Home  »  Volume XI: English THE PERIOD OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION  »  § 3. Books of Courtesy

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

§ 3. Books of Courtesy

Another early species (of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries) was neither a schoolbook nor a book of mere recreation: the succession of “books of courtesy,” which became current soon after the invention of printing. For historical purposes, they have been admirably grouped (and as admirably edited) in two publications of the Early English Text Society, The Babees’ Boke, and Queene Elizabethe’s Achademy. They provide the antithesis to monkish or literary education. The pamphlets in them were written to fit the young gentleman for this world, not for the next; and for the active life of this world rather than for the contemplative. They describe manners, not culture: their ideal is anticipated in Chaucer’s squire. They were not for the poor of Langland:

  • Now may each cobbler send his son to school,
  • And every beggar’s brat learn from his book,
  • Turn to a writer and get into a lord’s house.
  • To that end, you must enter a monastic or cathedral school: there, you could get learning. Here, in these treatises, you got, instead, virtue and knowledge of the world. Incidentally, it may be noted, readers were warned against adult works: “Keep them from reading of feigned fables, vain fantasies, and wanton stories, and songs of love, which bring much mischief to youth.” The alternative was “good Godly books.” But there was not any special provision of such works.