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158 7. Historical Facts and ‘Romantic Daring’: Thomas Nelson & Sons, the Adventure Tale, and the Late-Victorian Education Market ANNE MARIE HAGEN When the adventure tale author Herbert Hayens (1861–1944)1 submitted his manuscript of Under the Lone Star: A Story of Revolution in Nicaragua to the Edinburgh and London publisher, Thomas Nelson & Sons in 1894, he wrote: ‘I have endeavoured to make it wholesome & of a moral tone; […] I have sent the MS to you, since, as an Elementary Schoolmaster I have been so constantly brought into association with your publications’.2 This was naturally intended to flatter the publisher but also illustrates how Nelson’s reputation in the field of educational publishing drew attention to its children’s fiction list. It was a connection which Nelson actively cultivated; for example, the firm’s children’s fiction for prize book purposes was widely advertised in journals which catered to education professionals.3 Over the course of the nineteenth century, Thomas Nelson, and other Scottish companies, like Collins and Blackie, had expanded into the educational market which grew exponentially following the Education Acts of 1870 and 1872.4 Education and religion are historically important parts of both children ’s publishing and Scottish publishing; and with the presbyterian emphasis on reading the Bible and Enlightenment ideals of improvement, markets for both religious and educational works were well established in early nineteenth-century Scotland.5 Scottish publishers not only produced iconic children’s books in the nineteenth century: their early involvement in the fields of education and religion also brought to children’s publishing a particular focus on morality and didacticism. Thomas Nelson & Sons’ distinctly religious output can be traced to the company’s infancy when the founding Thomas Nelson in the late 1810s began to publish reprints of works such as Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Nelson was among the early adopters of stereotype printing in book publishing; using this method of II. ROMANCE, ADVENTURE, AND IMPERIALISM 159 historical facts and ‘romantic daring’ mass production,6 the publisher kept the retail prices of its books low, and the company was considered ‘a pioneer in the production of literature for the million’.7 Thomas Nelson’s evangelical desire to bring wholesome and affordable reading material to the new reading publics which emerged in the early nineteenth century resonates in the phrase frequently used by reviewers to describe what they perceived as the impeccable morality of Nelson’s children ’s books: it was ‘unexceptionable’.8 This is not to say that the children’s books published by Nelson and other Scottish publishers in the nineteenth century solely consisted of books on religious topics, although early children ’s books by Nelson did include Bible lessons and tracts in chapbook format.9 In the 1850s and 1860s, Nelson expanded its children’s list by publishing evangelical children’s writers such as W. H. G. Kingston, ‘A. L. O. E.’ (Charlotte Maria Tucker), R. M. Ballantyne, and Deborah Alcock; through these authors, the adventure tale and historical tale featured frequently on the company lists. By the final decade of the nineteenth century, the importance of the adventure tale for the Nelson firm became even more apparent. Just under half of the firm’s catalogue of new children’s books for 1898–99 was devoted to adventure stories (including historical romances and school stories), making it the single largest category of children ’s fiction published by Nelson.10 By examining Nelson’s publication processes and marketing of the adventure tale, this chapter explores the role of Scottish publishers in developing connections between education, religion, and children’s literature towards the end of the nineteenth century. In 1893 Dr Gordon Stables (1840–1910) complained in a letter to Nelson that children’s ‘real education’ was delivered ‘through low-class literature, sporting papers, the gutter snipe press & picture-house conversation’.11 To sell his book scheme, Stables was using a familiar rhetoric regarding the perceived failure of the state education system to instil a taste for ‘good’ literature in children. The remedy would be supplied by this Scottish-born former navy doctor’s ‘moral and manly’ adventure tales.12 The harmful effects of reading penny literature were often debated in Victorian periodicals and newspapers, and were presented as a threat not only to the individuals concerned but to the very fabric of society.13 Yet this pessimistic note had 160 anne marie hagen its counterpart in the unwavering belief in the positive transformative powers of print. Edward G. Salmon was a voice of...


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