Curator’s Choice: Songs for the Nursery, Collected from the Works of the Most Renowned Poets

The third plate illustrating one of the less familiar rhymes in Songs for the Nursery (1808).

Peter and Iona Opie considered the Songs for the Nursery (London: Benjamin Tabart, 1805) the fourth of the foundational nursery rhyme anthologies published between 1744 and 1805.  By 1817, Songs was something of a classic.  The anonymous compiler of the Juvenile Review was quite disappointed that such a “foolish” book  should be so popular  when the combined power of rhyme and rhythm had been subverted to fill “the infant mind with false ideas” and encouraged credulity when obviously dishes could not run away with spoons or old women fly as high as the moon.  Her disapproval did not move the publisher to drop it however.  After Tabart closed down in 1820, Songs was kept in print by the Darton firm in Holborn Hill, then its successors Darton & Clark until the mid-1860s.  Its longevity surely recommended it as a source to James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps when he was working on Nursery Rhymes of England (1839), the first scholarly study of the traditional oral verse of childhood.

A comment in Charles Lamb’s June 2 1804 letter to Dorothy Wordsworth offers evidence that Songs was compiled by Eliza Fenwick, a aspiring novelist in the 1790s, who by the 1800s was struggling to support her family by writing children’s books and taking on  literary piece work.  Lissa Paul has suggested that Fenwick solicited examples from her literary friends and Dorothy Wordsworth obliged by sending “Arthur O’Browe” and some other “scraps.”  (There are  a handful of rhymes in Songs that did not make it into the Opies’ Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes,  but that’s a question for another time.)  It’s also very likely that the work’s subtitle “Collected from the Works of the most Renowned Poets” was a specious elevation of the old nurses who sang them, a joke that the editors of the Songs’ predecessors Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song-book (1744) and Mother Goose’s Melodies (1772) had indulged in.

Bewick’s cut for “Bah, bah, black sheep.”

Abandoning a mock-serious attitude towards the verses, which denigrated rather than validating them, may have been one reason for the Songs’ success.   The care Tabart took with the illustrations was another indication that the verse was being taken more seriously than ever before. He gave the customer the option of purchasing the 64-page pamphlet with no pictures for a shilling or with twenty-four full-page engraved illustrations for two. It was quite sumptuous pamphlet compared to Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song-book (London: George Bickham, junior, 1744) with Bickham junior’s teeny engravings printed in red and black or Mother Goose’s Melody (London: T. Carnan, 1772) adorned with the young Thomas Bewick’s small wood- engraved headpieces.

As was usual during this period, the illustrator was not identified on the title page.   Marjorie Moon, the collector/bibliographer of Tabart, did not venture to guess who might have created the charming designs.   It turns out to have been a well-known, versatile, and well-connected artist, William Marshall Craig (d.1827). The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography states that Craig was considered one of the most distinguished designers of woodblocks from 1800 until his death.  Of his style as a book illustrator, Houfe’s Dictionary of 19th Century Illustrators judged it “charming but not individual.”  Luckily, this was not always the case, as we will see.  No other reference sources mention that Craig produced children’s book illustrations, perhaps because it seemed  an unlikely way for the drawing master for Princess Charlotte, daughter of the Prince of Wales, miniature painter to the Duke and Duchess of York, and painter in watercolors to Queen Charlotte to supplement his income.

Detail from the engraved frontispiece of The Juvenile Preceptor (1800). Cotsen 5011,

Nevertheless, that is exactly what Craig did for a time.  Some of his work 1800-1806 features a highly recognizable type of child.  This detail from Craig’s  frontispiece design (signed in the lower left)  from The Juvenile Preceptor (Ludlow: George Nicholson, 1800) has an earliest example I have found. The boy in the fashionable skeleton suit reading to his mother is sturdy and chubby lad with a round face and a cap of wavy hair.

This drawing book by Craig, which I had the pleasure of seeing in the fabulous collection of Rosie and David Temperley is filled with pictures of boys who bear a family resemblance to the one in The Juvenile Preceptor.   .

From Craig’s Complete Instructor in Drawing Figures. Collection of Rosie and David Temperley, Edinburgh.

With thanks to the Hockcliffe Collection for this image.

We know that Tabart employed Craig because Marjorie Moon discovered  advertisements for Tabart’s sixpenny series, “Tales for the Nursery”,  that credited the artist with the designs for the illustrations.  Some of the plates in the early editions as well as the ones recycled in  Tabart’s Collection of Popular Stories for the Nursery, were signed with Craig’s name as the “inventor.”  In the detail of the frontispiece for the Dick Whittington  to the right, the hero holding the stripy tomcat may be wearing  a cloak and tights instead of a skeleton suit, but he has the  tell-tale bowl hair cut.

Some years ago Mr. Cotsen acquired an original pen and ink drawing for the plate of “Little Boy Blue” in Songs.    The dealer attributed by the dealer to William Marshall Craig, I was never sure if it were wishful thinking because there wasn’t a citation to a reference book or scholarly monograph on Craig.  After lining up all these other little boys in other works whose attributions to Craig are secure, there can’t be much doubt that he did Songs for the Nursery as well.  The plate for Little Jack Horner follows, for those who aren’t entirely convinced.. On the strength of this evidence, I feel pretty confident that a handful of other Tabart classics also were illustrated by Craig: Fenwick’s Life of Carlo (1804); Mince Pies for Christmas (1805); The Book of Games (1805), and  M. Pelham’s Jingles; or Original Rhymes for Children (1806), which is pictured below.  In a review of The Book of Games, Mrs. Trimmer, herself the daughter of an engraver, noted that while the quality of the engraving was not always good, it did not obscure the excellence of the designs.   Last but not least, an extra dollop of frosting on the cake.  While working on this post, I discovered that my colleague Julie Mellby, the curator of Graphic Arts, has a second drawing from Songs pasted into an album of Marshall Craig drawings she described in a 2010 post.   It’s the fifth illustration she reproduced and it is for “Cushy cow bonny.”   Could one or two more of the drawings for Songs be among the unidentfied Craig drawings in the Victoria & Albert archive?

