Books for ‘Childish Age’: Youthful Reading Cultures in Early Modern England

  • Edel Lamb
Part of the Early Modern Literature in History book series (EMLH)


This chapter evaluates the intersections between reading practices and age in early modern England by exploring how diverse genres, including romances and ‘curious books’, appealed to a youthful market. Analysing how books claiming to offer pleasure and delight urged the young to read in distinct ways, it situates early modern children’s books within a wider critical interrogation of the balance of history and delight in the history of children’s literature. It considers the child reader imagined by such books alongside evidence of the reading practices and book ownership of the young to argue for youthful reading cultures in the period. It ultimately suggests that the representation of certain modes of reading as childish indicates the significance of age-graded reading practices.

the Scriptures thought I, what are they? A dead letter, a little ink and paper, of three or four shillings price […] give me a Ballad , a Newsbook, George on horseback, or Bevis of Southampton , give me some book that teaches curious arts, that tells of old fables.1

The narrator of John Bunyan’s A Few Sighs from Hell (1658) is not a ‘good’ child reader! In line with other religious writing for and about children, Bunyan , author of what have subsequently been claimed as two of the earliest examples of children’s literature, implies that a path to salvation is determined through early reading practices.2 Instead of reading ‘the Scriptures’, which as Chap.  2 demonstrated was expected of the ‘good’ child, Bunyan’s damned rich man admits to reading various forms of small books and cheap print, including news books, ballads, chapbooks of the English heroes, Saint George and Bevis of Southampton, books of magic and fables. These diverse textual forms are discursively linked in this account of childhood reading through their opposition to recommended religious reading and through their appeal to the young reader. This representation of youthful tastes serves a specific function as moral exemplar. Writers on education, children’s behaviour and religious and moral matters frequently highlighted the dangers for the young of reading the cheap print and chivalric tales cited by Bunyan , particularly post-Reformation when such tales were dismissed as sinful, enchanting and popish for readers of all ages.3 These tales were often specifically associated with childhood reading practices. For some early modern readers such indulgence signified a foolish waste of time in childhood from which individuals might be saved upon discovering religious texts. Many spiritual narratives, for example, deployed an account of altered reading practices to mark the end of an ignorant childhood and the beginning of an age of spiritual awareness, including those of Vasavour Powell and Richard Baxter who recall delighting in ‘Hystorical or Poetical Books, Romances’ and ‘romances, fables and old tales’ above scripture before being converted by reading Richard Sibbes’ biblical exegesis, The Bruised Reed (1631).4 Elizabeth Delaval admits in her memoirs that in her ‘childish age’ she read ‘ill chosen boock’s, such as romances are’, before realizing that this was a distraction from scripture and mending, what she calls, her ‘childish’ and ‘ill chosen’ ways of reading.5 In accounts of spiritual conversion this image of childhood reading of tales, romances and ‘curious books’ is a narrative trope, yet it also works to align the young and the ‘childish’ with this element of textual culture in early modern England. Childhood, or ‘childish’ ways, are characterized in a range of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century depictions of reading by an indulgence in material termed by moralists as ‘wanton and naughty … or trifling’ and as ‘undecent bookes’ capable of ‘corrupt[ing] and ensnar[ing]’ the young, from ‘bookes, ballades, Songes, sonettes, and Ditties of dalliance’ to ‘Tale-books, Romances, Play-books, and false or hurtful History’.6

This chapter investigates the widespread associations between reading these forms and ‘childish’ age in early modern England in order to unpack an alternative understanding of the child as reader. A number of early modern printed texts identify what Teresa Michals calls a mixed-age audience in their paratextual material.7 Prefaces of Aesop’s Fables , educational books, commentaries on Virgil and title pages of prose works invite the young, variously defined as a ‘child’, a ‘youth’ and the ‘young’ reader, to read the text in one way and the old to read it in another.8 They commonly represent the child in terms of limited cognitive capabilities and distinctive desires in relation to their reading material. Assessing what these age-graded reading practices disclose about childhood and about cultures of reading, this chapter examines how the young are associated with reading for pleasure in printed texts. Exploring the discursive connections between the young and reading as a form of entertainment and leisure, it contends that the childish or youthful reader is characterized by certain modes of reading. Michals points out in her recent study of the adult reader that, prior to the mid-eighteenth century, readers were primarily categorized in terms of social status and gender, rather than age. Yet, as Michals highlights, age in the sense of a stage in the life cycle, rather than a fixed numerical state, has always been an element in identifying readers in print culture. This chapter builds on her important reminder to see ‘literary history within the social history of age’ by examining the identification of readers and the recommendation of reading practices according to age categories in early modern England.9 It explores the intersections of status, gender and age in determining a particular mode of reading: reading for pleasure.

This concept of the child as reader, this chapter suggests, is also shaped by developing print markets in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in which the young are imagined as potential consumers. Francis Kirkman, a mid-seventeenth-century author and bookseller, not only identifies the young as a potential readers of his books, he also represents children, male and female, as avid readers of the genres he produces, and develops strategies of marketing his books to the young by exploiting cultural associations between recreational reading and childhood. A number of anthologies also adapted existing genres of verse, riddles, commonplaces and instruction in basic skills and magic tricks to claim that new editions were particularly suited to the young, specifically through their emphasis on mirth and play. Through an analysis of these texts, this chapter argues for an emerging sense of youthful reading cultures in the period. By considering how early modern print cultures identified aspects of reading as suited to a young market, it asks what this tells us about concepts of childhood in the period and what it reveals about the young as buyers of books. Reflecting on practices of buying, sharing and accessing books among early modern young people, this chapter proposes that whether this perception of the childish reader constitutes a marketing strategy or a literary trope, it indicates the significance of age-graded reading practices in the period. While Michals acknowledges that the young reader is prioritized amidst the mixed-age audiences identified by early modern books, this chapter goes further to suggest that the young reader is highlighted in order to recommend a particular mode of reading.10 Developing this monograph’s interrogation of what it means to read as a child in early modern England, it explores an alternative understanding of the child as reader to the ‘good’ child of Chap.  2. As Paul Griffiths has highlighted, ‘the meaning and representation of youth to some extent depends on the nature of the source before us’.11 Books identifying the young as reading for recreation view childhood and youth in different ways from the strict moral treatises warning against the dangers of reading non-religious material during these formative stages of the life cycle, signalling the multiple understandings of the child as reader that circulated in early modern culture.

‘Children Read for Their Pleasantness’: Reading as a Child

In his tract on child-rearing, A Childe’s Patrimony (1640), Hezekiah Woodward complains about the tendency to ‘fit our books’ to different stages within childhood. He proposes that the child is as ‘fit for Aesop, Cicero, or Ovid, as for the Childish book’, but acknowledges that educational customs mean that in practice ‘we fit … this part of Ovid for this form, that part for another; Virgil to the fourth; and Horace to the fifth’. Referring to the tendency to recommend different books for the various levels in early modern grammar schools, he questions the need for this approach and suggests that it increases labour but makes ‘the benefit the lesse’.12 Woodward expands his rationale by explaining that once scholars have acquired basic knowledge of letters and syllables in English, or of declension and verb in Latin, then he may read any book. Based on accounts of teaching children how to read English and Latin in the period, it is likely that this is the case.13 Children who had acquired basic reading skills would have been able to read these more advanced texts. Nonetheless children are presumed, and advised, to read books differently from those at later stages of the life cycle in a range of contexts in early modern culture. This was due, at least in part, to early modern understanding of the cognitive abilities of children. Children may have been able to master literacy, but they were perceived to less capable as readers than adults because they were deemed to have a mental capacity and reasoning abilities limited by ‘the ‘number of [their] yeares’, meaning that some books were considered to be ‘fitter for men’ than the young.14 As Chap.  2 demonstrated, early reading and religious books were produced to fit these perceived needs. But this practice extended beyond these genres. Some authors even produced multiple books on the same topic for different categories of reader. Richard Hodges, for example, wrote an arithmetic book for children, The Childes Counting Book (1624), and later produced a second book on the subject, A Manual for Millions (1631). As ‘M. I. Philimathematic’ highlights in his dedicatory verse to the latter, ‘Thy first was wrote for Children, this for Men’, before comically asking will the ‘third’ be to ‘women’ (A3r), gesturing towards the ways in which different types of readers with distinct material needs and cognitive capacities were recognized within print culture. This is also evident in the ways in which ‘men’ and ‘children’ were seen to approach the same books in different ways. In 1591 Sir John Harrington admits that children are capable of reading Virgil’s Aeneid but he reflects on how their reading experiences are different from those of their elders. In ‘A Brief Apology for Poetry’ he questions:

Do we not make our children read it commonly before they can understand it, as a testimonie that we do generally approve it? And yet we see old men study it, as a proofe that they do specially admire it: so as one writes very pretily, that children do wade in Virgill, and yet strong men do swim in it.15

Harrington, almost fifty years earlier than Woodward, recognizes the abilities of children to read complex texts, but also suggests that by necessity their reading involves a different type of engagement with those texts. Towards the end of the seventeenth century an anonymous adapter of Aesop’s fables reflects further on the ways in which different types of readers within a mixed-age audience might read classical texts. The preface of Aesop Improved (1673) notes that:

Men and children, may read the same books, but for different ends and purposes. Men may read those books for their Profundity which Children read for their Pleasantness. Or men may read the same books for their Solidity wisdome, and Judgement, which is in them, which children are taught merely for their fancy, stile and language.16

Like Harrington and Woodward, the anonymous translator hints that translations of ancient poetry and fables serve a useful purpose in educating children, developing their reading capabilities and to teach language and style. However, the translator goes further in the conceptualization of the child reader, marked in each of these accounts by both gender and age and as a particular category of reader distinct from the adult, or, more specifically, the man. Pointing to the varied reading methods of the child, which include reading for ‘their Pleasantness’ and being ‘taught’ the book, this preface implies that the content of this book not only offers literacy instruction but also moral instruction via the acquisition of improved manners or ‘pleasantness’. This stands in contrast to ‘profundity’ sought by the ‘men’ who read the same book. Building on the recognition that children will learn more successfully if that learning is made enticing, ‘pleasantness’ also implies that the content of this book is somehow appealing or pleasant to children. In its representation of the relationship between children and textual cultures in seventeenth-century England, this preface foregrounds diverse aspects of children’s reading experiences: guided and independent reading, instruction and delight.

