Too much originality, and girls go wild?

While the psychotic shooter was in the midst of murdering people, I was trying to solve a far less important puzzle -- one which struck me as frivolous once I heard the awful news of the tragedy in Tucson, so I put it off.

Still, whenever classic texts are censored, Bowdlerized, or edited, I am immediately fascinated, and I want to know what was taken out, and if possible, why. In my post I discussed the removal of the n-word from Huckleberry Finn, and the removal of at least one full chapter (and other things) from a purportedly original McGuffey Reader. The former is no mystery, but the latter really had me scratching my head.

That's because the publishing house bills their edited version as the "Original" McGuffey Reader from 1837, and it is their stated intent to restore the original as a children's textbook.

By their own admission words that might be misunderstood today have been changed, and at least one chapter has been taken out entirely as "inappropriate." I wanted to see the chapter which had been removed, as I very much wanted to know precisely what it was that the publisher deems inappropriate, but it is not easy to find a copy of the 1837 Edition of McGuffey's Third Eclectic Reader. Children's textbooks printed on cheap paper don't have that long of a shelf life, and 174 years is a long time. 

So yesterday I managed a workaround. As McGuffey was a professor at Miami University, the university has a large, very complete collection of McGuffey Readers, and in this list of finding aids, I found a thorough inventory of the Third McGuffey Reader (PDF), with each chapter listed by name. Lo and behold, Chapter 2 -- removed as "inappropriate" -- has the following title:

2. The Wild Girl (Pleasing Perceptor)

That made it relatively easy to track it down even without the 1837 textbook, despite a slight mistake by the curator. The original book from which McGuffey borrowed the chapter is actually titled "Pleasing Preceptor," by Gerhard Vieth, but that is only a partial title, the full original of which reads thusly:

The pleasing preceptor; or Familiar instructions in natural history and physics, : adapted to the capacities of youth, and calculated equally to inform and amuse their minds during the intervals of more dry and severe study: / taken chiefly from the German of Gerhard Ulrich Anthony Vieth ... ; intended for the use of schools, and illustrated with cuts.

Hmmm... Nothing like being informed and amused during dry and serious study.

Anyway, getting Vieth's original words into an easily disgestible format was not easy. Most of the later books which include "The Wild Girl" as a chapter have edited it severely, taking out some of the more fun stuff. The original is replete with the archaic "f" instead of "s" and if you read it as it would appear in modern phonics, you would sound like a Monty Python character with a "fpeech" impediment.

What I would like to know is why it is considered inappropriate. Especially because if the goal is to teach modern children to read by having them read what children learned in 1837. There is certainly a moral lesson, and it is described in the first paragraph:


THE PLEASING PRECEPTOR.
CHAP. XXXVII.
HISTORY OF A WILD GIRL.

How much reason have you, my young readers, to thank Providence, for having caused you to be born and brought up among civilized men; for what would you have been, had you, bereft of parental care, and left to yourselves, grown up remote from human society ! It is through the means of society alone, that we become human creatures. Even the savages, as they are called, of America and the South,Sea islands, live together in society; and in consequence art not wild, they are only less polished than europeans. Do. you wish to know what man would become, if deprived of human society, and uneducated by his fellow men, you may learn it from the following account of a wild girl, which is well worth your reading. 

For those who want to read the whole thing, it is appended it as an extended entry.

Without tracking down and reading the actual 1837 Reader, it is impossible to know whether McGuffey included Vieth's orginal chapter in its entirety, or used the later edited versions. I consider myself lucky to have found it at all. But still, why was it taken out as inappropriate? Is it racist? Might it be inappropriate because the girl was thought to be a stolen Eskimo ("Esquimaux") child? Are they afraid of letting modern children read about such things happening lest they talk to their less educated friends who might tell them that "The Wild Girl" offers partial confirmation of the multiculturalist drivel and Howard Zinn texts? Or might it have been removed because the poor girl ate her food raw, was unable to adapt to the modern diet, and had to be placed in a convent? Might it have been thought that kids reading that today could get ideas about the desirability of switching to the Paleolithic Diet? Maybe these reasons are a stretch, but I'm speculating out loud.

Why would the champions of The Original McGuffey have removed this chapter?

Any ideas?

As if that wasn't bad enough, when I continued to examine the Miami University inventory, and compared it to my "THE ORIGINAL MCGUFFEY" edition, I saw that two other chapters were also missing. 

Chapter 5 is supposed to be "Conflagration of an Amphitheater at Rome" (by Croly). Yet in the edited "original," it has been changed to "Punctuality and Punctuation." Croly's "Conflagration of an Amphitheater at Rome" can be read here. It is not a happy scene (animals and a slave are burned alive), and it occurred to me that the publisher might have considered it too gruesome for modern children. But can that be right? Is it really more gruesome than what's on TV or at the movies?  So I'm clueless there too.

