Riddles for a Rainy Day

Spring has sprung here at the library, and that means lots of grey skies and damp walks. As a bright spot, though, I stumbled upon an educational riddle book. It has a unique lay out, with a full-page illustration and clue one one leaf, and the answer, complete with historical and geographical information on the other.

You might be familiar with these word and picture puzzles, known as rebus. A rebus is an allusional device that uses pictures to represent words or parts of words, and was a popular pastime in the 18th century and on into the 19th century.

With that quick history lesson, here are some of the picture riddles. Let’s see if you’re as smart as a child from 1811 England (mouse-over for answers):

The Seat of Learning



A Seaport in Wales



A Place in Lincolnshire



How did you do? Three for three?

Ye’re surly far wrang.

Some of our chapbooks are less jovial and more philosophical. Published in 1842 at the beginning of the teetotal movement, here’s a dialogue between two men on the effects of the corn laws during famine in the 1800s. I’m not a historian, so I found some extra research on the topic to be pretty interesting. Even without the context, the arguments presented by John, the abstinent Christian reformer, as to how productivity and national debt are all entwined in the propensity for drink of the everyday man, are even more entertaining when read aloud in that delightful rural dialect:

T. Ah, noo John, are ye really gaun to tak a’ the hair o’ comfort us puir bodies hae left ? if it wasna for the dribble o’ dram I get noo and than, I wad sink un’er my affliction athegither; ye canna deny I’m sure but it raised the spirits and mak’s us cheery mony a time, when nae ither thing will do’t.
J. O yes, Thomas, I must confess it raises the spirits, and that to an awfu’ degree, sometimes to 80, but next morning you will find them sink to 40, being 20 below par, and then what state do ye fin’ yoursel’ in ? do ye fin’ your purse ony benter? do ye fin your head ony healer? your character ony better, or your conscience ony sounder, after wallowing in that sinfu’ drink? I trow no, Thomas.

For more dialogues to rival Socrates, like the Dialogue between John and Thomas, on the corn laws, the charter, teetotalism, and the probable remedy for the present disstresses, try The Bible of Divine Origin.

A Little Midterm Moral Support


Charley is having a rotten day, behind in his work, it’s a subject he hates, it’s all due tomorrow, and is in a foul mood about the situation. We’ve all been there. Here’s a motivational speech from Every-day Heroism about a mother trying to inspire her son to finish his schoolwork through the example of historical conquerors:

“ I cannot do them ; it is no used trying to do anything on such days.”

There was a pause of a few moments, and then his mother said :

“ Charley, you like to read the histories of great soldiers and heroes of old times, such as Alexander, and Caesar, and Napoleon?”

“ Yes, mother, very much.”

“ Well, tell me, when do you like Alexander best — feasting at Babylon or in action, commanding his army, attacking the enemy, and gaining victories ?”

“ I like him best in action, mother, of course.”

“ True, we like bravery better than cowardice. When do you like best to read of Napoleon — imprisoned at St. Helena, or at the beginning of his course with difficulties around him, but rising above them all by his strength of will ?”

“ Oh, I like him best in the beginning, mother,” said Charley, with kindled enthusiasm.

“ But,” said Mrs. Morris, “ suppose he could have marched by a smooth road, straight from France to Italy.”

“ Why, he would not have been a hero at all, if he had not something to conquer.”

“And the will to conquer it,” added Mrs. Morris with a smile. ” That is just what I want you to notice. We cannot imitate, if we would, the precise actions of these great conquerors; but we can copy their energy and strength of purpose, and our daily life furnishes opportunities to cultivate these qualities.”

“ I do not see how, mother.”

“ The life of a little school-boy presents some difficulties — does it not, Charley ?”

“ Yes, mother,” he replied, glancing ruefully at his Arithmetic.

Then there is something to conquer, and in the conquest you can grow strong and brave. Like Napoleon you can never be a hero, unless you have some obstacles to overcome.


Sage Romantic Advice for Valentine’s Day

From The Norwood Gipsy’s Fortune Teller, published by W. S. Fortey and housed in our Children’s Collection of chapbooks, comes a set of helpful tips for procuring long-lasting romantic happiness. Examples include how to choose a husband by the colour of his hair, various methods to have your true love appear to you in a dream, and a particularly violent and smelly way to determine whether your crush is meant for you. Eat your heart out, Seventeen Magazine.

Black.—Stout and healthy, but apt to be cross and surly; if very black and smooth, and a large quantity, will be fond of where he fixes his attachment, not addicted to jilting, make a good husband and take care of his family; but if short and curly, be of an unsettled temper, given to drinking, somewhat quarrelsome, will shew much fondness at first paying his addresses, but be unsteady and forgetful afterwards.
White or Fair.—Will be of a weak constitution, rather stupid, very fond of music, will cut no great figure in the world, very moderate in his wishes, but will be the father of a large family.
Yellow. — Inclinable to jealousy.
Light Brown.—Neither very good nor very bad, middling in all respects, rather fond of the female sex, but upon the whole a good character
Dark Brown.—Sensible and good humoured, careful and attentive to business, generally makes a good husband.
Very Dark Brown.—Of a robust constitution, and of a grave disposition, but good tempered and sensible, very fond of his wife, though he may chance now and then to be careless.
Red.—Will be artful, cunning and deceitful, and make love to any woman he may come across; loves his wife so well, that she will scarcely have any clothing to her back; but is generally of a lively temper.

