hate in New England Primer: soil in which free speech grew

The most popular school textbook in colonial New England was the New-England Primer. It was in print by 1690 and almost surely sold more than two million copies in the eighteenth century. By 1830 it had gone through at least 360 editions, and it was still selling about 10,000 copies per year in the 1840s.[1] A modern reprint describes the New-England Primer thus:

The single most influential Christian textbook in history. Most scholars agree that most, if not all, of the Founding Fathers were taught to read and write using this volume which is unsurpassed to this day for its excellence of practical training and Christian worldview. First published in 1690, the goal of the Primer was to combine the study of the Bible with the alphabet, vocabulary, and the reading of prose and poetry. This is the book that introduced the children’s prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep,” and which made the “Shorter Catechism” a staple of education for American children. More than five million copies were sold in the nineteenth century alone.[1]

From its earliest versions, the New-England Primer included among its exercises for schoolchildren material about and from John Rogers. John Rogers was a Protestant minister martyred in England in 1554 under the Catholic Queen Mary I. The New-England Primer included a woodcut of Rogers’ being led to his execution fire, a brief account of his martyrdom, and a poem that Rogers purportedly wrote to exhort his ten small children a few days before he was immolated.[3] Some of the verses of the poem could pass as eternal pieties:

Give honor to your mother dear,
remember well her pain,

And recompence her in her age,
with the like love again.

But it also included sectarian invective:

Abhor that arrant whore of ROME,
and all her blasphemies,

And drink not of her cursed cup,
obey not her decrees.

Such instruction for schoolchildren would have been unimaginable north of New England in Catholic-dominated New France. When France ceded New France to Great Britain in 1763, the British establishes the Province of Quebec and forcibly repressed Catholicism. Nonetheless, even if they had sought to do so, the British colonial rulers probably could not have forced schoolteachers to teach these verses to Quebec schoolchildren.

Today, special human rights’ agencies in Canada suppress speech to an extent that almost surely would be unconstitutional in the U.S. In the U.S., bitter political debate and harsh religious polemic occurred in conjunction with the development of strong support for freedom of speech.

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[1] Ford, Paul Leicester (1897) The New-England Primer: A History of Its Origin and Development (Dodd, Mead and Co.) p. 6 states that an “over conservative” estimate is 20,000 copies sold per year across 150 years of publication and cites a source stating in 1849 that 100,000 copies had been circulated in the previous dozen years. Family Phonics provides an impressively well-researched history of the New-England Primer, along with many helpful links.

[2] The New-England Primer, 1777 edition (Vision Forum, 2003), book description from Amazon. The assertion of five million copies sold in the nineteenth century is more plausible if applied to the eighteenth century.

[3] An account of John Rogers’ martyrdom was included in John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (1563), but that work did not include a poem by Rogers. The 1690 edition of the New-England Primer included verses by Rogers to his children. See Loads, David M. (2004), John Foxe at Home and Abroad (Ashgate Publishing) p. 114. The woodcut, account, and poem can be seen in this facsimile of the 1727 edition of the New-England Primer.


Dung huts inside a circle
of dead sticks.
I’m off on a safari in the Mara.
Don’t expect me tonight

or tomorrow.”
A Maasai, skin as
black as original night,
a man to three wives
and a stream of
Western women coming

into the bush.
A Maasai,
nurtured on milk,
meat, and blood,
with a long stick
to poke and prod

his precious cows.
A Maasai,
not a Lolita,
not a mille feuille,
a man wrapped only
in a thick red cloth.

communication models in portraiture

Portraiture can be used to bring a person into a painted narrative, to provide information about a person, and to generate a sense of presence of a person. Mughal portraiture indicates the importance of these different purposes.
Fayum mummy portrait
A frontal view of a face, where the face is a large feature of the painting and the eyes of the face gaze out directly at the viewer, effectively creates a sense of presence. Some coffins in Roman-occupied Egypt about 2000 years ago included portraits of the deceased (Fayum mummy portraits). These portraits were not intended to identify who was in the coffin. Persons concerned about the deceased undoubtedly knew who the deceased was. Nor did such portraits contribute significantly to the story. Death is a regular episode in every human life. The value of the portraits is best understood in terms of presence. The portraits brought the presence of the dead to life.

