REVIEWS OF The Malte Brun School Geography (1830), by Samuel G. Goodrich

Reviews of other works by Goodrich

American Annals of Education, 1 (February 1831): 87.

A System of School Geography; chiefly derived from Malte-Brun, and arranged according to the Inductive Plan of Instruction. By S. Griswold Goodrich. Hartford, H. & F. I. Huntington. 1830. 18mo. pp. 320.

This work exceeds any of the kind we have seen, in the beauty of its execution; and while we think it has serious defects as a school book, the engravings, and the general appearance of the work, reflect the highest credit on the imagination and taste of the author, the skill of the designers and artists, and the enterprise of the publishers. We cordially wish success to this bold attack on the spirit of parsimony which spends without hesitation for the food which pampers the appetite, and the dress which cherishes the vanity of childhood, but almost refuses to pay for that neatness and beauty in a book of instruction which not only give a child equal pleasure, but promote his improvement and cultivate his taste.

The general plan of the work is that which was described in the Journal of Education for 1827, and has long been familiar to our best teachers,—to begin at home, and proceed on the inductive system;—and though we think it is not completely executed, it is carried farther than in any preceding work in this country. The author has also adopted the plan, first introduced in the Rudiments of Geography, of mingling questions with the text; of interspersing travels on the map, which are rendered highly interesting; and of employing a series of engravings as a part of the course of instruction, and not as a mere appendage, as has been done by Goldsmith and others. As was mentioned in detailing the practice of a teacher, in a former number, (Sept 1830, p. 104,) we consider engravings as legitimate subjects of question and description as maps.

Western Monthly Magazine, 2 (March 1834): 159-163. Ed. James Hall.


The most amusing writers of the present day are the geographers. They tell the most improbable stories with a gravity which is quite diverting—or which would be diverting if we did not reflect on the consequences of such misrepresentation. Grave men will preach by the hour against novel-reading, and yet place in the bands of their children a school geography which is not half so true as ar good novel. People rail about the pernicious effects of fiction upon the young mind, yet do not hesitate to nourish the young ideas of their own progeny upon the silly creations of Peter Parley—the boy’s and girl’s great unknown, who is nearly about as scrupulous in bis statements as the celebrated Lemuel Gulliver. Our attention was drawn to this subject lately by seeing, in a work prepared for children, a plate representing captain Waterton, the English traveller, riding on the back of a tremendous cayman, holding the forelegs of the reptile, drawn over its back, in his hands by way of a bridle! Here a thing which is physically impossible, if communicated to the child as a fact. So great an imposition upon the credulity of the young mind induced us to look farther—and we opened Peter Parley’s Geography for children.

‘I am now going to tell you my travels,’ says Peter. ‘I have been a great traveller,’ says he, ‘and have been in various parts of the world.’ ‘It is a delightful thing to travel about and see different places.’ ‘Every town and city presents something new and interesting.’ ‘But I recommend it to people not to travel about, till they can well afford it, and not to go away and neglect their proper business.’ What an amiable and considerate gossip Is our friend Peter! and what a pity he has forsaken his proper business, which we suppose to be that of flourishing the birch, and gone away to South America, to collect such snake stories as the following: ‘In South America there are great serpents or makes called Anacondas. Some of them are large enough to crush a house.’ What sort of a house? a baby house, or a mansion of brick or stone? What a tremendous reptile this must be that can twist its gigantic body around an edifice of granite and crush it into atoms; an earthquake could do no more. ‘I have been a great traveller,’ says Peter. No doubt about that; he is probably the identical traveller alluded to by the statesman who said ‘the schoolmaster is abroad.’

We felt tempted to peep into a few other books, prepared for children. The subject is one of no small importance. The young mind is inquisitive, and eager in the pursuit of knowledge. Its curiosity may be nourished and kept awake by wholesome and appropriate food, while it maybe perverted and balked by misdirection or disappointment.

We have more than once spoken in terms of approbation of the improvements which have been made in books for children and young persons. It is to be apprehended however, that in the great multiplication of these books, and in the commercial spirit with which they are manufactured, there is danger of their becoming so superficial as to be useless, and even pernicious. We have lately looked into some of them, for the purpose of ascertaining how far this suspicion might be justified by fact, and we confess we were not a little surprised to find them full of the grossest errors. School-books, to be at all valuable, should be accurate. It is not so important that they

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should contain a large amount of Information, as that all that they do comprise should be correct. It is better to convey a little sound Instruction, than a good deal that is erroneous. In the first instance, the child has received that to which he may afterwards add; in the latter his mind must be disabused by subsequent instruction; and there is great danger that the discovery of having been deceived, may induce a disgust for learning, which will prevent any further progress, or at least inspire a pernicious habit of scepticism.

We think the subject sufficiently important to induce us to present a few examples of the carelessness with which such books are now constructed, in the hope that these faults may be corrected, and that the attention of those who are interested in the purity of this branch of literature may be called to the subject.

