- James Pettit Andrews's "Books" (1790):The First Critical Survey of English Children's Literature
Sarah Trimmer has always been regarded as the first major children's book critic because she wrote "Observations on the Changes Which Have Taken Place in Books for Children and Young Persons" in 1802. In this essay, which was the genre's first retrospective analysis, Trimmer showed how children's books had developed into a separate branch of literature during the eighteenth century.1 It was the historical dimension of Trimmer's "Observations" that distinguished it from the thoughtful notices that Jabez Hirons and William Enfield wrote on new children's books for the Monthly Review during the 1780s and 1790s, a course of study with suggested readings such as Erasmus Darwin's Plan for the Conduct of Female Education (1797), or the wide-ranging discussion of children's reading in the Edgeworths' Practical Education (1797).2 But it turns out that Trimmer's "Observations" was not the first critical history of children's books in English. There was an earlier attempt that has not been recognized for what it is: the brief but interesting essay "Books" buried in the 1790 "Addenda" of James Pettit Andrews's Anecdotes, &c. Antient and Modern (1789).3 Andrews's text, with illustrations from each of the children's books he discussed, accompanies this commentary.
Andrews's "Books" was reprinted at least once during the nineteenth century, but I have not tried to trace its subsequent publication history. In 1819 the European Magazine ran a series called "Fragments. Being Thoughts, Observations, Reflections, and Criticisms, with Anecdotes and Characters Ancient & Modern," and the text of "Books" appeared there without attribution to Andrews as the twenty-ninth [End Page 147] installment. The essay's reprint is not entirely unknown: in item 36 of their bibliography of Christopher Smart, Betty Rizzo and Robert Mahoney discuss "Books" because its author identified Smart as having edited the Lilliputian Magazine (1751-52) for John Newbery. Rizzo and Mahoney assumed that this was the essay's first appearance in print and made a shrewd guess that Stephen Jones, the European's editor, might have been its author. The son of Giles Jones, one of Newbery's authors, Stephen was certainly in a position to have picked up information about that firm's practices and personnel, and he credited Goody Two-Shoes (1766) to his father in the New Biographical Dictionary. Earlier in his career, Stephen produced several well-received children's books including The History of Tommy Playlove and Jacky Lovebook (1783), The Life and Adventures of a Fly (1787), and The Oracles (ca. 1792), all published by Elizabeth Newbery. On the other hand, the essay contains a number of details that strongly suggest that its author was more likely to have been a man of Giles Jones's generation, not Stephen's. First, there is the author's style: phrases such as "a race of infants," "a well-known philanthropic bookseller," and "combat every malignant propensity" sound suspiciously old-fashioned for a piece written around 1819. More important is the essay's chronology, which does not square with a composition date as late as 1819. The author begins by describing the "whole juvenile library" of forty years ago: if he were writing in 1819, then his list of publications presumably would have consisted of titles from the late 1770s, by which time children's book publishing was established as a specialty within the book trade. Also significant is the fact that the rather motley selection of books he mentions date to the 1740s, about twenty years prior to Stephen Jones's birth, when fewer works especially for children were available. Finally, the author ends his analysis of the last forty years' progress around 1790: If he had been writing a survey of the genre's development in 1819, then why would he have neglected to discuss a single title published in the years between 1790 and 1819?
Stephen Jones may well have been better qualified to have written an essay like "Books" than its real author, James Pettit Andrews, who was a historian, an antiquarian of note, and an occasional contributor to...