A History of the McGuffey Readers by Henry H. Vail

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Page 1

A History of the McGuffey Readers


Before me are four small books roughly bound in boards, the sides
covered with paper. On the reverse of the title pages, two bear a
copyright entry in the year 1836; the others were entered in 1837. They
are the earliest editions of McGuffey's Eclectic Readers that have been
found in a search lasting forty years.

They represent the first efforts in an educational and business
enterprise that has for three-quarters of a century called for the best
exertions of many skilled men, and in their several forms these books
have taken a conspicuous part in the education of millions of the
citizens of this country.

But what interest can the history of the McGuffey Eclectic Readers have
to those who did not use these books in their school career? Their story
differs from that of other readers since in successive forms, adjusted
more or less perfectly to the changing demands of the schools, they
attained a wider and more prolonged use than has been accorded to any
other series.

[The Function of Readers]

By custom and under sanction of law certain studies are pursued in the
common schools of every state. Spelling, reading, writing, arithmetic,
geography, history, grammar, civics and physiology are the subjects
usually taught. The school authorities select the textbooks which shall
be used in each subject. The readers are the only texts used in all
schools affording opportunity for distinct ethical teaching. The history
of our country should give ideas of patriotism; the civics should
contain the primary notions of government; the physiologies should
instruct the pupils in the laws of health; but the reader should cover
the whole field of morals and manners and in language that will impress
their teaching indelibly upon the mind of every pupil. While the chief
aim of the school readers must be to teach the child to apprehend
thought from the printed page and convey this thought to the attentive
listener with precision, these efforts should be exerted upon thoughts
that have permanent value. No other texts used in the school room bear
directly and positively upon the formation of character in the pupils.
The school readers are the proper and indispensable texts for teaching
true patriotism, integrity, honesty, industry, temperance, courage,
politeness, and all other moral and intellectual virtues. In these books
every lesson should have a distinct purpose in view, and the final aim
should be to establish in the pupils high moral principles which are at
the foundation of character.

[Formers of Character]

The literature of the English language is rich in material suited to
this intent; no other language is better endowed. This material is fresh
to every pupil, no matter how familiar it may be to teacher or parent.
Although some of it has been in print for three centuries, it is true
and beautiful today.

President Eliot has said, "When we teach a child to read, our primary
aim is not to enable it to decipher a way-bill or a receipt, but to
kindle its imagination, enlarge its vision and open for it the avenues
of knowledge." Knowledge gives power, which may be exerted for good or
for evil. Character gives direction to power. Power is the engine which
may force the steamer through the water, character is the helm which
renders the power serviceable for good.

Readers which have been recognized as formers of good habits of action,
thought, and speech for three-quarters of a century, which have taught
a sound morality to millions of children without giving offense to the
most violent sectarian, which have opened the doors of pure literature
to all their users, are surely worthy of study as to their origin, their
successive changes, and their subsequent career.

The story of these readers is told in the specimens of the several
editions, in the long treasured and time-worn contracts, in the books of
accounts kept by the successive publishers, and in the traditions which
have been passed down from white haired men who gossiped of the early
days in the schoolbook business. Valuable information has also been
furnished by descendants of the McGuffey family, and by the educational
institutions with which each of the authors of the readers was

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Tue 16th Apr 2024, 11:33