A hand for Valentine’s Day

February 14, 2019



The first American magazine for children began with the nation. The Children’s Magazine wouldn’t impress us today. No cover illustration—in fact, no illustrations at all. Just 48 pages of cheap-to-produce text: stories, essays, poems, a series on geography, and four rather dense sermons. The magazine apparently lasted only four issues (January through April 1789), but it established a number of traditions for the almost-400 American periodicals proposed or published for children before 1873.

Like every children’s periodical published after it, The Children’s Magazine was intended to be educational: “It is a general complaint among the teachers of schools,” the editor asserts, “that children want some lessons, written in a familiar style and on entertaining subjects, to conduct them in their progress from a Spelling-Book to such reading as is found in the American Selection, Scotts Lessons and the Art of Speaking. It is also a complaint that children are obliged to read too long in the same book; by which means the subjects become familiar and cease to command the attention. To remove these complaints, is the design of this publication.” (“Preface.” Jan 1789: iii)

Here, “educational” means geography lessons without expensive-to-produce maps, a series on arithmetic, and advice on morality. A lot of advice on morality, from “rules for the life of business” and essays on the “pernicious effects of dram drinking” to proper behavior of children. Boys are admonished not to become drunkards, to keep good company, to do “every thing for some good end” (“Rules to be observed by those who remove from their Native Places.” Feb 1789: 92), and to “summon fortitude to bear pain like a man.” (“The Little Boy Who Behaved Like a Man.” Jan 1789: 21) Girls are— Well, there seem to be a lot of rules here for girls. Be sweet, be submissive, be Christian, be gentle: this is the advice woven into many of the poems. The stories get more complicated. Yes, Emma learns to control herself after accidentally killing her puppy in a fit of temper (“The Passionate Child Reclaimed.” Feb 1789). And, yes, the “Female Adviser” asks, “Can there be any thing more disgusting in a young female than an unbecoming forwardness of behaviour, which we must always attribute to the high opinion she entertains of herself?” and proves that, no, there isn’t. (“To the Editors of the Children’s Magazine.” March 1789) But the women in a series of moral tales walk a treacherous path: they can drive their husbands to drink both by keeping their houses too clean (“The Over-neat Wife.” Feb 1789) and by not cleaning house enough. (“The Notable Daughter.” March 1789)

While a number of later periodicals for children were founded by individuals, others were the products of publishing houses who saw an opportunity to expand the consumer base: Our Young Folks (Jan 1865-Dec 1873) was Ticknor and Fields’ magazine for children; Cincinnati, Ohio, printer Howard Durham founded two papers for children in the 1850s. Hudson and Goodwin, of Hartford, Connecticut, probably saw The Children’s Magazine as a sure money-maker. After all, the company published and distributed textbooks, captivity narratives, poetry, religious works, and works for children—all of which could have fed into the magazine.

Because, like every periodical of its time and every periodical after it, The Children’s Magazine reprinted material that had already appeared elsewhere. “[T]he Editors are already furnished with a variety of materials for this work,” the January 1789 “Preface” points out, and, yes, they very much were. Except for that preface, every piece appearing in the magazine’s four issues had been published the year before in one of two magazines printed in England by John Marshall: The Juvenile Magazine or The Family Magazine; or, A Repository of Religious Instruction, and Rational Amusement, edited by Sarah Trimmer. While the Juvenile Magazine included works appropriate for its young audience, the Family Magazine was very definitely for adults. The Family Magazine accounts for the sermons, the essays on temperance, the business advice; it also accounts for a reading level well above the seven- to 12-year-olds for which The Children’s Magazine was intended.

The original sources explain the very “British” tone of The Children’s Magazine, where class distinctions are clearly defined and all schoolboys live at a boarding-school. Poor cottagers are humble and grateful for the charity of their upperclass betters, who condescendingly educate them on arithmetic and morality. While the pieces reprinted from The Family Magazine appear to have been printed exactly as they appeared in England, those reprinted from The Juvenile Magazine are more “localized”: a teacher lays down a “crown piece” in the English version of a schoolboy’s letter (The Juvenile Magazine Jan 1788: 12) and a “crown piece or dollar” in the American. (The Children’s Magazine Jan 1789: 14) A man walking in the Strand in 1788 walks through Boston in 1789. Miss Harriot Truelove has never before seen London in 1788, but has never before seen New York in 1789, though even here she stays with Lady Racket, enjoys evenings at “cards, balls, or the play-house,” and mentors the daughter of a “poor cottager.” (“Familiar Letters on Various Subjects.” Jan 1789)

