Fabulous Histories. by TRIMMER, Mrs. Sarah (1741-1810).

TRIMMER, Mrs. Sarah (1741-1810).

Fabulous Histories. Designed for the Instruction of Children, respecting their Treatment of Animals. By Mrs Trimmer. Second Edition. London, Longman, Robinson & Joseph Johnson, 1786.

Second Edition. 12mo (162 x 98 mm), pp. xi, [i], 203, [1] advertisements, the preliminary leaves bound at a slight angle but with all present and with sufficiently wide margin not to lose blank space, some light browning, in contemporary mottled (almost tree) calf, gilt roll-tool border to covers, flat spine gilt in compartments, red morocco label lettered in gilt.

A popular juvenile conduct book using fiction to instruct children in the proper treatment of animals. This important work anthropomorphises animals in order to use them as models of good and moral behaviour, while at the same time emphasising the beauty of the natural environment, warning against the abuse of animals and advocating proper respect for all creatures. In the introduction, Trimmer refers to her earlier An Easy Introduction to the Knowledge of Nature, 1780, in which Henry and Charlotte were ‘indulged by their Mamma’ and taken on nature walks in the fields and gardens. As a consequence of this, they ‘contracted a great fondness for Animals’ and began to wish that they could talk to them. ‘Their Mamma, therefore, to amuse them, composed the following Fabulous Histories; in which the sentiments and affections of a good Father and Mother, and a Family of Children, are supposed to be possessed by a Nest of Redbreasts; and others of the feathered race, are, by the force of imagination, endued with the same faculties’ (Introduction, p. x). The Redbreasts have made their nest in a wall covered with ivy and the mother hen is sitting on four eggs when the story opens. Soon, the happy day arrives when the four eggs hatch, ‘to whom for the sake of distinction, I shall give the names of Robin, Dicky, Flapsy, and Pecksy’. The stories involve both the upbringing of the young robins and the parents’ considerate sharing of responsibility for them, set against the background of the human family in whose garden they live, whose children, Frederick and Harriet, enjoy feeding the birds.
It was an overnight best-seller, with numerous editions well into the nineteenth century. Illustrations, often attributed to Thomas Bewick, were added to later editions. ESTC lists eleven eighteenth century editions, six London editions broadly shared by the same publishers as this edition, three Dublin editions and two Philadelphia editions. Despite this popularity, the work remains fairly scarce and each of the early editions appear to survive in relatively modest numbers. The first edition (t76171), produced by the same publishers earlier in the same year, is similarly scarce: well held in the UK (BL, Glasgow and three copies in Oxford), but only four copies in North America (Huntington, Miami, Morgan and Toronto).

ESTC t118616, listing BL, Liverpool, NT, Free Library of Philadelphia, UCLA, Florida and Illinois.

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