Adventure and Morality: The Boy’s Own

May 14, 2009

While other parts of the John Johnson Collection may certainly be prettier, the prospectuses of books and journals are the unsung heroes of the booktrade section. There is a wealth of information contained within their pages which illuminates the world of popular fiction and essay writing of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

In particular, prospectuses of children’s serial publications provide us with a glimpse into the function of journals in family life. The latter half of the nineteenth century saw an explosion of cheap publication and it is during this period that children’s serial literature was produced on a mass scale. The most well-known of these journals is perhaps the Boy’s Own Paper which was first published in 1879.  The Religious Tract Society created the journal in order to bring moral instruction to young boys through a heady mixture of adventure, sport, humour and suspense.

A prospectus of the Boy's Own Paper from 1895

A prospectus of the Boy's Own Paper from 1895

This prospectus from 1895 demonstrates the lively illustrations used in the Boy’s Own Paper, designed to capture the eye of booksellers and readers alike. The authors who are listed in this prospectus include popular writers such as George Manville-Fenn (1831-1909), who was prolific in his production of fiction for both children and adults.   

The heroic boy reading his Boy's Own in 1893

The heroic boy reading his Boy's Own in 1893

Adventure, health, courage, all seen as essential to the British character, were promoted alongside articles by the clergy which set these attributes in a religious context.  Famous writers such as Jules Verne and sporting heros, such as W. G. Grace, also contributed regularly to The Boy’s Own Paper, making it, perhaps, the most successful magazine of its kind.

Journals were also produced specifically for girls. While the boys were reading high adventure, valiant sporting prowess and wholesome humour, the girls were learning how to cultivate calm, helpful characters, as the image in this prospectus for The Child’s Companion and Juvenile Instructor from 1898 shows.

A girl reading her Child's Companion is 1898
A girl reading her Child’s Companion in 1898

These prospectuses give us a glimpse into the life of children in the late nineteenth century and the role some sectors of the book trade created for themselves as instructors of the next generation. – Elizabeth Brewster

Prospectus of The Boy’s Own Paper. John Johnson Shelfmark: Prospectuses of Journals 8 (12**d) ProQuest durable URL

Prospectus of The Boy’s Own Paper.  John Johnson Shelfmark: Prospectuses of Journals 8 (15) ProQuest durable URL

Prospectus of The Child’s Companion and Juvenile Instructor. John Johnson Shelfmark: Prospectuses of Journals 12 (52a) ProQuest durable URL

Copyright © 2009 Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. Reproduced with the permission of ProQuest. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

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