Knickerbocker's History of New York

Education and Child-Life,
page 16 of 17

All the old Dutch primers that I have seen, the Groot A B C boeks zeer bekwaam voor de yongekinderen to leeren, contain nothing (besides the alphabet) but religious sentences, prayers, verses of the Bible, pious rhymes, etc.; and dingy little books they are, not even up to the standard of our well-known New England Primer.

Though the Dutch were great printers of horn-books, I do not find that they were universal users of those quaint little “engines of learning.” If used in Dutch-American schools, none now survive the lapse of two centuries; and indeed only one can be found in a Holland museum. Mr. Tuer, the historian of the horn-book, states that there is one in the museum at Antwerp, printed by H. Walpot, of Dordrecht, Netherlands, in 1640; and a beautiful silver-backed Dutch horn-book in the collection of an English clergyman at Coombe Place, England; and a few others in public libraries that are probably Dutch. Dutch artists show, by their frequent representations of horn-books in paintings of children, that the little a-b-boordje was well known. In the “Christ blessing Little Children,” by Rembrandt, the presentment of a child has a horn-book hanging at his side. In several pictures by Jan Steen, 1626-79, horn-books may be noted; in one a child has hung his horn-book on a parrot’s perch while he plays. In 1753 English children used horn-books in New York as in the other provinces, for they were advertised with Bibles and primers in the New York newspapers at that time.

Printed arithmetics were rarely used or seen. Schoolmasters carried with them carefully executed “sum-books” in manuscript, from which scholars copied the sums and rules into small blank-books of their own. One, of a Gravesend scholar in 1754, has evidently served to prove the pupil’s skill both in arithmetic and penmanship. The book is prefaced by instructive aphorisms, such as “Carefully mind to mend in every line;” “Game not in school when you should write.” The wording of the rules is somewhat curious. One reads:—

“Rule of Bartar, which is for exchanging of ware, One Commodity for another. This Rule shows the Merchants how they may Proportion their Goods so that neither of them may sustain loss. Sum. Two Merchants A. and B. bartar. A. hath 320 Dozen of Candles @ 4/6 per Dozen; for which B. giveth him £30 in Cash and ye Rest in Cotton @ 8d per lb. I demand: how much Cotton B. must give A. more than the £30 in Cash.”


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