“My Book and Heart Shall Never Part”

Courtney Weikle-Mills

in The Oxford Handbook of Children's Literature

Published in print March 2011 | ISBN: 9780195379785
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 “My Book and Heart Shall Never Part”

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  • Literature
  • Children's Literature Studies
  • Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)


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This article argues that despite the New England Primer's emphasis upon authority, as children were invited into unmediated communion with the text they gained a sense of themselves as agents with the power to shape both literary meaning and an interior realm of subjectivity. The Primer's history thus reflects dramatic changes in childhood. Its inclusion of joyous prayers and solemn meditations on death suggest that these individual rituals were central to its pedagogy. The evangelical revisions of the Primer were part of an ongoing shift within New England religious culture from patriarchal hierarchy to individual spiritual responsibility. The reading practices inaugurated by the Primer are perhaps best summarized by a reader who in 1849 asked, “whose brain has not been effectually confused by copious and involuntary draughts of John Cotton's Spiritual Milk for Babes [and been] reminded, in a moment of despondency, that his Book and Heart Must Never Part?”

Keywords: New England Primer; Book and Heart; subjectivity; childhood; joyous prayers; literary meaning

Article.  11343 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Children's Literature Studies ; Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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