When The Children’s Magazine apparently ended its run in April 1789, that may accidentally have solved a problem for the editor. “The Schoolboy” as published in England (April 1788) includes a page-and-a-half description of the glories of the British system of government which fell out of the version published in Connecticut (April 1789). And the next installment of the serial as published in England extolls the British legal system through the mock trial of a schoolboy. So, the death of the magazine meant the editor didn’t have to cut, rewrite, or simply ignore a rather entertaining piece that American audiences might not appreciate.

And when the magazine ended so abruptly, it was in keeping with another tradition for American children’s periodicals: many later periodicals didn’t last beyond a year. Some found few subscribers after producing a sample issue; some didn’t get to the sample issue stage. Subscribers didn’t always pay; profit margins were too slim to keep the enterprise going.

Why did The Children’s Magazine fail? Distribution may have been a major factor: the magazine was advertised in Connecticut and Massachusetts, but the early postal system made distributing a magazine difficult. There may not have been enough citizens willing to take a magazine just for their children. And it’s tempting to think that some who were willing to subscribe also had received John Marshall’s English magazines and were noticing an … overlap.

The schoolboy in the April 1789 issue injures himself jumping over a hedge into a ditch and is gently admonished by his teacher, who hopes that “the next time, prior to jumping over a hedge, you will observe well, whether there be a ditch on the other side.” (“To the Editors of the Children’s Magazine.” April 1789: 153) It seems good advice for editors, too: there may be hidden obstacles on the way to success. But, luckily, while there were a lot of ditches in the history of early American periodicals for children, there also were a lot more hedges.

Where to read it: The American Periodicals Series I (18th century) has January, March, and April issues, though the March issue is incomplete. The American Antiquarian Society Historical Periodicals database reproduces all four issues; January and April are reproduced from originals in the Library of Congress.


As a not-cook, I’m sometimes boggled by the number of cookbooks out there:  who uses that many?  As someone interested in American social history, I’m fascinated by what cookbooks tell us about what people ate in earlier time periods:  what was available?  How was it prepared?  It’s a given that cookbooks can tell us about the tastes and concerns of the time period.

More entertaining, though, are the recipes that drop out of the culture.  The fondues of my youth turned out not to be the wave of the future.  (I never knew anyone who fondued, anyway.)  And few turtle soups appear in 21st-century cookbooks.  Looking at earlier American cookbooks, I do wonder at some recipes:  did anybody make this?  Did anybody eat it?  Did they like it?

One of those recipes is for oyster ice cream, in Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife (1860). Simple recipe:  “Make a rich soup, (see directions for oyster soup,) strain it from the oysters, and freeze it.” *   Did anybody ever do this?  Why?

My favorite what-were-they-thinking? recipe, though, comes from A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband, a work by two home-economics teachers that usually is mocked for its title.  It’s a charming book following newlyweds through their first year and offering recipes and advice on frugality.  (It also features the early-20th-century version of the crockpot.)

I enjoy reading the book; it’s like watching someone play house.  But—ouch—the recipes!  “White sauce” on practically everything; vegetables cooked until they surrender.  And the strangest recipe for peanut butter sandwiches:

Peanut Butter Sandwiches
(Twelve sandwiches)

4 T-peanut butter
1/8 t-salt
1 t-butter
1 T-salad dressing
12 slices of bread
12 uniform pieces of lettuce

Cream the peanut butter, add the butter. Cream again, add the salt and salad dressing, mixing well. Cut the bread evenly. Butter one side of the bread very thinly with the peanut butter mixture. Place the lettuce leaf on one slice and place another slice upon it, buttered side down. Press firmly and neatly together. Cut in two crosswise. Arrange attractively in a wicker basket.

And, yes, that “salad dressing” is pretty much mayonnaise. Now, I wonder:  did anybody ever eat one of these things?  Did they enjoy it?  Do you tart up peanut butter with mayonnaise and lettuce to make it palatable for adults?  Was peanut butter a new food that people weren’t sure how to use?  I’d love to know.

And I’d also love to know what recipes we rely on that will drop out or will strike later generations with glee.  Cupcakes?  Something with kale (an extremely dull vegetable)?  Anybody got a time machine?

