[To “Nineteenth-Century American Children & What They Read”]

Ditties for Children
by “A Lady of Boston” [Nancy Sproat] (1828-1843?)

The American Antiquarian Society has two other editions of this well-illustrated little chapbook; they’re longer and are dated 1813 and 1818 (they’re available as part of the Early American Imprints). A collection of poems on subjects moral and charming, Ditties encompasses everything from having pudding and milk for supper, to the consequences of too much love of play; the 16 woodcuts (not including the three on the covers) show us both allegorical subjects and children going about their daily lives. In 1831 the book was included by Lydia Maria Child in her list of best books for children ages five to six.

Ditties for Children, by “A Lady of Boston” [Nancy Sproat] (Northampton: E. Turner, 1828-1843?)

[front cover]

front cover, with children playing or reading

Ditties for Children.

[illustration of children playing or reading]



[title page]

title page


[illus of a child’s head]





an academy

p. 3

children watching birds


Come, sweet little Snow-birds, and pick up the snow,

Which in plenty has fallen to day;

Before the south wind begins softly to blow

And melt all your treasure away.

Come, muster a flock, and descend to the ground,

Pray, little birds, don’t be affrighted:

We’ll be still as we can, while you scramble around,

And gaze through the window delighted[.]

p. 4

children eating from bowls


The sun is set, the schools are done,

The boys and girls are all come home;

And now they want their supper quick,

Come, Betty, get the pudding-stick—

And see! the cows have left the dale,

Come, Peggy, run and catch your pail,

And milk as fast as e’er you can,

And strain it in the largest pan:

Now get some bowls and dip it out,

And drop the pudding all about.

p. 5

Come now, dear children, come and eat,

Your pudding’s hot, your milk is sweet.

Then quietly retire up stairs,

With grateful hearts, and fervent prayers;

Undress, and go to bed and sleep,

Till morning light begins to peep.

children looking at sheep


The sun is up, the air is clear,

The trees are blooming all around,

The dew-drops glitter on the grass,

And pretty posies deck the ground.

p. 6

Come, sister, let us take a walk

Among the field till breakfast time,

Take little Emma by the hand,

You, Caroline, take hold of mine.

Now let us pick some pretty flowers,

And give them to these little ones;

Hark! children, don’t [you] hear the birds?

How loud they trill their morning songs!

How easy look the snowy sheep,

Beneath the shade of yonder tree!

How pleased they are to see their lambs

Skip o’er the plain so merrily!

But see! the cows are going back;

Our breakfast will be ready soon—

Come children, let us now return,

And we will walk again at noon.


p. 7

children and tattered man


Look, sister, see how rich I be!

Six cents Mamma has given me,

Because it is a holyday,

And now I’m going off to play.

But let me think—what shall I buy?

A cake—or else some pretty toy?

I’ve wanted long a Jumping Jack

Well, that I’ll buy and not a cake.

p. 8

But stop, dear sister, who is this?

A poor old man! how lame he is!

How lean he looks and ragged too—

Give him some dinner, sister,—do.

Now he will have to go away,

And beg his dinner every day.

I wish I had a dollar now—

Six cents will buy some biscuit though—

And as he travels on the road,

A biscuit would taste very good—

And he shall have them—so I’ll play

Without a Jumping Jack to-day.

allegorical or historical event

p. 9

children and a woman


Tis Sunday—don’t you hear the bell?

How loud to church it calls!

Come let us go and praise and pray,

Within its pleasant walls.

Now children wash your face and hands,

And dress you all so clean,

For never should a dirty garb

Within a church be seen.

p. 10

Frederick and George do you attend,

And learn the text by heart,

And mind the sermon, that at home

Each may repeat a part.

In time of prayer, don’t gaze around,

As idle children do,

But recollect, my darling boys,

The pastor prays for you.

And when begins the sacred song

Of praise to God on high,

Then try to loose your thoughts from earth,

And raise them to the sky.

But Mary, you and Adeline,

For this are yet to[o] young;

Do you be good my little dears,

And still, till meeting’s done;

And then, when home we all return,

How pleased papa will be!

How will be praise his boys, and take

Their sisters on his knee!

p. 11

woman and girl


Who was that, dear Mamma, who ate

Her breakfast here this morn?

With tangled hair and ragged shoes,

And gown and apron torn?

They call her Lazy Jane, my dear,

She begs her bread all day;

And gets a lodging in a barn,

At night among the hay.

For when she was a little girl,

She loved her play too well;

p. 12

At school she would not mind her book,

To learn to read and spell.

“Dear Jane,” her mother oft would say,

“Pray learn to work and read;

“Then you’ll be able when you’re grown,

“To earn your clothes and bread.”

But lazy Jenny did not care,

She’d neither knit nor sew;

To romp with naughty girls and boys,

Was all that she would do.

So she grew up a very dunce,—

And when her parents died,

She knew not how to teach a school,

Nor work, if she had tried.

And now an idle vagabond,

She strolls about streets;

And not a friend can Jenn find,

In any one she meets.

And now, my child, should you neglect

Your book or work again,

Or play, when you should be at school,

Remember Lazy Jane.

p. 13

insects and birds


See the little bees,

Flying to the bower;

Here they hum, and there they hum,

And light upon a flower,

They suck the honey out,

And away they fly home,

And then they go to work so fast,

To fill the honey-comb.

p. 14

See the little ants,

Scattered o’er the plain,

How hard they work, and tug, and lift,

To carry home a grain.

