The Cowslip and The Daisy, by Elizabeth Turner

Cowslip cvr

Pryor Publications’s facsimile edition of Mrs Elizabeth Turner’s 1811 compilation of tales The Cowslip, or, More cautionary stories in verse is headed by a warning from the publisher that ‘The reader needs to keep in mind the different attitude in the disciplining of children at the time this book was first published’.  It is probably the whippings they have in mind.

Here are 30 short stories, in verse, providing pearls of parental wisdom and warning the young reader to be obedient, studious, abstemious, free from envy and well behaved, particularly with siblings, and naturally demonstrate due filial piety – or be punished severely.  Even crying children are best dealt with by use of the rod.  On the other hand, confessions of faults may be met with by forgiveness.

If this seems a hard life for a child, there is the further example of the girl whose mother ‘taught her to bear what’s in vain to regret’.  Yet there are lessons today’s children could learn to their own advantage and that of society, such as honour (two lads break a pane of glass with a ball, own up and offer to pay), the unattractiveness of greed, and the danger of playing with sharp knives.

The Cowslip was a companion volume ‘By the author of that much-admired little work, entitled the DAISY’ (1807), and cunningly verse 28 advertises the earlier book.  Little Eugene thinks a daisy is only a flower, but he is enlightened by his father:

You are right, said papa, with a smile, but you’ll find
The Daisy a book, my boy, too,
Containing short tales for the juvenile mind,
And adapted for children like you.

Pryor have not republished The Daisy, or, Cautionary stories in verse, adapted to the ideas of children from four to eight years old, but it can be found in the Internet Archive.  It follows the same format as The Cowslip, with attractive illustrations accompanying verses of an improving kind, displaying middle-class mores to its young readers in a twin-pronged attack showing the benefits of good behaviour and kindness to others while warning of the dangers, or at least disadvantages, of naughtiness.

The values promoted may seem unreasonably restrictive to today’s child (unfortunately), and they do not chime in other ways: it is startling to read about Jacky drowning a cat and being told off for lying about it rather than for animal cruelty, and to learn the method used – string and a brick – which must have come in handy for many a young reader with a yen for experimentation.

The Internet Archive copy of The Daisy is a late Victorian reprint which was issued along with The Cowslip in a series of ‘Illustrated Shilling Series of Forgotten Children’s Books (the books rather than the children), published in 1899-1900.  Even by the end of the nineteenth century the publishers feel that ‘the text, always amusing, is redolent of earlier days’.

In earlier decades The Cowslip was extremely popular, perhaps with parents more than their offspring, as it went through a large number of editions.  The Internet Archive has a copy of the nineteenth edition, published in about 1843, containing the same text but different pictures, updated and of better quality than the woodcuts in the 1811 edition.

The Daisy it would seem was just as popular, and the publisher of the Illustrated Shilling Series notes that it was reprinted up to mid-century.  The paragraph in the same volume advertising the companion reprint of The Cowslip states that Mrs Turner also wrote The Crocus, The Pink and Short Poems, ‘but none had the charm or vogue of The Daisy and The Cowslip’.

Children’s books in good condition rare because of the heavy use they suffered at the hands of their owners, so it is good to see copies preserved and readily available to the modern reader who may benefit from lessons, or some of them at least, designed for their Georgian forebears.


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