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).