As children are returning to school, some are thinking about needing a laptop computer or iPad for their studies—important tools for present day students. It might be interesting to look back and some of the tools of yesteryear!
Those of us who are older recall hearing our parents or grandparents mention they studied Webster’s Elementary Spelling Book which was commonly referred to as the “Ole Blue Back Speller.”
They may have bragged they could spell every word in it! The Speller, Ray’s Arithmetic, and McGuffey’s Reader’s were among the main textbooks studied by our forebearers.
The Blue Back Speller was published in 1880 by Noah Webster, L.L.D., and revised in 1908. Noah Webster was a man of many talents; a textbook pioneer often called the “Father of American Scholarship and Education.”
His Blue Back Speller taught five generations of American children how to read and write. The Speller was filled with stories, called “Fables” designed to teach object lessons. It was Noah Webster’s opinion that “education, in great measure, forms the moral characters of men and morals are the basis of government.”
These object lessons are still applicable for today’s students.
Fable I - Of the Boy That Stole Apples
An old man found a rude boy upon one of his trees stealing apples, and desired him to come down; but the young saucebox told him plainly he would not. “Won’t you?” said the old man, “then I will fetch you down;” so he pulled up some turf or grass and threw at him: but this only made the youngster laugh, to think the old man should pretend to beat him down from the tree with grass only. “Well, well,” said the old man, “ if neither words nor grass will do, I must try what virtue there is in stones, “so the old man pelted him heartily with stones, which soon made the young chap hasten down from the tree and beg the old man’s pardon.
Moral: If good words and gentle means will not reclaim the wicked, they must be dealt with in a more severe manner.
Fable II - The Two Dogs
Hasty and inconsiderate connections are generally attended with great disadvantages; and much of every man’s good or ill fortune, depends upon the choice he makes of his friends.
A good -natured Spaniel overtook a surly Mastiff, as he was traveling upon the highroad. Tray, although an entire stranger to Tiger, very civilly accosted him; and if it would be no interruption, he said, he should be glad to bear him company on his way.
Tiger, who happened not to be altogether in so growling a mood as usual, accepted the proposal; and they very amicably pursued their journey together. In the midst of their conversation, they arrived at the next village, where Tiger began to display his malignant disposition, by an unprovoked attack upon every dog he met.
The Villagers immediately sallied forth with great indignation to rescue their respective favorites; and falling upon our two friends, without distinction or mercy, poor Tray was most cruelly treated, for no other reason than his being found in bad company.
Fable III - The Bear and The Two Friends
Two friends, setting out together upon a journey which led through a dangerous forest, mutually promised to assist each other, if they should happen to be assaulted. They had not proceeded far, before they perceived a bear making toward them with great rage.
There were no hopes in flight; but one of them, being very active, sprang up into a tree; upon which the other, throwing himself flat on the ground, held his breath and pretended to be dead; remembering to have heard it asserted that this creature will not prey upon a dead carcass.
The bear came up and after smelling of him sometime, left him and went on. When he was fairly out of sight and hearing, the hero from the tree called out, “Well my friend, what said the bear? He seemed to whisper to you very closely.”
“He did so,” replied the other, “and gave me this good advice, never to associate with a wretch, who, in the hour of danger, will desert his friend.”
Johnnie Freedle is a member of the Highland Rim Historical Society.