Today In Fact, 22 December

When I was at the University of Cape Town in the 1980’s, I found lodgings for a year in a garage at Kolbe House. The wardens were Peter and Anne Templeton, two social workers who had young children in those days.

With Peter’s inspiration, I took up vegetable gardening using what was then an experimental method of intensive gardening called “the trench method” and kept some rabbits at the back of Kolbe. We once had a braai in which the main course was a few rabbits I had culled.

Anne insisted we avoid mentioning the type of meat we were eating as her young children would be mortified to know we were eating Mopsy, Flopsy and Cottontail.

The names Anne used to refer to the rabbits we were eating derive from the famous book; “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” by Beatrix Potter whose immortal children’s tales and illustrations stand as exemplars of personification in literature.

The whole genre of children’s books was invented in the 1700’s by John Newberry who ran a bookshop in Reading and later in London.

Newberry is regarded as the founder of children’s literature but also seems to have been a master at marketing. Newberry invented the notion of cross marketing by using his books to advertise a potion he manufactured called Dr. Robert James’s Fever Powder, this medicament claimed to cure the gout, rheumatism, scrofula, scurvy, leprosy, and distemper in cattle.

In “Goody Two-Shoes”, one of Newberry’s more successful children’s books, the heroine’s father dies because he was “seized with a violent fever in a place where Dr James Fever Powder was not to be had.”

Newberry’s idea behind publishing children’s books was to teach children through fantasy and stories rather than through the whip and coercion.

Anyway I mention Beatrix Potter and John Newberry because they both wrote children’s books and both died today. John in 1767 and Beatrix in 1943.

– Posted by Douglas Racionzer (