This beautiful book provides written descriptions and illustrations for each of the 300 animals it describes. These range from tigers and leopards to frogs and fleas. The book also includes fabulous creatures such as unicorns and manticoras (a monster with the body of a lion, the head of a man, porcupine's quills, and the tail or sting of a scorpion). To the modern eye, these mythical beasts may seem out of place in a natural history book for children. However, the book was continuing a tradition established in the medieval period. Medieval bestiaries gathered together descriptions of animals, ranging from ordinary creatures such as goats and bees to imaginary creatures such as griffins and mermaids. In most bestiaries these animals are described in relation to moral truths: the creatures themselves were not as important as the lessons revealed in their description. The bestiary also aimed to remind the reader of the link between God and the natural world, and of the superiority of humans to beasts. This belief is set out visually in the frontispiece which depicts Adam in the Garden of Eden, given dominion by God over all the animals.
Thomas Boreman, publisher of this book, is also usually presumed to be the author. He was one of the earliest publishers to produce books designed specifically to entertain as well as enlighten children. In this he was following the ideas of the philosopher and educationalist John Locke. Boreman also took inspiration for his book from Edward Topsell’s Histories of Four-Footed Beasts of 1608 (and was himself imitated by many later publishers). In its copious use of illustrations Boreman’s book might be seen as an early forerunner of children’s picture books.
- Article by:
- Julian Walker
- Childhood and children's literature, Romanticism
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.
- Article by:
- M O Grenby
- Childhood and children's literature, Reading and print culture
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.