 

Best-Selling Potty Training Books

This post from 2016 was inspired by the idea that the successful potty-training books must sell almost as many copies of Harry Potter.  Probably almost no one will remember having one read aloud during the critical period, so it seems fitting to rerun this tribute to the secret bestsellers of toddlerhood.   Next week we’ll run one more oldie but goodie and resume posting new material in February.

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Find the baby on the close stool! From the manuscript, “The Life of a Baby,” by A. B. ca. 1839. (Cotsen 46434).

In theory and practice, the non-fiction picture book can play an important teaching skills and competencies in a concrete way. Picture books have been drafted into the late twentieth-century campaign to make the critical transition from messy blithe incontinence to conscious, hygienic elimination trauma-free. While it no longer seems desirable to motivate gaining control over bodily functions by associating it with shame or guilt, the attempt to be upbeat about a semi-taboo subject can be interesting.

Japanese author-illustrator Taro Gomi took a strictly factual approach: every living thing eats, so we’re one big happy family when it comes to getting rid of the by-products. First published as part of the “Masterpieces of the Friends of Science” series in 1977, the English-language translation rights to Minna uchi were acquired by Kane/Miller in 1993. Gomi’s truthful but slyly humorous approach caused a stir when Everyone Poops came out in the United States, but once the initial shock wore off, it become something of a cult classic. Cotsen has the English- and Chinese-language translations, but not the Japanese original.

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Double-page spread from Taro Gomi, Everyone Poops. Translated by Amanda Mayer Stinchecum, Brooklyn, NY: Kane/Miller, 18th printing, c1993 (Cotsen 24016).

When Israeli writer Alonah Frankel was a young mother with a son, she wrote a book to help other parents toilet-train their boys. The first of her many children’s books in Hebrew, Sir ha- Sirim [The Potty of Potties] became an instant best-seller in Israel when published in 1975. It was issued in 1980 under the title Once Upon a Potty in the United States and after that went on to find an international audience. In the 1990s, the version for girls, audible, audio-tape, and cartoon versions have bolstered sales in the US. Written from the point of view of the mother, who has to do the dirty work, she nicely but firmly demonstrates all the steps in the process.

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What’s going to happen next? Alonah Frankel, Sir ha-Sirim [The Potty of Potties], Tel Aviv: Masadah, 1984, 18th printing (Cotsen 7519).

A friend gave Mr. Cotsen a copy of the original Hebrew-language book and his note explains something important that was lost in English translation.

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Note to Mr. Cotsen laid into Cotsen 7519.

But Gomi and Frankel aren’t to everyone’s taste. Some people are more comfortable with a less clinical approach, and lots of authors and illustrators have risen to the occasion. The most obvious ploy is to let a cute baby animal stand in for the nah-saying toddler. Little bear Bartholomew feels pangs of distress after running out to play without going first like his George daddy bear suggested. I refuse to believe that the choice of a bear cub alludes to the well-known and slightly rude rhetorical question meaning, “It sure do!” to cheer on discouraged parents.

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From the board book version of On Your Potty! by Virginia Miller. Cambridge, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2000. (Cotsen 87638)

What if a writer tries to convince the unwilling party that a toilet is a perfectly designed object for the use of human beings by showing why no other animal could find it convenient?

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Andrea Wayne von Konigslow, Toilet Tales, Willowdale, Ontario: Annick Press, c.1987, 5th printing 1990. Gift of Jeffrey P. Barton. (Cotsen 7665968).

I happen to think this is pretty funny, but it’s easy to imagine von Konigslow’s whimsical strategy backfiring with a child who believes there are monsters under his bed. After looking at this opening, the suggestible pre-schooler might come to the sensible conclusion that there are really nasty things in the plumbing that might surface in the toilet at any time hunting for something tender to nibble. So why would you sit on it ever?

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Alternative uses for the spurned potty chair.

One of the best-known euphemisms for the toilet seems to have inspired Tony Ross to create a toilet-training picture book that is much more imaginative than practical. A toddler princess (crown, but no frilly dress) who wants to get rid of her nappies puts up quite a fuss when the Queen Mummy tells her “The potty’s the place.” But the gist of the story is how the princess’s request for her plastic throne throws the court into hysterics…

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Tony Ross, I Want My Potty, London: Andersen Press, c.1986 (Cotsen 86775). I assume the “L” stands for “loo.”

Some authors would rather bring to life the comic dimensions of the battle between generations during toilet training instead of offering tips. Littlesaurus leaves piles of poop everywhere in defiance of his elders’ efforts to civilize him, singing an obnoxious ditty to celebrate his independence. Finally his exasperated Daddysaurus yells he doesn’t care if Littlesaurus ever uses the potty, so the contrarian dino decides to give it a try, only to be caught in the act and given a taste of his own medicine by his beloved family…

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Revenge is sweet… Colin MacNaughton, Potty Poo-Poo Wee-Wee! Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 2005 (Promised gift). Would a publisher have touched this manuscript if the characters had been human beings?

In researching this post, I’ve come to the conclusion that the collection needs more specimens of this underappreciated genre of picture book to more fully document a) modern anxieties about toilet-training and b) portable potty design.

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A tasteful tailpiece.