Pleasing rhymes, for children is a chapbook, a small book made particularly for children, printed around 1830.
What were chapbooks?
Chapbooks were cheaply produced books of nursery rhymes, fairytales, folk stories, ballads, riddles or simple lessons for learning the alphabet or historical dates. They often contained crudely produced woodcut illustrations.
They were distinct from the moral and instructive school of 18th-century children’s literature as they were often fantastical, experimental and amoral, perhaps more accurately reflecting the thoughts and feelings of children. They tended to lack a didactic resolution, as did much of the literature produced for ‘polite’ middle-class readers at this time.
Fantasy tales, stories and rhymes frequently reflected children’s lives – for instance, they often included the casual violence to which children were typically exposed. In The History of Jackey Jingle, Sulky Sue is threatened with ‘a smart touch with the cane’, which ‘Will make her feel good, When she feels the pain’.
How do chapbooks relate to William Blake?
The Boar produces Noble Brawn
The Dog pursues the Doe & Fawn
The Naughty Boy that steals the Pears
Is whipt as well as he that swears.
This model of metre and uncompromising information is similar to that which William Blake uses in the Songs of Innocence and of Experience (1794) and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790), and the later Auguries of Innocence (c. 1805). This particular rhyme is similar to ‘The Lilly’ in Songs of Innocence. The apparently straightforward statement of the last two lines demands more thought on second reading - is the poem saying that stealing and swearing are both wrong, or that retribution often falls inappropriately? There is an assumption that the two halves of the poem are connected but they may not be at all.
- 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.