The balance between didacticism and pleasure has been, as Jacqueline Rose famously pointed out, one of the most famous debates in the history of children’s literature.17 It is, moreover, one of the major reasons that early modern books for children have been overlooked in scholarship. Texts predating the supposed birth of children’s literature in the eighteenth century have frequently been dismissed as basically instructional, and therefore not ‘proper’ children’s books, in many histories of the genre which map a transition from education to pleasure, and which, as Daniel Kline highlights, artificially separate these two elements.18 Such histories, often sharing F. J. Harvey Darton’s definition of children’s books as ‘printed works produced ostensibly to give children spontaneous pleasure and not primarily to teach them’, have justified the omission of many of the texts directed at children before the publication of John Newbery’s A Little Pretty-Pocket Book in 1744.19 Aesop Improved is just one example of the articulation of the dual elements seen to motivate reading in the books produced for children in the seventeenth century. Writers’ attempts to appeal to and instruct their potential readers can be discerned in books for children, male and female, from this period. It is foregrounded constantly in debates on schooling in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries as many pedagogues and educational theorists advocate a ludic culture of learning, which depends upon the idea that children will learn more effectively through delight. From Erasmus’ recommendation that those teaching early literacy encourage the young by baking cookies and carving toys in the shapes of letters so that the alphabet can be memorized in ‘a few days of fun and play’ to John Brinsley’s proposition in 1612 that masters should ‘breede in the little ones a love of their masters, with delight in their books’, delight in reading is central to many early modern educational programmes.20 In his 1659 translation of Comenius’ Orbis Sensualium Pictus, Charles Hoole insists that he intends ‘To entice witty Children’ (A4r) by teaching them ‘by sport and merry pastime’ (A4v).21 In another account of what subjects and books should be taught at each stage of schooling, Hoole comments directly on the use of Aesop’s Fables in terms of delight and learning. Writing that this ‘book of great antiquity and of more solid learning than most men think’ should be used in teaching the third form of grammar school, he proposes that his students should ‘procure Aesops Fables then in English and Latine, and the rather because they will take delight in reading the Tales, and the moral in a Language which they already understand, and will be helped thereby to construe the Latine of themselves’.22 ‘Delight in reading’ is promoted by these early modern pedagogues as effective educational strategy, in teaching basic literacy, morality and languages because it fits the distinct capacities—the understanding—of the young.

Play and pleasure are prominent themes in early modern books that identify children as potential readers. Even Woodward, alongside his complaints about suiting books to children’s needs, suggests that children will learn to read more easily if masters ‘draw them on with all pleasingness’ (34) and admits that there must be ‘great choice of the matter, such ever, is best sutable, which will be ever that, which is most sensuall’ (161). Going one step further than simply recognizing the child reader as seeking the ‘pleasantness’ or ‘pleasingness’ in reading material, Woodward suggests an emotional and bodily reading experience through enticing the senses. For Woodward this is in keeping with his rumination on the inherent features of childhood. ‘Childhood and youth’, he writes, ‘are ages of fancy’ (98). Woodward is not alone in associating these early stages of the life cycle with ‘sensuall’ experience and fancy. As Michael Witmore has shown, children were commonly associated with fancy and imagination, ‘guided’ as Thomas Wright writes in 1604, ‘by an internall imagination’.23 This association between childhood and fancy or pleasing the senses is, Witmore has argued, central to the role of children in early modern literary cultures. It is also, I would suggest, crucial to the understanding of the child as reader. This is not to return to the traditional ‘grand narrative’ of children’s literature as the emergence of books to delight children, nor to posit an argument that children’s literature exists in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries because of the presence of books to ‘please’ children; rather, the precarious balance between instruction and delight, between reading for learning and for ‘pleasantness’, characterizes the ‘child’ as a distinct type of reader in early books directed at all ages.24

The blend of instruction and pleasure in reading is not unique to children’s books. It has also been crucial to the history of literature more generally as authors and critics have argued for the utility of the literary in offering instruction and delight. Yet, as Robert Matz points out, Horace’s original expression of the ‘profit and pleasure’ dictum emerged from a culture in which moral profit was associated with the Roman elders and pleasure was associated with the young.25 The most famous articulation of this maxim in early modern England in Philip Sidney’s An Apology for Poetry (1595) is similarly concerned with the connections between age and poetry that pervade this author’s work. In his Apology Sidney associates authorship with a period of youthful idleness, describing himself as ‘in these my not old years and idlest times having slipped into the title of a poet’.26 He presents his romance fiction, The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia, in its preface as ‘this idle work of mine’, written at the request of his sister and suitable for reading at her ‘idle times’, and further describes it as ‘toyfull books’ and ‘ink wasting toys’ in letters to his siblings.27 As Katherine Duncan-Jones persuasively argues, Sidney’s representation of his writing as recreation above profitable pleasure is more than a conventional expression of modesty.28 The depiction of books as offering pleasurable reading forms part of a wider depiction of romance as a feminized genre in early modern culture, suited to the female reader.29 However, the depiction of Arcadia as a toy also constructs Sidney’s work as youthful or early attempts at writing. Sidney’s terminology of toys exemplifies overlaps in the associations of the genre with a gendered and aged status. On one level it presents his romance fiction, as Duncan-Jones points out, as a ‘fantastic or trifling speech or piece of writing’.30 The description of his fiction as a toy works to render it less dangerous. As Joseph Campana has argued, poetry and fiction are described by a number of early modern writers in ways that lessen the potential feminizing threat. As ‘vaine toyes’ literary works are less effective in transforming men into boys.31 Yet the term’s multiple implications in the period as meaning both amorous sport or dalliance, enhancing romance fiction’s reputation as the eroticized reading material of women, as well as the material objects of children’s play, in fact potentially reduces adult readers to children as they encounter these childish objects: books.32

Effeminate and youthful pursuits overlap in Sidney’s representation of his romance. As Daniel Kline proposes in relation to readership in the medieval period, the ‘question of age is as significant as that of gender, class, ethnicity, or religion’.33 As is often the case in early modern culture, the young are aligned with the feminine as both are implicated, as authors and consumers, in the production of ‘idle’ or recreational works of literature.34 The preface to an earlier romance explicitly establishes these associations between age, gender and the genre. Age categories are foregrounded in the preface of the first English translation by Margaret Tyler of The Mirrour of Princely Deedes and Knighthood (c. 1578), also known as The Knight of the Sun. Repeatedly referring to her own advanced and ‘staied’ years in an effort to justify her subject matter as an older female translator, Tyler explains that in undertaking the task of translation she turned to ‘mine olde reading’.35 Tyler’s preface presents romance as suitable for younger readers: her younger self and the ‘young Gentlemen’ that the original author wanted to inspire with courage. Age is thus emphasized alongside gender, which she acknowledges in her ‘woman’s worke’ of ‘manlinesse of the matter’ and by appealing to female readers.36 Age and gender are significant to authorship and readership in this seminal text in the history of romance fiction in England.37 Tyler participates in early modern efforts to reinvent romance fiction by drawing on the conventional profit and delight maxim, stressing the profit provided by the historical matter and the delight for the young reader. The Mirrour of Knighthood, like many tales of chivalry and romance written, translated and reprinted throughout Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, is commonly cited in derogatory terms as the reading material of children and youths. Vives provides an extensive list of romances and tales in various nations that have ‘no other purpose, but to corrupt the manners of young folkes’, including the English tales of King Arthur, Bevis of Southampton and Guy of Warwick—texts that are described by Edward Dering in 1572 as ‘childish follye’.38The Mirrour of Knighthood in particular becomes a cliché for the idle reading practices of schoolboys, young students and youths more generally in the English cultural imagination. Francis Meres names it in 1598 as one of a number of books ‘hurtfull to youth’, in a list that also includes the English chivalric tales condemned by Vives and a number of romances.39 In 1629, Francis Lenton draws on it in his caricature of the idle and love-stricken youth distracted from his studies by ‘Don Quix Zot, or else The Knight o’ the Sun’ and by ‘Ben Johnsons booke of Playes’.40 In William Hawkins’ Apollo Shroving (c. 1626), John Gingle is a boy satirically characterized by his knowledge of this book. When receiving his lessons on how to court a lady he draws on his reading of The Mirrour of Knighthood, recalling: ‘This Claridiana was courted by the Knight of the Sunne. My Mother has read that booke to me.’41 The only benefit of this book, it seems, is an instruction in courtship. These representations of romances and stories of chivalry as the desired reading material of boys and young men interested in matters of courtship and love above academic pursuits further implies that reading romances is both a childish and effeminizing act.42 As scholars of early modern women’s reading—particularly Heidi Brayman Hackel in her seminal study of female readers—have pointed out, such representations reveal more about cultural perceptions of the genre than historical reading practices.43 They also reveal much about cultural attitudes towards the young. They convey the fears of educators and moralists that if children are not supervised in their reading, or are supervised by the wrong people as in the case of John Gingle and his mother, they will at worst be corrupted by erotic and effeminate matters and at best seek only pleasure and play in their reading material. As Katharine Craik highlights, if the young read combining pleasure with profit, in line with Horatian dictum, they might be ‘nourished by way of wisdom, reason and understanding’, but if they read solely for delight ‘the consequences are disastrous’.44 The fear is about how children will engage with their reading material—what lessons they will learn—rather than simply about the content of a particular text.