TO SEE A FUTURE HUSBAND.—On Midsummer eve, just at sunset, three, five, or seven young women are to go into a garden, in which there is no other person, and each gather a sprig of red sage, and then going into a room by themselves, set a stool in the middle of the room, and on it a clean bason full of water, in which the sprigs of sage are put, and tying a line across the room, on one side of the stool, each woman is to hang on it a clean apron turned the wrong side outwards, then all are to sit down in a row, on the opposite side of the stool, as far distant as the room will admit not speaking the whole time, whatever they see, and in a few minutes after twelve each one’s future husband will take her sprig out of the rose water and sprinkle her with it.

ANOTHER WAY TO SEE A SPOUSE IN A DREAM.—The party inquiring must be in a different county from that in which she commonly resides, and on going to bed must knit the left garter about the right leg stocking letting the other garter and stocking alone; and as you rehearse the following verses, at every comma knit a knot:—
This knot I knit, to know the thing I know not yet,
That I may see, the man that shall my husband be,
How he goes, and what he wears,
And what he does all days and years.
Accordingly in a dream, he will appear with the insignia of his trade and profession.

To know if your present Sweetheart will marry you.—Let any unmarried woman take the blade bone of a shoulder of lamb, and borrowing a pen knife (but be sure not to mention for what purpose) on going to bed stick the knife once through the bone every night, for nine nights in different places, repeating every night, while sticking the knife, these words:—
’Tis not this bone I mean to stick,
But my lover’s heart I mean to prick,
Wishing him neither rest or sleep,
Till he comes to speak.
Accordingly at the end of the nine days, or shortly after, he will ask for something to put to a wound he will have met with during the time you were charming him.

To know whether a Woman will hove the Man she wishes.—Get two lemon peels, wear them all day, one in each pocket; at night rub the four posts of the bedstead with them. If she is to suucceed the person will appear to her whilst asleep, and present her with a couple of lemons; if not, there is no hope.

For more, be sure to see the interpretation of symbols in dreams in The Universal Dreamer.

Poems to consider for Valentine’s Day

Looking for the right thing to say? These stories of love and loss are found in The Clown’s Song Book (published by the Torrey Brothers of 13 Spruce-Street, New York), found in the Sheila R. Bourke Collection of chapbooks.

When You and I were Young, Maggie.
I wandered, to-day, to the hill, Maggie,
To watch the scenes below ;
The creek, and the creaking old mill, Maggie,
As we used to, long ago.
The green grove has gone from the hill, Maggie,
Where first the daisies sprung;
The creaking old mill is still, Maggie,
Since you and I were young!

And now we are aged and grey, Maggie,
And the trials of life nearly done ;
Let us sing of the days that are gone, Maggie.
When you and I were young !

A city so silent and lone, Maggie,
Where the young and the gay and the best,
In polished white mansions of stone, Maggie,
Have each found a place of rest,
Is built where the birds used to play, Maggie,
And join in the songs that were sung—
For, we sang as gay as they, Maggie,
When you and I were young !

They say I am feeble with age, Maggie,
My steps are less sprightly than then ;
My face is a well-written page, Maggie,
But time alone was the pen !
They say we are aged and grey, Maggie,
As sprays by the white breakers flung ;
But to me you’re as fair as you were, Maggie,
When you and I were young !

Dumpty Humpty.
I’m a proken-hearted Dutchman, A boor old blayed oud Dutchman :
My vife’s she’s vent und gone, Und run avay, und giftf to me der shake.
She’s gone and jined Sorosis, Der Yommen’s Righd’s Sorosis :
Und vile she’s hafing pully dimes, I dink my heart vill preak.

Oh ! my Dumpty Humpty’s gone oud from my sighd, Und ve mighd hafe peen so habby, yes ve mighd,
Put now she’s gone avay to peen a vommen’s righd, Und I bed dat she’s got a dozen husman’s more.

She vas so nice und poody, So shblendid und so poody—
Ven I married her I nefer dinked, Dat she can use me so.
Pud she’s goned avay und greaved me, Gone righd off und leaved me,
Und now my heart’s dat pusted, I vant you all to know.

Put I must go und find her, Go on der shly und find her,
Bhust go righd up pehind her, Und to her I vill say:
“You dought dat I vas shooken, Pnt you find you are mistooken ;
You can’t fool me, Louisa, ‘Cause I voon’d pe fooled dat vay.”

Now, my friends, took a varning, Led my fade pe a varning ;
Dem vommens dem is all alike, Und I ped you dad its drue.
You can loaf dem and caress dem, Fix dem up und dress dem,
Dey vill bead you if dey got a shance, Und go vay und shook you, too.

