There are few activities more human than the desire to offer advice. Whether it is teacherly advice for young children, such as "let me show you the best way to tie your shoelace," or more practical advice for teenagers like "tie your shoe or you will trip and break your neck," most of us think we know the best way to accomplish a particular task and are usually willing to advise anyone—whether they listen or not. Some advice is particular to our families. For example, few parents have probably had to advise a child, as we did, not to use powdered sugar for talcum powder.
Some advice is homespun and has been handed down through the ages and become clichéd: "Don't count your chickens before they hatch." It is not surprising, then, to discover that one of the most common forms of literature for the young is the "advice book." During the Renaissance, when advice books first developed their modern form, such texts typically began as letters or "handmade" books for a specific, personal audience, often the author's child or another family member. Even in works not originally intended for publication, advice books imply that the advisor has more wisdom, more education, and more insight than the advisee. Regardless of the specific audience, they establish a parent-child, teacher-student relationship. As a result of this relationship, it is not surprising that the most common audience for advice books, handmade or published, continues to be children and young adults. From the medieval book of manners, The Babees Book,1 to the more modern children's advice book by Judge Judy Sheindlin, You Can't Judge a Book by Its Cover: Cool Rules for School (2001), adults feel obligated to instruct. Parents especially want to offer advice to help their children achieve success—whether that success is interpreted as wealth, happiness, respect, or heaven. [End Page 52]
Although modern advice books are often written with an eye towards publication, early advice books were more "handmade," in both their form and their intention. The need to advise the young grew out of a struggle to come to grips with changing conceptions of childhood and an attempt to more clearly articulate the roles of parents and adults in nurturing the young. Most authors of the early advice books did not intend or even imagine a wide audience. Typically they dispensed their advice orally, but also wrote it down in letters or journals. The earliest of these books were intended as guides for individual children; it is interesting to note that mothers and fathers of the period often spoke with different and distinct voices, frequently assuming different roles in advising their children. The distinct nature of parental advice was clearly established in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when advice books became especially popular because of the rise of the middle class, the changing nature of the family, and the early death of many parents, especially mothers.
From the earliest times, from Boethius's De Consolatione Philosophiae (AD 523) to The Exeter Book (ca. 1046), to The Dictes or Sayings of the Philosophers (1477),2 the English valued advice books, both published and private. The advice manuals by these early writers were the de facto textbooks of early schooling in Britain. The rise of the middle class, however, created a new demand for published advice books. There was an outpouring of books about raising and educating children; suddenly, children were important to the middle-class merchants, who were themselves becoming important to England's growth as an economic and world power. The expansion of the middle class in both size and power had a profound effect on English culture, but nowhere was this more obvious than in printed books. Louis B. Wright, in Middle-Class Culture in Elizabethan England (1935), sees the rise of the middle class as key in the development of advice books. He writes:
One quick way for the middle-class merchant to quickly raise his status was to marry a son or daughter to the child of a nobleman. While the noble eldest son, who by law of primogeniture inherited all, might not be interested in marrying beneath his station, younger sons would be happy to have a bride whose family could support him in the style to which he had become accustomed. Noble daughters found marriage to a middle-class man an escape from the convent life forced upon many noble ladies. But while many among the middle class were looking to become upwardly mobile, others were concerned with their children's happiness and salvation in the next world. These concerns are part of the impetus for the eventual publication of so many private diaries and letters as advice books.
A new interest in children also arose because of the changing nature of the family. Most medieval families were extended families, including brothers, sisters, uncles, grandparents, and children, all living together. During this time it was the norm for children to be entailed (sent to other homes to be educated as squires, cup bearers, etc.) as early as age seven or eight. However, with the introduction of Italian Humanism, the notion of a Divine Hierarchy (God, King, Father, Mother, Child), and Protestantism, the nuclear family evolved and developed throughout England. Parents began to take to heart their responsibility for the moral upbringing of their children. Frequently, the emergence of Protestantism has been given credit for the rise of interest in and education of children, but there is evidence that many factors compelled parents to pay more attention to their children.3 Again, as social roles changed and people had to redefine themselves, they desired printed guides to help them understand and define these roles.
For centuries in England (and still in some countries today), the announcement of a pregnancy came with a probable death sentence. And while death through childbirth was strictly a female fear, men also knew that life was short. Children often did not survive birth or childhood; those who did could not count on their parents living to see them grown. Death, the great leveler, haunted the lives of rich and poor, Catholic and Protestant, children and adults, men and women. Looking into the face of death gave most men and women of this time the urge to write advice to [End Page 54] their children. Few wrote with an eye to publication, although most of those works that have endured were eventually published. These writings are the thoughts, fears, and hopes of parents who might not live to see their children grow up. Many quoted popular teachings or maxims of the time, but their works are also full of personal observations, poems, stories, and prayers.
Both fathers and mothers feared early deaths, and most were well-founded fears. Mathew [John] Rogers, a Protestant martyr, was burned at the stake in front of his wife and children. Rogers's final writings were penned to his children while he was awaiting execution for heresy during the reign of Mary, and were published in 1559 as the work of a Protestant martyr.4 Rogers expresses a view typical of the Protestant parent of his time: this world is a vale of tears and the only hope in life is to avoid sin.
In 1598, James VI of Scotland (later James I of England) wrote Basilicon Doron for his infant son, Prince Henry.5 James was concerned about his own health and took seriously his roles as patriarch of his country and primary teacher of his son, the future king. As king he was aware that his private thoughts could not be separated from his public persona, although he never considered publishing the book and commissioned the creation of only seven copies. While he writes for his child, he is aware that others may read his words. He shows his dual concern in the salutation to his introduction: "To Henrie My Dearest Sonne and Natural Successour" [A1]. His introductory remarks spell out his understanding of his role as father and king:
The king organizes the book into three parts:
[A1v] [End Page 55]
The first section is twenty-three pages long and recommends that Henry refer to Scriptures in all matters of religion. James quotes extensively from both the New and the Old Testament, discussing how even the laws of governing might be traced to the Bible. He tells his son to "Keepe God sparinglie in your mouth, but aboundantlie in your hart" .
The second part, dealing with the duties of the king, is ninety-four pages long and deals primarily with the "establishing, and executing [of] good lawes" [E2]. This includes advice for dealing with Parliament and with traitors, as well as covering problems associated with doling out justice. Other subjects include the minting of coins, the association between church and state, the relationship between a king and his subjects, and the nature of the people with whom he should surround himself at court. The subject of marriage also falls under the section of kingly responsibilities, rather than personal ones. Although this section concentrates on the personal obligations and choices concerning marriage, there is always the implication that the marriage of a king affects his subjects, especially through the birth of a successor.
The final thirty-nine pages, dealing with "indifferent things," are concerned with appearances. Although he avoids a Machiavellian approach, James warns his son that some of his subjects will judge him by his behavior:
This section is an odd combination of social conventions—"Let your Table bee honorably served" [R2v]—and concern regarding moral infractions—"but serve your appetite with few dishes (as young Cyurs [sic] did) which both is holesomest and freest from the vice of delicacie, which is a degree of glutonie" [R2v-R3]. The book encompasses most of the varied kinds of advice available during this period, including counsel on manners, sports, and avoiding the seven deadly sins. Although there is an obvious and emphatic concern for moral issues, even the king recognizes that men, and especially kings, are frequently judged by outward appearances and must attend to the practical affairs of state. Here is a father, and a king who sees himself as father of his people, speaking his mind about all matters of the world.
Sir Walter Raleigh was concerned with very practical matters when he wrote his "Instructions to His Son" while he was in the Tower of London under a death sentence.6 Raleigh's work moves away from the strictly [End Page 56] spiritual aspect of teaching a child and emphasizes necessary social and economic advice. Although it reflects a movement in the world from spiritual values to materialistic ones, it also reflects the fact that fathers may be more aware of the practical needs of their children than mothers appear to be. Sir Walter, in the Tower, must have certainly been aware that political, social, and economic acumen would help his child as much as, if not more than, religious instruction. He seems to care not only for the soul of his son, but also for the quality of his life. He is able to call upon his own experiences to support his advice. He begins his first chapter:
(Wright, Advice 19)
This could well be a comment on Raleigh's own life as easily as it is advice to his son, and although his advice borrows from conventional wisdom, coming from Raleigh in prison, it certainly takes on the authority of one whose experiences bear out the truth of what is said.
Elizabeth Grymeston's book Miscelanea [sic], Meditations, Memoratives (1604) was the first mother's advice book published. She wrote her advice book to her son Bernye in 1603 and died the same year. Although it is impossible to know how long it took her to write it, it was not published until after her death. Grymeston begins a tradition of apologizing for writing which remains a part of women's writing into the nineteenth century. She believes she is compelled to write for a number of reasons: the force of a mother's love, the concern that her husband might not live to provide a proper upbringing, and her own belief that she was now "a dead woman among the living" [A3]. She is moved by her own piety and concern to use the experience of her illness and impending death to gain the authority to speak. Using scriptures, personal meditations and prayers, and a variety of stories and authors, she breaks "the barren soile of [her] fruitlesse braine" in order to leave her son a "counseller" in her absence [A3]. But her concern does not show an interest in publication, rather an acceptance of the creed of the "silent, obedient wife." She is not writing for the world, and there is no combination of practical and economical advice to be found in this book. Grymeston's concern for her son's spiritual salvation is obvious from the start. Her chapter titles include: [End Page 57]
Grymeston recommends the importance of prayer:
She barely touches on the economic or social matters that often filtered into male advice of the time, but when she does, it is with an eye towards avoiding the occasion of sin:
Grymeston's primary concern throughout the book is the spiritual salvation and enlightenment of her son. She discusses the nobility of the soul, the dangers of being trapped by the vanities of this life, the horrors of hell, and the salvation which follows a good death.
She concentrates on her subject with a diligence (she writes fourteen chapters—more than fifty pages) unmatched by patriarchal advice-givers (e.g., William Cecil,7 Walter Raleigh, or Mathew [John] Rogers). She is intent on saving her son's soul and calls upon all of her writing skills, the words of others, the power of prayer, and Scripture in order to reinforce advice which, though it does not stray from what fathers have asserted in earlier books, is more fervent. Rather than let herself drift to earthly matters—as Cecil and Raleigh do—or offer spiritual advice which can hardly be followed—as Rogers does—she concentrates on ways in which daily life might lead her son to sin. While some of her advice is in the [End Page 58] form of platitudes, she brings all of it back to her son's relationship with God:
But whether she chooses examples from her own prayer life or copies prayers and psalms from prayer books and scriptures, Grymeston's plan is to provide a guide for her child. The decision to publish came after her death.
Elizabeth Jocelin's book The Mothers legacie to her unborne Childe was written in 1621 (the same year as her death) and not published until 1624. She begins her book by letting her child know that she does not wish to teach those things which will gain earthly treasure; rather, she writes in the hope of setting the child on the path towards heaven. Like Grymeston, Jocelin also struggles with her own mortality. She writes to her husband in the prefatory letter:
The threat of death due to pregnancy was uniquely a woman's experience; one shared only by mothers. Jocelin uses this experience to amplify her own voice, gaining authority from an experience which even her husband could not share.8 Jocelin moves a step further by using the experience to gain a voice in the future of the child whose birth would signal her death.
Like others, Jocelin also recommends prayer, not because of convention but because of her own faith in God. Quoting Ecclesiastes 12:1, she writes, "Remember thy Creator in the dayes of thy youth" (12). She asks her child to meditate on the benefits provided by the Creator: creation, sanctifying grace, and God's mercy. She recommends, as so many others [End Page 59] have, morning meditation and prayer. However, she instructs the child to meditate on his or her sins first and then pray when fully awake. She then reviews the dangers of the seven deadly sins and the prayers which should be invoked in order to avoid them. In more mundane matters, such as dress, she writes:
Jocelin continues by warning against pride, urging public prayer, and extolling the joy of receiving afflictions from God (based on the concept that God only sends crosses to those He loves). She calls upon other authorities less often than Grymeston, referring more often to her own belief (as in matters of dress). However, her attitude—that the salvation of the soul is the primary reason for existence—seems to be the same.
