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

The Riddle Book (1826)

This tiny paper-covered chapbook was published and sold by book sellers J. Babcock & Son, in New Haven, Connecticut, and S. Babcock, in Charleston, South Carolina. (The Riddle Book, also produced by Sidney’s Press, is a 30-page collection with much different content. Incomplete copies of this dating from 1818 [Shaw number 45545] and 1819 [Shaw number 49293] have been duplicated in microform as part of the Early American Imprints, 2nd series.)

Each riddle in the form of a poem is accompanied by a hand-colored illustration giving the answer. They’re sometimes surprisingly sophisticated and gritty; the last riddle has a theme that’s unexpectedly adult.

My copy may have been rebound by a young owner; its current covers (front) (back) are of floral-printed paper apparently stitched on by an owner (the book is inscribed by Eliza Beson and Sarah Beson). The front cover is apparently intact, though the back cover is missing. The books does, however, have all the riddles and illustrations.

The Riddle Book (New Haven, CT: Sidney’s Press, 1826)



two boys listen as a boy seated under a tree plays a flute



[two blank pages]


an elderly woman with a book looks up at a young man and young woman who are arm-in-arm

[title page]

[title page text:]


[illus of musical instruments and a book]


[copyright page]

Published by J. Babcock & Son, New-Haven, and S. Babcock & Co. Charleston, S. C. who keep constantly for sale a good assortment of Books and Stationary.

p. 5



illus of a closed carriage

My friend and I from home did part,

Of whom I had some way the start;

So on we ran, ten miles or more,

And I same distance was before:

Now tell me how that this could be,

As I ran twice as fast as he.

p. 6

illus of two books

p. 7

Sometimes I have sense, sometimes I have none;

Sometimes I offend, then you bid me begone;

Sometimes I am merry, sometimes I am sad;

Sometimes I am good, sometimes very bad;

However, to make me, I cost many brains,

Much labour, much thought, and a great deal of pains.

p. 8

illus of a watch

p. 9

My form is beauteous to the ravish’d sight,

My habit gay, my color gold or white.

When ladies take the air, it is my pride

To walk with equal pace close by their side,

And, though no powdered beau, beau-like converse,

And in set speech I give an answer terse:

I near their person constantly remain,

A fav’rite slave bound in a golden chain;

The seaman by me plough the ocean wide,

Longitude measure, and latitude divide;

And though I can both speak and go alone,

Yet are my motions to myself unknown.

p. 10

illus of fish

p. 11

Though it be cold, I wear no clothes,

The frost and snow I never fear;

I value neither shoes nor hose,

And yet I wander far and near:

My diet is forever good,

I drink no cider, port, nor sack,

What Providence doth send for food,

I neither buy, nor sell, nor lack. [sic]

p. 12

illus of a windmill

p. 13

Four wings I have, which swiftly mount on high,

On sturdy pinions, yet I never fly;

And though my body often moves around,

Upon the self-same spot I’m always found,

And, like a mother, who breaks her infant’s bread,

I chew for man before he can be fed.

p. 14

illus of a three-masted schooner

p. 15

In me behold the height of human art,

Hear what to me the elements impart:

My origin I owe to mother earth,

She was the midwife forwarded my birth;

She gave me wings, and added to my voice,

And Neptune made me his peculiar choice;

To me committed his dominions vast—

Jove wav’d his sceptre, and the fiat pass’d;

I took possession without more delay,

And ride the liquid empire to this day.

p. 16

illus of a fierce cat with a mouse

p. 17

I’m dreaded by a num’rous race,

That travel o’er the fields;

And in each mansion find a place,

Where oft I move their heels;

Nor can restrain my longing eye

Whene’er a pretty linnet’s nigh;

And, once within my grasp, they find

The nature of my tyger mind:

No more they plume their flutt’ring wing,

Or sweetly to their mistress sing;

But in an instant I devote

Their beauties to my hungry throat.

When young, I’m gentle, active, mild;

In playful mood, I please the child;

A hunter am, at catching good,

And charm the swallow from her brood.

p. 18

illus of a royal crown

p. 19

How many hundreds for my sake have died?

What frauds and villanies have not been tri’d?

And all the grandeur which my race adorns,

Is like the rose beset with thorns;

Nay when possess’d, such the enjoyments are,

I to my owners trouble bring, and care.

E’en those, by whom I am so highly priz’d,

If good, are hated; and if bad, despis’d:

Thus, twixt the plague of getting me, and losing. [sic]

By some I’m thought not worth a wise man’s choosing.

p. 20

illus of a shoe

p. 21

Through all my days, I’ve sore been prest,

And trampled under feet;

Stranger alike to joy and rest,

Or liberty so sweet.

At length, I’m gone and quite decay’d,

And nought can me condole;

For he whose power and wisdom made

Me—cannot save my sole!

p. 22

illus of a rose

p. 23

Emblem of youth and innocence,

With walls inclos’d for my defence,

And with no care opprest;

I boldly spread my charms around,

Till some rude lover breaks the mound,

And takes me to his breast.

Here soon I sicken and decay;

My beauty lost, I’m turn’d away

And thrown upon the street;

Where I despis’d a vagrant lie,

See no Samaritan pass by,

But num’rous insects meet.

Ladies! contemplate well my fate,

Reflect upon my wretched state!

Implore the Almighty aid,

Lest you (which heaven avert) like me

Should come to want and misery,

Be ruin’d and betray’d.

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