John Marshall (fl. 1783–1828) began publishing miniature libraries for children in 1800. Confident, perhaps, that his innovation would galvanise the children's book market, he produced his first three libraries 'almost simultaneously'. (Brian Alderson, 'Miniature Libraries for the Young', The Private Library, 3rd series, vol. 6, no. 1 (Spring 1983), p. 4.) The Juvenile; or, Child's Library was probably the first to appear. Two of its sixteen volumes (Quadrupeds and Birds) contain advertisements for another miniature library, The Infant's Library. A third library, The Doll's Library, also appeared in 1800. Marshall published a fourth library, The Book-Case of Instruction and Delight (1802), as well as further editions of The Infant's Library in Latin, German and French, and also several variations on the theme of miniature libraries including The Infant's Cabinet Series (1800-1801), The Infant's Letterbox (1803) and The Doll's Casket (1815?). His remarkable success prompted imitations from the most prominent names in children's publishing in the early years of the 19th century.
'The children's printer'
Marshall often referred to himself as 'The Children's Printer' and to children as his 'young friends'.
What little we know of Marshall's career suggests he was an astute and venturesome businessman. Thus, in the early 1780s Marshall targeted the existing market for Newbery-style stories, imitating John Newbery's Goody Two-Shoes with such works as Primrose Prettyface and Goody Goosecap. This type of story had remained popular in the eighteenth century and was a 'safe' option for a publisher at the outset of his career. In 1785, however, Marshall claimed to have discarded these chapbook-style publications in favour of the less frivolous (and highly profitable) stories of Lady Ellenor Fenn, Sarah Trimmer, Mary Ann Kilner and Dorothy Kilner.
His self-appointed role as a protector of 'young minds' from 'prejudicial nonsense' impressed the religious reformer, Hannah More. During the 1790s she engaged him in publishing her Cheap Repository Tracts but dismissed him in 1798 for 'trying to winkle and wring out of her religious venture every farthing he could for his own pocket'. (Mary V. Jackson, Engines of Instruction, Mischief and Magic : Children's Literature in England from its Beginnings to 1839 (London: Scolar Press, 1989), p. 124.) Marshall retaliated by publishing his own, identical (and more successful) 'Cheap Repository Tracts', though his dismissal by More no doubt prompted him to look for an opening for a new venture. It is evident from his next major publication, The Juvenile; or, Child's Library, that something had inspired Marshall to adopt a new direction in his career. From 1800 onwards his showcase publications were no longer 'ordinary' books but toy bookcases, sets of picture-cards and practical teaching kits.
Richard Lovell Edgeworth (1744–1817) was a member of the Birmingham-based Lunar Society - a circle of 'enlightened' scientists, inventors and philosophers who specialised in the practical application of science and technology to industry. Edgeworth himself made advances in the fields of telegraphy and electricity but is renowned for his 'discoveries' and keen lifelong interest in another field of 'experimental science': education. Edgeworth tested his theories concerning education on his own children and employed his second wife, Honora, to record the children's responses to different forms of teaching. Honora's notes formed the basis of a collection of stories entitled Practical Education (1780) but it was not until 1791 that Edgeworth began to plan a general essay on education, assisted by his daughter, Maria (1767–1849).
Their treatise, Practical Education, appeared in 1798. The Edgeworths did not claim to be entirely original and made frequent references to the works of previous educational theorists, including John Locke's Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Émile (1762). They also owed much to Anna Barbauld's style of teaching in Early Lessons (1778). As the title suggests, Practical Education advocated predominantly non-book-based methods of learning, including 'trials of dexterity and activity', sports and games, 'observation, experiment and invention' and educational toys such as dolls, prints and dissected puzzles (jigsaws). Edgeworth had even intended to open a 'Rational Toyshop'. Playthings occupied centre-stage in Practical Education: the Edgeworths promoted toys in the opening chapter but deferred their discussion of books until chapter 12.
The Edgeworths' treatise was highly influential at the close of the eighteenth century. It was not long before Practical Education sparked debate in magazines and newspapers, becoming a focus of discussion in well-to-do fashionable circles. The Gentleman's Magazine, for example, described it as 'education à-la-mode'. ('Review of Recent Publications', The Gentleman's Magazine, vol. 70 (Part I), no. 5 (May 1800), p. 459. It is more than mere coincidence that John Marshall's toy libraries appeared within two years of the publication of Practical Education. Marshall did not claim to have been influenced by the Edgeworths' treatise or, indeed, to have read it. However, evidence suggests that Marshall was, at least, 'working in the spirit' (Brian Alderson, 'Miniature Libraries for the Young', The Private Library, 3rd series, vol. 6, no. 1 (Spring 1983), p. 4.) of Practical Education and, certainly, it was not unusual for publishers and authors of children's books to reflect the latest educational theories in their works in order to boost sales. John Newbery, for example, made direct reference to 'Mr. Locke' in his preface to A Little Pretty Pocket Book (1744) and Anna Barbauld quoted Rousseau on the title page of Hymns in Prose for Children (1781). Marshall likewise would have been aware of the economic advantage to be gained from emulating the latest fashions in education. But Practical Education presented an interesting challenge: to produce a book in keeping with an educational theory that actually preferred non-book-based methods of learning.
