Marks in Books 9: Daydreaming Boys Draw in Their Schoolbooks

Cotsen 1638.

Many copybooks do not look especially interesting, until you go through them carefully page by page.  This one is tacked into a raggedly limp leather wrapper is a case in point.   It was made by a David Kingsley of Rehoboth, Bristol County, Massachusetts between 1797 and 1799.  Much of the contents consist of proverbs, precepts, and sets of words copied out doggedly line after line after line after line.  David signed every single page, one, two, three, or four times, usually in different places, perhaps at his teacher’s bidding.  An undated signature “Mary S.” was written in a different hand was  in the upper right hand corner.  Perhaps she was responsible for the great looping scribbles on top of David’s writing…

Cotsen 1638.

David’s copy book looks like a textbook demonstration of how rote instruction deadens children’s souls and stifles their curiosity except for the page he filled with an illustration of a two-story building with two doors and six windows.  Snaking down the left-hand margin is “David Kingsley made this house.”  David’s source of inspiration came from somewhere other than the facing text on the  comparisons of measures and a practice word problem.  Nor does the copy below it have anything about houses: “Wonce more the year is now begun David Kingsley This Second day of January 1799 the Shool Book of David Kinglsey of Rehoboth February 11 day 1799.” . Perhaps it was supposed to be the home of the “gallant female sailor” the subject of the ballad written on the back of the leaf…    David’s drawing is undated so we cannot know when or where he drew it. At school, when he should have been concentrating on finishing his lesson?   Or somewhere else when he was free to design a house in which he would like to live when a man grown.

Cotsen 52980.

Cotsen 52980.

Cotsen 52980.

Seventeenth-century school master Edward Young’s The Compleat English Scholar in Spelling, Reading, and Writing (1726) was in  a fifty-second edition by 1752.  Cotsen has the only copy of the twenty-seventh edition of 1726 and it belonged to a Lumley Tannat, who may be the child baptized on the eleventh of July 1726 in Saint Dunstan’s in Stepney, London.  He wrote his name multiple times on the book’s preliminary pages but without a date, a  common but annoying habit of children centuries ago.   Of course they had no idea that people nearly three hundred years later would want to be able to calculate their age when they used the book.   On the final blank page Lumley put his name and doodles.

The sketches of boats seem to be preparatory drawings for his masterpiece on the rear board, which even with the book in hand is quite difficult to see unless the light is just right.  Lumley’s ship has one mast, carved figurehead on the bow, gunports for the artillery, two flags.  Was he intensely bored by the lessons, which were mostly drawn from Scripture?  Would he have rather been reading Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719)?Was he dreaming of going to sea in defiance of his father’s wishes to find his a place with a merchant?

Not all of the marks pupils put on bindings are legible, by the way, and they are far more common than drawings of ships of the line or houses. The front board on this book appears to have been poked decoratively with a pen knife, an essential part of a pupil’s academic tool kit in the days of quill pens. How exactly this binding got in this state I cannot guess, but scenarios with small boys, a handy sharp object, and a book bound in leather are easy to dream up.  But then again maybe this is a girl’s handiwork.

Cotsen 362.

Cotsen 362.

Children should not always be blamed for the marks on bindings. Booksellers’ marks can be distinguished easily enough from those children make.  It’s not at all unusual for prices to be written at the head of the paper wrappers on pamphlets.  It’s less common to find such marks on books bound in boards.  The back board of Cotsen’s copy of the 1791 twentieth edition of James Greenwood’s London Vocabulary  has both a paper label identifying it as a copy of the “London Vocabulary with Pictures” and note in ink on the canvas  that it is in two languages.

Paying for Private School Tuition in the 1730s

The Princeton class of 2019 has just graduated and cleared out of the dorms.  Next year’s crop of applicants for spots in the class of 2023 will be touring campus all summer. Parents’ nagging worries about the high costs for tuition and board are nothing new, however.  An imaginary case spun out of some advertisements in children’s books for private girls’ schools in the eighteenth century is an interesting way to put it all into perspective.

Suppose you are a merchant who traded in the Baltic region.   You have recently lost your wife, and as you must be away on business for long periods of time, there is no one to supervise your lovely daughter Pamela’s education.  There are no reliable female relatives with whom she could live, so a suitable boarding school must be found.

Copies of Gay’s Fables Epitomiz’d  (London: B. Creak, at the Red Bible near St. Paul’s [1733]) had advertisement for one such school in High  Wickham, Buckinghamshire.  The curriculum focused on what were considered accomplishments, or skills and attainments that were supposed to make girls attractive to eligible young men of means in need of wives.   Instruction in English and plain sewing, plus cutlery, and linens, were included in the basic quarterly charge of three pounds and fifteen shillings.  Pamela’s father would have to pay separate charges for laundry, board and instruction in fine needlework.  French, dancing, music, and writing lessons were all electives, so to speak  extra and it looks as if Papa had to pay the invoices of the different teachers directly.  Or perhaps the mistress of the school received the funds from parents and paid them on a quarterly basis, multiplied by the number of pupils for each teacher.If Pamela’s papa decides nothing is too good for his charming girl and signed her up for everything, then he would owe Mrs. Bellamy about ten pounds per quarter. This seems laughably low to us, but run the amount of forty pounds through a historic currency converter and the amount had about  the same purchasing power as $8200.00  in today’s currency.   Mrs. Bellamy was still a bargain, compared to a private high school…  But no matter how you cut it, the price of a silver spoon has inflated dramatically over two hundred and eighty six years…

If a book seems like a strange place to advertise an educational institution, there was method in the apparent madness.  Gay’s Fables Epitomiz’d was intended to be used in schools and its author was Daniel Bellamy the elder, the husband of Martha Bellamy, head of the school above.  Bellamy’s sister Hannah Wood was also a school mistress and sometimes Martha and Hannah joined forces and ran advertisements for their academies in other works produced by Daniel, like Dramatic Pieces and other Miscellaneous Works, which featured plays he wrote for the young ladies to perform at school.  This is not as cynical and calculating as it may seem at first, because Daniel Bellamy was a devout Christian with a genuine interest in education who used his literary gifts to write a number of excellent works for young readers, which were also  nicely illustrated with engravings.  He is an interesting, but little known pioneer in the history of English-language children’s books whose long career overlapped with those of the better-known Thomas Boreman, Mary Cooper, and John Newbery.