The anxieties surrounding children’s reading material expressed from Vives through to the Puritan moralists of the later seventeenth century draw on wider cultural concerns that children naturally tend towards idle recreation and pleasure without profit.45 A common representation of the earliest stages of the life cycle in the period was as an age of ‘pleasure and delight’ that ‘lack[ed] the use of reason’ to seek the benefits.46 Anne Bradstreet, for example, characterizes ‘Childishness’ as ‘all folly’ with a ‘silliness’ that did only ‘take delight,/In that which riper age did scorn and slight,/In Rattles, Bables, and such toyish stuff’.47 This association of children with ‘toyish stuff’ and material not worthy of the consideration of ‘riper age’ also informed the representation of literary genres with some inferior rhymes, for instance, deemed only ‘fit for children to heare and follow with their rattles and hobby horses’ in Hawkins’ Apollo Shroving (c. 1626).48 Children are also characterized by an irrational commitment to play and toys in religious depictions, when exemplary children dedicated to prayer and reading are juxtaposed with the more standard child at play. Samuel Clark notes that William Gouge ‘was more than ordinarily studious and industrious’ as a schoolboy ‘for when other boyes upon play-dayes took liverty for their sports and pastimes, he would be at his book, wherein he took more delight than others could finde in their Recreations’.49 James Janeway uses a similar motif to describe the children in his A Token for Children (first published in 1671), stating of one child ‘admirably affected with the things of God’ that ‘When other Children were playing, he would many a time and oft be praying.’50 Educators and moralists saw this propensity to play as a feature of the young that should be brought under control by more profitable pursuits. However, this understanding of childhood and reading simultaneously opportunities for profit-seeking authors and publishers to market their texts by appealing to this pleasure-seeking youthful reader.

Imagining a Youthful Market: Identifying the Child as Reader

There is no doubt that many authors recognized the opportunity to appeal to this notional young reader preoccupied with delight, including one seventeenth-century author and bookseller, Francis Kirkman. Kirkman’s books cannily recognized the child reader as potential market, and represented children as such in both his paratextual material and narratives. In a nostalgic account of his childhood reading in his semi -autobiographical fiction, The Unlucky Citizen (1673), he represents his own desire to read certain types of books when he recalls:

one of my School-fellows lent me Docter Faustus […] The next Book I met with was Fryar Bacon […] I came to Knight Errantry, and reading Montelion Knight of the Oracle, and Ornatus and Artesia, and the Famous Parismus […] I proceeded on to Palmerin of England, and Amadis de Gaul; and borrowing one Book of one person, when I had read it my self, I lent it to another, who lent me one of their Books; and thus robbing Peter to pay Paul, borrowing and lending from one to another, I in time had read most of these Histories.51

Although this description of a transition from chapbook tales to romances is similar to Bunyan’s account in terms of the type of material read as a child, it presents a different attitude towards such books as the reading material of the young. Kirkman offers a positive account of his immersion in tales as a schoolboy in the late 1630s or early 1640s, even evincing some pleasure at the extent to which he believed ‘all I read to be true’ (11). On finding sixpence he spends it all on a copy of Fortunatus, hoping that ‘Lady Fortune would one time or other bestow such a Purse upon me as she did on Fortunatus’ (10). He continues to demonstrate how his reading as a schoolboy shaped his expectations of life, claiming that ‘being so wholly affected to them, and reading how that Amadis and other Knights not knowing their Parents, did in time prove to be Sons of Kings and great Personages; I had such a fond and idle Opinion, that I might in time prove to be some great Person, or at leastwise be Squire to some Knight’ (11–12). Kirkman characterizes childhood reading by this immersion in the imaginative world, yet his attitude is mediated by the fact that, in contrast to Bunyan, it is not positioned within a spiritual narrative of conversion from an unruly childhood to a reformed adulthood.

It is, however, shaped by a different set of narrative conventions. Although Kirkman claims that The Unlucky Citizen contains ‘all the remarkable passages of my life’ (n.p.) and in many instances the information provided is autobiographical, his narrative repeatedly draws on contemporary fiction.52 In his description of schoolboy reading, Kirkman appropriates the fictional narrative of a book that he later claims to have read: Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Kirkman’s list of texts mirrors the well-known knight, also an avid reader of the adventures of Don Bellianis, Amadis de Gaule and Palmerin of England. His immersion in these tales reflects Don Quixote’s reading practices as books take ‘possession of his imagination’ until he ‘conceived the strangest notion … to become a knight errant, and to travel about the world with his armour and his arms and his horse in search of adventures, and to practise all those activities that he knew from his books’.53 Rather than draw on the Don Quixote narrative to critique the effects of romance fiction, Kirkman celebrates it. There is only one difference between himself and the fictional knight: while the 50-year-old character pursues his desire to imitate his books, the young Kirkman stops short of becoming another Don Quixote because, he claims, of fear and ‘want of years’ (13). In Kirkman’s narrative of childhood, age permits a merging of his experiences as a schoolboy and the stories that he reads but simultaneously prevents him from taking this too far. In contrast to the moralists’ warning against the reading of romance in youth, as children, particularly young girls, were perceived to be lacking in the knowledge that ‘they are but fictions’ and as a result ‘they truly move being read’, Kirkman defends romance reading among the young by comically demonstrating the limits of the formative effect of reading on the child.54 The imagination of the child might be carried away by the stories he or she reads, but Kirkman suggests that the practical restrictions of being young mean that this is confined only to the mind.

Nonetheless, Kirkman’s account shows that his childhood reading shaped him in other ways as he projects a narrative of development from the child to adult. As a translator, author and seller of romances, histories and books of ‘Knight-errantry’, Kirkman highlights the impact that the books had on him as a child in order to account for his subsequent career.55 He creates a story of professional development from childhood reading experiences to his early forays into the professions of writing and printing. This moment in his autobiography also functions as a significant commercial strategy. He represents childhood reading through the eyes of the adult but also through the eyes of an entrepreneur in the world of print. Kirkman demonstrated his talents in this arena as a bookseller, reissuing over twenty-five pre-interregnum plays, and as an author, writing fictional works in a range of genres and translating a number of chivalric romances to, as Lori Newcomb suggests, meet new demands for leisure reading.56 These talents are further revealed by the extent to which Kirkman uses this description of childhood reading to promote his works, including his schoolboy translation of Amadis de Gaule , which he published in 1652.57 He also translated, wrote sequels to and published multiple versions of The Honour of Chivalry or The Famous and Delectable History of Don Bellianis of Greece between 1664 and 1673 and a version of The History of Prince Erastus Son to the Emperour Dioclesian and Those Famous Philosophers Called the Seven Wise Masters of Rome in 1674, recommending them to children and the ‘Younger Sort’.58 In the 1664 preface to the second part of Don Bellianis of Greece, he admits that ‘in my minority I was a great lover of Books of Knighthood’ and again compares himself to Don Quixote because of this youthful passion (Honour of Chivalry, A3v). In the preface to his collected volume of the three parts of Don Bellianis in 1673, he notes the popularity of chivalric tales and recommends the text that he publishes one year later, The Seven Wise Masters. He also deploys this advertising strategy in other works. For instance, he notes in his criminal biography of the notorious Mary Carleton that she ‘took much pleasure in reading, especially Love Books, and those that treated of Knight Errantry’ in her youth, ‘believing all she read to be true’, includes some French romances, such as Cassandra and Cleopatra, and chivalric tales published by Kirkman, including Don Bellianis and Amadis de Gaule.59

The representation of children’s avid taste for chivalric tales in The Unlucky Citizen might be part of these canny marketing strategies. Kirkman’s invocation of youthful reading practices is particularly interesting in this context. He goes further than simply depicting the keen interest of schoolboys in the tales that he published from the 1650s to the 1670s; he presents them as a market for these texts. He recalls buying his first book with a sixpence that he found and relates how he lent these books to his schoolfellows in exchange for others. Furthermore, he claims that he read these books during ‘time I had from School, as Thursdays in the Afternoon, and Saturdays’ (Unlucky Citizen, 11). He suggests that children are a potential market for certain types of reading material and that they will read in a certain way: for leisure in the unsupervised and unregulated spaces of free time outside the structure of the school. Whether this is an accurate representation of the young Kirkman’s reading practices or a fictionalized account, it discursively links specific genres and modes of reading with children and identifies them as a market.

Kirkman’s production of multiple editions of histories and romances hints that this is the market at which he was aiming. In the 1673 preface to Don Bellianis, he recommends a series of ‘Historyes’ and ‘Romances’ (n.p.), urging his reader to read these books in an order similar to that outlined in The Unlucky Citizen: beginning with The Seven Wise Masters and then moving on to Fortunatus, Don Bellianis and others, including Parismus, Montelion Knight of the Oracle and Amadis de Gaule. He particularly recommends The Seven Wise Masters to the ‘Young Reader’, noting that in this ‘very pleasant Collection of variety of that Witty history’ there are ‘Pictures fitted to every particular History’ for the ‘Pleasure of the Young Reader’ (n.p.). He proceeds by stating that ‘This Book is of so great esteem in Ireland that next to the Horn-Book, and Knowledge of Letters, Children are in general put to Read in it’ (n.p.). This claim, which Kirkman repeats in the preface to his 1674 edition of The Seven Wise Masters of Rome, is also found in other editions of this story.60 This may be highly unlikely, as Margaret Spufford points out, nonetheless Kirkman’s emphasis on the link between these tales and the young reader is notable.61 Age is the primary factor through which Kirkman addresses his readers. In the preface to Don Bellianis, Kirkman recommends romances and histories to ‘thou of what Age, or Sex soever’, and he claims that both ‘young and old’ (n.p.) take much pleasure in reading The Seven Wise Masters. The title page of The Unlucky Citizen claims that it is ‘Calculated for the Meridian of this City but may serve by way of Advice to all the Cominalty of England, but more particularly to Parents and Children, Masters and Servants, Husbands and Wives’. By reaching out to all ages, Kirkman appeals to wide readership rather than, to use Adam Smyth’s term, a ‘discrete class of readers’.62 His invocation of children and the young as readers on the title pages and prefaces of his books positions the young as one group within a range of consumers. Yet the preface to Kirkman’s Don Bellianis does attend carefully to its young readers. It insists on the benefits to any reader in ‘these sorts of Historyes’, but insists that ‘if thou art Young, begin now’ as it will enable the younger reader to ‘presently’ read with ‘the more Profit and Delight’ (n.p.). The profit that Kirkman promises is the development of reading skills, and he supports this claim by aligning this genre with the use of the hornbook as early reading material in Ireland. The delight comes in the reading of a story that Kirkman repeatedly describes as ‘pleasant’, ‘delightful’ and as providing ‘Pleasure’ to the young reader (n.p.). This aspect of reading is emphasized by Kirkman across his multiple editions of the text. He claims in the 1664 edition that he wrote it as ‘harmless recreation’ and hopes that ‘it recreats or contents you in the reading, as much as it did me in the writing’ (Honour of Chivalry, A4v). Kirkman’s prefaces construct his versions of Don Bellianis as recreational reading with a specific appeal to the younger reader seeking delight. Through careful use of his prefatory material, Kirkman imagines multiple readers, old and young, seeking distinct combinations of profit and delight from their reading experiences.

