One of the fun aspects of researching American children’s periodicals and books before 1873 is seeing how they deal with prehistory. It’s interesting to see how writers dealt with the increasing disconnect between religious tradition and scientific explanation. But it’s especially entertaining to watch dinosaurs change with decades.

Okay, mostly one dinosaur: the iguanodon. The first American work for children to show dinosaur illustrations appears to be the frontispiece of Peter Parley’s Wonders of the Earth, Sea, and Sky, reworked by Samuel Griswold Goodrich from one in a British book as Goodrich asserted ownership of his creation: “Peter Parley.”

EarthfrHere are the pterosaur, the plesiosaur, and the ichthyosaur, which in the nineteenth century belly-crawled on land because it hadn’t yet been established as a water-dweller.

Goodrich appears also to have published the first illustration of an iguanodon for children in Robert Merry’s Museum in 1842. It’s … unfamiliar:

Iguanodon, from Robert Merry's Museum, 1842The mighty (and mighty low-slung) iguanodon roars to the sky, while a duckish plesiosaur glides serenely through a prehistoric pool. It will look familiar to anyone who’s seen the first volume of The Wonders of Geology, by Gideon Mantell; the frontispiece is John Martin’s “The Country of the Iguanodon,” with an iguanodon which is lunching on one reptile roaring in pain as it is attacked by another reptile. The iguanodon in the Museum is the middle dinosaur in Martin’s picture.

It looks fairly sleek by comparison with one appearing in The Children’s Friend thirty years later:

1872ChFrPAIt’s … Hmm.

illustration of a short-legged dinosaurIt’s sturdy, low-browed, no-necked—almost stereotypically Neanderthalish. At least it’s off the ground.

And it’s accompanied by some old friends:

ichthy1872It’s our old pal, the ichthyosaur, still scrambling about on the land! And is that the plesiosaur beside it? (The stocky little critter in the foreground looks almost un-reptilian.)

The later iguanodon shows up in the work of Waterhouse Hawkins, who made life-size recreations of dinosaurs for a London park. We’ve changed it again: the horn that 19th-century naturalists put on its nose is now believed to be the thumb.

I like the 21st-century iguanodon, but I rather miss the seal-like version from 1842.

(Oddly enough, while the word “dinosaur” was first used in England in 1841, it hasn’t yet shown up in any pre-1873 works for children that I’ve seen. Stay tuned.)


Two little gardeners

November 21, 2014

PeterWhen I saw the lumpy little boy on the left at an antique show, I had to buy him.  (Along with his sister; I didn’t want to break up the family.)

Why?  Because I recognized him.  I already had his … ah … twin.

“The Little Gardiner” (proofreading is so important) is the frontispiece for Peter Parley’s Story of the Little Gardener, a little paperback book published in 1833.  It’s a sentimental little story about an Irish orphan who makes good.  The orphan’s name is Peter.Gardener

“Peter the Little Gardener” advertises W. N. Stevens Variety Store, at “S. E. corner of Third and Arch Streets,” in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  The ad probably is late 1830s; the store was at this address from 1837 to 1839. (It’s advertised in Philadelphia newspapers until at least 1845.)  An early owner named Simon laid claim to a picture he clearly liked. (His name is also on the back.)

They’re an interesting pair.  The original is a wood engraving, overseen by Samuel Griswold Goodrich, who was particular about the illustrations in his works.  The lines are delicate, and Peter’s face has a 19th-century glassy-eyed sweetness.  (Though that hat is not going to stay on his head for long.)  The copy is evidently a wood cut, with thicker lines.  The artist apparently needed some more lessons.  (And that hat isn’t staying on long, either.)  It’s a mirror image because the artist was copying without taking into consideration what was going to happen when the wood block was printed.

Illustrations often were copied, reworked, and edited.  Though this one is a puzzler.  Why put the character’s name on the illustration?  Could there have been a pirated copy of the little chapbook?  (Goodrich’s creations were copied more than once.)  Did it have the wood cut as a frontispiece?  And what on earth kind of plant is that?  How do you keep it from toppling right over?

When Samuel Griswold Goodrich decided to improve himself by improving his education, he turned to “Mr. Value,” who taught French, fencing, and dancing in Hartford, Connecticut, from around 1805 to at least 1825.  Lydia Sigourney (poet and author of—among other works—Scenes in My Native Land) found Value “courteous,” “patient,” and “exacting” as he attempted to give her French the proper “Parisian pronunciation.”

