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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

§ 14. Mrs. Sherwood

The other wing of church activity was represented by Mrs. Sherwood, and she, too, bore witness against fairies. In 1820, she edited Sarah Fielding’s Governess. This, probably, is the fiercest example of editorial recension in the whole of literature; it far surpasses Bentley’s revision of Milton. The changes are purely arbitrary; the book was virtually rewritten. Mrs. Teachum’s “Little Female Academy” was moved from the north to the south of England, and every single story told in the course of the narrative was changed. In the original, there had been two fairy tales: these were cut out because such stories “can scarcely ever be rendered profitable … You are, I know, strongly impressed with the doctrine of the depravity of human nature,” and it would be quite impossible to introduce that doctrine as a “motive of action in such tales.”

Mrs. Sherwood, however, is better known for her original work. There can be few persons born before about 1870 who were not brought up on The Fairchild Family (written in India in 1813, but not published till 1818: other parts were added to 1847). Like The Robins, it is still published—usually with much pietistic matter left out—and read. Of all the moral fabulists, except Maria Edgeworth, Mrs. Sherwood was the best story-teller. Her English is of an extraordinary simplicity and lucidity, and, though she accumulates an immense wealth of detail in her scenes, they are invariably as clear-cut and finely moulded as a good silhouette. The tremendous visit to the gallows in The Fairchild Family is a masterpiece of horror: it has won praise from the most unsympathetic critics. And who, reading that still vivid book, has not hungered to eat the meals generously and often described in it? No incidents in books for children, except, perhaps, a few in Grimm, and in one or two isolated stories, cleave to, and inhere in, the brain through life as do Mrs. Sherwood’s.

She wrote other very popular books. Little Henry and his Bearer (1815) is a classic of missionary work; it echoed and reinforced the efforts made by its author in India with the help of Henry Martyn. It was translated into many tongues, including Chinese. Susan Grey (1802) was written for the elder girls in a Sunday-school. Henry Milner (1822–7) was the story of a model boy and a tutor whose complacent virtues make even the egregious Mr. Barlow, of Sandford and Merton, seem unenlightened. The Infant’s Progress from the Valley of Destruction to Everlasting Glory was one of the numerous adaptations of Bunyan to particular beliefs and circumstances. Mrs. Sherwood, in spite of a prodigiously active life of benevolence and domesticity, wrote almost to her dying day; and, with the little stories “written up” to stock illustrations for various publishers, she has well over three hundred books to her credit. Practically, all of them of any importance introduce her strongly marked religious views.