Home  »  Volume XI: English THE PERIOD OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION  »  § 16. Thomas Day’s Sandford and Merton

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

§ 16. Thomas Day’s Sandford and Merton

The tales were written chiefly to illustrate and work out Maria Edgeworth’s father’s system of education, which, in turn, was an offshoot of Rousseau’s doctrine. So, also, was Sandford and Merton, in which the eccentric personality of Thomas Day found a restrained expression. It is a work now in manner and form quite obsolete, and its lack of humour, often parodied, will probably prevent its ever being seriously considered again by appraisers of children’s books. But, if the character of Mr. Barlow can be got over, the story—or its string of stories—is full of interest. It has a good deal of social criticism implicit in many of its details. And the episode in which Harry Sandford is called a blackguard, and fights, touches an unusual stratum of human nature for the moral tale. Day also wrote The History of Little Jack (1790).

French influence—as Mrs. Trimmer cried in alarmed accents—was rife in the nursery. As early as 1740, a Spectacle de la Nature had been translated successfully. Arnaud Berquin, “surnommé à juste titre l’Ami des Enfants,” published the work from which his “just title” comes—l’Ami des Enfans—in 1782 (translated in 1783). It was successful alike in France, in French in England and in English. He wrote, also, Le Petit Grandisson, a sentimental tale which was translated into English, and himself (by a pleasant irony) turned Mrs. Trimmer’s Familiar Introduction to the Knowledge of Nature into French. The very popular Looking Glass for the Mind was a compilation from his works. By him stands another Rousseauist, Mme. de Genlis; her treatise on education, Adèle et Théodore (1782), was translated (1783) and her Tales of the Castle (1784) were very popular in an English version (1785). Miss Edgeworth, Barbauld and Aikin, and others were given a French dress, and many of the quaker tales of Mary Elliott (afterwards Mrs. Belson) were produced in both tongues simultaneously. There was clearly, in spite of the revolution, much commerce of juvenile ideals.