“The Alphabet and the Inevitability of Death in Early Protestant America”: Fantastic little piece

from the Smithsonian:

Do you remember the books that helped you learn to read—maybe Dick and Jane, Dr. Seuss, or Clifford the Big Red Dog? No matter the answer, odds are your experience was very different from most Protestant children living in early America because your books probably did not contain a discussion of your imminent death. Until I started working as an intern in the museum’s education collection, I had no idea that instead of an archaic version of See Spot Run, many youths in the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries learned to read from sentences like: “From death’s arrest no age is free/Young children too may die.”

Xerxes the great did die/And so must you and I!

(I don’t hold the same views of children’s moral responsibility as these authors–though I think kids understand more than we expect, and I know I intentionally chose to do wrong before I reached the “age of reason.” But awareness of the reality and unpredictability of death strikes me as important for a child. You and your family will not be spared, so accept that there’s an extraordinary amount of suffering in life and don’t feel ashamed or betrayed when it falls to your lot. Also, the idea that death opens the gate to paradise and makes possible the correction of this world’s injustice is part of what makes the ending of “The Little Match Girl” so powerful, so I definitely think those are concepts children can handle.)


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