Francis Kirkman thus defends his acts of translating, writing and selling romances, histories and chivalric tales by alluding to their potential benefits in educational contexts but he appeals primarily to those seeking ‘harmless recreation’ (Honour of Chivalry, A3r). He imagines his readers via his own reading practices as a boy, as depicted in The Unlucky Citizen. In his 1673 preface to Don Bellianis he describes readers of Parismus who are ‘so highly pleased’ by what they read ‘that they have run through all the Books of this Nature and Quality’ (n.p.), echoing his account of his experiences as a schoolboy when he was ‘terrified[d]’ and ‘delighted’ by stories to the extent that he was ‘desirous of reading more of that nature’ (Unlucky Citizen, 10–11). His recollection of his and his peers’ buying, lending and reading of these books in their time ‘from school’ locates these potential young readers as indulging their imaginations in an unsupervised space, allocating an autonomy to the child reader in selecting their reading material and reading, not for profit or education, but for their imaginative pleasure.

The potential of books to offer pleasure, delight and a pastime to readers is, as I have suggested, not unique to Kirkman, although he is notable for his sustained investment in this literary trope. It is invoked in a range of late sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English texts when addressing a younger audience. Robert Greene, like Tyler and Kirkman, appeals to a varied readership for his romances Alcida Greenes Metamorphosis (first published in 1588) and Menaphon (first published in 1589).63 The latter is described on its title page as a ‘worke, worthy [of] the yongest eares for pleasure’ and the former, although ‘full of grave Principles to content Age’, offers ‘pleasant parlees, witty answeres’ to ‘satisfie’ youth.64 Greene and Kirkman, writing romances almost a century apart, defend the genre and appease parents and moralists by identifying the type of instruction or principles their books might impart. Yet they simultaneously identify the distinct tastes of younger readers and reach out to this aged category of reader. These writers exploit the gap between the prescriptive ideals of what children should read and what they perceive to signify the distinctive cultures of the young in early modern England. The identification of the discrete aspects of a potential youthful market develops, in one sense, as a result of rapidly expanding print cultures. With the increasing reproduction of texts and diversification of forms of cheap print by the late seventeenth century, a range of genres, including books of riddles, compliments and tricks, manuals on courtship, songbooks and ballads, were being adapted or reprinted with a statement of being for the young.65 By 1694, J. G. proclaims in the preface to A Play-Book for Children that he is ‘not ignorant of the Swarms of Books for Children’ in justifying his publication of another book for the young.66 As David Scott Kastan points out, ‘Where, previously, desiring readers had to find books, books, it could be said, now found (and even made) readers’.67 By the seventeenth century many of these books directed primarily or solely at a youthful readership claimed to offer, like Greene and Kirkman’s earlier romances, ‘pleasant’, ‘witty’ and ‘merry’ content for the ‘delight and recreation’ of a group of age-inflected readers—the childish and young. Seventeenth-century editions of The Book of Merry Riddles , one of the most widely published early modern riddle books, demonstrate increasing attention to the child as reader of witty and pleasant material. Although the earliest extant edition dates to 1600, it was well known and read before this date, and was reprinted widely throughout the seventeenth century, incorporating variations to the content, layout and appeals to readership, and identifying children and youths as potential readers.68 The 1617 edition, which contains 76 riddles, 16 ‘proper questions’ and 133 ‘witty proverbs’, claims to be ‘No lesse usefull then behoovefull, for any young man or childe, to knowe whether he be quicke-witted or no’.69 It constructs riddling as a masculine pursuit involving the acquisition and demonstration of wit in this printed circulation of riddles. The edition might be read as a test of the child’s or young man’s wit—to let him ‘knowe whether he be quicke-witted or no’. In a culture in which young boys were trained to store up choice examples from their reading material for later use, these riddles and proverbs might be learned and practised at the appropriate occasion as a demonstration of wit, enabling the assertion of a masculine identity according to verbal talents and knowledge.70 This is emphasized by a verse in a woodcut on the facing page that urges the reader to read the riddles rightly in order to be a ‘wittie spark’. This edition presents reading, learning and transmitting riddles as a male pursuit particularly suited those in youth: children, young men or ‘wittie sparks’, another term for young men affecting smartness and often used to refer to the witty page boys of early modern drama.71 Nathaniel Crouch’s Winter Evening Entertainments (first advertised in 1685), another collection of riddles and jests accompanied by morals and woodcuts, similarly emphasizes the role of riddling in facilitating the transition out of childhood for young boys by claiming ‘Here’s Milk for Children, Wisdom for Young Men,/To teach them that they turn not Babes again’.72 These printed riddle books for children suggest that engagement with these books will enable the transition to a masculine adulthood.

In contrast, other anthologies of riddles for the young highlight the immersion in pleasure and youth provided by their content without demonstrating any potential ‘profit’ or education, and instead of encouraging their readers to ‘turn not Babes again’ encourage indulgence in the literary pastimes of the young. Youth’s Treasury, or, A Storehouse of Wit and Mirth (1688), an anthology of the ‘Choicest and Newest Songs’, love letters, ‘Pleasant Tales, Witty Jests and Merry Riddles’, is indicative of the range of genres that were adapted and brought together under the aegis of being a collection for young readers.73 It combines abbreviated versions of songs from contemporary broadside ballad s, playhouse songs, comic tales (including one on the follies of old age), jests, riddles and some model compliments or ‘protestations of love’. This text evolves from earlier seventeenth-century miscellanies or drolleries, registering a culture of mirth and leisure against Puritan models of reading for profit.74 The division of profit and delight cannot be read solely as an indication of the traits of different age groups in the period as, in this context, it also forms part of a politicized comment on religious and social attitudes to leisure. Yet it simultaneously positions this culture of mirth as attractive for the young. Each section emphasizes that the material presented is ‘new’ in this ‘treasury’ for youth. This material is marketable in being presented anew for this category of reader.

The text is also striking in the ways that it imagines a communal identity among this age group erasing distinctions of gender and social status. The title page woodcut depicts a carnivalesque gathering of young men and women dancing with joined hands and no clothing under the supervision of a pedagogue figure, differentiated by the fact that he holds the symbolic objects of the teacher, a birch rod and book. This humorously imagines an alternative group of pleasure-indulging readers forging their own subversive culture and replacing the typical books of the pedagogue with this treasury. Another earlier example, Sports and Pastimes (1676), explicitly posits books of mirth for the young against contemporary Puritan texts recommended to children in an effort to morally educate them. Its instruction in the arts of tricks and magic is proclaimed as a ‘touch of Hocus Pocus, or Leger-demain. Fitted for the delight and recreation of Youth’.75 The title page draws a direct contrast with the terrifying tales of death, hell and damnation recommended to the child and printed specifically for them by Puritan writers, with the couplet ‘There’s no Hobgoblins here for to affright ye,/But innocence and mirth that will delight ye’.76 Like Youth’s Treasury, Sports and Pastimes draws on a range of popular texts and reprints these genres in a form that it claims to be suited for the young. It adapts miscellanies such as John Cotgrave’s Wits Interpreter, or the English Parnassus (first published 1655) and the anonymous Hocus Pocus Junior (first published 1634), which combined tricks using eggs, balls, strings, cups and coins and a discussion of the art of witchcraft, science and ‘other curiosities’ with witty sayings, short poems, anecdotes and letters or statements for imitation. Sports and Pastimes acknowledges its debt to this tradition in the ‘The Epistle to the Reader’, which notes that tricks have been omitted that ‘were in Print before’ and directs the reader to ‘English Parnassus, Hocus Pocus Junior, &c.’ (A3r). Like Youth’s Treasury, it insists on the newness of its content while repackaging this popular format for the young. As promised on the title page, it offers only innocence and mirth, omitting the more serious discussion of the art of magic contained in other books of tricks. It includes tricks that the young might carry out to impress others, such as appearing to turn water into wine, making two coins into one, making invisible ink, getting revenge on maids, and making ‘one laugh until the tears stand in his eyes’.77 Some are directed at youths in a wide sense—for example, games that involve drinking companions—but many make use of materials that would have been available to children at a younger age, such as coins, ink and food. One requires using bells ‘such as Children have at their Corrals’ (16).

Sports and Pastimes is a ‘book of curious arts’ for children and youths, perhaps of the type that Bunyan had in mind in his recollection of childhood reading. The address to the reader proclaims that: ‘The design of this was for the recreation of Youth, especially School-boys, whose wits are generally sharpned on such Whetstones’ (A3r). Like many others directed to the young in the seventeenth century, it emphasizes recreation, delight and indulgence in wit as the defining features of youth, or in this case boyhood. It instructs the individual reader on how to carry out these tricks among their peers, as each is described through a detailed account of what actions the boys must make and an accompanying ‘script’ for the reader to recite performing the act. For example, the trick using bells directs the reader to:

bid them view them, and put one in one hand, and one in the other hand, then put the second into the left hand, and say, Now you think they are both in one hand; which if they have seen your palm before, will imagine you have it still in your right hand, and shaking the right hand, the bell will jingle; then say, Which hand will you have them both in? They will be apt to say, the left, as thinking they are in the right, then opening both hands you leave them in wonder. (16–17)

This book requires an engaged and active form of reading. It provides delight to the individual young reader by offering instruction in this trick but in implying that this must be enacted to peers it forges a community among the reader and his audience. This is different from the reading group of schoolboys sharing books in Kirkman’s account, yet it indicates another way in which reading might create a shared space for the young to indulge in recreation and delight. Whether or not books such as Sports and Pastimes were bought by children or read by them at all, these texts imagine a culture of children and the young by representing them as consumers of a particular type of text and as engaging with these texts in certain ways.78 As Mary Ellen Lamb argues of the erotic gentlewoman reader, the child as a pleasure-seeking reader may not have been an early modern invention but it rises ‘to special prominence in the book trade’ as these diverse genres work to appeal to and imagine use by child readers.79 Early modern books claiming to offer reading as a form of leisure identify a young reader, who, according to the title pages, prefaces and narratives, will engage with the book in particular ways: reading for wit, mirth, sport and pleasure.

