Marks in Books 10: Sibling Stand-off in a Copybook?

Cotsen in process 7014153.

Cotsen in process 701453.

Don’t judge this copybook by its spotted vellum boards.  It looks anything but promising, but it is noteworthy on several counts.   Elizabeth Harris, who may have lived in South Molton, Devonshire, filled it full of exercises for learning commercial arithmetic, not for practicising handwriting.  Her signature with the date 1750 can barely be read on the front board.  It is actually a little easier to spot in the photograph than on the book.Elizabeth did not sign and date the pages in her copybook like David Kingsley, but  the fish headpiece on the lesson above has the year 1749 written in its stomach  She must have been studying arithmetic between 1749 and 1750, but there is no telling how many months in each year she was copying out lessons..  She worked through the basic operations of arithmetic, troy and apothecaries wrights, dry, liquid, and cloth measures, the rule of three, etc.  Someone must have felt it was important for Elizabeth to be well versed in arithmetic, probably so she would be capable of managing the family accounts when a married womaThe title page, the only leaf oriented landscape-wise, is the only other one decorated with figures of pen flourishes.  The text inside the bird is not laid out perfectly.  You can see that she had a little trouble squeezing in her name, the completion date, and the ownership rhyme which children frequently copied into their books, “Learning is better than House and Land, / For when House and Land are gone and spent, / Then Learning is most excellent.”

Cotsen in process 7014153.

Elizabeth didn’t fill up all the pages, leaving a short section of blanks at the end of the book.  At some point, someone–perhaps a brother–claimed possession of it.  Was she there to defend her property? Did she let him have it because she had no further use for it?  Was he much younger than she and simply helped himself?  There is no evidence that establishes when exactly this amusing page was written and who could resist imagining a scenario in which one child takes another child’s book?  The object then becomes a silent witness of  childhood experiences in the past. Assuming that the second owner was a boy is not, on the other hand, pure supposition.  Owner number two did not fill up the pages with lessons, but with transcriptions of a love song and a ballad and the latter is the same tale type about a cross-dressing heroine as the one in David Kingsley’s copybook.  The ballad copied out here stars a noble-born damsel from the Isle of Wight who traveled to France dressed as a man to find the lover her father sent away.

Cotsen 7146.

Cotsen 7146.

One child apparently appropriating a book from another owner (often with the same surname) is hardly unusual, so interpreting the scribbles as a manifestation of sibling rivalry rings true to one’s own childhood experience, with stories in children’s books, and constructs of gender.  But children may also mark up books to establish territory by calling attention to their presence in a world which doesn’t pay them enough attention. The boy who hijacked Elizabeth Harris’s copybook had something in common with the greatest exhibitionist in the Cotsen collection, Thomas Webb of Pulham, Norfolk, England, Europe, World (a traditional ownership formula).  He literally inserted himself in the story by putting his initials over all the pictures of its protagonist, Tommy Newton.   Subversion or self-assertion?

 

The Newbery Books Anna Green Winslow Read 1771-3

Anna Green Winslow, America’s most famous child diariest, wrote journal letters regularly to her parents in between 1771 and 1773 when she was living in Boston with her paternal aunt Mrs. Deming.   Her loyalist father, the commissary to the British regiments in Cumberland, Canada, sent his only daughter away from home to be “finished”–that is, to improve her penmanship at Samuel Holbrook’s writing school and to to become more adept at plain and fancy work at a sewing school.  Luckily, twelve-year-old Anna liked her pen and her needle equally well and won praise for her pretty writing, her knitted lace, and her spinning.  Calling herself a “whimsical girl,” she recorded jokes that made her laugh.  But she also listened attentively to  sermons Sundays in the Old South Church congregation and could summarize the minister’s argument clearly and accurately. Of course, she liked clothes and “tasty headdresses.”  Early in her stay, she begged her mother to let her “look like other people,” that is, follow Boston fashions.

Anna was a avid reader as well, attending to her Bible, the newspapers, and Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.  Alice Earle Morse, who edited Anna’s diary in the 1890s, recognized the titles of several Newbery children’s books imported from London.  Anna didn’t say much about their contents, so illustrating them with pages from the copies in Cotsen brings her reading experiences to life.

For New Year’s in 1772, she notes that she received a copy of the “History of Joseph Andrews abbreviated,” that is, the abridgment of Henry Fielding’s famous novel published by Francis Newbery.  “In nice Guilt and flowers covers” she says approvingly.  Here is the title page and the binding in Dutch gilt papers (it is actually the binding on the Gulliver below, which is much nicer than the one on the Fielding).  If you look in the gutter, you’ll see evidence of oversewing to repair a well-read copy.

It was a very cold, snowy day on March 9th, 1772 and Anna mended two pairs of gloves and a handkerchief and then finished half a border for a new lawn apron for her aunt.  She also read “part of the xxist chapter of Exodous [sic] & a story in the Mother’s gift.”  The Mother’s Gift is not one of the better known Newberys and it’s impossible to tell which edition she had without any titles of the stories (it came in a two- and a three-part version).   It does include one about a girl who thought too much about her clothes and maybe Anna recognized herself in that character.

On April 16th, she dined at Aunt Storer’s, where her cousin Charles loaned her “Gulliver’s Travels abbreviated,” another Newbery abridgment of a work originally written for adults.   Anna reports that her aunt gave her permission to read it “for the same of perfecting myself in reading a variety of composures [probably compositions].  She said farther that the piece was desin’d as a burlesque upon the times in which it was wrote.”  Anna’s spelling mistakes have been retained, by the way.She went to “drink tea” at Aunt Storer’s on April 24th.  Her aunt loaned her three more of her cousin’s books, which is a bit droll, as cousin Charles was barely a year old.  This is what he had in his infant library: The Puzzling Cap, a riddle book; The Little Female Orators, an anthology of short fiction, and “Gaffer Two-Shoes” which was a sequel to The History of Goody Two-Shoes published by one of Newbery’s rivals (the only surviving copy is at the Lilly Library at Indiana University)  Anna might have liked solving the riddles about the  writing slate and stays, even though the only underwear she mentions in the diary are her shifts.In The Little Female Orators, she might have nodded approvingly at the two ladies warming themselves in front of a nice fire, especially because winter that year was especially bitter.  Sometimes the snow was so deep that Anna had to be carried home from writing or sewing school.Being mighty proud of her footware, whether decorated with pom-poms or marcasite buckles, Anna must have rejoiced with little Margery Meanwell when she received a new pair of shoes, which meant she no longer had to go barefoot.Surely this illustrated survey of the books Anna enjoyed dispels the hoary myth that Puritan children were deprived of entertaining reading!