The Mughals did not design portraits to create a sense of presence of a person. Existing Mughal portraits never depict a face where it is a large feature of the painting and the eyes of the face gaze directly out at the viewer. When Jesuit missionaries brought a painting of Mary, the mother of Jesus, to the Mughal ruler Akbar’s court, it attracted great interest.  That Byzantine-style painting was designed, like the mummy portraits, to create a sense of presence of Mary.  For the Mughals, the effect was probably unprecedented.

portrait of Mughal ruler Shah JahanMughal portraiture used three-quarter and profile views of faces. The three-quarter view was associated with action-oriented, narrative paintings. These paintings were relatively common under Akbar. The three-quarter view of a face helps indicate the three-dimensional space of narrative action. The profile view is associated with individual, static portraits and with documenting the presence of particular individuals within scenes. These types of paintings were relatively common in the albums assembled in the reins of Akbar’s successors Jahangir and Jahan. The profile view probably provides the most economic means to identify painted persons. [*] Thus the three-quarter and profile views of faces support narrative and informative alternatives to presence as communicative models for portraiture.

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Note [*]:Wright (2008) sets out this explanation.Filippino Lippi, Portrait of a Youth Id. p. 166 states, “If one wishes to produce the most accurate and hence most identifiable record of a figure’s face, then it is, of course, a side view that must be used, for it is only through the profile that the exact outline of the nose, mouth, and chin can be recorded, and silhouetting the figure against a plain-colored ground, usually light or dark green, highlights the whole form but especially the profile of the figure [notes omitted].” This is an overstatement. Several decades of psychology experiments indicates that the three-quarter view best serves human identification of faces, but some recent evidence favors a frontal view. See, e.g. Stephan and Caine (2007) and Turati, Bulf, and Simion (2006). Roughly a three-quarter view of faces best serves machine-programmed recognition of faces (Liu, Rittscher and Chen (2006)). Processing of images of irises, which are best seen in the frontal view of a face, seems to have been important in the evolution of humans and is likely to dominate future machine-programmed identification systems. The advantage of the profile view needs to be understood with respect to the cost of painted identification. Even if frontal-view portraits can provide better identification of a person, a satisfactory profile view is probably easier to paint.

Images: Gayet mummy portrait; The Emperor Shah Jahan standing upon a globe (detail), 17’th century, prob. c 1627-30, Sackler Gallery; Portrait of a Youth, Filippo Lippi, c. 1485, in the collection of the U.S. National Gallery.


Liu, Xiaoming, Rittscher, J.; Tsuhan Chen (2006), “Optimal Pose for Face Recognition,” Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition, 2006 IEEE Computer Society Conference on Volume 2, Issue , 2006 Page(s): 1439 – 1446.

Stephan B C M, Caine D, 2007, “What is in a view? The role of featural information in the recognition of unfamiliar faces across viewpoint transformationPerception 36(2) 189 – 198.

Turati, C. , Bulf, H. and Simion, F. (2006, Jun) “Newborns’ face recognition over changes in viewpoint” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the XVth Biennial International Conference on Infant Studies, Westin Miyako, Kyoto, Japan . 2008-06-11 from http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p93916_index.html

Wright, Elaine (2008), “Mughal Portraiture and Drawing,” in Wright, Elaine, Muraqqa’: Imperial Mughal Albums from the Chester Betty Library, Dublin (Alexandria, VA: Art Services Int.) pp. 165-77.

gone fishin'

I recently completed a course on leadership skills for non-supervisors. One module in the course was change. The course manual explained:

An effective leader embraces change and exploits the opportunities that it presents. By seeking to lead change, rather than react to it, you will help you and your organization be competitive and grow. Change creates opportunities for individuals to enrich their careers and personal lives. While change can be uncomfortable, it can also be invigorating.

The last page of the manual provided a list of encouraging affirmations: “Affirmations are extremely powerful when spoken or thought with emotional authenticity.” I’m trying to do this better. Some important affirmations:

  • You are unique and special
  • If at first you don’t succeed, try another approach
  • For every obstacle, there is a solution

I hope that you find this blog to be an example and inspiration for leadership.