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62 4. Nature versus Nurture: Robert Chambers as a Writer for Children SHU-FANG LAI Robert Chambers (1802–1871) is best known for the following reasons: founding and running the leading Scottish publishing firm with his elder brother William, and jointly editing Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal;1 compiling biographical accounts of Burns and Scott; editing collections of Scottish rhymes and ballads;2 producing a plethora of encyclopaedic books on the history of Scotland (in particular about the city of Edinburgh and the lives of particular eminent Scots); enabling the production of school books and reference books at his family firm; and making a contribution to the history of Victorian science by writing and publishing anonymously in 1844 the controversial Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, which was representative of pre-Darwinian evolutionary thinking.3 His older brother, William Chambers, opened his book shop on Broughton Street, Edinburgh, in 1809 and, with Robert’s help, the publishing firm and the journal in 1832. Though both brothers were equally important in Victorian Scotland, for precision this chapter addresses the younger brother by his family name Chambers unless otherwise specified. Some scholarly attempts have been made to address Chambers as a publisher-turned-writer and as a collector and promulgator of Scottish literature: for example, Sondra Miley Cooney’s thesis, ‘Publishers for the People: W. & R. Chambers, the early years, 1832–1850’ (1970),4 C. H. Layman’s Man of Letters: The Early Life and Love Letters of Robert Chambers (1994), Robert Scholnick’s article, ‘The Fiery Cross of Knowledge: Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal, 1832–1844’,5 and Sarah Dunnigan’s chapter which explores Chambers in relation to two other Scottish writers in the light of their ‘re-enchantment’ of oral and folk culture.6 However, the place of Chambers or his journalism in the history of nineteenth-century children’s literature in Scotland or of Victorian literature is yet to be uncovered. His collections 63 robert chambers as a writer for children of Scottish rhymes, school books (published jointly with his brother), and ‘fireside stories’ (especially for the Christmas season) written for children in Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal during its early years, was said to be ‘read by factory hands, shepherds, milk-boys’.7 All deserve critical attention, even if they might belong to the ‘prehistory of children’s literature’, in John Townsend’s words – ‘material intended especially for children or young people’; ‘story but not meant especially for children’.8 His journalistic contributions especially need further assessment from the perspective of the history of child education. The present study thus addresses a body of writing related to, and for, children in the early years of Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal, that Chambers either edited or wrote himself, before 1840 – the year when he moved to St Andrews temporarily to become engrossed in writing his controversial science book. Articles from forty of the earliest numbers of the journal were reprinted in book form entitled Spirit of Chambers’s Journal: Original Tales, Essays, and Sketches, Selected from the Work by William and Robert Chambers (1834) (this makes no distinction between the two brothers). Meanwhile, Chambers’s authentic articles, reprinted in the seven volumes (I–II, Essays familiar and humorous; III, Essays moral and economic; IV, Essays philosophical, sentimental, and historical sketches; V, History of the rebellion of 1745–46; VI, Traditions of Edinburgh; VII, Popular Rhymes of Scotland) of Collected Writings of Robert Chambers (1847) show the diversity of his early journalistic writings. Many articles demonstrate not only the contributor’s narrative skills, but also ideas about children, nature, and education (or nurture), and many of the accounts can be associated with Chambers’s evolutionary thinking in the pre-Darwinian age. A look at the cultural milieu of nineteenth-century Scotland (especially its indigenous publishing business) provides insight into rapidly developing modes of children’s literature. Admittedly, Sunday School magazines were the most common kind of children’s reading materials; at least fifteen began during the first three decades of the nineteenth century.9 Such religious periodicals mainly aimed to give children moral lessons or knowledge; they were often didactic and sometimes delightful; and, as can be observed, writing for children in the 1830s often occupied the threshold between 64 shu-fang lai religious and non-religious works.10 Then the book publishing industry also started to flourish in Victorian Scotland. Historians and literary critics have come to recognise the importance of nineteenth-century juvenile books, periodical writings, and textbooks11 produced by W. & R. Chambers...


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