Fordyce’s Sermons and a Real-Life Mr. Collins

Remember Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice?  He's the creepy, pompous cousin of Mr. Bennett - the one who was intended to marry Lizzie, but ended up with Charlotte Lucas, Lizzie's best friend.  During his first visit to the Bennett family, Mr. Collins proves to be such a bore in conversation that he's asked to read out loud instead:

Mr. Collins readily assented, and a book was produced; but, on beholding it (for everything announced it to be from a circulating library), he started back, and begging pardon, protested that he never read novels. Kitty stared at him, and Lydia exclaimed. Other books were produced, and after some deliberation he chose Fordyce's Sermons. Lydia gaped as he opened the volume, and before he had, with very monotonous solemnity, read three pages, she interrupted him with:

"Do you know, mamma, that my uncle Phillips talks of turning away Richard; and if he does, Colonel Forster will hire him. My aunt told me so herself on Saturday. I shall walk to Meryton to-morrow to hear more about it, and to ask when Mr. Denny comes back from town."

Lydia was bid by her two eldest sisters to hold her tongue; but Mr. Collins, much offended, laid aside his book, and said:

"I have often observed how little young ladies are interested by books of a serious stamp, though written solely for their benefit. It amazes me, I confess; for, certainly, there can be nothing so advantageous to them as instruction. But I will no longer importune my young cousin."

Books on proper conduct were popular in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, and James Fordyce's Sermons to Young Women was one of the most widely read and circulated.  It became a staple in household and school libraries and went through multiple editions in a short period.  One has to wonder, however, whether the young women who were subjected to its wisdom liked it as much as their parents, teachers, and clergymen did.  Scholars have pointed out that Jane Austen uses the events above to comment on the place of the novel in society, but also to frame her female characters in relation to the submissive, modest, and pious behavior Fordyce prescribes.  

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We have one copy of Fordyce's Sermons in Special Collections.  It's a second edition in two volumes, printed in 1766 in London.  It's interesting to read, especially as an insight into the world of Jane Austen.  But what's most interesting about it, to me at least, is that at some point in its early history, it was owned by a man named L. Buck, LL.D., who seemed to have appreciated Fordyce just as much as Mr. Collins did.  Here's what he wrote on the front free endpaper:

This Book ought to be read again and again by every young Lady in the Kingdom. I do not know any Praise too great, that can be given to the Author of it. L. B.

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Mr. Buck went on to take notes throughout the first and second volumes, underlining sentences and making short, summarizing comments in the margins. I've collected a gallery of some representative examples below.

From Alumni Oxoniensis I was able to find out that our Mr. Buck was probably Reverend Lewis Buck of Bideford, Devon.  He enrolled in Exeter College at Oxford in May 1753 at the age of 19, received a bachelor's degree in law in 1765 and a D.C.L. in 1771, and died in April 1783.  

To Mr. Buck's credit, it's pretty unfair of me to call him a real-life Mr. Collins.  After all, we know very little about him, except for his regard for Fordyce and the fact that he was a clergyman.  His interest in these sermons mirrored the attitudes and values of the society around him.  Still, it's tempting to look for the reasons he read this book so closely.  Was he a father of daughters looking for parenting advice?  Was he involved in the education of women?  Or perhaps he was looking for ways to counsel young women in his parish?  Whatever his purposes, Fordyce's Sermons was a text he studied fully and, evidently, enjoyed.

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See Spot Run!

Dick, Jane, Sally and Spot: icons in 20th century American education.

DickJaneSallySpotThe New We Work and Play  by William S. Gray, A. Sterl Artley, and May Hill Arbuthnot. Published 1951.

The Dick and Jane Reader Series was an extremely popular Reader collection used in American classrooms from the 1930's-1970's. Peaking in popularity in the 1950's, it is estimated that almost 80% of Readers used in 1st grade classrooms were from the Dick and Jane series. These Readers focused on whole language and repetition to teach children how to read. University of Missouri-Columbia professor, Dr. A. Sterl Artley, played an important part in the production and study of these books. Dr. Artley won the Thomas Jefferson Award and was a Reading Hall of Fame winner for his work on the series.

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The Griffin, King of the Beasts

Tempesta Griffin

The mighty griffin, with the head, wings, and talons of an eagle and the body of a lion, is said to represent power and majesty as the ruler of all creatures.  Which makes sense since the eagle is commonly cited as the king of birds and the lion as the king of beasts.  The griffin is quite common in tales and mythology throughout the ages, and is one of the more well-known fantastic beasts, like unicorns or dragons.An Odd Bestiary - Griffin 1 An Odd Bestiary - Griffin 2Griffins are incredibly strong, and are often used in heraldry and crests.  Griffins were also said to be exretemely wise, and, like dragons, had a tendency to seek out and hoard gold.  Adrienne Mayor suggests that the origin of the griffin myth comes from fossil findings of the pentaceratops (a dinosaur with a beaked face and four-legged body), whose bones would have looked much like a griffin's were supposed to, near known gold veins.

Libellus de Natura Animalium Griffin

Lewis Carroll even includes a gryphon (pictured below) in his stories as a demanding guide to take Alice to the Mock Turtle.

Rackham Alice Gryphon Alice in Wonderland Gryphon

To find the king of the beasts for yourself, all you need to do is pay a visit to us here at Special Collections – no digging in the mountains necessary!

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