Christmas, as is celebrated today, has its origins in the Victorian period thanks to Prince Albert bringing to England the German tradition of a Christmas tree lit with candles. By the end of the 19th century, the Christmas tree was a familiar sight in the homes of many well-to-do families and the joy of opening a Christmas box became part of the excitement of the festivities.
One of the children’s books in the Baines Collection held in the UCL Institute of Education’s Special Collection is an annual (the first for children published in England) with the title The Christmas Box. As the title is so relevant to this time of the year I would like to share the delight of this little book as a Christmas treat for everyone. The book, edited by T. Crofton Croker, is small in size – as was typical of children’s books at the time – so that they could fit in a child’s hands. It is only 16.2 x 10.2 cm and was published between 1827 and 1829. It has lovely wood cut prints and includes short stories, verses, plays and articles and even a brief history of the Napoleonic wars. This gives us information about what children from upper- and middle-class families read.
The stories include ‘Battle of Frogs and Mice’, a short animal epic ascribed to Homer in the ancient world and ‘The Three Caskets’ which was used in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. The book also contains a couple of firsts: the first appearance of a Norwegian folk tale ‘The History of Asim and Asgard’ and the first publication of Scott’s poem ‘The Bonnets of Bonny Dundee’ (Hahn, 2015, p. 127). In addition, there are writings by the prolific author of adult and children’s stories Maria Edgeworth (1768 – 1849) who also wrote the well-known education treatise Practical Education (1801) (also in the IOE’s Special Collections) in which she and her father Richard Lovell Edgeworth combine ideas of different philosophers including John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
The book concludes with a collection of carols and a message for the reader which seems appropriate for both the book and this blog post:
And now, little dears, we have only to wish you all good wishes,
and to thank you for your patience in perusing our small present.
May you all spend your Christmas holidays pleasantly, with every enjoyment and entertainment,
and be ready, when we meet again, to glance over our pages with the same good humour and glee as we trust you have done.
And so GOOD BYE.
And on that note, we’d like to wish you all a Happy Christmas and Best wishes for the New Year!