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The New England Primer


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Vol. III. The Growth of the National Spirit: 1710–1775

The New England Primer

ALTHOUGH the New England Primer

has been called the Little Bible of New England, and was, next to the Scriptures, the book most read and studied there for more than a century, yet so ironical is the fate of books that it is not exactly known when it first appeared. Furthermore, of some two million copies that may well have been printed and sold during the eighteenth century, less than fifty copies are known to exist; these, significantly enough, represent no less than forty editions. The Primer was first printed by Benjamin Harris, and was adapted from that compiler’s Protestant Tutor, a book issued in England before he took refuge in America. It must have been issued between 1687 and 1690, and have achieved immediate success. A second edition was called for in 1691. By the beginning of the next century we have evidence, from an advertisement, that John Cotton’s Shorter Catechism, The Milk for Babes, was added to it, but the first edition of the Primer known to collectors, that of 1727, does not contain it. Indeed, there are such constant changes, greater and smaller, in the make-up of the book, that its bibliography is exceedingly difficult. At first somewhat secular, it reached its stage of most unrelenting piety between 1740 and 1760, as may be seen by a comparison between the rhymed alphabets in our extracts. Politics, too, influence the changes, as may be observed under the letter K. The Exhortation unto his Children of John Rogers appears to have been written in 1555 by Robert Smith, a martyr of that year.Scissors-32x32.png


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