We shall take as our first example, the very first sentence in the ‘Malte Brun School Geography,’ which runs thus:

‘A town consists of lands, houses, public buildings, roads, and inhabitants. The lands belong to different people, and are used for building houses upon, for raising grain, grass, and vegetables, and for feeding horses, cattle, and sheep.’

This description might be properly applied to a town in New England, but is entirely inappropriate when used in a geography of the world, because, except in New England, the word town does not embrace lands for raising grain, etc. What is elsewhere called a township, is in New England a town, but this geographer uses the word in the same sense in its application to towns generally. A little further on we are told that a ‘city is a large town’—of course a city contains also lands for raising grain, etc., because the only difference pointed out refers to size. We pass over the inaccuracy of saying ‘grain, grass, and vegetables,’ as if grain and grass were not vegetables, and proceed to another statement. At page twelve, we are told that ‘latitude is reckoned north and south from the equator,’ but ‘longitude is reckoned east and west from Greenwich.’ Here the child is deceived into the belief, that longitude is reckoned from Greenwich, as invariably as latitude from the equator, when in truth, the one point is fixed, and the other arbitrary; latitude is always measured from the equator, longitude is not always measured from Greenwich.

At page seventy-four we are told, ‘the territories of the United States, are under the care and direction of the general government. A governor is appointed by the president,’ who superintends the affairs of the territory over which he is placed.’ This is true—but how will the reader be surprised to hear that there are six territories, viz: Michigan, Northwest, Arkansas, Missouri, Florida, and Oregon. Is there a governor of Oregon? or of the Missouri, or Northwest territories? Where is the Missouri territory—or the Northwest territory? What district of country is comprised in Oregon territory, and who is governor? If these questions were inserted in the book, it would puzzle the teachers to answer them, and the boys might thank their stars that flogging had gone out of fashion. We are told moreover that ‘there is an American settlement on the Columbia, 18 miles from its mouth, called Astoria,’ and ‘the engraving exhibits some of the inhabitants looking with anxiety at a vessel upon the waters of the Pacific ocean, and endeavoring to hail her, in hope of obtaining news from their friends living in the Atlantic states.’ How edifying to the children must this picture be in which the people of Astoria, 18 miles from the ocean, are endeavoring to hail a vessel sailing on the Pacific—and how disappointed the little folks will be to learn that it is all a hoax, inasmuch as there has not been on American settlement on the Columbia river for the last twenty years. There is a British settlement there.

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The author Is very particular In explaining the meaning of the pictures, which might not otherwise be very obvious. One of them we are told, ‘represents a flat-boat, or what is called an ark, loaded with live stock and produce’—on its way to New Orleans; and on inspecting it we see a curious affair, resembling a ‘stray pen,’ with a bear, a buffalo, an elk, and some other animal, perched on the top, sailing comfortably to New Orleans to be disposed of as live stock. The questions and answers in the school where this book is studied, would be about as follows: What are live stock? Ans. Bears, Buffaloes, and Elk. How do the western people dispose of them? Ans. Take them to New Orleans and sell them. Do they take them there alive? Ans. Yes, sir. In the same picture is seen a steam boat with a suit of sails, and a chimney on the stern. This is teaching the young idea to shoot; but we should call it bad shooting, in this country.

There are numberless such errors in this book. We lay it aside and take up another—‘Adams’ Geography.’ Here we are again informed that the United States is divided into twenty-four states, one district, and six territories.’ We turn to the western states, where we find (p[.] 158) that the Buffaloes are ‘very domestic and harmless’—harmless they may be, but that they are very domestic is a new idea. The description of the soil of Kentucky is as follows: ‘In the valleys the soil is thin and of an inferior quality, but on the swells it is sufficiently deep, and of abundant fertility. The inhabitants distinguish its quality, by first, second, and third rates. Lands of the first quality will not bear wheat, nor ihe second to advantage, etc.’ The edifying Inference which the schoolboy draws from this statement, is, that in Kentucky wheat will not grow on the rich uplands, but only on the poor low lands. He is moreover informed that ‘Lexington is much the largest town in the state,’ and that ‘Louisville bids fair to become a large manufacturing town.’ (p. 162.) At page 167, it is stated that ‘the Kaskaskia is a very dead stream, and, except at low water, is navigated by steam boats several hundreds of miles.’ It happens not to be navigated at all by steam boats except, occasionally, for about eight miles.

The most remarkable fact is one relating to Missouri, at page 168, namely, ‘the land near the river is rich, producing maize, hemp, tobacco, cattle and swine, in plenty.’ The land that produces cattle and swine in plenty, must be very rich indeed, and we only regret that the author did not proceed to point out the mode of cultivation pursued in relation to this valuable crop. We hope that he will add, in his next edition, the remarkable fact mentioned by the author of ‘Westward Ho,’ that an iron crow-bar, struck into the soil of Kentucky, will sprout and bear nail-rods.