Buying Books: The Purchase—and Pester—Power of Early Modern Children

These books directed to a youthful readership indicate some of the ways in which those working in an expanding book trade might appeal to their potential market in terms of age. However, it is difficult to determine if there was a corresponding market of children who read or bought these books. It was clearly a worthwhile strategy to print or sell books that in some way targeted the younger portions of society. It was deployed by key figures from the earliest emergence of the book trade in England. William Caxton’s first list of titles of print included four works in English aimed at children.80 Maintaining a stock of books for grammar schoolboys was one means of ensuring a guaranteed trade, evidenced by the decision of Caxton’s successor, Wynken de Worde, to print Robert Whittinton’s Latin grammar through to the rivalry among stationers to hold the patent for grammar books in the early seventeenth century.81 Regional booksellers, such as Stephen Wissenden in Canterbury in 1597 and Nicholas Jonson in the same location in 1640, kept a stock of the ‘basic texts for children’, including psalters, primers, hornbooks and ABCs.82 The trade in books from England to Ireland was also, according to Mary Pollard, substantially in hornbooks, grammar books and other small books for children, with consignments to Cork in the 1570s including twelve copies of The Seven Wise Masters of Rome, the history noted by Francis Kirkman over one hundred years later as being held in so great esteem in Ireland that children learned to read using it.83 Advice books ostensibly directed at children and youths also flourished throughout the seventeenth century with a range of tracts offering moral guidance through the voices of parents and other interested parties.84 The widespread popularity of such texts addressing an imagined audience of children is indicated by the fact that ballads, such as A Table of Good Nurture (1625) and An Hundred Godly Lessons that a Mother on her Death-Bed gave to her Children (c. 1686–1688), imitated the genre and disseminated it in this cheap format.85 This was an apt form to reach a young audience. In addition to the lower purchase cost, ballads hung on nursery walls and, as they would have also been learned and recited or sung, they may have even reached an audience of illiterate youths.86 Nathaniel Crouch, operating under the pseudonyms Robert or Richard Burton, also adapted a number of genres for the young in his prolific reprinting and remarketing of texts in the latter half of the seventeenth century, including versions of Samuel Crossman’s The Young Man’s Monitor (first published in 1664) as The Young Man’s Calling (first published in 1685), Remarks upon the Lives of Several Excellent Young Persons of Both Sexes (1678), The Apprentice’s Companion (1681) and Youth’s Divine Pastime (1691).87 Like Kirkman, Crouch was aware of the commercial effectiveness of appealing to the young, writing in Youth’s Divine Pastime: ‘He certainly doth hit the White/Who mingles Profit with Delight’.88 Referring to Thomas White, author of A Little Book for Little Children (1660), he deploys the tradition of adapting religious texts for children as a potentially profitable strategy.89 The anonymous translator of Aesop Improved also alludes to the extensive use of books by child readers, but also signals the limits of this readership. Referring to the substantial translation by John Ogilby, the preface claims:

Doubtless the famous Oglesby had never provided so elaborate a Translation for but one hundred and twenty Fables, or whereabouts, or found encouragement to print but such a number in two volumes, with excellent Sculptures at a very great charge, and price, if notwithstanding the seeming prostitution of that book to the use of children, it had not had a very great esteem, amongst the wiser sort of mankind.90

Hinting at the lesser status of a readership of children, this dismissive account links questions of readership to economics via the language of ‘charge’ and ‘price’. Children, according to this writer, do not constitute a sufficient market for books like Aesop’s Fables . Nonetheless, they form a significant portion of its users, as he reprovingly suggests that an identification of children as readers and circulation of books to this readership, a strategy which he also uses, is akin to prostitution.

These books directed to a young readership indicate some of the ways in which those working in an expanding book trade might appeal to the market in terms of age but also highlight its limits. It is difficult to determine if there was a corresponding market of children who read or bought these books. Although printers and booksellers recognized the economic profit that might be made in reproducing a range of books purporting to be for the young, this does not necessarily mean that the young constituted a significant portion of the market for books.91 A notebook collection of 144 riddles compiled by three children of the Holme family, including the teenage Randle Holme, at their home in Chester in the 1640s indicates that children may have accessed the genre of riddles in a number of ways.92 It is possible that the children copied these riddles from printed riddle books for children. Over one third of the riddles in this manuscript are similar to those contained in the 1631 version of The Book of Merry Riddles, and riddles 17 to 21 not only have similar wording to riddles in another well-known riddle book, The Riddles of Heraclitus and Democritus (1598), but also follow the same sequence, suggesting direct copying from this book.93 However, given the wide circulation of these riddles in oral as well as textual form, it is likely, as Adam Fox suggests, that many of these ‘poorly worded and incomplete […] juvenile scribblings […]’ were written from memory.94 Nonetheless this manuscript collection of readers does shed light on children’s reading and book ownership as it was shared and read by the Holme siblings. Early sections of the manuscript completed by one young scribe, for instance, are later read, corrected and completed by another of the children.95 Moreover, it seems that this text was compiled by the young Holme children to be shared among themselves: a communal riddle book for use by the children of the household. Alice, the youngest Holme child, born in 1636, annotates the manuscript by signing her name in the final blank sheet in an inexperienced hand indicative of someone first learning how to write.96 Although this might indicate book ‘use’ rather than readership, it is possible that Alice read the riddles contained in it, potentially learning, copying, reciting and making these riddles her own in ways not evidenced by the extant text. Her signature raises the possibility that the collection and reading of riddles and the associated demonstration of wit is the leisure activity of a group of children including, but not limited to, those responsible for the composition of the manuscript.

This shared riddle book signals the ways in which children may have creatively produced and read their own books, and indicates their consumption as readers of the material identified in printed culture as appealing to them. Yet it suggests a restricted market for such texts if children produced their own versions. The cost of books is, of course, a factor in ownership, and the Holme children are not alone in producing their own versions. Children were trained at school to compile quotations from their reading in a commonplace book for their future reading and use.97 The young Elizabeth Isham ‘finding a louse paper of the Epistles of Saint John … folded it up and made mee a little booke of it’, and keeping it in her pocket read ‘it often to my selfe’.98 Grammar schools may have provided a more ready market as some boys, or their parents, bought books for their education, such as John Lycoris, who bought his copy of Edward Cocker’s Arts Glory. Or The Pen-Man’s Treasurie (1657) in 1658 and Francis Lynn who was bought a Bible, The Practise of Pietie and ‘Dr William’s Catechism’ by his father for his schooling in 1689.99 However, in many instances boys accessed the copies owned by the school, which included handwritten editions compiled by the masters to avoid the cost of buying books.100 Like Bunyan’s narrator and Kirkman, many children read histories, romances and chivalric tales as recreation in their younger years, and remember this in their adult writing, but they offer limited details as to how they accessed these books.101 When Richard Baxter recalls reading ‘romances, fables and old tales’ in his childhood in 1620s Shropshire, he does not reveal how he gets these books. However, elsewhere in his autobiography he recalls borrowing books from a neighbour as well as a pedlar who comes to the door, both possible sources of romances for the young reader.102 The annotations of a number of boys on a 1503 edition of Bevis of Southampton , uncovered by Nicholas Orme, provide further evidence of the reading and ownership of such books during childhood.103 John Betts, Thomas Betts and John Gowd mark this copy of Bevis with drawings, underlining, short sentences in Latin and statements of ownership in the early seventeenth century, indicating the sharing of reading material among young boys. Each crosses out or writes over the claim of the previous reader, marking the book as his own even if only temporarily. It is possible that the boys traded the book in the method suggested by Kirkman’s The Unlucky Citizen, however, it is more likely that the boys came into contact with the book as part of their studies. In this case, a common schoolmaster may have loaned the book to the boys.

Early modern children commonly encountered their reading material via the decisions and purchases of adults. Some children accessed books as a result of charitable donations. Anne Clifford and Rachel Fane donated books to charity schools during their lifetimes, and the 1639 will of Francis Pynner states that the remainder of his money should be put to ‘godly and charitable uses’, including ‘for the buyeing and providing of horne bookes and primers to be given to poore children of the said parish of St Maries, in Bury aforesaid’.104 Some read their parents’ books: Lady Jane Lumley, for example, had access to her father’s library during her youth in the mid-sixteenth century and Abraham Cowley recalls in 1668 that he ‘happened to fall upon’ a copy of ‘Spencers Works’ in his mother’s parlour when he was younger than 12.105 Others were given books as gifts, often by parents or godparents. In 1565, the schoolmaster John Brechtgirdle left his copies of schoolbooks to his godsons.106 In the early seventeenth century, Lady Frances Egerton passed on her Bible and devotional works to her daughters and book for ‘Young Gentlemen Readers’ to her son’.107 The author William Lower gave a copy of his romance translations to his young daughter, Elizabeth, in 1659.108 Adam Martindale recalls that when he was 6, in 1629, his godmother gave him his first ABC.109 Elizabeth Hassen’s note on the front leaf of her copy of John Kettlewell’s The Practical Believer (1688), that this book was ‘given me by Mrs Aspley who is my/Godmother/1697’, may be another example of this practice.110 In the 1650s, Ralph Verney promises to send his goddaughter, Anne Denton, ‘halfe a dozen of the French bookes to begin your Library’, recommending in particular that she read ‘romances, plays, poetry, stories of illustrious (not learned) women’.111 It is possible that Hannah Barrow received her copy of Richard Hodges’ The Grounds of Learning (1650) as a Christmas gift.112 In the early seventeenth century, Elizabeth Isham’s mother gave her young daughter a number of prayer books, her father bought her a Bible, her grandparents left her copies of their prayerbooks and her nurse sent her an unnamed work by George Withers as well as ‘play books’.113 Isham also seems to regularly request access to her father’s books, and is allowed to read many from his personal library, although she does note that he refuses to lend her ‘playbooks’.114 Her brother also lends her books, including ‘Sir phillips sidnes Booke’, which on reading in her twenties, Isham claims ‘I hard much comended by some and others againe discomended the reading of such Bookes of love. but I found no such hurt.’115 Her brother also facilitates his own daughters’ access to reading material including romances, and his 15-year-old daughter Jane notes in a letter to him that ‘I have not read any story book since you was here, only Sir Philip Sidney’.116 Children’s access to books may have been regularly mediated by the decisions of their elders, but this did not necessarily mean that their access conformed to prescriptive moral advice on what they should read.

