Home  »  Volume XI: English THE PERIOD OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION  »  § 6. Bunyan’s Divine Emblems

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

§ 6. Bunyan’s Divine Emblems

To take the youngest first. The parent work in it has, naturally, been overshadowed by greater works in the chapter on its author in a previous volume. All through the eighteenth century, a work called Divine Emblems; or Temporal Things Spiritualized, by John Bunyan, was recurrent in little rough editions. It was not until 1889 that this was identified as a curtailed version of a longer book—A Book for Boys & Girls: or, Country Rhimes for Children. By J. B. The first edition contained seventy-four “meditations”; in 1701, an editor revised it ruthlessly, and cut the number of emblems down to forty-nine. It consists of short poems—exceedingly bad poetry, but plain rugged morality—on such subjects as the frog, the hen, and other common objects, each with a rimed moral. Bunyan declares his object:

  • I do’t to show them how each fingle-fangle,
  • On which they doting are, their souls entangle,
  • As with a web, a trap, a gin, or snare,
  • And will destroy them, have they not a care.
  • His “morals” are as recondite and laborious as those of Gesta Romanorum. The importance of the book lies in its authorship, its intention and its method. It reveals not a little of the inspired tinker’s mind. It shows a real desire to provide something special for children, not merely the old clothes of adult literature cut down. And it is a deliberate use of a responsible artistic form and of material not traditional but original.