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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XI. The Period of the French Revolution.

XVI. Children’s Books

§ 12. Dorothy Kilner

These business details largely explain the activity that ensued upon Newbery’s death. He and the next generation of his family made it perfectly clear that there was a chance of supplying children’s books in an adequate format. Commerce was alive to opportunities, and the creation of a good supply was inevitable and immediate. And, as for the demand, the epoch which produced the bluestocking was not likely to omit from its programme of orderly omniscience the very foundations of taste and learning. The age of the revolution was an age of education, which was viewed, on the one hand, as a prophylactic against, and, on the other, as the most active stimulant of, a new era. But, in some circles, it was still thought unworthy to write for children. Nearly every author from 1780 onwards apologises for his or her work in a preface. One of the best and most popular writers, S.S., never revealed that her name was Dorothy Kilner, even though she lived into a less dignified age. Her Adventures of a Pincushion, Memoirs of a Peg-top and Jemima Placid (to name no other works) were all published either anonymously or under a pseudonym; many pirates did not even print the pseudonym. They are very unaffected little tales: ordinary and natural and delightful. Her sister, as M. P., wrote no less popular books. Lady Fenn, author of Cobwebs to Catch Flies, was another secret purveyor to the nursery: she wrote as Mrs. Lovechild and Mrs. Teachwell.

To pursue the history of every individual who followed in the way which Newbery had opened would be endless. Publishers were eager to publish, the public—full of generous projects and prolific of new philanthropic societies—not less eager to buy. The period which ended in 1825 may best be described as one of strife between two principles. The “moral tale,” in those years, reached its highest development and perished, while the enemy it attacked—the fairy tale, the element of fantasy and fun—emerged triumphant.

Whatever the drawbacks of the moral tale, it had one conspicuous merit, never so fully displayed at other times in the history of children’s books. All its exponents wrote admirable English and could tell a story. They were the unadvertised lower ranks of the bluestockings (Hannah More herself wrote treatises and Sacred Dramas for children, and Mrs. Chapone’s Letters were a classic of orthodox educational opinion). They respected themselves, their language and their subject, and, at the same time, though Miss Pinkerton indubitably existed in many quarters, they seldom (except in prefaces) mistook grandiloquence for ease of style. They fall, naturally, into groups on the lines of current thought: religious beliefs and educational theories being the influential factors.