Dorothy Leigh's The Mother's Blessing (1616) uses the conventions of earlier advice books to create one of the most successful "handmade" publications of her time. Ostensibly written to her children on her deathbed,9 its subsequent published version "ran to fifteen editions between 1616 and 1630" (Beilin 275), and consists of 271 pages, not including thirteen pages of prefatory matter. The number of editions as well as the length is highly unusual for the time. Addressing her three sons, Leigh initially focuses much of the early part of her book on why she writes. An apology and explanation is first found in her dedication to Princess Elizabeth:
In this example, Leigh does intend to publish her book and has acquired enough expertise concerning the world of printing to know to address her book to a sympathetic and powerful woman. She also claims her right to act as a man in the protection of her children's souls. Her book includes a letter of explanation to her sons, both apologizing and explaining her reasons for writing. She writes:
Leigh includes several reasons why she writes in her opening poem, "Counsell to my Children," and her chapters begin with "causes" for writing the book. She brilliantly uses the "law" of her husband's legal Will and Testament to circumvent the patriarchal "law" of the silent woman. She takes her obligation seriously enough to give a great deal of thought, not just to the content of her advice, but also to her presentation and her dedication. Leigh is apparently more comfortable writing than either of the other mothers discussed here, but she also shows that she has both the knowledge and the experience necessary to offer advice in a public manner, the printed book.
The Mother's Blessing consists of forty-five chapters; several offer explanations for the writing of the book, which alternate between public and private voice. Sometimes Leigh addresses her children personally ("the first cause of writing, is a motherly affection"), and at times she addresses a wider audience, ("the third cause is, to move women to bee carefull of their children") [A4]. She is obviously concerned with public reaction to her writing and is more self-conscious than either Grymeston or Jocelin. In addition to discussing the appropriateness of writing the book, Leigh includes a chapter on not fearing death, several chapters on the need for private prayer, and a chapter on the dangers of temptation. Leigh also quotes the Bible extensively, showing her knowledge of scripture and adding emphasis to her own thoughts. "Is[aia]h 6.27: Labour not for the meat that perisheth, but for the meat that endureth to everlasting life" (7). Leigh is more concerned than either Grymeston or Jocelin with earthly matters, including the choice of wives, the naming of children, matters of dress, and the treatment of servants, but she never loses sight of how these things affect a child's relationship with God. She is one of the first women of her time to take what began as a "handmade" genre and turn it into a profitable publication.
Men and women both feel the need to advise their children, and whether dying or living, they hope their children hear what they have to [End Page 61] say. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, with a clearer division between male and female roles, men grew more and more concerned with their public lives and their public voice, while many women were satisfied to be the angels of the home and caretakers of the future by instilling morals and values in their children, sometimes in person and sometimes in their letters, diaries, and handmade advice books. Most early advice books exist today because trunks of old papers once forgotten have been rediscovered, but more specifically because publishers and writers have discovered that personal advice made public can be profitable.
Dr. Judith Gero John
is a professor of Literature at Southwest Missouri State University, where she teaches children's and adolescent literature.
1. Although this collection of advice concerning the waiting of tables and other manners was published in 1868, the actual advice comes from medieval sources.
2. The first printed copy in England of The dictes or sayings of the Philosophers appeared in 1477.
3. Protestants, especially Puritans, were extremely concerned about the child being born with mortal sin. Taking their roles as parents extremely seriously led them to both terrorize and torture their children in order to cure them of their wickedness. Books such as John Foxe's Book of Martyrs (1563), which recorded the deaths of many Protestant martyrs, including that of Mathew [John] Rogers, and which according to Bingham and Scholt became required reading for all Protestant children in England and America, and later James Janeway's Token for Children: being an exact Account of the Conversion, holy and exemplary Lives and Joyful Deaths of several young Children (1671) emphasize the horrible method of intimidation used to make children follow the path of righteousness.
4. I retain the name of Mathew Rogers to save confusion. Pollard and Redgrave assert that this was written by John Rogers, who had published some Protestant tracts under the pseudonym Thomas Matthews. Robert Smith, the publisher of this book, simply confused the two names when compiling some Protestant writings.
