‘A Spoonful of Flummery’ from our Pollard Collection of Children’s Books

The Pollard Collection of Children’s Books was bequeathed to the Library by a former Keeper of Early Printed Books, Mary (Paul) Pollard, the fruits of over 50 years of collecting. Now, thanks to generous funding from the UK Trust for TCD, the project is being catalogued and made fully available to scholars for the first time. With over 10,000 items ranging from the 17th to the early 20th centuries, the collection provides all sorts of wonders, classics, oddities and beauties – a unique and invaluable historical insight into the reading life of the child, and a treasure trove for researchers and readers alike.

The Cottage Fire-side. [Dublin]: C. Bentham, 1821. (OLS POL 6494)

Image of titlepage of The Cottage Fireside
The rather crudely printed titlepage for The Cottage Fireside.

The Cottage Fire-side is a relatively unprepossessing little volume (see photo), printed in Dublin by Christopher Bentham in 1821, sparsely illustrated with wood-cuts and still in its contemporary binding. It has survived practically unscathed, despite the best efforts of one Ellen Birmingham – a former owner and eponymous dedicatee – to perfect her juvenile signature on its endpapers and initial leaf.

The volume is among the output of the Society for the Education of the Poor of Ireland, otherwise known as the Kildare Place Society, established 1811, with a view to promoting primary education in Ireland on the Lancasterian model (after Joseph Lancaster 1778 – 1838). It aimed to achieve this in a manner divested of all sectarian distinctions, to avoid the suspicion among the Catholic population that such Protestant benevolence merely masked proselytising zeal. Among its founding committee members were Dublin merchants Samuel Bewley and William Guinness, whose names remain synonymous with successful Irish enterprise today.

Categorised as ‘Instructive in Arts or Economy’, the contents are a peculiar admixture of moral, hygienic, practical and spiritual advice, served-up in the form of fire-side conversations between Jenny and Grandmother. Topics range incongruously from ‘Scandal’ to the curiously subtitled ‘Dress: a single life’, from ‘Tea-drinking’, ‘Vaccination’ and ‘Filial love’ to  ‘Never despair’, ‘Potatoes’ and ‘The annals of the poor’.

Image from titlepage of a Kildare Place imprint
Imprint from a Kildare Place publication.

Book-sales for the Society’s first 8 years of publication (1817-1825) exceeded 1,000,000 volumes. Ireland, which according to an 1824 General Parliamentary Committee report had been ‘teeming with immoral and mischievous publications” had embraced a far more wholesome and improving diet of instruction for the young. As per Grandmother’s advice to Jenny, all it required was ‘a spoonful of flummery’:  books that were cheap, edifying, and easily digested.