Subscribe to the Rosenblog!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Searching for Spelling

News outlets are abuzz today with the news of a tie for the winner of the Scripps National Spelling Bee--Sriram Hathwar and Ansun Sujoe will share the spelling crown, the first time since 1962 that there have been co-champions.  All the news about spelling put me in mind of the various spelling books here in our collection.

Dr. Rosenbach was an early and important collector of children's books. This passion will be the subject of our upcoming exhibition Bescribbled, Nibbled, and Dog-Eared: Early American Children's Books, which opens July 9.  He gave most of his children's book collection to the Free Library of Philadelphia (of which he was a trustee) in 1947 and we will be borrowing a number of these volumes for the exhibition. There are, however, some children's books still at the Rosenbach, including a number of primers -- books used to teach basic reading and spelling.

In terms of spelling, M'Carty's American Primer from 1828 clearly promises "A Selection of Words the Most Easy of Pronunciation Intended to Facilitate the Improvement of Children in Spelling."

M'Carty's American Primer. Philadelphia: M'Carty & Davis, 1828. A828m
The first primer specifically produced for American use was The New England Primer, which was initially printed around 1690 and went through 450 editions by 1830. The edition shown here is from 1814. The New England Primer was intended for religious as well as academic instruction: its alphabet verses include such rhymes as "In Adam's fall/We sinned all" and "Thy life to mend/This book attend" with an image of the Bible. The book also included a catechism and plenty of religious texts to practice reading.

New England Primer. Walpole N.H.: I Thomas, 1814. A 1814n
 Here is another alphabet from M'Carty's American Primer.

M'Carty's American Primer. Philadelphia: M'Carty & Davis, 1828. A828m

 After mastering the alphabet, children would move on to syllables, then words of two and three syllables. Here's a page of alphabets followed by a page of syllables from The American Primer; Or an Easy Introduction to Spelling and Reading.
The American primer; Or an Easy Introduction to Spelling and Reading. Philadelphia: Matthew Carey, 1813. A 813a
In this primer the reader would eventually progress to words such as ornament, plenitude, and querulous. Not Scripps spelling bee material, but at least headed in the right direction. This primer also sternly admonishes that "If you do not take pains to spell, you will not know how to read, but will be a great dunce."

The American primer; Or an Easy Introduction to Spelling and Reading. Philadelphia: Matthew Carey, 1813. A 813a
Here's part of the list of three syllable words from M'Carty's primer, including simony, assassin, and tribunal.
M'Carty's American Primer. Philadelphia: M'Carty & Davis, 1828. A828m
The Rosenbach also has primers and instructional texts for other languages, including a number of Native American languages. Here is an Iroquois spelling book created by Eleazer Williams, the grandson of Eunice Williams. Eunice had been taken captive by the Mohawks in 1704 and eventually chose to stay with them, rather than return to white society.
Eleazer Williams, Gaiatonsera Ionteweienstagwa Ongwe Onwe Gawennontakon: A Spelling-Book in the Language of the Seven Iroquois Nations. Plattsburgh: F.C. Powell, 1813. A 813g

Eleazer Williams, Gaiatonsera Ionteweienstagwa Ongwe Onwe Gawennontakon: A Spelling-Book in the Language of the Seven Iroquois Nations. Plattsburgh: F.C. Powell, 1813. A 813g
  
So if there's ever an Iroquois spelling bee, we're all set.



Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia
and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog.





No comments: