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Monday, May 25, 2009

Little Arthur's History of England. Maria, Lady Callcott. John Murray (1952)


Some history books become historical artifacts in themselves as express ideas and specific attitudes that are more revealing than the intended content of the book. This book was first published in 1835 as a children's history. It had a very clear agenda, it was history with a purpose, moral lessons are drawn from the historical events and are intend to instruct Little Arthur and also to promote a patriotic pride in his country. It is the very directness of the editorial voice, the explicit judgements being made about the events being described are now the most historically interesting aspect to the book. As a short history of England from Pre-Roman times to 1820 it is comprehensive and packed with interesting incident and is a very well constructed narrative. It is unsurprisingly a very traditional and romantic version of the history of England being essentially a history of the various Kings & Queens of the country. They are each given a brief biography and the highlights or low lights from their reign are listed and they are assessed as being either good or bad both personally and as ruler. Other than the actual historical narrative the educational project underlying the book is fascinating. The author explicitly is placing the reader, the Little Aurthur of the title, in a historical context so that he will understand the need for public pride in his country, the history will give him the platform to see what he is part of and should it be necessary, defending. This books is a pleasure to read as it has been written by a gifted author whose skill makes the heavy handed editorialising palatable.

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