Another omission is Chapter 29. "The Noblest Revenge (English Magazine)" -- originally by Arnaud Berquin. Not a bad morality story with a surprise twist. An aggrieved boy seeking revenge returns good for evil, and it caused his adversary to mend his ways. Original here. As to why a modern Christian publisher would decide to take that out, I have absolutely no idea.  

Another omission is "Chapter 40. The Giraffe (Anonymous)." My guess is that the story is this one. A charming little narrative by a giraffe in a zoo who discusses the differences between giraffes and people. If I had a child, I would read it to him, and I don't see how it would offend anyone except maybe the activists at PETA.

So what am I missing?

Is too much originality a bad thing?

AFTERTHOUGHT: I'm no absolutist, but if original is relative, then why isn't tradition?

THE PLEASING PRECEPTOR.
CHAP. XXXVII.
HISTORY OF A WILD GIRL.

How much reason have you, my young readers, to thank Providence, for having caused you to be born and brought up among civilized men; for what would you have been, had you, bereft of parental care, and left to yourselves, grown up remote from human society ! It is through the means of society alone, that we become human creatures. Even the savages, as they are called, of America and the South,Sea islands, live together in society; and in consequence art not wild, they are only less polished than europeans. Do. you wish to know what man would become, if deprived of human society, and uneducated by his fellow men, you may learn it from the following account of a wild girl, which is well worth your reading.

In 1731, as a nobleman was shooting, at Songi, near Chalons, in Champagne, he saw at a distance something which he took for a couple of birds, and at which he fired.

The supposed birds  avoided the shot by diving instantly under the water, and, rising at another place, made to the shore, when it appeared, that they were two children, about nine or ten years of age. They carried ashore with them several fishes, which they tore in pieces with their fore-teeth, and swallowed without chewing.

As they were going; from the shore, one of them found a rosary, probably dropped by some traveller, at which she testified great joy, by screaming and jumping about. In order to keep it ,to herself, she covered it with her hand; but her companion, who perceived this, gave her such a blow, upon the hand with a sort of club, that she could not move it.

With her other hand, however, she struck her companion, in return such a blow upon the head, with a similar club, as brought her to the ground, with a loud shriek. The victor made herself a bracelet with the rosary; but she had still so much pity on her companion, that she covered her wound with the skin of a fish, which she stripped off and bound it up with a slip of the bark of a tree. They then parted. The girl that had been wounded returned to the river, and was never after seen ; the other went to the village of Songi. The ignorant inhabitants were frightened at her singular appearance, for her colour was black, and she had on a scanty covering of rags, and skins of animals.

They set a great dog at her : but she waited his attack, without stirring from her place, and, as soon as he was within reach, gave him such a blow on the head with her club, as laid him dead on the spot. Unable to gain admission into any house, for every door was shut against her, she returned into the fields, climbed up a tree, and there took her repose.

The viscount d'Epinoy, who was then at his seat at Songi, offered a reward to any one, who could catch this wild girl. As it was supposed she would be thirsty, a bucket of water was placed under the tree, to entice her down. On awaking, she looked cautiously around, came down, and drank, but immediately ascended to the summit of the tree, as if she thought herself not otherwise secure. At length she was allured to come down by a woman, who walked under the tree with a child in her arms, and offered her fish and roots. When she had descended, some persons lying in wait seized her, and conveyed her to the viscount's seat. 

At first she was taken into the kitchen, where she fell upon some wild fowl, and ate them up, before the cook missed them. A rabbit being offered her, she immediately stripped off the skin, and devoured the flesh.

An opportunity of observing her with more ease was now obtained, and it was found that the black colour of her skin was accidental; for after she had been repeatedly washed, her naturally fair complexion appeared. Her hands were upon the whole well-formed, only the fingers, and the thumb in particular, were uncommonly strong, which no doubt was ascribable to her frequently climbing trees, as she would swing herself from one to another like a squirrel.

The viscount d'Epinoy delivered her into the care of a shepherd, recommending to
him to be extremely attentive to her, under a promise of paying him well for his trouble.

On account of her wildness she was commonly known by the name of the shepherd's beast. It cost a great deal of trouble, to render her a little tame. She was very dexterous at making holes in the walls or roof, and would creep through an aperture so small, that an eye-witness could not conceive how it was possible. Once she eloped in a severe frost, during a heavy fall of snow, and after a long search was found sitting on a tree in the open fields.

Nothing was more astonishing than the swiftness and agility, with which she ran. Though latterly long illness and want of exercise diminished her speed, it was always surprising. She did not take long steps like other people, but her run was rather a flying trip, which was more like gliding than walking. Her feet moved with such quickness, that their motion was scarcely discernible.

