Lytil Boke.

Alison Flood reports for the Guardian on a timeless classic:

From Horrid Henry to Just William, naughty children are not difficult to find in children’s books today. But bad behaviour isn’t confined to recent decades – a manuscript from 1480, which has been digitised for the first time by the British Library, gives an insight into the antics of medieval children, as it exhorts them to “pyke notte thyne errys nothyr thy nostrellys” – don’t pick your ears or your nostrils – and to “spette not ovyr thy tabylle”.

The 15th-century conduct book, The Lytille Childrenes Lytil Boke, was intended to teach table manners. It has been put online as part of a new children’s literature website bringing together original manuscripts, interviews and drafts by authors from Lewis Carroll to Jacqueline Wilson. The medieval text is part of the British Library’s own collection, and “by listing all the many things that medieval children should not do, it also gives us a hint of the mischief they got up to”, said the library.

“Bulle not as a bene were in thi throote,” is another piece of advice doled out by the book – or “don’t burp as if you had a bean in your throat”. “And chesse cum by fore the, be not to redy,” children are warned – or “don’t be greedy when they bring out the cheese”. And long predating the Victorian age’s exhortations for children to be seen but not heard: “‘Loke thou laughe not, nor grenne / And with moche speche thou mayste do synne.” Or: “Don’t laugh, grin or talk too much.” […]

More than 100 “treasures from children’s literature” feature on the new site, Discovering Children’s Books, including pages from Judith Kerr’s sketchbook for The Tiger Who Came to Tea, showing tigers drawn from life at London zoo. Axel Scheffler has shared the changing face of the Gruffalo, after he was told to make it less scary. There is also the first manuscript of Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, which would become Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Enid Blyton’s typescript drafts of The Famous Five and Last Term at Malory Towers.

Thanks, Trevor!

Comments

  1. I read this the other day. I wish there were more Englishmen who’d been told to pyke notte thyne errys nothyr thy nostrellys. It was a habit on conspicuous & distracting display during lessons when I was at school, even being imitated by one or two of the pupils.
    the antics of medieval children
    I vaguely remember a book called The History of Childhood that had as a premise that young people as something other than tiny adults was only a modern concept, so were there really medieval children?

  2. Any chance it should read as I first quickly scanned it: “don’t pick your arse”?

    I also thought at first glance it was a “bee” in the throat, not a “bean”. What would a throat bean sound like?

  3. young people as something other than tiny adults was only a modern concept, so were there really medieval children?

    Check Matthew 19:14

  4. To AJP Crown:
    perhaps thinking of The Invention of Childhood by Hugh Cunningham (London: BBC, 2006)?

  5. Kate Bunting says:

    If they were eating in hall with everyone else, rather than in a separate nursery/schoolroom, isn’t that being treated as little adults?

  6. Matthew 19:14, Suffer the little children
    SF, all sorts of things mentioned in the Bible – Daniel & the lions’ den and not eating shellfish are two – weren’t found in medieval England.

    The Invention of Childhood by Hugh Cunningham
    Stephen Goranson, that title is very familiar. Also I now see Wikipedia’s got a piece headed The History of Childhood that begins with a 1960 French social history.

  7. David Eddyshaw says:

    I think it was not so much that there was no concept of childhood at all, but that it ended a lot earlier.

  8. Seven may have been the age of reason and responsibility in English law, but that didn’t mean that the difference in capacity between a 7-year-old, a 14-year-old, and a 21-year-old wasn’t recognized. A nobleman’s son might go to war as an officer at 16, but he had other officers and sergeants around him to keep him from going too wrong.

    ‘Arse’ for errys is certainly possible. In OE it was ers, in modern West Frisian ears, and similarly in regional Dutch, though the un-umlauted vowel persists in all the standard languages, I think. However, semantically I think it’s over the top. Anyhow, a bean in your throat would be something stuck there, which in the bad old days before the Heimlich maneuver would have to be hacked or gagged out.

    What seems really odd to me is the reading of bull as ‘burp’. I have gone through the four verbs and ten nouns in the OED without finding a trace of such a sense, and there’s nothing in Wikt or the Dictionary of ME either. I wonder where Flood got it.

  9. You’re right, that’s very odd. Could it be a variant of bilen v. “To strike with the beak, jab, peck; to ‘mouth’ or blow (a horn)”? You might make a pecking motion if you had a bean in your mouth, trying to dislodge it. But that seems highly unlikely.

  10. I suspect a misreading; the line is in the middle of the second page shown at the book link, and it’s not at all clear to me the first word is “bulle.” (And “throote” is crossed out and rewritten, which doesn’t inspire confidence in the manuscript’s orthography.) In any case, it’s not Flood’s error, because she’s just quoting the library site.

  11. all sorts of things mentioned in the Bible

    For a religiously minded person there can be no question that children are functionally different from adults in the most important aspect imaginable – they are innocent and therefore they will all go to heaven.