Elizabeth Isham’s extensive record of her reading and access to books throughout her life sheds light on this young reader’s extensive and varied access to books, primarily mediated by family members. Yet Isham also bought her own books on one occasion. She recalls in her Booke of Rememberance that at the age of 11 or 12 she sold the eggs from her hen, ‘gathered mony’ and ‘bought me 2 bookes’.117 Whether or not the isolated instances of book buying remembered by Isham and by Francis Kirkman in The Unlucky Citizen are representative of wider practices of independent buying by early modern children, they indicate one way in which children may have had agency in the marketplace. Young people who worked, such as youthful apprentices, may have also had some purchasing power and provided a market for the wide range of books identifying the young as readers. However, generally the status of being a child was identified as one of dependence, which would have included financial dependence. Children lacking the means to buy may have asserted their desires as consumers in other ways, for example, requesting certain books. In Robert Russel’s A Little Book for Children and Youth (c. 1693–1696), he advises his child readers to get their mother to buy them a copy of James Janeway’s A Token for Children (1671).118 William Wycherley’s The Plain Dealer (1677) offers a dramatic representation of this early modern pester power of sorts when Jerry Blackacre, ‘under age and his mother’s government’, visits the bookstalls at Westminster Hall with his mother. Jerry conveys his literary tastes, requesting ‘St George for Christendom; or, the Seven Champions of England’ or a ‘play’. Yet given that he is a youth under his mother’s charge and lacking autonomy in this marketplace, he is instead limited to the book that his mother wants him to read as preparation for the law: Sir Richard Hutton’s The Young Clerk’s Guide, first printed in 1649.119 Those defined by early modern culture as being children or youths had by definition limited agency as consumers, but they may have held some influence over the parents and guardians who bought them books.

‘To Play the Childe Againe’

If children were limited as purchasers and were more likely to be given books that would benefit their educational or religious upbringing by those who bought their books for them, why did authors and publishers market books of romance, delight and pastimes as suited to this age-inflected community of readers? Francis Kirkman’s framing of his romances and histories hints at the potential benefits. He suggests in the 1673 preface to his edition of Don Bellianis that it ‘is convenient’ for all of ‘what Age or Sex soever’ to read ‘these sorts of Historyes’ and urges:

if thou art Young, begin now, or else when thou comest to be Old, and hast any leisure; and if one of these Books chances into thy hand, thou wilt be so pleased with it, that read them thou must, and be in danger to be laughed at by those of the Younger sort, who having already read them, and being past that Knowledge, Laugh at thy Ignorance. (n.p.)

With what Lori Humphrey Newcomb calls ‘an ironic generational awareness’ in which ‘one must read the right books to keep up with one’s generation’, Kirkman primarily appeals to readers currently in the earlier stages of the life cycle and threatens shame to those who do not read these books in their younger years.120 However, he proceeds by highlighting the advantages of reading these books in old age. He claims that those ‘grave Citizens’ who:

in their latter dayes, having met with a Part of this History, or that of the Famous Parismus, have fallen so much in love with them, that they have become conceitedly Young and Amorous, and so highly pleased that they have run through all the Books of this Nature and Quality. (n.p.)

Kirkman claims to achieve two things by printing these romances. He makes available texts that are essential for the young to relate to their peers and he offers older readers an opportunity to return to youth. The reading experience offered by his books permits all, even those in the final stages of life, a means of becoming ‘conceitedly Young and Amorous’. Kirkman’s address ‘ To the reader’ does not necessarily depend on an existing market but creates two potential groups of readers in order to justify its publication: young readers wanting to participate in the reading community of their age group and older readers to whom it offers an alternative pleasure—a release from adulthood and temporary return to youth.

Seventeenth-century books promising recreation and leisure to the young, therefore, do not rely on a youthful market or reveal much about what children actually read. Instead, by associating certain texts with children and youths, they suggest that to indulge in idle toys and recreational reading practices was to some extent a childish act. They draw on wider cultural perceptions of children as desiring play and pleasure to advertise a return to this pre-adult state through the reading experience. Religious and moral writings deemed this a dangerous and morally corrupt act. As George Halifax warns in his seventeenth-century advice book, ‘to be eager in the pursuit of pleasure whilst you are Young, is dangerous; to catch at it in riper Yeares, is grasping a shadow that will not be held, besides that by being less natural it growth to be indecent’.121 For ageing individuals in early modern society, a return to a state of childishness was an unattractive inevitability as old age was commonly depicted as ‘second childishness’, a stage of life when the mind again gave precedence to ‘childish childhood’.122 Yet the books discussed in this chapter construct a temporary return to a stage of life during which indulgence in folly, mirth and recreation was permissible, and even desirable. They provide a space for the momentary release from the restrictions of adulthood. Like William Hornby’s call to professionals to remember ‘the seede and graine/Of skill’ to which ‘they were first beholden’ when offering ‘A Tale’ of his own childhood, which he claims exceeds the stories of ‘valiant Guy’ and the ‘Mirror of Knight-hood’ in Hornbyes Hornbook (1622), many early modern books ostensibly for children recognize the extent to which comic, pleasant and fantastical texts might offer older readers a wistful return to childhood, issues that continue to inform debates about the function and readership of children’s literature today.123 Texts like the riddle books, Youth’s Treasury and Sports and Pastimes on the one hand constitute material objects, the toys of childhood, that might be shared and read together by the young. They also offer—via reading—a return to the imaginative state of play and fancy associated with childhood and youth in this period. In reading as a child, any early modern reader can, as Lady Arabella Stuart suggests when she plays children’s games, ‘playe the childe againe’.124 Childhood is a performative state, and reading is one way in which this identity is constructed in early modern culture.

The framing of early modern books as suited to particular readers reveals more about perceived modes of reading, or the potential reading experience that the same text might offer to multiple categories of reader, than it does about the intended or actual readers of these books in early modern England. They produce a rhetoric of reading childishly. In bringing together associations between children, play and folly, these texts shed light on one understanding of childhood in the period as a distinct cognitive state and reveal what these books might offer to readers at all stages of the life cycle. They establish a set of reading practices that are inflected by age: practices that are deemed childish or youthful but that may be appropriated by any age group. This has significant implications for approaches to early modern children’s literature. It is more productive to think in terms of what constituted childish or youthful reading practices than to attempt to recover a body of children’s books in early modern England as ‘children’s literature’. For, as Roger Chartier argues in relation to popular culture, ‘it is clear that the appropriation of texts, codes or values in a given society may be a more distinctive factor than the always illusory correspondence between a series of cultural artifacts and a specific socio-cultural level’.125 Whereas books for children in early modern England always overlap with those written for, marketed to or read by other types of readers, there are modes of reading and means of engaging with or appropriating texts that are constructed as childish or youthful. Books claiming to provide recreation and mirth and accounts of how they should be read and were read might only shed light on one side of this multi-faceted topic, but they do reveal a significant aspect of what it meant to read as a child in early modern England. In the marketplace of early printed texts, it is an opportunity for the reader—no matter what their age—to return to the pleasures, delight and folly that are, to a certain extent, expected of the young but deemed unacceptable in older age.


  1. 1.

    John Bunyan, A Few Sighs from Hell (London, 1658), 157.

  2. 2.

    On Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) and A Book for Boys and Girls (1686) as children’s literature, see Shannon Murray, ‘A Book for Boys and Girls: Or, Country Rhimes for Children: Bunyan and Literature for Children’, in The Cambridge Companion to John Bunyan, ed. Anne Dunan-Page (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 120–136.

  3. 3.

    See Joshua Phillips, English Fictions of Communal Identity, 14851603 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2010), 122; Tessa Watt, Cheap Print and Popular Piety, 15501640 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 39–40.

  4. 4.

    Edward Bagshaw, The Life and Death of Mr. Vavasour Powell (London, 1671), 2; N. H. Keeble, ed., The Autobiography of Richard Baxter (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1974), 4–6. See Chap.  6 for discussion of this trope of childhood reading.

  5. 5.

    Douglas Greene, ed. The Meditations of Lady Elizabeth Delaval (Gateshead: Northumberland Press, 1978), 45.

  6. 6.

    Juan Luis Vives, The Instruction of a Christian Woman (London, 1592), C6r; Richard Baxter, A Breviate of the Life of Margaret (London, 1681), A2r–v. Thomas Salter, The Mirrhor of Modestie (London, 1579), B2v.

  7. 7.

    Teresa Michals, Books for Children, Books for Adults: Age and the Novel from Defoe to James (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 2.

  8. 8.

    Paul Griffiths highlights that youth is perceived as distinct from childhood as a phase in the life cycle in many early modern contexts (Youth and Authority: Formative Experiences in England 15601640 [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996], 18.) However, this chapter proposes that the terminology of being a child or youth intersect in the concept of reading childishly in younger years.

  9. 9.

    Michals, 3.

  10. 10.

    Michals, 20–21.

  11. 11.

    Griffiths, 18.

  12. 12.

    Hezekiah Woodward, A Childe’s Patrimony (London, 1640), 161. Further references are given in the text.

  13. 13.

    See Chap.  2.

  14. 14.

    Francis Hawkins, Youth’s Behaviour (London, 1651), title woodcut; Thomas Sprat, ‘An Account of the Life and Writings of Mr. Abraham Cowley’, in The Works of Mr. Abraham Cowley (London, 1668), A2r.

  15. 15.

    Cited in David Scott Wilson-Okamura, Virgil in the Renaissance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 215.

  16. 16.

    Aesop Improved (London, 1673), n.p.

  17. 17.

    Jacqueline Rose, The Case of Peter Pan (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993), 54–55.

  18. 18.

    William Sloane, Children’s Books in England and America in the Seventeenth Century (New York: Columbia University Press, 1955), 120; Daniel Kline, ed., Medieval Literature for Children (London: Routledge, 2003), 4.

  19. 19.

    F. J. Harvey Darton, Children’s Books in England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 1. For example, Peter Hunt, An Introduction to Children’s Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994); Mary Thwaite, From Primer to Pleasure in Reading (London: The Library Association, 1972). This has been challenged by more recent studies, for example, Matthew Grenby and Andrea Immel, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Children’s Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

  20. 20.

    Desiderius Erasmus, ‘A Declamation on the Subject of Early Liberal Education for Children’, in The Collected Works of Erasmus, ed. J. K. Sowards (Toronto: Toronto University Press, 1985), 339; John Brinsley, Ludus Literarius (London, 1627), A4r.

  21. 21.

    Charles Hoole, Orbis Sensualium Pictus (London, 1659), A4v.

  22. 22.

    Charles Hoole, A New Discovery of the Old Art of Teaching Schoole (London, 1660), 63.

  23. 23.

    Thomas Wright, The Passions of the Mind (London, 1601), 12. See Michael Witmore, Pretty Creatures: Children and Fiction in the English Renaissance (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007), especially 39, 211.

  24. 24.

    David Rudd, ‘Theorising and Theories: How Does Children’s Literature Exist?’, in Understanding Children’s Literature, ed. Peter Hunt (London: Routledge, 2000), 15–29.

  25. 25.

    Robert Matz, Defending Literature in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 2.

  26. 26.

    Philip Sidney, An Apology for Poetry, ed. Geoffrey Shepherd and R. W. Masten (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002), 81.

  27. 27.

    Philip Sidney, The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia, ed. Katherine Duncan-Jones (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), 3.

  28. 28.

    See Katherine Duncan-Jones, ‘Philip Sidney’s Toys’, Proceedings of the British Academy 66 (1980): 161–178.

  29. 29.

    Heidi Brayman Hackel, Reading Material in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 137–95; Helen Hackett, Women and Romance Fiction in the English Renaissance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 101–129; Caroline Lucas, Writing for Women: The Example of Woman as Reader in Elizabethan Romance (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1989), 118–132.

  30. 30.

    Duncan-Jones, 161.

  31. 31.

    Joseph Campana, ‘Boy Toys and Liquid Joys: Pleasure and Power in the Bower of Bliss’, Modern Philology 106.3 (2009): 465–496.

  32. 32.

    Duncan-Jones, 161. OED, defs 1 and 6.

  33. 33.

    Kline, 9.

  34. 34.

    On gendering of childhood, see Naomi Miller and Naomi Yavneh, ‘Early Modern Children as Subjects: Gender Matters’, in Gender and Early Modern Constructions of Childhood, ed. Naomi Miller and Naomi Yavneh (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2011), 1–16.

  35. 35.

    Margaret Tyler, The Mirrour of Princely Deedes and Knighthood (c. 1578), in The Early Modern Englishwoman: A Facsimile Library of Essential Works, ed. Kathryn Coed, Part I, vol. 8 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1996), A2r.

  36. 36.

    Tyler, A3r.

  37. 37.

    See Tina Krontiris, ‘Breaking Barriers of Genre and Gender: Margaret Tyler’s Translation of The Mirrour of Knighthood’, English Literary Renaissance 18 (1988): 19–39.

  38. 38.

    Vives, D1r; Edward Dering, A Briefe and Necessary Instruction (London, 1572), A2v.

  39. 39.

    Francis Meres, Palladis Tamia (London, 1598), 268v.

  40. 40.

    Francis Lenton, The Young Man’s Whirligig (London, 1629), 4.

  41. 41.

    William Hawkins, Apollo Shroving (London, 1626), 56.

  42. 42.

    On the long-standing association of romance with childish intellect, see Phillipa Hardman, ‘Popular Romances and Young Readers’, in A Companion to Medieval Popular Romance, ed. Raluca Radulescu and Cory James Rushton (Cambridge: Brewer, 2009), 150–164.

  43. 43.

    Brayman Hackel, 4; Juliet Fleming, ‘The French Garden: An Introduction to Women’s French’, English Literary History 56.1 (1989): 19–51; Hackett, 6–9.

  44. 44.

    Katharine Craik, Reading Sensations in Early Modern England (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 2. See also Mary Ellen Lamb, ‘Apologizing for Pleasure in Sidney’s “Apology for Poetry”: The Nurse of Abuse Meets the Tudor Grammar School’, Criticism 36.4 (1994): 499–520.

  45. 45.

    See Gillian Avery, ‘The Puritans and their Heirs’, in Children and Their Books, ed. Gillian Avery and Julia Briggs (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), 95–118.

  46. 46.

    Edward Calver, Passion and Discretion, in Youth and Age (London, 1641), 13; Wright, 12.

  47. 47.

    Anne Bradstreet, ‘Of The Foure Ages of Man’, in The Works of Anne Bradstreet, ed. Jeannine Hensley (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1967), 53.

  48. 48.

    Hawkins, 36.

  49. 49.

    Samuel Clarke, A Collection of the Lives of Ten Eminent Divines (London, 1662), 95–6.

  50. 50.

    James Janeway, A Token for Children (London, 1676), 19, 24.

  51. 51.

    Francis Kirkman, The Unlucky Citizen (London, 1673), 10–11. Further references are given in the text.

  52. 52.

    See Jody Greene, ‘Francis Kirkman’s Counterfeit Authority: Autobiography, Subjectivity, Print’, PMLA 121.1 (2006): 18–19.

  53. 53.

    Miguel de Cervantes, The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha, trans. John Rutherford (London, 2003), 26–27.

  54. 54.

    Jacques Du Bosc, The Compleat Woman (London, 1639), 12–15.

  55. 55.

    See Kirkman, Unlucky Citizen, 11, and the preface to Francis Kirkman, The Honour of Chivalry (London, 1664), A3v. Further references are given in the text.

  56. 56.

    Lori Humphrey Newcomb, ‘Kirkman, Francis (b. 1632, d. in or after 1680’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ed. David Cannadine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004),, accessed 9 Dec. 2011. See also R. C. Bald, ‘Francis Kirkman, Bookseller and Author’, Modern Philology 41.1 (1943): 17–32.

  57. 57.

    See Kirkman, Unlucky Citizen, 13–14. Francis Kirkman, The Famous and Renowned History of Amadis de Gaule (London, 1652).

  58. 58.

    Francis Kirkman, The Famous and Delectable History of Don Bellianis of Greece (London, 1673), n.p. Further references are given in the text. On the publication dates of Kirkman’s three parts of Don Bellianis, see Bald, 31.

  59. 59.

    Francis Kirkman, The Counterfeit Lady Unveiled (London, 1673), 9–10.

  60. 60.

    Francis Kirkman, The History of Prince Erastus (London, 1674), A2v. On editions of The Seven Wise Masters of Rome, see Jane Bingham and Grayce Scholt, Fifteen Centuries of Children’s Literature (London: Greenwood Press, 1980), 101.

  61. 61.

    Margaret Spufford, Small Books and Pleasant Histories: Popular Fiction and Its Readership in Seventeenth-Century England (London: Methuen, 1981), 74.

  62. 62.

    See Adam Smyth, ‘Profit and Delight’: Printed Miscellanies in England, 16401682 (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2004), 36–37.

  63. 63.

    See Paul Salzman, English Prose Fiction, 15581700: A Critical History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), 59–69.

  64. 64.

    Robert Greene, Menaphon (London, 1589), title page; Robert Greene, Alcida Greene’s Metamorphosis (London, 1617), title page.

  65. 65.

    On the expanding book trade, see H. S. Bennett, English Books and Readers 16031640 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970); Alexandra Halasz, The Marketplace of Print (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997); David Scott Kastan, ‘Print, Literary Culture and the Book Trade’, in The Cambridge History of Early Modern English Literature, ed. David Lowenstein and Janel Mueller (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 81–116.

  66. 66.

    J. G., A Play-book for Children (London, 1694), n.p.

  67. 67.

    Kastan, 82.

  68. 68.

    Adam Fox, Oral and Literate Culture in England, 1500–1700 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000), 208; Malcolm Jones, ‘“Such pretty things would soon be gone”: The Neglected Genres of Popular Verse 1480–1650’, in A New Companion to English Renaissance Literature and Culture, vol. 2, ed. Michael Hattaway (Oxford: Blackwell Press, 2010), 376–377. Extant editions include 1600, 1617, 1629, 1631, 1660, 1672, 1673, 1685. See William Hazlitt, Handbook to the Popular, Poetical, and Dramatic Literature of Great Britain (London: John Russell Smith, 1867), 509. On the associations between childhood and riddles in the period, see Edel Lamb, ‘The Riddles of Early Modern Children’s Worlds’, in Material Worlds of Childhood in North-Western Europe c. 13501800, ed. Philippa Maddern and Stephanie Tarbin (London: Routledge, 2017).

  69. 69.

    The Booke O[f] Merrie Riddles (London, 1617), title page. This is based on the 1600 edition, and is reprinted in 1629 and 1660.

  70. 70.

    See Chap.  4.

  71. 71.

    OED, def. 2.

  72. 72.

    Cited in F. J. Harvey Darton, ‘Children’s Books’, in The Cambridge History of English Literature, ed. Adolphus William Ward (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1930), 370.

