William Mulready, 1786-1863,

"Train Up a Child in the Way He Should Go; and When He is Old He Will Not Depart From It"

Religious Literary Instruction

Many texts aimed at children, during this formative time period in the perception of children, were what critics have termed painfully didactic up until the end of eighteenth century and beginning of the nineteenth century. Whether seen as miniature adults, ready to learn the laws of spirituality; islands of goodness, in need of preservation from corrupting forces, or tabula rasa, able to absorb the teachings of their environment, children of the time were inundated with instructive materials, unlike the purely diversive children's literature of more modern times.

Works aimed at children in the earlier parts of the eighteenth century were purely religious in nature. The proliferation of instructional children's literature stemmed from the spread of literacy in the seventeenth century and displayed an increasing means to provide education via books.12 However, the latter parts of the eighteenth century saw authors employ a variety of literary forms in forging their evangelical tales in part due to John Locke's ideas that "respecting the playfulness of the young" provides greater educational value. Still, the stories of the eighteenth century usually were not much more than thinly artificed theological teaching. Into the nineteenth century, authors for children began to more thoroughly secularize writings in a recognition of the popularity of more imaginative and less didactic forms.13

Allegory was commonly employed in secular pursuits, but a great deal of allegorical writing aimed at teaching children general and religious truths. However, as allegory was a highly popular form, allegory became predominantly secularized by the end of the eighteenth century. Likewise, Eastern Tales, fantastical and exotic stories from foreign cultures, were reshaped by authors to a conventional end. Another genre, the school story, took the pure conveyance of morality, as is found in many allegories, and coupled it with lessons of living to create a morality more practical and less abstract. Also, there was always the straightforward book of poetry and prose which has, at times, forcibly molded and, at times, delighted children and has caused latter-day critics, at times too contemptuous in their lofty, isolated, and one-sided ideals of literature, to wince at their simplicity.14