If you’re thinking of making any New Year resolutions, it might be a good time for me to share this illustration - The Reformation - from 215 years ago. It comes from a story called The History of Miss Mancel from the June 1807 issue of the monthly children’s periodical, The Youth’s Magazine.
"She took an opportunity when they were alone of throwing herself upon her knees at their feet and with a voice interrupted by sobs imploring their pardon for the uneasiness she had given them."
The magazine was founded in 1805, by my 3x great grandfather William Brodie Gurney, a man committed to education as a means of self-improvement. Education, WBG believed, improved one’s usefulness to God and society. When he perceived a lack of moral reading matter for the children attending his pioneering network of non-conformist Sunday schools, he came up with the idea of a regular publication of improving tales of fact and fiction. And when the Sunday School Union, the organisation he co-founded in 1803, was hesitant about the cost, Gurney and his friend William Lloyd funded its production themselves.
Although the Religious Tract Society formed in 1799 had already begun to produce material aimed at children, The Youth’s Magazine was the first regular publication of its kind. As the emphasis on literacy as a path to spiritual enlightenment took hold, the magazine spawned over 40 imitators in the first half of the nineteenth century. Those were followed by more secular “comics,” such as Chums, The Eagle and The Beano, which in turn inspired the counter-culture magazines of the late twentieth century from Mad to Viz.
We’ve come a long way from The Reformation! Siobhan Lam has posted (on the Victorian Web site) a synopsis of the story whose key moment the picture captures. Eliza Mancel, the only daughter of fond wealthy parents, is “endowed by Heaven with a very beautiful person, a fine capacity, and a very retentive memory.” But she is also a spoiled brat with a bad temper. After alienating all her friends and family, Eliza at last becomes ashamed of her behaviour and asks her parents for “advice and directions.”
This is her moment of reformation, and her “humble and ingenuous confession rekindled all the latent sparks of love in the bosoms of her parents.” While her mother is incapacitated by her feelings, Mr. Mancel teaches Eliza to look to God. From then on, Eliza Mancel is utterly good and pious, all her friends and family love and admire her, and she grows old and dies happy. The narrator then reminds his audience to check their tempers and beware of gaining evil habits that may be hard to reform later. To help the reader on his or her young way, the piece ends with Luke 18:13 – “God be merciful to me a sinner.” (The story is signed "E.T.")
William Brodie Gurney (1777-1855)
editor and parent
William Gurney was a joint editor of the magazine for the first ten years of its existence, and remained its treasurer for thirty years. He continued to contribute occasional pieces and involve himself in its production until his death. His first son was born the year before he founded The Youth Magazine, and his first daughter the year before he published The History of Miss Mancel as a warning to children and their parents.
The Youth''s Magazine, 1832