Paradigm, No. 2 (March, 1990)

 Mrs. Trimmer's School Readers

P. M. Heath

53 Hartington Road,
London W4 3TS

From 1780 onwards Mrs. Trimmer published some 44 works, ranging from simple explanations of the rites of the Anglican Church to more substantial publications running to several volumes.

A pioneer of early Sunday schools, Mrs. Trimmer is remembered today for her 'pair of scissors' -- possibly Mrs. Bowdler's original source of inspiration -- for her attack on Lancaster's new system of education, and for her contribution to the SPCK-backed books supplied to National schools. These readers, written in the 18th century in the style of the 18th century, to meet the religious, moral and social needs of the 18th century, remained an integral part of the elementary school curriculum until the mid-19th century.

An Easy Introduction to the Knowledge of Nature was Mrs. Trimmer's first school reader, surviving for some 70 years. Although not on the SPCK list, its popularity guaranteed it a place in middle-class schools and nurseries, several French translations and, temporarily, inclusion in the list of scholars' books at Lancaster's Borough Road School.

The Charity School Spelling Book headed the textbooks comprising the core element of Mrs. Trimmer's new plan of appropriate instruction for children in charity schools, and enjoyed large SPCK-backed circulation, particularly through extensive use in the new Sunday schools, until eventually incorporated into the National Society's Central School books.

A subsidy -- up to 75% -- applied also to the Instructive Tales, published originally for adults in the Family Magazine (1788-1789). Mrs. Trimmer has been unfairly criticised for their inappropriate content -- exhortations to keepers of public houses, advice to workmen on oaths -- and would have been the first to class these SPCK tracts, proliferating in schools until the 1850s, as quite unsuitable reading for children.

Reviews of schoolbooks in the Guardian of Education (5 vols. 1802-1806) were confined to the editor's role as examiner of the religious and moral content of books of education, an area in danger of forming part of an alleged conspiracy against Christianity and all social order.


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