Child's First Tales is a collection of short stories intended for 'infant schools and little children in general'. As suited to its audience, each story is composed using mainly one syllable words and is accompanied by a simple woodblock print.
This book provided rigid moral instruction for its young readers. Many of the stories feature children who behave badly and receive divine retribution (for example, those who tell lies or prefer to play than go to church); others tell of children who behave piously and are rewarded. The stories thereby reflect the belief, common to the early 19th century, that children were born sinners, predestined to hell, and must repent to save their souls. Such beliefs were underpinned by the evangelical Christianity of the author, Reverend William Carus Wilson, who was the founder and head of the Cowan Bridge Clergy Daughter's School, attended by the Brontë sisters.
Produced and sold cheaply, Child’s First Tales would have been affordable to a wide range of people.
Influence in Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre
Jane Eyre critics speculate that this chapbook was used as inspiration for the ‘thin pamphlet’ titled ‘Child’s Guide’ given to Jane by Mr Brocklehurst in Chapter IV.
The stories found within Child’s First Tales echo the tone and teaching of Brocklehurst’s recommended reading, ‘An account of the awfully sudden death of Martha G---, a naughty child addicted to falsehood and deceit’. ‘No. 80. – Child in a pet’, for example, is particularly resonant, beginning ‘She was in such a rage, that all at once God struck her down dead’. Instances of lying frequently appear within Child’s First Tales, too, with Wilson and Brocklehurst making the same point – that ‘“all liars will have their portion in the lake burning with fire and brimstone”’ (Jane Eyre).
- Full title:
- Child's first tales: chiefly in words of one syllable, for the use of infant schools and little children in general
- estimated 1829, Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria
- Book / Children's book / Illustration / Image
- William Carus Wilson
- Held by:
- British Library
- Article by:
- M O Grenby
- Reading and print culture, Childhood and children's literature
Professor M O Grenby charts the rise of children’s literature throughout the 18th century, explaining how books for children increasingly blended entertainment with instruction.
- Article by:
- Ruth Richardson
- Popular culture, Reading and print culture
Chapbooks were small, affordable forms of literature for children and adults that were sold on the streets, and covered a range of subjects from fairy tales and ghost stories to news of politics, crime or disaster. Dr Ruth Richardson explains what this literature looked like, its subject matter and the ways in which it was produced.
- Article by:
- Matthew White
- Crime and crime fiction, Childhood and children's literature, Poverty and the working classes
Novels such as Oliver Twist have made Victorian child-thieves familiar to us, but to what extent did juvenile crime actually exist in the 19th century? Drawing on contemporary accounts and printed ephemera, Dr Matthew White uncovers the facts behind the fiction.