In ‘Arkansaw,’ (p. 170) ‘on the rivers the soil is abundantly rich and fertile; back from the rivers it is poor for two or three hundred miles, when it becomes good.’ This territory is bounded by the Mississippi on one side, and intersected by White river, Red river, St. Francis, Washita and Arkansas rivers. So that no part of it it two or three hundred, or even one hundred miles back from the river. ‘Arkopolis, three hundred miles above the Mississippi, on the Arkansas, is the seat of government.’

We pass over to the West Indies. ‘Sugar produced from sugar cane,’ says our authority, at page 181, ‘is the capital article of exportation from these islands, to which molasses and rum are appendages’—appendages to what? to these islands, or to sugar? What is an appendage to an article of exportation?

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In describing the continent of South America, the author after living a list of its rivers, proceeds as follows: ‘The whole interior of South America, comprising all the countries watered by these noble and majestic rivers, is an immense plain, of which many extensive districts are annually inundated by their redundant waters.’ p[.] 187. What an immense plain that must be—comprising the whole interior of South America, and all the countries, watered by these noble rivers! We should suppose that the Andes, which are said to attain an altitude of a little over twenty-one thousand feet and to extend to a length of five hundred miles through the said interior, would interfere a little with the even tenor of this regular surface.

But we throw this book aside, and take up another—‘A Book for Massachusetts Children, in familiar letters from a Father.’ This writer begins in this affectionate strain—‘I have long thought, that the children In Massachusetts ought to be the best children in the world, because they live in this good land, and have so many advantages.’ Among the advantages is embraced that of having such accurate books to read, which is no doubt a very proper matter for congratulation. What happy children are they, for whom such remarkably valuable information as the following is prepared:

‘I suppose you would be glad to know where the water in the rivers comes from. When it rains, the waters run down the hills and mountains, and make little brooks. Very often these little brooks run into hollow places between hills, and make ponds. Then are a great many ponds in Massachusetts, but none very large. When a pond gets full, the water runs over and makes a brook or river. Sometimes a great many brooks run together and make a river.’

Now is not that a cunning way of making rivers—all out of rain water? But it is not smarter than the author’s notions about trees. ‘Trees become smaller and smaller as you go up a mountain, because the air becomes colder and colder.’ The worthy old gentleman forgot here that some of the largest trees grew in cold climates, and that trees may become smaller and smaller, because the soil becomes poorer and poorer.

We find occasionally such contradictions as the following, ‘Nantucket is a country of itself. p. 29. ‘Nantucket county, is made up of Nantucket island, and several small islands near it.’ p. 9. We cannot determine whether this county embraces several islands, or only one; yet the book is published at Boston for the use of Massachusetts children.

At p. 28, the author very kindly instructs his young readers, that the people who live on Cape Cod, are a very honest good sort of people’—as if the fact had been doubted; yet he omits to make a similar statement in relation to the people of any other part of Massachusetts, leaving the reader to infer, either that the folks on Cape Cod are particularly honest, or else that he is unwilling to risk his reputation by giving a certificate of good character to any others.

‘The walnut tree,’ says this writer at p. 44, ‘bears also a very good nut. The wood of this tree is the very best kind for fuel, and for many purposes is a valuable timber. It is used for ax bundles; and being very tough, it is easily bent into bows and hoops.’ The wood of the walnut burns very badly, and is not used for ax handles or bows. The writer mistakes it for the hickory.

This writer says ‘Massachusetts has three capes’—Cape Ann, Cape Cod, and Cape Malabar. Adams says there are six, and adds to those above named, Sandy Point, Gay Head, and Cape Poge. Which is the young student to believe—both books being published in Boston? If he turns to Goodrich’s Malte Brun, to solve the

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difficulty, and refers to the title Massachusetts, he will not find any capes described; and instead of inquiring whether there are three or six, he begins to doubt whether there is one. Should he resort to Worcester, he would find, not the exact number, but evidence from which it is strongly to be Inferred, that there are two capes In Massachusetts. Yet all these are Boston books.

A serious objection to all these books is vagueness of language. This is particularly evident in their mode of treating of the products of the different states of this union. If the reader consults several of these works, for information upon this topic, he will find that the writers sometimes use the word product, sometimes staple, and at other times export, and that these terms are used either convertibly, or in opposition, as it happens. In the, Malte Brun Geography, in treating of Ohio, it Is said, ‘the staple production is wheat. The principal exports are flour, pork, and tobacco.’ In other places flour and pork are called staples.

If we refer to the accounts of foreign countries, we shall find that then writers do not always agree with each other. Turn for instance to the title Prussia, under the head soil.

Smiley says it has a fertile toil.’

Worcester asserts the soil to be, ‘by no means very fertile.”

Adams testifies that it ‘varies between the two extremes of barrenness and fertility.’

Turn to England, about which we should suppose there could be no difference of opinion:

The Malte Brun teaches, ‘the soil is generally good.’

Olney is much more decided—‘the soil is extremely fertile.’

Adams is a non-committal—‘of soil, there is every variety.’

These remarks might be extended. But we have said enough to call attention to the subject, and we hope that those who are entrusted with the education of youth will take the matter up.

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