* Randolph’s oyster soup recipe is wonderfully profligate with the oysters; you need three quarts:  “Wash and drain two quarts of oysters, put them on with three quarts of water, three onions chopped up, two or three slices of lean ham, pepper and salt; boil it till reduced one-half, strain it through a sieve, return the liquid into the pot, put in one quart of fresh oysters, boil it till they are sufficiently done, and thicken the soup with four spoonsful of flour, two gills of rich cream, and the yolks of six new laid eggs beaten well; boil it a few minutes after the thickening is put in. Take care it does not curdle, and that the flour is not in lumps; serve it up with the last oysters that were put in. If the flavour of thyme be agreeable, you may put in a little, but take care that it does not boil in it long enough to discolour the soup.”

Still don’t want to come across it unexpectedly as ice cream.

Fred Clark (also the author of an entertaining shredding of the Left Behind books) posted Jourdan Anderson’s August 1865 letter informing Colonel Anderson that he probably wouldn’t be returning to work on the colonel’s plantation.  It’s a beautiful piece in the “screw you” genre which should be studied by everyone who wants to learn how to be polite and blunt all at the same time.

Just as good are the comments (as always on “slacktivist’s” blog), where some speculation that the letter isn’t genuine have so far led to a scan of the letter in the August 22, 1865 Daily Tribune, census information confirming that a Jourdan Anderson did live in the letter-writer’s town, and census information on the probable colonel.  Gotta love the Internet, which makes all this possible.

May 28, 2010

Merrycoz is new to blogging, though merrycoz.org has been online since 1999. (Eleven years! And people still can’t spell my name correctly!) The site is a growing anthology of works for (and sometimes by) children, from 1788 to 1873. Some works for adults also show up there, in a collection of whatever I feel like transcribing.

For the last 30+ years, I’ve cultivated an enduring interest in children’s literature, past & present. I teach children’s lit of the present in the English department of a state university. I collect American magazines and books for children of the past — hence the web site. It’s a place where I can post things, connect things, point out things.

I thought it might be fun to try a blog. Here I plan to announce changes to the merrycoz site, to keep track of what I’m working on for the site, and to comment on things having to do with children’s lit, past and present.

About me: I’m an English prof. I’ve been a reader since childhood and earned a B.A. in English lit from the University of Missouri–Columbia, mostly so I could read and earn a degree at the same time. Rummaging through the library stacks, I found Eleanor Cameron’s The Green & Burning Tree and realized that children’s books could be analyzed in the same way I was analyzing Shakespeare & Milton.

After a brief stint taking ID pictures at Mizzou, I went to Eastern
Michigan University, to earn an M.A. in English with an emphasis in
children’s lit. My last project there was an independent study project
annotating C. S. Lewis’s Narnia books — the manuscript of which I tried
to get published. Too late for that project (a couple guides were already being published), but it led to my first scholarly book: A Reference Guide to Modern Fantasy for Children — still in print; you should buy a copy.

The Reference Guide was written during my first two years earning a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities. It was a nice, big project (the typing alone took an entire month of 11-hour days — soap operas helped) which made writing my doctoral dissertaion seem like an interesting little paper (written in six months — and, yes, soap operas helped). Switching from the program in English to the program in American Studies turned out to be one of those marvelous life-changers: American lit! American culture! American (gulp!) history! All those lovely, lovely books! (And an excuse to read E.D.E.N. Southworth novels!)

Meanwhile, I’d had another pivotal moment. Writing a piece on the
Youth’s Temperance Advocate for R. Gordon Kelly’s Children’s Periodicals of the United States (never have I wanted to drink as much as I did while researching that little temperance magazine, which kept mentioning “ruby wines” & “sparkling wines” & tempting liquor…), I realized that I absolutely adore this stuff. It’s poorly written, it’s sometimes-outlandish, and it’s just the most fascinating stuff on the planet. So my dissertation just had to be on a 19th-century children’s magazine.

I chose Robert Merry’s Museum. (The updated dissertation is online at merrycoz.org.) And I’ve continued to choose it, again and again. It’s the nucleus of my research and of my book collection. Since 1985, I’ve collected pre-1873 American magazines and books for children; works by and about the Museum‘s founder, Samuel Griswold Goodrich; little bits and pieces created by 19th-century American children; and works that appeared in the Museum. I spend far too much money on the collection and far too little time on research.

But, hey: I get to read.