illustrations metamorphose when the flaps at the upper and lower edges are opened up and down.  The most familiar examples illustrated key scenes in popular pantomimes staged in the late 1760s and early 1770s and a list of these “turn-ups” appeared in the 1775 catalogue issued by print seller Bennett and Sayers, where they were described as “moral and instructive Emblems for the Entertainment of Children” rather than promoting them as the novelties they were.

Calling them “emblems” might have been a tactic to reassure prospective customers that turn-ups  extracted morals from plays regarded as less than improving. This language may also alludes to their sober ancestor that had no connection with the stage, The Beginning, Progress and End of Man, a small illustrated collection of  emblems or “speaking pictures” from the 1650s.  The license of May 30 1650 called it  “a small tract of several foulded pictures…in verse.” Probably written to fit the panels and flaps, neither the illustrations or verse was polished enough to get the attention of print curators or literary critics.  Nevertheless, it has  survived (see below), while the Sayers edition,  “Adam and Eve,” the title presumably taken from the first panel’s subject has not.

Cotsen has acquired another early edition of The Beginning, Progress and End of Man at the  Justin G. Schiller Ltd. Sale at Heritage Book Auctions in Dallas, Texas  December 16 2020.   It is the stated third edition of the text in five panels and the only one with contemporary hand-coloring.   The five  metamorphosing subjects are Adam (to Eve, to mermaid), Abel (to Abel, to Cain killing Abel), the lion (to griffin, to eagle and child) the youth (to heart, to money bags), and man (skeleton).  The block of the rampant lion faces right and has the face of a man that could be Charles I..  Below  is the back of sheet with all the flaps open, followed by a shot of the other side with center five images visible.Dating the Cotsen copy more precisely than between 1671 and 1704 is not possible, given the available information about the publisher.  Two J. Deacons traded from the Angel in Gilt spur street.  The publisher could be either  Jonah Deacon, a broadside ballad monger, who teamed up with P. Brooksby,  J. Blare, and and J. Back to undercut the five Ballad Partners, or John Deacon who also dealt in cheap print from the Angel as well as the “Rainbow, Holborn, a little above St. Andrews Church.”  For now not possible to assign priority to this or the J. Deacon edition at the Bodleian Library

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The Beginning, Progress and End of Man has only begun to attract attention within the last fifteen years.  Malcolm Jones reproduced the British Library’s 1650 edition with flaps closed and a transcription of the text in The Print in Early Modern England: An Historical Oversight (2010) as an early example of “lift-the-flap” pictures.  He correctly connected it to the better known genre of anatomical sheets, but passed over its ties with emblem literature for children.  It seems to have been unknown to the authors of  classic studies on  17th-century English children’s books like William Sloane’s 1955 bibliography, Warren W. Wooden’s Children’s Literature of the English Renaissance (1986), and  C. John Sommerville’s The Discovery of Childhood in Puritan England (1992).

Jacqueline Reid-Walsh’s articles and monograph Interactive Books: Playful Media Before Pop-ups (2018) on the long history of genres like the harlequinade which are hybrids of books, toys, and games, has put Beginning, Progress, and End of Man on the map. The union catalogue on her website Learning as Play: An Animated, Interactive Archive of 17th– to 19th-Century Narrative Media by and for Children has the most complete census of surviving copies: the one in four panels published by B. Alsop and T. Dunster (1650) at the British Library in the Thomason Tracts and at Pennsylvania State University Library; the five-panel E. Alsop and T. Dunster edition of 1654 at Harvard; and  the five-panel J. Deacon edition ca. 1688  purchased by antiquarian Anthony à Wood at the Bodleian Library.   The details of the Cotsen copy will be sent along shortly.

Reid Walsh’s research also shows that The Beginning, Progress, and End is an intriguing but little understood text that must have been wider circulation than the census of printed editions can possibly would indicate. We know this because of the survival of manuscript copies made by boys and girls in England, North America, and Scotland, none of them labored copies, all of them individual as their creators, who might be considered outsider artists…

Elizabeth Winspear’s four-panel version with a polka-dotted lion (Lisa Unger Baskin Collection, Duke University Library).

A Scottish boy’s handiwork from the 1820s.   His lion’s eyes seem to glow.  The bouquet is entirely his.   The baby in the eagle’s claws in the detail below is particularly well-dressed. (Cotsen unprocessed manuscripts)