Old Mother Hubbard, in colour

As I work through the chapbooks collection as a digitizer, I earmark things that I’d like to learn more about. This one is an interesting example, not only of a classic children’s tale (which, not being part of my childhood, I didn’t know had such a morbid undercurrent of grief-inflicted mental breakdown) in chapbook style, but of the kind of illustration work provided to items like this. The engravings are good, but the colouring seems to have been hand-applied, possibly in an assembly-line process that doesn’t seem to allow for much precision. I really want to isolate the dog in the first illustration, just to highlight the random intersections of blue, yellow, and orange.

You can see more of Old Mother Hubbard And Her Wonderful Dog in the Children’s Collection in Rare Books and Special Collections. If you know anything about the printing and colouring processes for books like this, feel free to share. You can find a similar colouring technique (applied with much greater precision) in Jack The Giant Killer — and woodcuts suspiciously similar to Old Mother Hubbard’s distinctive features in Old Dame Trot.

January: charms for the school-boy

When January bids the days unfold, The frost and snow increase the cold;
But new-year’s day and twelfth-cake night To young and old still yield delight.
From school released, the happy boy The skate and slide can now enjoy:
The expert skater proves his skill, By tracing figures out at will;
While humbler sliders now are seen To animate the wintry scene.

This month, the first of the new year, has, perhaps, as many charms for the school-boy as any other. New-year’s day, and twelfth-cake day, among others, sound particularly pleasant in his ear. But the holidays being over, Black Monday comes at last, and then he is the best off who has made proper use of his time.
Skating and sliding are healthy amusements, and are almost exclusively confined to this month; but unless great care be taken that the ice is very firm, and the water not deep, it is too often attended with danger.
Snow, which in this month usually falls in considerable quantity, serves as a warm covering to the plants on which it lies, and protects them from the frost, which would otherwise be likely to injure them.

(from The Months And The Seasons; Or, A Picture Of The Year, By J. Bishop, in the Children’s Collection)

Happy Winter!

DECEMBER now in turn succeeds, And clothes with snow the hills and meads;
And, with its days dark, cold, and drear, Completes the circle of the year.
But Christmas now, is near at hand, With all the joys it does command;
These to the school-boy yield a charm That does his every feeling warm.
But now, when frosts and snows prevail; Who can resist the orphan’s tale?
Who then would spurn the friendless poor ? Or drive the widow from the door?

DECEMBER is the last month of the year; it is quite as cold and dark as November,
but it brings with it thoughts of Christmas and the holidays, of the plum-pudding, the wine, and the cake, the happy party, and so many other pleasant things, that we cannot but welcome it once more.
But amidst all their pleasures, youth should not forget that there are others who have not the means to be so gay or so happy; then will their sports give a pleasure, which otherwise they cannot enjoy.

(from The Months And The Seasons; Or, A Picture Of The Year, By J. Bishop, in the Children’s Collection)

What is a chapbook?

For purposes of this digitization project, a definition of a chapbook is required.

“ a paper-covered booklet costing a penny or so, as sold by travelling hawkers (chapmen) who included bundles of them with the buttons, threads, laces and so on which they carried from village to village.  Chapbooks were usually about 6 in. by 4 in., had up to twenty-four pages illustrated with crude but lively woodcuts, and had a decorated cover title.” [1]

Glaister continues his definition and provides a timeframe for these publications.  London printers began to print chapbooks at the end of the 17th century and they continued to be published until the 1880’s, when the Catnach Press went out of business[2].  Carter states in his definition “not in current use since about 1830”.[3] In America, the chapbook era was from about 1725 to 1825, however in the McGill collections we have chapbooks printed later than 1825.

Chapbooks are also called penny histories. They were originally created as popular literature for adults, based upon medieval romance, English legends and folklore. Children’s chapbooks were later produced with popular nursery rhymes and fairy tales.

“The distinction between a chapbook and a small paper-covered child’s book is extremely fine and such were the physical characteristics and contents of tiny, ephemeral books designed for children that it seems reasonable to regard them as chapbooks.” [4]

Checklist for defining a chapbook:

–          If the work has a cover, it will be made of paper

–          Small in size – up to 15 cm x 10 cm

–          8, 16, or 24 pages

–          Up to 46 pages can be included if meets all of the other considerations

–          Unbound, leaves are stitched (sewn)

–          Illustrated by woodcuts (sometimes tinted/coloured)

–          Imprint between 1690 and 1880

–          Often undated

–          Author usually un-named

–          Include religious tracts (author often named on these publications)

[1] Glaister, G. A. Glaister’s Glossary of the Book. 2nd ed. London: George Alen & Unwin, 1979, p. 92.

[2] Neuburg, V. E. The Penny Histories. London: Oxford University Press, 1968, p. 75.

[3] Carter, J. ABC for book Collectors. London: Granada, 1980, p. 57.

[4] Ibid, p. 53.


How to find our chapbook collection in the library catalogue

Over nine hundred  British and American chapbooks published between 1780 and 1878 from the McGill Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections have been digitized. The collection has been catalogued and can be viewed in the McGill Library catalogue using the following link – http://catalogue.mcgill.ca/F/?func=find-acc&acc_sequence=022866705.