Saturday, July 18, 2015

Requiem for a 150-year-old McGuffey Reader

Time, the elements and some untoward mold have doomed this 1865 edition of McGuffey's New Third Eclectic Reader: For Young Learners.

This installment of the historic series of primers was published by Van Antwerp, Bragg & Company of Cincinnati and New York and entered, "according to Act of Congress," in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States, for the Southern District of Ohio.

Before this volume enters the U.S. recycling system and (hopefully) gets turned back into paper that someone from the 21st century can use for dreaming, imagining and creating, here's a final peek inside...


The water-warped inside front cover features the name Julie (or Julia) Miller and some nice drawings of birds (or perhaps chickens). The originals were done in red and then traced over with pencil.


Here's the title page, featuring what appears to be a lamb.

Some McGuffey Reader trivia, from Wikipedia: "The manufacturer Henry Ford cited McGuffey's Readers as one of his most important childhood influences. He was an avid fan of McGuffey's Readers first editions, and claimed as an adult to be able to quote from McGuffey's by memory at great length. Ford republished all six Readers from the 1867 edition, and distributed complete sets of them, at his own expense, to schools across the United States. In 1934, Ford had the log cabin where McGuffey was born moved to Greenfield Village, Ford's museum of Americana at Dearborn, Michigan."


This lesson revolved around learning to be kind to animals, by way of the tale of an upside-down turtle (or more likely a tortoise, which would have been a tougher word).

The good news is that is has a happy ending, thanks to Samuel, who makes these two speeches:

"Think, Robert. What if you were a turtle, and somebody should put you on your back, so that you could not turn over, and then go off and leave you? ... [A] turtle can feel. Besides, you say yourself, that you suppose he does not like to lie so. Now tell me, would you like to be treated so?"

"You know, Robert, that our parents and our teacher have always told us to treat others as we would wish to be treated, if we were in their place. And I am sure, if I were a turtle, I should not like it much, if some bad boy should put me on my back, and then go off and leave me so. Neither do I think you would. I think we should remember the GOLDEN RULE, 'Do unto others as you wish them to do unto you,' in our treatment of animals, as well as in our treatment of men."


The new words for this lesson include tardy, wrong, lessons, schoolboy, idler and knowledge.

So I think we understand what's going on here.


An old wooden guide-post rises up before a lone boy in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night. What could go wrong?


Here we go. A cat and a book. Everyone safe and sound and inside. Much better.


Here's the back cover. Thirteen cents in 1865 is equivalent to about $2 today. So I think it's fair to say these readers were reasonably priced.

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