British Children’s Poetry in the Romantic Era: Verse, by Donelle Ruwe (auth.)

By Donelle Ruwe (auth.)

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Ann Taylor was particularly fond of headless anapest in alternating four- and three-beat lines, and Sara Coleridge’s Pretty Lessons in Verse (1834) is almost entirely anapestic. The most formulaic of all children’s poets, Mary Belson Elliott, writes in the following template in Simple Truths (1812): 16 lines divided into four stanzas of common measure (sometimes substituting anapests for the iambs), and always rhyming abab. The first 70 poems (with one exception) of Simple Truths follow this pattern.

S The Half-Holiday Task-Book, is preoccupied with anti-war sentiments: boys are warned of “the dangerous snare / That lurks in martial story” (9); “The Impressed Sailor” excoriates the press gangs; “The Artillery-Man” warns that no soldier is invulnerable; “The Soldier’s Monument” laments that fallen soldiers are invariably forgotten; in “The Soldier’s Life in Tent and Field,” a wife and child crawl among the dead while canons roar overhead. The Knife-Grinder’s Budget (1829) provides lively snapshots of working folk like barbers, brush sellers, soldiers, lamplighters, footmen, and laundresses.

Adults write to child readers, and adults and children are not cherished friends or equals. The notable omission of a list of subscribers in children’s poetry books is particularly suggestive. A subscription list honors those who subsidized a publication and props up the prestige and potential merit of the verse. It also guarantees a pre-sold volume to publishers who might not otherwise gamble on an untried author. Children’s books, by contrast, are a commercial venture. For example, Anne Ritson’s collection for adults, A Poetical Picture of America (1809), has a substantial list of subscribers, but her children’s collections have none.

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