She also calls him “formally ceremonious.”  This may be why his advertisements in the Connecticut Mirror are such a delightful part of my ongoing research on Goodrich: Value’s courtly diffidence as he advertises himself, the explosion of italics, and those long, winding sentences have a bizarre charm.  It’s like P. T. Barnum chanelling Uriah Heep, by way of Mr. Micawber.

Here’s one of my favorites—with an unusual title—from the June 3, 1816 issue of the Connecticut Mirror (p. 3, col 5):

The last intrusion, pardon it—the last opportunity improve it.

Reluctantly does Mr. Value present himself again, but a virtuous and refined education, being the Summum Bonum of this life, and as a few short months, will probably terminate his séjour in this city, he once more respectfully offers his services, as a teacher, to its inhabitants.

Among the branches he is capable of teaching, he would particularly recommend to their attention, the French Language; a correct knowledge of which, being of such vast importance to its possessours, that he cannot forbear soliciting Gentlemen to obtain, what they will find so useful and agreeable through all the walks of life.—Do they wish to learn any of the other modern languages? after they have acquired it, they can make themselves masters of any of them, with ease and facility.

Do they pursue the sciences? all are written in that tongue.  Is wealth their object? let them know the French Language perfectly, and they can collect the golden treasures from all parts of the globe.  Let gentlemen consult their own interest, and improve the last opportunity of acquiring it easily, accurately and expeditiously.  Could the volume of futurity be opened, many would probably be surprised, to see how small a number of the active and enterprising youth, who now inhabit this city, destined to pass their lives within its limits.—How important, then, that parents should well prepare their sons for that momentous voyage which all must make on life’s tempestuous ocean.

He would also say something of Music, but who does not feel its enchanting powers? what is there so soft, so smooth, so captivating? who that is human, can withstand its inpsiring charms? listen but a moment to its melodious strains, and every noisy passion is hushed in calm repose.  Then let your daughters obtain that, which graces the highest and dignifies the lowest station, let them learn this sweetest of all the sciences, this ornament of society and charm of solitude.

Nor can he forget Dancing, how indispensably necessary are ease, propriety and elegance of manners in social life, and where are these graces to be acquired but in a well regulated dancing school?  The instruction received there corrects every disagreeable and awkward habit, banishes rude and indelicate actions, keeps at a distance every worthless intruder, unites a pleasing dignity of address with gracefulness of manners, and receives from taste and discernment the homage of esteem and admiration.  There are other branches, but he can no longer particularize.

How excellent is a good education! how agreeable has he found it in the land that gave him birth! and better than gold, has it been to him in the burning climes of Africa and the frozen regions of Europe, and now, what would become of the stranger, “to all the stranger’s ills a prey” without it?  To Heaven he can never be sufficiently grateful, for giving him parents, sensible of its importance; never can he forget these prophetic words of his venerable father, “My children must have an education, for when all is gone, that will remain.[“]

And now, he would talk of the favours received, from an enlightened & generous public:  he would mention the attentions of friends esteemed and beloved, but here time and language fail him, and he must bid adieu to all, by assuring them, that so long as memory remains, he shall retain the most grateful sense, of their hospitality and kindness.

Agreeable to former notification, Mr. Value will be at Bulkley’s Hall at 2 o’clock, P. M. on Wednesday, the 5th of June inst. when he will commence his Dancing School for young Ladies, and at 7 o’clock in the evening of the same day, and in the same place, for Gentlemen.  Terms $7 per quarter, and two lessons per week, the half to be paid in advance, and the remainder at the beginning of the second half quarter.  None admitted for a less sum than $7, whether they take all their lessons or not—be particular and remember this.

Mr. Peale’s mastodon

June 14, 2010

a mastodon skeleton on display

I’ve been working recently on updates for the online exhibit of works on fossils published for American children before 1873.  (Seven months.  It’s been seven months since I scanned the first illustrations.)  Mostly it was so I could put up an illustration from 1831 of the mastodon skeleton on exhibit in Charles Willson Peale’s museum.

