Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book
This is the earliest surviving collection of nursery rhymes. There is evidence that Volumes I and II were advertised for sale in early 1744, but no copies of the first volume are still in existence, and only two copies of this second volume are known to have survived. The book represents one of the very first attempts to make books in which children would delight. It has been carefully designed to appeal to its young target audience – it is satisfyingly small and child-sized at 3 x 1¾ inches; it includes an illustration, in alternating red and black ink, on each page; and the rhymes it contains are great fun.
Many of these 39 rhymes are still familiar to children today, such as ‘Bah, Bah, a black sheep’ and ‘Girls and Boys, Come out to play’, ‘Lady Bird, Lady Bird’ and ‘Hickere, Dickere, Dock’. Others have been forgotten – perhaps due to their frank and earthy nature. ‘Piss a Bed’, for instance, is a rhyme about bed-wetting. Evidently toilet humour has been popular with young children for centuries, although this is rarely acknowledged in histories of children’s culture.
The author is described as ‘Nurse Lovechild’. Only one real name appears on the book’s title page: Mary Cooper who is said to have sold the book. Cooper was the widow of the publisher Thomas Cooper. After Thomas’s death, Mary continued the business, producing works by Gray, Fielding, Pope, Richardson, Young and others. She probably had a hand in publishing Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song-Book and may even have been its author. The illustrations are by George Bickham Jnr., an engraver sued by the government of the day as a purveyor of pornographic and seditious prints!
- 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:
- 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:
- Julian Walker
- Romanticism, Childhood and children's literature
Julian Walker looks at William Blake’s poetry in the context of 18th-century children’s literature, considering how the poems’ attitudes towards childhood challenge traditional ideas about moral education during that period.