Friday, February 22, 2019

Book Review: The New England Primer 1777

New England Primer (1777 edition). Various authors. 90 pages. [Source: Online]

First sentence: HOW glorious is our heavenly King, Who reigns above tha Sky! How shall a Child presume to sing His dreadful Majesty!

Premise/plot: This is essentially the first textbook specifically written/published for the American colonies. The book was published before 1777--by almost a century--but earlier copies than the 1777 edition are rare. I found no online sources for earlier editions. Benjamin Harris published it in America--Boston, I believe; he had published a textbook or primer entitled The Protestant Tutor in England before fleeing to America in 1686.

My thoughts: It would be easy for most modern readers to dismiss this one completely as outdated religious propaganda. But what is a Christian to make of The New England primer?

One section of this one reminded me of my own instruction in reading--for better or worse. They have separated out vowels and consonants into "easy syllables."
Ab, eb, ib, ob, ub
ac, ec, ic, oc, uc
ad, ed, id, od, ud
af, ef, if, of, uf
ag, eg, ig, og, ug
aj, ej, ij, oj, uj
ba, be, bi, bo, bu
ca, ce, ci, co, cu
da, de, di, do, du
fa, fe, fi, fo, fuc
ga, ge, gi, go, gu
ha, he, hi, ho, hu
I can't honestly say that I learned to LOVE reading based on this system of sounding out letters. First learning to "blend" two letters into one sound...but I did learn to read.

Some of the words in the "words of one syllable, two syllables, three syllables, four syllables, etc." are interesting. You'd never really think about children needing HOW to read them. Words such as argument, damnify, abominable, abomination, mortification, etc.

Some of the alphabet poems are better than others. I do like "In Adams's fall/ We sinned all."

One section pairs the alphabet with bible verses. This again is very similar to my own instruction. Though not the exact same pairings--but the general idea.

It does include the Lord's Prayer and The Creed. Surely these are still relevant for believers of all age to be familiar with.

The Verses for Children...I found lines here and there which I liked.
He gave me life, and gives me breath,
And he can save my soul from death,
By JESUS CHRIST my only Lord,
According to his holy word.
He clothes my back and makes me warm:
He saves my flesh and bones from harm.
He gives me bread and milk and meat
And all I have that's good to eat.
When I am sick, he if he please,
Can make me well and give me ease:
He gives me sleep and quiet rest,
Whereby my body is refresh'd
The Lord is good and kind to me,
And very thankful I must be:
I must obey and love and fear him,
By faith in Christ I must draw near him.  
Now I lay me down to take my sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.  
It does include a list of proper names of men and women to "teach children to spell their own..." I can't say many of these are common these days. I wonder how many Xenophon's there were among the Puritans? Mehitable does make the list for women.

One section focuses on the martyr John ROGERS and the advice he gave his children in the days before his death.

It does include the WESTMINSTER shorter catechism. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the Westminster Catechism. It is AWESOME. There are 107 questions in this catechism.
 Quest. WHAT is the chief end of man ?
Ans. Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
Q. 2. What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him ?
A. The word of God which is contained in the scriptures of the old and new testament is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify God and enjoy him.
 Q. 3. What do the scriptures principally teach ?
A. The scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requireth of man. 
I am all for teaching catechisms to children--to believers--of all ages. Though I did not discover them until I was an adult.

The next section is "Spiritual Milk for American Babes" by John Cotton.
Q. WHAT hath God done for you ?
A. God hath made me, he keepeth me, and he can save me.
Q. Are you then born a sinner ?
A. I was conceived in sin, & born in iniquity.
Q. What is your birth sin ?
A. Adam's sin imputed to me, and a corrupt nature dwelling in me.
Q. What is your corrupt nature ?
A. My corrupt nature is empty of grace, bent unto sin, only unto sin, and that continually.  
Q. What is sin ?
A. Sin is a transgression of the law.
Q. What is faith ?
A. Faith is the grace of the Spirit, whereby I deny myself, and believe on Christ for righteousness and salvation.
Q. What is prayer ?
A. It is calling upon God in the name of Christ by the help of the Holy Ghost, according to the will of God.
Q. What is repentance ?
A. Repentance is a grace of the Spirit, whereby I loath my sins, and myself for them and confess them before the Lord, and mourn after Christ for the pardon of them, and for grace to serve him in newness of life.
I honestly don't know what to make of the rhyming dialogue between Christ, Youth and Devil. I'm stumped.

It ends with further advice to children on how to live.

Overall, there were elements that I liked--namely the catechisms and creeds--and elements that perhaps weren't as timeless.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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