Charles Willson Peale founded his museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1786. It contained an eclectic collection of natural history specimens, portraits of admirable historical figures, and human artifacts from various countries–all intended to edify visitors and to show the place of human beings as part of the animal kingdom.

His most famous display, however, was the mastodon skeleton he obtained in 1801. Eleven feet high at the shoulder and fifteen feet from chin to rump, it was huge and strange and confusing: was it carnivorous? Was it an elephant? If so, what were elephants doing in North America? There were a lot of questions to be answered about the “Great American Incognitum.”

Samuel Griswold Goodrich is the focus of a lot of my research.  He tried to mix education with entertainment in his books on geography, history, natural science–just about anything he thought children might need to know about.  And he knew that if you were going to introduce something as new-to-readers as the mastodon, it helped to have a picture of the thing.  So he provided one.

Well, sort of.  No one seems to have figured out what the living animal must have looked like, but there were illustrations of the skeleton put together by Peale.  So in his discussion of Peale’s museum in The Child’s First Book of History, Goodrich included a picture of the mastodon on display in the museum.

The image is tiny (two inches wide and 1.5 inches tall) and the skeleton is almost lost in the background.   It’s tuskless, and, to us, the head is oddly misshapen.   But the illustration certainly gets across its point:   the skeleton is huge–the human visitors barely reach the first leg joint–and it’s evidently part of a wide-ranging collection.  What appears to be a stuffed alligator (or crocodile) is suspended in the background, with two statues (a message-bearing Hermes and what appears to be a “Dying Gaul”) nearby.  Was the illustration wholly accurate? in other words, were there classic statues on display nearby? Probably not.  But it’s a charming visualization of the major themes of Peale’s museum:  education and variety.

The skeleton pictured here greatly resembles one drawn by Titian Ramsay Peale II, which appeared in American Natural History, by John D. Godman (1826-1828).  Strange as the skeleton looks, the illustration is fairly accurate. The head is flat on the top because the top of the skull hadn’t yet been discovered.  And where are the tusks? Tusks seem to have confused naturalists of the time; there were arguments that the tusks curved up, like those on elephants, and there were arguments that the tusks curved down, so the mastodon could dig for mussels (and a wood engraving by Alexander Anderson appears to have the tusks inserted in the eye sockets). Leaving off the tusks may have seemed the safest option.

What’s puzzled me is why this illustration hasn’t been mentioned in the secondary works I’ve been looking at, and that’s made me notice (yet again) how often researchers seem to copy from each other.  Paul Semonin’s American Monster:  How the Nation’s First Prehistoric Creature Became a Symbol of National Identity has been invaluable to my research into how the mastodon was perceived in early America.  And he does mention The Child’s First Book of History.  He doesn’t mention the illustration, but he does say that “In 1831, he [Goodrich] reproduced Charles Willson Peale’s broadside advertising the exhibition of the ‘mammoth’ … introducing his young readers to the American monster as the ‘uncontrouled Monarch of the Wilderness’ and the ‘largest of all Terrestrial Beings!'” (p. 378).

Now, I have three copies of various early editions of that book; and I’ve seen the copy of the first edition at the Internet Archive, and that broadside isn’t anywhere in any of the copies.  And reproducing an entire broadside isn’t the kind of thing Goodrich tended to do.  But from what I can see on google books of Charles Coleman Sellers’ Mr. Peale’s Museum, the broadside is reproduced in that book, with the caption to the illustration I’ve put at the top of this piece, and the words “from Child’s First Book of History“.

Was there a misprint?  No idea–I haven’t seen a copy of Sellers.  But presumably Semonin did; and he copied the info from that into his profoundly confident sentence.  Looking at his bibliography I don’t find that he managed to track down the First Book of History.

And this is why I manage to produce so little:  I’m always redoing other people’s research before I use it.  Good habit–when you have a really good research library at your disposal.  Lousy habit, though, if you want to actually finish anything.

How I love this illustration.  Those tiny human figures pointing out various parts of the skeleton; the skeleton itself, looming so huge in the dark gallery, that sprightly little eye-catching statue of Mercury/Hermes; the slightly chubby dying Gaul (or is it an odalisque?); the mysterious shape in the upper left-hand corner–so much in such a tiny rectangle.  Goodrich liked it too:  he used it at at least twice more that I can find.

It’s just a shame Peale’s museum didn’t put it on their broadside.