And then with how much care,

They lay it up in store,

And travel off in haste again,

To find a little more.

See the pretty birds,

In glossy plumage drest,

Picking straws and little sticks,

To build themselves a nest.

And then they place it safe

Along the boughs so high,

Where green leaves o’ershading it,

May keep the nestlings dry.

Shall I a little boy,

Spend all my time in play,

When bees, and ants, and little birds,

Are working all the day?

p. 15

No, no, I’ll go to school,

And all the while I’m there,

I’ll study hard to pay my friends

For all their tender care.

And when I am at home,

I’ll be industrious too;

And not a single thing I’m bid,

Will I refuse to do.

Sometimes, when I have leave,

With clever boys I’ll play;

And thus I mean to spend my time,

On every future day.

allegorical subject

p. 16

two girls


What, Ellen, disobey Mamma?

You’re very much to blame—

Your dear Mamma, who loves you so,—

Oh, Sister, fie, for shame!

Why, once you was a tiny babe,

And laid upon her arm,

And carefully she guarded you

From each surrounding harm.

p. 17

She washed and dressed you every day,

To keep you sweet and clean;

And sung you many a baby song,

With many a kiss between.

And when you were fatigued with play,

She hushed you to her breast:

And softly rock’d, and gently sooth’d,

Till you were lulled to rest.

If you were sick at any time,

Or if you cried with pain,

She kindly watch’d you night and day,

Till you were well again.

How patiently she led you round,

To learn you first to walk!

And spoke words o’er and o’er again,

To teach you how to talk.

She learnt you little songs and hymns,

To make you kind and mild;

And how to pray that God would love

And bless his little child.

p. 18

And can you, Ellen, be unkind

To one who loves you so?

Will you not try to please her now

In every thing you do?

Then God who knows what children think,

And all their actions spies,

Will bless you while you live on earth,

Then take you to the skies.

allegorical illus

p. 19

boy and girl


The coach is tackled, sister, run,

And put your gloves and bonnet on;

It is about a week ago,

Our parents promised us, you know,

If we were good, that we to-day,

Should have the coach, and ride away.

Our cousins too are all at home,

How glad they’ll be to see us come!

And they’re such lovely girls and boys,

And have so many pretty toys,

And we shall have the sweetest ride,

p. 20

Through trees along the river side!—

Come, sister come, make no delay,

’Tis time for us to start away.

What ails you Mary? an’t you well?

What makes you cry so! prithee tell—

“Harry, I can’t—don’t ask me why—

And yet I must—I’ve told a lie!

And here, shut up, I’m doom’d to stay,

And weep and mourn the live-long day,

I shall not dare to show my face,

Nor join the children in their plays—

They’ll see my tears and then inquire

What I have done—and call me liar.

And, Harry, I’m afraid that you

And Harriet will hate me too—

But what is worst of all, Mamma

Don’t speak to me, nor does Papa—

Not once upon me have they smil’d,

Since I was such a wicked child—

Oh! it wil break my heart, I’m sure,

I never told a lie before,

And never, never, will again,

If I their pardon can obtain.

Go—it is time that you were gone,

And leave me here to cry alone.[”]

p. 21

woman and boy


“Edward, come here—how pale you are!

What makes you look so wild?

And you’ve been crying sadly too;

What’s happened to my child?”

“You know Mamma, you sent me down

To neighbor Brightman’s shop,

With ninepence in my hand, to buy

A little humming-top.

p. 22

Well neighbor Brightman handed down;

A dozen tops, or more,

For me to make a choice of one,

Then stepped towards the door.

So then I caught one slily up,

And in my pocket slid it,

That no one would suspect the thing,

So cunningly I hid it.

And so I bought another top,

And laid my ninepence down;

Then laughed to think I own’d them both,

But paid for only one.

But when I turn’d and left the shop,

I felt most dreadfully,—

For all the time I was in fear

That he would follow me.

For sure, thought I, he’ll find it out,

The angry man will come,—

And I shall never see Mamma,

And never more go home.

p. 23

He’ll tie a rope around my neck,

And hang me up on high;

And leave the little wicked thief

To hang there till he die.

And then I scream’d, and ran so fast

Adown the nearest lane;

And then I turned and look’d behind,—

Then scream’d and ran again.

Trembling, at last, I reach’d my home,

And straight I went to bed—

But, oh! in such a shocking fright,

That I was almost dead.

No rest nor comfort could I get—

And not a wink of sleep,—

All I could do was toss and turn

From side to side, and weep.

And what was worst of all Mamma,

I could not say my prayers;

And then I thought my heart would burst

And I was drowned in tears.

p. 24

No, no, I cried, God will not hear

A child so wicked, pray;

I dare not hope he’ll let me live

To see another day.

Thus did I mourn till morning’s dawn,

And yet found no relief—

For oh! what comfort can there be,

Or pleasure for a thief?

“Go, my poor wretched guilty child,

Go take the top you stole,

And give it to the man you’ve wrong’d;

And own to him the whole.

Then on your knees before your God,

Confess how vile you’ve been—

Beg him to save you, and forgive

This great and dreadful sin.

And never, while you live, again

To such a deed consent,

Lest he should take away you[r] life,

Before you can repent.”

[back cover]

two illus, of boy and girl walking, and of girl upbraiding boy
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