Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Little Goody Two Shoes saves some birds

The children's book, Little Goody Two Shoes, dates from 1765, closer to Sarah Trimmer's era than William Drummond's. Nevertheless, it (like the History of the Robins) had a very long publication life, republished many times in many different versions, including an 1839 American edition, which retold the story in contemporary English (and without many of the explicit bible lessons of the original).

It offers one literary example of the woman-as-ideal-bird-protector figure that had begun to enter bird protection discourse. The relevant scenes occur late in the book: "Little Goody Two Shoes" has matured into a woman (with a real name--Margery) and is employed as a school teacher. 
Margery had a very feeling heart, and could not endure to see even a dumb animal used with cruelty, without trying to prevent it. As she was one day walking through the village, her attention was drawn to some boys, who were tying a poor raven, which they had caught, to a post, on purpose to amuse themselves with the cruel diversion of shying or throwing a stick at it. Margery, to get the raven out of their hands, gave them a penny, and brought it home with her. She called the raven Ralph; taught him to speak and spell; and as he was fond of playing with the capital letters, the children called them Ralph's alphabet. 
Shortly after, when rambling in the fields, she saw two boys torturing a beautiful dove, by allowing it to fly a little way, and then pulling it back agin, with a string which was tied to its foot. Margery also rescued this bird for a mere trifle, and carried it away with her. She likewise learned the dove to spell with her letters, besides many other curious things; and being very useful in carrying letters, she called him Tom. It is a curious fact, that Tom showed as great a liking for the small letters as Ralph had for the large, and the scholars used to give them the appellation of "Tom's alphabet."
The choice of the biblically resonant raven and dove (pigeon in the original) cannot have been accidental. And in addition to the saving of birds through payment (shades of Isaac Bickerstaff), we see birds integrated into the education of young children (another perennial theme), as well as domesticated (via the stuff of language). Her close relationship with birds and other animals leads a townsperson to accuse her of witchcraft (of which she is quickly acquitted--but a sign that relations with wild animals should not exceed the domestic circle? Who would have expected Little Goody Two Shoes to be such a rich text?) 

At any rate, Little Goody Two Shoes/Margery became an icon for both proper behavior and cruelty prevention. The figure was generalized to other stories, such as an adapted version that appeared in J.K. Smith's (1832) Juvenile Lessons or the Child's First Reading Book. The fourth lesson told the story of "Mary and her Pigeon."
Some rude boys had one day got a pigeon which was lame, and its wings being cut, it could not fly; so they had tied a string to one of its legs, and put it down to throw stones at, that he who hit is should have it for his own. But just as they were going to throw at it, little Mary ran and begged them to stop, and said she would buy the bird. "How much," said she, "must I give for it?" "Six-pence," said one of the boys. "I have but four-pence," said Mary,--"take all my money. I do not not want the bird; only do not use it ill." So they took her money, and gave her the bird; and she took care of it, and fed it well, and it lived with her a long time in the house. It would be pleasant, if we could now see how cheerful the poor bird looked upon Mary, every day as she fed it; and how glad was she, as she stroked its glossy feathers, that she had saved its life. How should we like to be pelted with sticks and stones? Poor birds can feel pain, as well as boys and girls, and it is not right to hurt any one of God's creatures,--we should treat them with mercy and kindness. 
This empathetic perspective was repeated through Smith's text in a number of other stories involving birds and children (boys more likely to be cruel, and repent). 

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