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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XXIII. Education

§ 12. The New England Primer

The most influential as well as most characteristic textbook of the colonial period was The New England Primer,first issued about 1690 by a Boston printer. Constructed on principlesborrowed from Comenius’s Orbis Pictus and from the Protestant Tutor, it was used quite generally throughout the colonies and universally in New England. Countless youth made their way through the alphabet from “In Adam’s Fall We Sinned All” to “Zaccheus he Did Climb the Tree, Our Lord to See.” To its sombre interpretation of life was given a touch of human interest by the vivid description and illustrations of the martyrdom of Mr. John Rogers in the presence of his wife and nine small children “and one at the Breast.” This little volume, no larger than the palm of a child’s hand, was spelling book, reader, and text in religion, morals, and history. It culminated in the shorter catechism, but no part of it was without its religious phase, for the achievement in spelling extended to “abomination” and “justification.” From the seed of this little volume sprang the notable harvest of schoolbooks, one of the most practical as well as most substantial of American achievements in education. A maturer companion piece to The New England Primer was Wigglesworth’s The Day of Doom (1662). Though it was used perhaps more for home reading than for schools, few Puritan children escaped the task of memorizing its description of the last judgment.