Letters from a Mother to Her Children, on Various important Subjects. By M.P.
Kilner, Dorothy.

London: Printed and Sold by John Marshall, and Co., 1787. Second edition. The first edition was published in 1780. ESTC records six copies, four in North America (UCLA, Columbia University Teachers College, Miami University, Toronto Public Library). The first edition is also rare with ESTC listing three copies. Binding extremities rubbed and worn. Portions of Vol. I spine worn away and small portions of crown and tail of Vol. II spine also worn away. Hinges cracked, but holding. Remnants of an adhesive (likely red wax) on pastedowns, minor offsetting from said adhesive, light foxing. A good copy of a scarce, fragile set. Quarter sheep over marbled boards, gilt spines. Two volumes, twelvemo. 175; 172 pp. (Item ID: 16623)


In her Advertisement, Kilner writes, “The great scarcity of religious books, tolerably adapted to the capacities of children, will...be permitted to plead sufficient excuse for the publication of the [present work]” (p. v). In Letters from a Mother, the character “Elizabeth Ord” explains to her three children how they ought to behave, how they must fear God (emphasized with threats of Hell and damnation), how they must be grateful for having their senses, unlike “idiots,” who are “born without any capacity of reasoning” (p. 29), and that happiness is to be found in virtue, moral living, frugality, etc.

Dorothy Kilner (1755-1836) was a children’s writer and the sister-in-law of author Mary Ann Kilner. Like other contemporary women writers, she objected to fantasy and romances of love, marriage, and gallantry. After seeking publishing advice from educationist Sarah Trimmer, she published over a dozen books, including didactic and pious works for young readers, sometimes using the pseudonyms M.P. and Mary Pelham. Kilner’s Life and Perambulation of a Mouse (circa 1790) is the first children’s book to give its animal characters distinct personalities. Beatrix Potter may have been inspired by it after reading a reprinting in A Storehouse of Stories (Oxford DNB).

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