Children and Their Literature in Old Times |

The very first Danish book for children, “Børne Speigel”, was published, in 1568. It consisted of didactic verses and was written by a teacher, Niels Bredal (circa 1500-1580), who seems to have been obsessed with good behavior and obedience in children. Not that that attitude is so different from the one exhibited by other authors and thinkers before him, but his book makes it clear how very limiting such a point of view is, both to the understanding and the appreciation of the reality of children. A child is so much more than a well behaved robot who speaks like a clergyman and always obeys the grown-ups.”Børne Speigel” may be translated into “The Mirror for Children” and the book is set out to be a corrective mirror that points out the faults and lacks in young individuals. They are to obey, to be devout, to make sure that they are clean in body and soul, etc.. The main purpose is to teach the informative mind as much self-control and self-possession as possible. Something that is done by imposing shame on the child. It is shameful not to keep track of body and soul at all times. No lose limbs, so to speak, not even while sleeping. For instance, one should always sleep with one’s mouth open and keep a straight, soldier-like posture in bed.Niels Bredal had been a monk, but after the Reformation when Denmark turned from the Catholic faith to Protestantism (1536) he married and became a teacher. However, to me it’s obvious that he brought much of the strict discipline of the monasteries with him into his new life. His book was inspired by writings of Erasmus of Rotterdam, but his monitions seem stricter and much more body oriented than most of what I have read by the famous Dutch thinker. His concern also goes to low levels like breaking wind.Even Platon suggested that children should have their own literature. Fables and fairy tales far back used to be considered good educational readings for the children and so they were although most of it seems to have this didactic perspective that modern literature does not have anymore. However, only with educational authors like e.g. Niels Bredal does one find this extremely strict raised finger.The first illustrated book for children, “Orbis Pictus” (“The World in Pictures”) in Denmark was written by Comenius. It was published in 1658 and was a textbook, full of admonitions about good behavior and the wisdom of the time. Not until the 18th century children had books that set out to entertain as well as teach morals and the social values they were to adhere to as grown-ups.