We have recently digitised two very charming items from the Rylands Children’s Collections, both of which lend themselves beautifully to a blog post.
The first is an item that I was very excited to come across through a customer enquiry. The volume is Hubert, the cottage youth; : being the sequel to Phoebe, the cottage maid. Hubert is the second in a series of ‘Elegant juvenile’ books of the early 19th century produced by S. and J. Fuller. The first book is Phoebe, the Cottage Maid which details the daily life of a country girl and the series includes Ellen, or, The Naughty Girl Reclaimed and The History and Adventures of Little Henry. The books are examples of some of the earliest paper doll books, although truthfully, Hubert is less of a paper doll than a paper head who moves through a series of outfits that accompany his story.
As is so often the case with children’s literature, the series of books are morality tales where good or conforming behaviour is rewarded and less agreeable behaviours are discouraged and repented. As morality tales go, Hubert is relatively straightforward as a somewhat pastoral figure whose clean living, humble but productive life sees him attain his happy ending. Hubert’s dedication and diligence as a worker pays off, allowing him to afford buy the farm his father only rented and his story ends with Hubert enjoying a prosperous and respectable marriage. In fact Hubert marries Phoebe, she of the prequel to his own tale, Phoebe, the Cottage Maid. Unfortunately, Hubert is the only example we have from this series and sadly our copy is incomplete; wanting at least one outfit and a headpiece.
Unashamedly, we have become slightly obsessed with Hubert; we have digitised the entire story to be enjoyed here the plates and slip case are also available to view here. We have also been happily experimenting with making Hubert a little more animated…
Our second enchanting item, tying in nicely with both midsummer (yes, it is!) and the celebrations of the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, is this wonderful Arthur Rackham illustrated copy of Shakespeare’s popular comedy A midsummer night’s dream.
This particular volume is from the Alison Uttley Children’s collection. Uttley was the author of the popular Little Grey Rabbit Children’s books and was herself Alumni of the University of Manchester, reading Physics here and graduating in 1906. Here at the John Rylands Library we have the Alison Uttley Papers and a number of books from her personal library.
Arthur Rackham’s illustrations are familiar to many and we already have a number of Rackham’s beautiful illustrations digitised already and available to view in our online collections. Well known for his illustrations of children’s books, Rackham’s distinctive and sometimes rather dark artwork produces some wonderfully ethereal depictions, entirely fitting for Shakespeare’s fairy realm.
The entire volume can be viewed in all its loveliness here.
All images unless otherwise stated are copyright of the University of Manchester and can be used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-Share Alike Licence.