Books or toys?
From the mid-18th century publishers of children's books experimented with John Locke's idea of appending playthings to books to make reading seem a 'Sport' rather than a 'Task'. ('John Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education, ed. by John W. and Jean S. Yolton (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), paragraphs 149-150.)) In 1742, for example, the pioneering Mary Cooper published The Child's New Play-Thing: this spelling book was accompanied by a fold-out sheet which could be 'cut into squares for children to play with'. For an extra sum, John Newbery included a ball (for boys) or a pincushion (for girls) with his A Little Pretty Pocket Book (1744). In these early publications the playthings (cut-out squares, ball and pincushion) were merely accessories to the books; later in the century publishers began to experiment with the idea that an object could be, simultaneously, both a book and a toy. Harlequinades (folded pages flicked up or down to create 'correct' or 'incorrect' pictures) appeared in the 1760s and are thought to be the first toys to have adopted the form of a book. Towards the end of the century some publishers were also producing books of cut-out paper dolls and clothes.
John Marshall's innovative miniature libraries further muddied the margin between books and toys. Despite the didactic flavour of the contents of his books, the glazed paper bindings simulated the bright colours and varied designs of toys and the attractive 'glass-fronted' bookcases invited children (and their dolls) to peep inside. In some instances Marshall chose toy-like titles such as The Doll's Library and The Doll's Casket, and decorated the fronts of the bookcases with engravings depicting children 'instructing' their dolls with his tiny books and cards. Brian Alderson states: 'one can find nothing but admiration for his idea of teaching the child by getting the child to teach the dolls'. (Alderson, p. 36.) There is also evidence to suggest that Marshall marketed at least one of his miniature libraries as 'baby-house' (i.e. dolls' house) furniture. He was aware of the increasing popularity of baby-houses at the end of the eighteenth century, for in his publications there are numerous references to them in the stories of Mary Kilner's Familiar Dialogues, Ellenor Fenn's Cobwebs to Catch Flies and the first volume of 'Select Stories' in The Juvenile; or, Child's Library. In the preface to The Doll's Casket, addressed to the 'Doll's Mamma', Marshall states: 'Some time ago I made [for children] a little library called the Infant's Library. I also made a pretty bookcase for their dolls [The Doll's Library] which I suppose many of them have placed in the Babyhouse'. If children placed The Doll's Library in their baby-houses it is not unreasonable to suppose that they did the same with The Infant's Library.
Close relations between the book trade and the toy trade assisted Marshall in the design and construction of his miniature libraries. Board games and dissected puzzles (endorsed by the Edgeworths in Practical Education) were highly fashionable at the turn of the century and publishers and booksellers frequently produced them as a lucrative sideline in the business of producing books. Whilst publishing his miniature libraries Marshall was also expanding his business to include games and, for example, he advertised his 'Dissected Map of England Upon a New Plan' in Book 4 of The Infant's Library. Sycamore boxes with pink paper linings and sliding lids were already widely available in the toy trade for packaging games and dissected puzzles. In constructing his bookcases Marshall simply altered the shape of the lid to resemble a pediment, added narrow strips of wood inside for shelves and pasted an engraved label on the front to give the impression of a glass-fronted bookcase.
Richard Lovell Edgeworth never realised his idea for a 'Rational Toyshop' and one can only speculate as to whether he and his daughter, Maria, would have chosen to stock Marshall's miniature libraries. They might have thought them tedious, as purely decorative baby-house furniture. The Edgeworths were aware of the vogue for baby-houses at the end of the 18th century and thought an unfurnished baby-house 'might be a good toy', but concluded a completely furnished house would prove 'as tiresome to a child as a finished seat is to a young nobleman'. (R.L. and Maria Edgeworth, Practical Education, 2nd edn. (London: Printed for J. Johnson, 1801), vol. I, p. 5.) They did, however, praise the use of dolls in preparing girls for their future roles as wives and mothers and they might, therefore, have been intrigued by Marshall's idea of teaching a child, almost inadvertently, by getting the child to teach its doll. Within a year of the publication of The Juvenile; or, Child's Library, Maria Edgeworth published Frank: a Sequel to Frank in Early Lessons in which she describes children playing with a 'little bookcase' of 'entertaining books' - suggesting that she had in mind Marshall's little bookcases and was commending them.
French 'Rousseauists' initiated the fashion for children's prints in the latter half of the 18th century. The most influential of these educationalists was the Comtesse de Genlis (1746–1830) who conceived the idea of mounting and hanging prints on the walls of nurseries. Her treatise on education, Adèle et Théodore (1782), greatly influenced the Edgeworths' own treatise. Maria Edgeworth knew the Comtesse de Genlis personally and produced her own English translation of Adèle et Théodore at the end of the century. Maria particularly commended de Genlis' 'historical hangings', regarding the study of prints as an effective, practical mode of instruction: 'Prints teach accuracy of sight, they engage the attention, and employ the imagination'. ('R. L. and Maria Edgeworth, Practical Education, vol. I, p. 17.) Unlike Rousseau, who claimed to hate books, the Edgeworths did not reject the written word altogether and apportioned text a supportive role in expressing and organising the ideas a child gains from observation: 'Childhood is the season for observation. Observation must come first before description'. ('R. L. and Maria Edgeworth, Practical Education, vol. II, p. 155.)