    While almost all adults are sinners and it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for an adult to enter the kingdom of God…

  12. David Marjanović says:

    they are innocent

    Only from baptism to the first sin – however insignificant.

    St Augustine wrote babies being needy is already sinful, and a manifestation of original sin.

    And “throote” is crossed out and rewritten, which doesn’t inspire confidence in the manuscript’s orthography.

    Seems to me the author first wrote throte, then wrote throote over that, found the result unreadable, crossed it out and tried again.

  13. PlasticPaddy says:

    Maybe he was thinking thrapple and writing throat☺

  14. Camels, another thing.

  15. I know we’re all admonished from an early age not to pick our noses, but it’s a very satisfying activity and you have to keep the passageways clear somehow. I draw the line, though, at excessive admiration of the product of one’s excavations.

  16. Seems to me the author first wrote throte, then wrote throote over that, found the result unreadable, crossed it out and tried again.

    I reckon they wrote throthe, repeating the th because they just weren’t paying attention. There’s no way to alter throthe to make throote, so it had to be crossed out and rewritten.

    What is the reason for the Z before capital B on that line and three lines below? The script looks to me like Carolingian minuscule but it may be too late and too English for that.

  17. John Cowan says:

    excessive admiration

    To say nothng of consumption, as toddlers often do.

    Z before capital B

    I’m pretty sure it’s just a flourish.

    As for Bulle, I read it as B?ffe; I can’t figure out what the apparent yod yod -patakh ( ײַ) in the second place is supposed to be. There are other paired yods, but none with an underscore.

  18. David Marjanović says:

    B?ffe

    Rather B?lke, judging from the letter shapes in Speke noo worde stylle ne sterke a few lines later.

    The underscore isn’t deliberate; I think it’s not even in ink. Between the two yods I think I can see an oblique stroke that connects them into an n shape; there’s a recurrent word pⁿ that must be an abbreviation (no idea for what), so presumably this n-like phenomenon is one, too…

  19. I read it as gub.

  20. Actually it’s rendered here as ‘Bulk’, which is what I was also thinking from the handwriting.

    Bulk not as a Beene were yn thi throte
    (nor belch as if a bean were in your throat)

    At the bottom of the Harvard page it says:
    Text (slightly regularized and some small changes in running commentary) from The Babees Book, ed. Frederick J. Furnivall, EETS 32, 1868, pp. 16-24.

  21. they are innocent and therefore they will all go to heaven.

    Only from baptism to the first sin – however insignificant.

    Where does the Limbo of Infants fit in? Unbaptized infants might never make it to heaven. The Catholic Church likes nothing more than kicking grieving parents at their worst moment.

  22. David Marjanović says:

    Where does the Limbo of Infants fit in?

    Before baptism.

  23. John Cowan says:

    Unbaptized infants might never make it to heaven. The Catholic Church likes nothing more than kicking grieving parents at their worst moment.

    It would hardly be better if (as some churches do) they held that such infants are heading straight for the hottest part of Hell. There are, of course, alternatives: most churches practicing believer’s baptism also hold that the original sin of Adam was expiated on the Cross once and for all, and consequently for the last 2000 years humanity are only responsible for their individual sins.

    After all, both universalism (Hell is empty, God forgives everyone) and universal damnation (much rarer, though a few small churches come very close) are called heresies, but both are consistent with any kind of Christianity that admits God chooses whom to save.

  24. If Hell were not empty, even if it contained only one sinner, it would be morally incumbent on humanity to invade it, to overthrow God and Satan, and to liberate their victim.

  25. PlasticPaddy says:

    @ajay
    What if the victim does not want to be “liberated”? This is a question positivist thinkers tend to ignore….

  26. January First-of-May says:

    …Huh. “Hell is only there for the people who have a fetish for it” is an option that probably won’t go very well with most churches.

    (But yes, that’s probably a nonempty set, per rule 36.)

  27. Rodger C says:

    C. S. Lewis seems to have been very vexed by this question; The Great Divorce imagines a Hell that exists, but in a very minimalist way.

  28. Hell is only there for the people who have a fetish for it

    In that case, wouldn’t it just be a branch of heaven?

  29. AJP Crown says:

    There’s nothing wrong with Limbo. It’s where all the animals end up. I’m hoping to go there myself.

  30. AJP Crown says:

    Thanks. It completely replaced that grotesque Italian number with lyrics by Jerry Leiber that I had as an earworm all morning.

  31. John Cowan says:

    Niven & Pournelle describe Hell as the violent ward of the Hospital for the Theologically Insane.

  32. AJP Crown says:

    Byrne & Harrison describe Heaven as a place where nothing ever happens.

  33. Rodger C says:

    George Macdonald desrcibed Heaven as “the regions where there is only life, and therefore all that is not music is silence.”

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