London: Darton, Harvey and Darton, 1815. First edition. Original publisher's drab boards with paper label to upper cover. Measuring 140 x 90mm and collating complete with all four plates present: 101, [1, blank], [4, adverts]. Gentle rubbing to boards, but tight, square and pleasing. Faint ownership signature to front endpaper. Some offsetting to endpapers and title page; light scattered foxing throughout. Three inch tear to pages 21-22 archivally closed with all affected words remaining legible; marginal stain to plate at page 82. In all, a pleasing copy of a scarce work which OCLC reports at 12 libraries worldwide. This is the only first edition on the market.
Old enough to be sent for daily visits to their Aunt, little Ellen and Rachel discover the joys of spending time with a generous and knowledgeable woman. Day by day, the two girls learn about the structure of flowers, the origin of Chinaware, and the caretaking of cats and pet birds. Over time, their aunt increases the complexity of her lessons. In addition to showing the girls how her livestock is raised and her property is managed, she also provides social lessons. Introducing Ellen and Rachel to her servants Isaac and Nancy, the Aunt urges the girls to understand their own economic privileges; for while Isaac and Nancy praise the generosity of their employer, they acknowledge that caretaking for their daughter Betsy and her seven children causes strain. Though the Aunt asserts that she ensures that all of her employees want for nothing, she allows the story to conclude with no additional offers of assistance to her longtime workers. Adult readers learn bit by bit that the generous Aunt, in fact, enjoys being perceived as generous; and near the book's conclusion she narrates the story of a young man Tom, whom she discovered being abused by the man who kidnapped him from the West Indies and enslaved him. Purchasing Tom's freedom on the spot, it does not occur to the Aunt to consult Tom about his wishes or to attempt reuniting him with family; rather, the Aunt places Tom into paid servitude to a family friend.
A far more complex education book than its one and two syllable vocabulary would suggest, The Little Visitors gives insight into how young children like Ellen and Rachel can learn useful lessons from the adults in their life, as well as how those adults can pass along paternalistic views about race and class. (Item #4967)