John Marshall was at the forefront of the revolution in children's prints and also picture books. As early as 1786 he collaborated with Sarah Trimmer (a disciple of the Comtesse de Genlis) in publishing a series of prints suitable for hanging on a wall, accompanied by miniature books of commentaries. Trimmer dedicated her first set of prints, entitled A Description of a Set of Prints of Scripture History, to the Comtesse de Genlis. Later sets included The New Testament (1786), Ancient History (1787), Roman History (1789) and English History (1792). The prints measured 3 x 3 inches and could be bought in one of three formats: unbound for 8d, bound in red leather for 1s 2d or mounted on boards for hanging for 1s 6d. By the turn of the century Marshall had a busy trade in picture-making.
From the mid-18th century publishers of children's books had employed crude woodcuts to attract a child's attention to the text but by the mid-nineteenth century some publishers were indulging the 'season for observation' with books consisting predominantly of coloured pictures printed on one side of the paper only and accompanied by brief captions. The main publishers of these 'toy books' were Dean & Son, George Routledge and Frederick Warne. However, Marshall's publications at the turn of the century anticipated many features of this genre. For example, Little Edward (1800) consists of pictures (hand-coloured in the V&A's copy) printed on one side of the paper, with minimal text. Marshall also published a monthly Pictorial Magazine (c.1801) of which, unfortunately, no known copies survive but it is thought each issue contained eight pictures with brief descriptions. The Infant's Library consists of 'upwards of two hundred pleasing pictures with easy descriptions'. The text in each miniature book serves to draw the child's attention more closely to details within the pictures; for example, 'See, it wants but five minutes to nine by that clock' (Book 12), or 'See? he has got some kind of fruit in his hand' (Book 5).
The Infant's Cabinet Series, a variation on the theme of miniature libraries, reveals Marshall's increasing interest in print-making. This series consists of boxed sets of twenty-eight picture-cards on various themes accompanied by two miniature books. The V&A's collections include The Infant's Cabinet of Fishes; other known sets feature animals, birds, London cries, flowers, fruit, insects, shells, trades and so on. Each picture card has a corresponding short description but, whereas in The Infant's Library Marshall printed the descriptive captions alongside the pictures, in The Infant's Cabinet Series he isolated the text in two tiny volumes which, since they are smaller than the prints, seem of secondary importance. Consequently, children could shuffle and sort the cards and learn the names of the fish without once consulting the books. Newbery had appended optional playthings (a ball or pincushion) to his A Little Pretty Pocket Book; in The Infant's Cabinet Series it is the books that append the playthings.
The Doll's Casket, published approximately fifteen years later, contains a delightful variety of playthings, including prints, picture books and battledores. The V&A's copy would originally have also contained a pincushion with six black and six white pins to enable the child teacher to monitor the progress of his or her doll. (Marshall borrowed this idea from Newbery's A Little Pretty Pocket Book). The tiny books contain hand-coloured engravings, a few with brief captions, but Marshall limits descriptive text to a preface and a list of contents. Perhaps, however, he intended his young readers to construct their own text - and so provided them with a bag of individual 'letters to make words with'.
It was only a matter of time before Marshall's competitors produced their own miniature libraries. When John Harris took over the Newbery publishing firm in 1801 he was eager to capitalise on Marshall's success and produced his own miniature library, The Cabinet of Lilliput, the following year. John Wallis was another keen competitor whose first miniature library, The Book-Case of Knowledge, appeared in 1800. Harris and Wallis collaborated in several publishing ventures, including The Scientific Library in 1806. Leading publishers throughout the 19th century, such as Charles Tilt, George Routledge, J.M. Dent and Ernest Nister, developed the genre further. Tilt's elegant Child's Book-Case, for example, boasts a 'real' glass-fronted case with a hinged door and opening drawers. Publishers today still issue children's books in miniature boxed sets. Favourite collections include Blackie & Son's Flower Fairies Miniature Library and Frederick Warne's The Original Peter Rabbit Miniature Collection.
A list of 'later sightings' may be found in Alderson's article, 'Miniature libraries for the Young', The Private Library, 3rd series, vol. 6, no. 1 (Spring 1983), 2-46. The children's books collections at the V&A also include (though not exhibited in this display) John Wallis's The Book-Case of Knowledge, or Library for Youth (the bookcase is missing) and his New Exhibition of Beasts, James Hogg's The 'Golden-Rule' Story Books and individual books from John Harris's The Little Library of Knowledge, Edward Lacey's Juvenile Library and Myers's Lilliputian Library.