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…
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.
To look through the entire copybook, click here
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.
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.