Home  »  Volume XVI: American EARLY NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART I  »  § 2. The Sunday School Books; Miss Sedgwick

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

VII. Books for Children

§ 2. The Sunday School Books; Miss Sedgwick

Home production arose through the desire for suitable Sunday reading. Our first juvenile books were by preachers or their maiden relatives. The Rev. Henry Ware asked Miss Sedgwick in 1834, at the height of her popularity, for narratives “between a tale and a tract, which should provide illustrations of Christianity.” The demands of her audience may be guessed from a letter entreating her to change a game of marbles to kite-flying, “because marbles are immoral as by betting they involve an appeal to God.” This is perhaps an extreme application of the prescription of the Sunday School Union that their tales must avoid “even the most indirect insinuation of anything which can militate against the strictest ideas of propriety.” But the services of an educated and practiced writer like Miss Sedgwick were unusual. Most of the earlier books were controversial; ignorant authoresses prattled of theology as glibly as their heroines declaimed their religious experiences. At first in great demand, the strongly sectarian books began to give way; the Sunday School Union itself was tending to break down sect distinctions, and the publishers complained that dogmatic preachings limited their sales. At a much later period those books grew in favour which had the least direct religious teaching, until finally the Sunday School library, designed to instruct, remained only to allure; and at the end of the nineteenth century the old-fashioned Sunday School book had happily vanished.