The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

VII. Books for Children.

§ 12. Poetry for Children; Moore; A Visit from St. Nicholas; Mary Had a Little Lamb; Field; Riley; Butterworth.

The class of juvenile poetry furnished no writer distinguished by any body of work, but an anthology of high order could be compiled. First in time and perhaps in merit would come a one-poem writer, Clement C. Moore (1779–1863). In December, 1823, he published A Visit from St. Nicholas, which is unique for its period in being entirely free from didacticism and from laboured inanity masquerading as simplicity; it still remains unexcelled in America as a joyous narrative of childhood. Mrs. Hale’s Mary Had a Little Lamb yet gambols in children’s hearts—for as inexplicable a reason as much of the mechanical nonsense of Mother Goose. The longevity of jingles has never been an indication of their merit, as witness the permanence of such ditties as Upidee and Good-bye, my Lover, Good-bye. Lucy Larcom and Alice and Phœbe Cary published books of childhood songs; and other women followed with no particular success. Eugene Field 16  and James Whitcomb Riley 17  wrote many tender and charming poems about children, but with some notable exceptions they are as much from the adult point of view as were Longfellow’s. The point of view of youthful patriots was skilfully considered in Poems and Ballads upon Important Episodes in American History (1887) by Hezekiah Butterworth, long connected with The Youth’s Companion. The best verse is scattered in magazines and newspapers, particularly as publishers have learned from librarians that American children as a rule do not care for poetry. Mrs. Dodge wrote for her magazine many neat and attractive rhymes. In this field there are, however, several living writers of conspicuous artistic success.   16

Note 16. See also Book II, Chap. XXIII, and Book III, Chap. IX. [ back ]
Note 17. See also Book III, Chap. X. [ back ]