  73. 73.

    Youth’s Treasury (London, 1688), title page.

  74. 74.

    See Courtney Smith, ‘The Seventeenth-Century Drolleries’, Harvard Library Bulletin 6 (1952): 40–51; Smyth, 1–31.

  75. 75.

    J. M., Sports and Pastimes (London, 1676), title page. Further references are given in the text.

  76. 76.

    On terrifying tales for children, see Avery.

  77. 77.

    J. M., 7.

  78. 78.

    See Mark Burnett, Masters and Servants in English Renaissance Drama and Culture (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 1997), 9, which suggests that books for servants were instrumental in creating a servant culture.

  79. 79.

    Mary Ellen Lamb, ‘Inventing the Early Modern Woman Reader Through the World of Goods: Lyly’s Gentlewoman Reader and Katherine Stubbes’, in Reading Women: Literacy, Authorship and Culture in the Atlantic World, 1500–1800, ed. Heidi Brayman Hackel and Catherine Kelly (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), 18.

  80. 80.

    See Nicholas Orme, Medieval Children (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 296.

  81. 81.

    See Bennett, 167–169; Kastan, 86–87; Nicholas Orme, ‘Children and Literature in Medieval England’, Medium Aevum 68.2 (1999): 239. David J. Shaw, ‘The Book Trade Comes of Age: The Sixteenth Century’, in A Companion to the History of the Book, ed. Simon Eliot and Jonathan Rose (Oxford: Blackwell, 2007), 221.

  82. 82.

    See Peter Clark, ‘The Ownership of Books in England, 1560–1640’, in Schooling and Society: Studies in the History of Education, ed. Lawrence Stone (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), 107.

  83. 83.

    Mary Pollard, Dublin’s Trade in Books, 15501800 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), 34.

  84. 84.

    On the range and popularity of advice books, Judith St John, ‘I Have Been Dying to Tell You: Early Advice Books for Children’, The Lion and the Unicorn 29.1 (2005): 52–64; Louis B. Wright, ‘Handbook Learning of the Renaissance Middle Class’, Studies in Philology 28.1 (1931): 55–86.

  85. 85.

    A Table of Good Nurture (London, 1625); An Hundred Godly Lessons that a Mother on her Death-Bed gave to her Children (London, c. 1686–1688).

  86. 86.

    See Ben Jonson, Bartholomew Fair, in The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson, ed. David Bevington, Martin Butler and Ian Donaldson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), in which Cokes recalls ‘the ballads over the nursery-chimney at home o’ my own pasting up’ (3.5.44–5).

  87. 87.

    See Avery, 99–101; Robert Mayer, ‘Nathaniel Crouch, Bookseller and Historian: Popular Historiography and Cultural Power in Late Seventeenth-Century England’, Eighteenth-Century Studies 27.3 (1994): 391–419; Jason McElligott, ‘Crouch, Nathaniel [Robert Burton] (c. 1640–1725?)’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,, accessed 16 Mar. 2011.

  88. 88.

    R. B., Youth’s Divine Pastime (London, 1691), title page.

  89. 89.

    Avery, 99.

  90. 90.

    Aesop Improved, n.p. On early editions of Aesop, see Seth Lerer, Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History, from Aesop to Harry Potter (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 110–111.

  91. 91.

    See Orme, Medieval, 296.

  92. 92.

    See British Library Harley Manuscript 1960. Randle Holme (b. 1627) enters the final 31 riddles. It is likely that the other scribes are his younger siblings: either Katherine (b. 1629), William (b. 1631), or Elizabeth (b. 1632/3). For more information on the manuscript and its scribes, see Fox, 209; Lamb, ‘The Riddles’; Frederick Tupper, ‘The Holme Riddles (MS. Harl. 1960)’, Modern Language Association 18.2 (1903): 211–272.

  93. 93.

    See BL Harley MS 1960, 3r–v and riddles 27–29 and 50–51 in The Riddles of Heraclitus and Democritus (London, 1598), B2r-v; C3r-v. Just under one fifth are similar to those contained in the 1617 edition of The Booke of Merrie Riddles. On sources of the Holme riddles, see Fox, 209–210; Tupper, 215–217.

  94. 94.

    Fox, 209.

  95. 95.

    For example, the first scribe left the answer for riddle 106 blank and this was later completed by the third scribe, Randle Holme (BL Harley MS 1960, 11v).

  96. 96.

    See Lamb, ‘The Riddles’, on the identity of this annotator.

  97. 97.

    Kenneth Charlton, Education in Renaissance England (London: Routledge, 2013), 110.

  98. 98.

    Elizabeth Isham, My Booke of Rememberance, ed. Elizabeth Clarke et al., Constructing Elizabeth Isham, University of Warwick,, accessed 7 Dec. 2011, 14r.

  99. 99.

    See Eve Sanders, Gender and Literacy on Stage in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 167; John Sargeaunt, Annals of Westminster School (London: Methuen, 1898), 285–286. The signatures of John and Anne Licoris in 1658 and 1664 on the Newberry Library copy of Edward Cocker’s Arts Glory. Or the Pen-Man’s Treasurie (1657) might signal another example of the borrowing of books by siblings and the circulation of books within the domestic space (see Sanders, 167).

  100. 100.

    See Rosemary O’Day, Education and Society, 1500–1800 (London: Longman, 1982), 52–76; Fred Schurink, ‘An Elizabethan Grammar School Exercise Book’, Bodleian Library Record 18 (2003): 174–196.

  101. 101.

    For example, Robert Ashley remembers reading Bevis of Southampton, Guy of Warwick, The History of Valentine and Orson and The Life of King Arthur of Britain as a 15-year-old. Robert Boyle read Amadis de Gaule during a period of convalescence aged 10. Richard Norwood recollects that he took ‘great delight in reading in vain and corrupt books as Palmerin de Olivia, The Seven Champions’ during his youth. See Matthew Grenby, ‘Chapbooks, Children and Children’s Literature’, The Library 8 (2007): 281; Ronald Crane, ‘The Reading of an Elizabethan Youth’, Modern Philology 11 (1913–1914): 269–71; Lori Humphrey Newcomb, ‘Gendering Prose Romance in Renaissance England’, in A Companion to Romance, ed. Corinne Saunders (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 133; Wesley Frank Craven and Walter B. Hayward, ed., The Journal of Richard Norwood (New York: Scholar Press, 1945), 17.

  102. 102.

    Alec Ryrie, Being Protestant in Reformation Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 282.

  103. 103.

    Orme, Medieval, 298–304. See Chap.  4 for further discussion.

  104. 104.

    See Edith Snook, ‘Reading Women’, in The Cambridge Companion to Early Modern Women’s Writing, ed. Laura Lunger Knoppers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 47; Caroline Bowden, ‘The Notebooks of Rachel Fane: Education for Authorship?’, in Early Modern Women’s Manuscript Writing: Selected Papers from the Trinty/Trent Colloquium, ed. Victoria Burke and Jonathan Gibson (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004), 173; Samuel Tymms, ed., Wills and Inventories from the Registers of the Commissary of Bury, St Edmund’s (London: Camden Society, 1850), 176.

  105. 105.

    Marta Straznicky, Privacy, Playreading, and Women’s Closet Drama, 15501700 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 19–47; Abraham Cowley, ‘Of Myself’, The Works of Mr. Abraham Cowley (London, 1668), 144.

  106. 106.

    See T. W. Baldwin, William Shakespere’s Small Latine and Lesse Greeke (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1944), 490–491.

  107. 107.

    Brayman Hackel, 147.

  108. 108.

    See David Kathman, ‘Lower, Sir William (c.1610–1662)’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,, accessed 18 May 2017.

  109. 109.

    Sloane, 7.

  110. 110.

    See Newcastle University Library copy of John Kettlewell, The Practical Believer (London, 1688) (K238.1 KET).

  111. 111.

    Cited in Anthony Fletcher, Growing Up in England: The Experience of Childhood, 1600–1914 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), 245.

  112. 112.

    See Chap.  4, 133, and Maddy Smith, ‘Value in Unexpected Places: The Sole Surviving Copy of The Grounds of Learning, a Seventeenth-Century Schoolbook’, Untold Loves Blog, 7 Feb. 2017,

  113. 113.

    Isham, 5r, 8r, 14r, 16v. See further discussion of Isham in Chap.  6.

  114. 114.

    Isham, 26r.

  115. 115.

    Isham, 26r.

  116. 116.

    Isaac Stephens, Under the Shadow of the Patriarch: Elizabeth Isham and her World in Seventeenth-Century Northamptonshire, Unpublished PhD dissertation (University of California Riverside, 2008), 177.

  117. 117.


  118. 118.

    Robert Russel, A Little Book for Children and Youth (London, c. 1693–1696), vol. I, A4v.

  119. 119.

    William Wycherley, The Plain Dealer, in The Country Wife and Other Plays, ed. Peter Dixon (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 3.1.305–307, 3.1.315.

  120. 120.

    Lori Humphrey Newcomb, Reading Popular Romance in Early Modern England (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), 151.

  121. 121.

    George Savile, The Lady’s New Year’s Gift (London, 1688), 155.

  122. 122.

    William Shakespeare, As You Like It, in The Norton Shakespeare, ed. Stephen Greenblatt et al. (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2008), 2.7.164; Bradstreet, 52.

  123. 123.

    William Hornby, Hornbyes Hornbook (London, 1622), B4, B7r–v. See U.C. Knoepflmacher, ‘Children’s Texts and the Grown-Up Reader’, in Cambridge Companion to Children’s Literature, 159–173.

  124. 124.

    Cited in Katherine Larson, ‘“Certein childeplayes remembred by the fare ladies”: Girls and their Games’, in Gender and Early Modern Constructions of Childhood, 67.

  125. 125.

    Roger Chartier, Forms and Meanings: Texts, Performances, and Audiences from Codex to Computer (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania State Press, 1995), 89.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Edel Lamb
    • 1
  1. 1.School of EnglishQueen’s University BelfastBelfastUK

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