Several years after she had been caught, she was capable of outstripping wild animals, as she proved to the queen of Poland in 1737: for, being taken out on a hunting party, she ran after rabbits and hares that were started, caught them presently, and brought them to the queen.

The quickness of her eye was equally astonishing. In a moment she could look every way round her, with scarcely turning her head, which was very necessary for her security, and procuring her food, in her wild state.

Both the girls used to spend their nights on trees. They laid down on a bough, held themselves fast with one hand, and rested their heads on the other. In this situation, according to our maiden's account, they slept very soundly.

In her savage state she had no language, but a sort of wild scream, which sounded frightfully when she was in anger, and particularly when a stranger attempted to take hold of her. Long afterwards her speech had something wild, abrupt, and childish, but when she was a little civilized, she appeared to be a quick lively girl.

There was nothing, from which she was more difficult to be weaned, than eating flesh and vegetables raw. Her stomach could not bear dressed victuals, so that she fell into one disease after another, though raw food was allowed her occasionally. Perhaps the change was attempted with too little caution. At first she was led by this propensity to play some laughable tricks. Once the viscount had a great deal of company, and she sat at table with them. None of the thoroughly dressed and high-seasoned dishes being to her taste, she started up, vanished like lightning, filled her apron with live frogs from the nearest pool, hastened back, and bestowed them among the guests with a, liberal hand,
joyfully exclaiming, as she distributed her agreeable present,- "here, here, take some !"

It is easy to imagine how the company were delighted with the frogs hopping all over the plates and dishes, while the little wild girl, astonished at the slight estimation in which they seemed to hold her delicious morsels, busied herself in catching the frogs that leaped about the floor, and replacing them on the table.

In the year 1732, this remarkable maiden was baptized by the name of Maria le Blanc. On account of the change in her mode of life she was often ill, and, after the death of her patron, spent the remainder of her days in a convent.

How this child came into that wild state, and in what country she was born, were circumstances, that could never be known with certainty. It was conjectured, however, that she was by birth an esquimaux, and brought to Europe in some ship: for when the had learned to talk, she said, that she had twice crossed the sea -- gave a description of boats, resembling those of the esquimaux; and once, when she was shown a series of delineations of people of different countries, she seemed agreeably surprised on coming to that, in which the esquimaux were represented.

posted by Eric on 01.16.11 at 12:10 PM










Comments

Eric,

Is it possible it is simply a rights issue? Right now copyright is author's life plus x (I can't remember what x is, tends to change everytime the mouse is about to go out of copyright -- Mickey, not computer equipment.) Given the odd array of articles left out, it's entirely possibly they were written by younger authors, who died more recently, or that the copyright was even sold or in any other way passed to someone (Terry Pratchett puts copyright in his and his wife's name. Heinlein started putting copyright in Ginny's name, etc.) who died too recently for those to be in public domain. It's weird how sometimes holders of an estate hold to their "rights" over allowing actual reprint, or think the piece is worth much more than it is. Or it's even possible that those articles be in doubt as to whether they're public domain or not, and it was not worth the effort of tracking down. I mean, I can see the Wild Girl being kept out so the publisher isn't accused of racism. I can see the one set in Rome being left out because most extremely devout Christians try to shield their kids from anything too violent. But the other two are a puzzle and this leads me to believe we're overthinking it, and the true reason is some absurd legalims.

Sarah   ·  January 16, 2011 6:41 PM

The original is replete with the archaic "f" instead of "s" and if you read it as it would appear in modern phonics, you would sound like a Monty Python character with a "fpeech" impediment.

The "f" you are referring to is actually a ligature. When type was still handset one letter at a time, a ligature was used to combine two or more letters into one piece of type. If you will notice the cross on the ligature "f" does not cross over the upright part of the letter which distinguishes it from a true f, and the top of the "f" circles over the top of the following letter which indicates it is one piece, not two.

Ligatures were very common in old typefaces, especially the Caslon family. When I was still setting type by hand, ligatures were a convenience that allowed faster work. Also notice that you have a real "s" at the end of a word, since a ligature wouldn't work.

When I leaned to use a Linotype I thought I'd get away from ligatures, but the old faces still called for them, resulting in having to pick a ligature off the tray by hand and insert into the line. It was THEN not a time saver. That is why they fell out of use. You will still find them in faces like Caslon Antique, which simulates an old handset typeface.

For a thorough take on ligatures, graphemes, and glyphs, with a picture showing an actual lead ligature go to:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Typographic_ligature

Frank   ·  January 16, 2011 11:26 PM

BTW, I wouldn't be surprised if Benjamin Franklin invented bifocals because of having to distinguish the "ff" and "ff" (ss) ligatures. The only difference is the one little cross which crosses over in the "ff" and is missing in the double "s".

Frank   ·  January 16, 2011 11:57 PM

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