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Durable Trifles

Matthew Grenby

Newcastle University

“Caught in the Moment: Current Events in Eighteenth-century Children's Books”

   Pedagogues, publishers, authors and other “guardians of education” were adamant in the later eighteenth century that politics should not find its way into books for children. Of course, children's literature was deeply enmeshed in the ideological struggles of the age. But this paper examines the sly appearance of current and quickly passing political controversies in the books of John Newbery and his contemporaries. I will argue that careful and historically attuned readings can reveal the presence of Jacobism, the “Jew Bill”, the John Wilkes affair, and other such temporarily pressing political crises, even including the annexation of children's books to the cause of Newcastle radical Thomas Spence's proto-socialist land reform campaigns of the 1780s. The appearance of the politics of the moment in children's books may have been consistently reprobated. But that does not mean that authors could resist the temptation to dabble in contemporaneity.

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