Posted by: whipplelib | February 19, 2014

The Little Rev. Wilson

Covers of the three books

Covers of the three books

A previous post allowed me to get over excited about a tiny phrenology book, this time I have three small books (triple excitement).

The Little Mineralogist, the Little Geologist, and First Lessons on Natural Philosophy have no publication dates but a search on COPAC gives us estimated dates ranging from 1830-1850. All three are under 15 cm tall with two of them (the Littles) looking a bit plain, though all of them do have plates inside.

The Little Mineralogist runs through a selection of minerals noting such things as their chemical composition, structure, frangibility, and lustre. It lets the reader know which mineral samples are easy to get hold of and which are “most necessary to learn to distinguish”. The Little Geologist details types of rock and describes the strata of England and Wales. It also covers fossils and has one plate showing what the fossils looked like in fleshy form. Both of these books are quite short and are a quick read.

Title page of First lessons, with signature

Title page of First lessons, with signature

First Lessons on Natural Philosophy is different from the Littles. It is set out in the question and answer format of catechisms, concluding with the question, what is natural philosophy, with the answer being “Natural philosophy informs us of the properties of bodies, and ascertains the immediate causes of events”. The book does cover the properties of bodies (impenetrability, extension, divisibility, attraction and so on) and basic scientific facts such as how rainbows are formed, what dew is, and information on the solar system. One section, which demonstrates the age of the book, asks for examples of good things the wind does. The reply is that it is good for blowing away bad air which makes a “dreadful sickness” and for moving ships around the world. As it is set out in the form of catechisms it does have a religious slant to some sections. At the front and back of the book there are adverts for other books in the series and the “opinion of the press” towards the Rev. Wilson’s books. His books are looked upon in a good light (no one is going to use a bad review though are they). His other publications include more catechism books, more lessons on natural philosophy, religious oriented topics, botany, astronomy, grammar, modern history etc.

The physical book itself is quite interesting. The cover looks to have been restitched to the main block of the book and a cotton fabric cover has been added. The colours on the fabric are still vivid and it would be nice to think it was added in the 19th century but we can’t say for sure. There is a signature on the page opposite the title page and the book also has a few pencil markings inside.

The author

Plate from the Little Geologist

Plate from the Little Geologist

Although the title pages of these books state they were authored by the Rev. T. Wilson, they were in fact the work of Samuel Clark (1810-1875). His Memorials, (available through which was published and edited by his second wife in 1878, gives us an insight into his life. Clark was brought up and educated as a Quaker but later left and joined the Church of England. Through his selected letters and journal entries we can see his internal debates about changing churches and how he worried about his parents reaction. One story from Memorials recounts the time his dog prevented a baby from crawling down some stairs by picking it up by its clothing and moving it back to the centre of the room. Supposedly the child makes another attempt at escape and the dog flips the child over on to its back with his paw to stop it crawling away. Clark toured around the UK and France visiting cathedrals and churches commenting on the various places he travelled to: how flat Lincolnshire was, that Edinburgh was beautiful, naturally and architectural, but has “detestable filth” and “The smells exceed the seventy-two of Cologne, and there is no eau d’Edinburgh to wash them out.” He says the people in Durham “are a very uncultivated race, and the poor children seem dreadfully neglected. I suppose this is common in the neighbourhood of mines”. He also has a connection with previous posts as in 1834 he gave a lecture to the Phrenological Society on temperaments.

Secord’s introduction to Peter Parley’s Wonder of the earth, sea and sky (available in the library), tells us that he was a “…keen advocate of scientific education for the young…… becoming fluent in six languages and mastering geography, chemistry and the physical sciences.” We also learn that he became a partner in the publishers Darton & Son (subsequently changing their name to Darton & Clark for the seven years he worked there). The three books here were also published by this company, the Littles by Darton & Clark and the Lessons by Darton & Hodge. Clark didn’t just used the pseudonym “The Rev. T. Wilson” he also used “Peter Parley,” “Uncle John,” “Reuben Ramble,” and “Uncle Benjamin.”

Although these three books are interesting examples of small educational works for children from the 19th century, I think the most important question to ask is will I ever get away from phrenology!!


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