5. Robert Waldegrave, printer to the king, also brought out an edition of James's The True Lawe of Free Monarchies in 1598. Although this is not, strictly speaking, an advice book written by a father to his son, The True Lawe of Free Monarchies is a parental advice book reflecting the view that the monarch is a [End Page 62] parent to all of his subjects. In spite of James's concern for his own health, it was Henry who did not live to become king.
6. Although he was executed in 1618, Wright shows that Raleigh's "Instructions" were first published in 1632 (Wright, Advice xix).
7. William Cecil, Lord Burghley, wrote advice pamphlets for both of his sons and goes beyond Rogers by responding to the particular needs of his children. In 1561, he wrote "A Memorial for Thomas Cecil," and in 1584 he wrote "Certain Precepts for the Well Ordering of a Man's Life" for his son Robert (Wright, Advice 7-14, 15-32).
8. Although there were a few male midwives, and plenty of advice books from the medical profession, bearing children was still a predominantly female concern even during the Renaissance, and women could use this shared experience to gain authority within their own groups.
9. Dorothy Leigh is not listed in the Dictionary of National Biography, so it is impossible to verify either that she was dying when she wrote her book, or the date of her death.
Al-Mubashshir ibn Fatik, Abu al-Wafa. AD 1000. The dictes or sayings of the philosophers. A facsimile reproduction of the first book printed in England byWilliam Caxton, in 1477. London: Diploma, 1974.
The Babee's Book: Medival Manners for the Young/done into modern English from Dr. Furnivall's Text by Edith Rickert. Trans. Edith Rickert. New York: Cooper Square, 1966.
Beilin, Elaine. Redeeming Eve: Women Writers of the English Renaissance. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1987.
Bingham, Jane, and Grayce Scholt. Fifteen Centuries of Children's Literature: An Annotated Chronology of British and American Works in Historical Context. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1980.
Boethius, Anicius Manlius Severinus. The Consolation of Philosophy. AD 523. Trans. I. T. Ed. William Anderson. London: Centaur, 1963.
Castiglione, Baldassare. The Book of the Courtier. New York: Penguin, 1967.
Foxe, John. "Actes and Monuments." Foxes Book of martyrs: a history of the lives, sufferings, and triumphant deaths of the early Christian and the Protestant martyrs. c. 1563. Ed. William Byron Forbush. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978.[End Page 63]
Grymeston, Elizabeth. Miscelanea, Meditations, Memoratives. London, 1604. Early English Books1475-1640, Reel 1048 [Microfilm].
James I. Bascilicon Doron. 1598. Menston, UK: Scholar, 1969.
Janeway, James. Token for Children: being an exact Account of the Conversion, holy and exemplary Lives and Joyful Deaths of several young Children. c. 1671. London: Dorman Newman, 1676.
Jocelin, Elizabeth. The Mothers legacie, to her unborne Childe. 2nd impression. London: Haviland, 1624. Early English Books 1475-1640, Reel 558 [Microfilm].
Krapp, George Philip and Elliott Van Kirk Dobie, eds. The Exeter Book. New York: Columbia UP, 1936.
Leigh, Dorothy. The Mother's Blessing: or, The Godly Counsaile of a Gentle-woman, not long since deceased, left behind her for her children. 1616. 10th ed. London, 1627. Early English Books 1475-1640, Reel 805 [Microfilm].
Pollard, A. W., and G. R. Redgrave. A Short Title Catalogue of Books Printed in England, Scotland & Ireland and of English Books Printed Abroad, 1475-1640. London: The Bibliographic Society, 1948.
Rogers, [John] Mathew. An exhortation of Mathew Rogers unto his Children. London: Somon Stafford, 1559. Early English Books 1475-1640, reel 238 [microfilm].
Sheindlin, Judy. Judge Judy Sheindlin's You Can't Judge a Book By Its Cover: Cool Rules for School. Illus. Bob Tore. New York: Cliff Street, 2001.
Wright, Louis B., ed. Advice to A Son: Precepts of Lord Burghley, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Francis Osborne. Ithaca, New York: Cornell UP, 1962.
_____. Middle-Class Culture in Elizabethan England. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1935.