January 16, 2011
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
posted by Eric on 01.16.11 at 12:10 PM
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