A medieval book about etiquette and manners is being digitized for the first time by the British Library
A medieval book that warns children to pick their nose, to farm in public or to eat all cheese, has been digitized by the British Library.
The Lytille Childrenes Lytil Boke (the little children’s book) was written over 500 years ago by an unknown author and teaches etiquette and table manners.
It has been digitized for a new one British Library website exploring centuries-old children’s literature with modern works and historical pieces.
The work from the 15th century was intended to help children behave in noble or even royal households when invited to a meal.
Other gems in the work are not drinking while the gentleman is drinking, not laughing, grinning or talking too much and not spitting on the table.
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The small children’s booklet was part of a broader collection with information about hunting, meat cutting and medicines
It is known as a courtesy book and was popular throughout Europe from the 13th to the 18th centuries according to the British Library.
WHAT ARE THE RULES FOR HIGH FOOD?
- Don’t pick your ears or nose
- Do not grab your teeth with your knife
- Don’t spit over your table.
- Do not peasant like you have a bean in your throat
- Don’t laugh, grin or talk too much
- If your gentleman drinks, don’t drink. Wait until he’s done
- Don’t be greedy when they bring out the cheese
SOURCE: Little Children’s Little Book
“It was useful for children and families who wanted to join the nobility or look for work at the royal court,” the library writes on its website.
“This author links manners to religion and social rank, and says that courtesy comes directly from heaven.”
It was published around 1480 and is written in Middle English – similar to modern English, but with words that have different meanings or some are no longer in use.
The library has three copies of the ‘Little Book’, three of which are kept elsewhere in other collections.
It was probably part of a larger work to be used by the entire family, including texts about hunting, meat cutting, medicine, bloodshed, and English kings.
Small sections were copied on one page of the manuscript and at the end a letter M and the name Maria was doodles.
Some words in the book do not mean the same as modern English – for example meat was used to mean all food – not just animal meat.
The full title of the book is ‘The boke of curtesy, Litylle chyldrynne here may y e lere’.
Words like little – or litylle – would have had several spellings at that time, because words in the English language were only standardized later.
Only when the printing press, introduced by William Caxton in England, would the spelling become more consistent.
It was published around 1480 and is written in Middle English – similar to modern English, but with words that have different meanings or some are no longer in use
Anna Lobbenberg, the lead producer of the British Library’s digital learning program, told it Guardian the inclusion of older books in the digital collection makes it possible for young people to examine the past closely and personally.
“Some of these sources will seem fascinatingly remote, while others may seem strange, even though they were made hundreds of years ago,” she said.
By giving a summary of the many things that medieval children should not do, it also gives us a hint of the calamity they have committed.
The website Discovering Children’s Books contains poems, books, stories and illustrations that have been made for children for centuries.
One of the pieces in the digital collection is an old Greek homework tablet from which a student has copied a piece
It was made to “explore the history and rich variety of children’s literature, based on inspiring material from medieval fables to contemporary picture books.”
There are more than 100 items available on the site, including works by Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, Quentin Blake, Lauren Child and Zanib Mian.
The website was created in collaboration with Newcastle University, Seven Stories, the Bodleian Library (University of Oxford) and the V&A.
Other old items in the collection are a 2000 year old homework book made on two washing tablets by a Greek student.
The teacher has written two rules in the wax above “accept advice from someone who is wise” and “it is not right to believe all of your friends” that the student had to copy twice below.
There are also translations of works by Hans Christian Anderson that tell about Cinderella through the ages and an original manuscript by Matilda by Roald Dahl.
Edward Lear’s Book of Nonsense is available for full reading, including limericks about a man with a large bear suffering from nesting birds
Also in the collection is the Book of Nonsense by Edward Lear with more than 100 lively limericks – it is the third edition published in 1861.
It is the first edition that appears to his name – in previous editions the pseudonym “Derry Down Derry” was on the cover.
Limericks in the book include one from Lear on the Old Man with a Bear that reads:
“There was an old man with a beard who said:
“It is exactly as I feared!.
“Two owls and a chicken, four larks and a winter wren,
“Have all built their nests in my beard!”
The website contains pages from the Judith Kerr sketchbook for the Tiger Who Came To Tea and the changing face of the Gruffalo as drawn by Axel Scheffler.
The Little Children’s Little Book contains comments about the various recommendations, including an M in a corner named Maria
More well-known works are the first manuscript of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures Under Ground and Enid Blyton’s typoscript works for the Famous Five.
Other works on the behavior – or misconduct – of children in the collection, including songs from the Beano, including the first appearance of Dennis the Menace and a book about youth trials for robbing orchards.
It is a book from 1786 that teaches children how to be a good citizen and how to behave ‘properly’ by putting students on ‘trial’ for childish ‘crimes’.
The fictional processes under the supervision of a tutor and governor include stealing apples to bicker over candy and they are tried by their colleagues.
With so many different stories, pictures and activities, it can be difficult for children to adhere to one of the warnings in the book for small children:
‘Do not lie, nor grenne And with moche speche you can do synne’ or ‘not laugh, grin or talk too much’.