Date of this Version
The early New England Catechisms--forerunners of the New England Primer--form a branch of the literature of education in America which is worthy of retrospective study. Although the subject offers an interesting field for bibliographical research, a satisfactory treatment is difficult because of the scarcity of material. Notwithstanding the many catechisms that were printed, both in this country and abroad, for the use of children here, but few copies have come down to our own times, and of many editions nearly every vestige has been lost. It has been truly said of these early books for the education of youth, that "they were considered too small and unimportant to be preserved in the libraries of the learned, and the copies that were used by children, were generally worn out by hard service or otherwise destroyed."
My remarks will relate chiefly to some of the catechisms for ehildren and older persons, which were used in New England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It would not have been possible to gather material, in the way it is here presented, without the use of the remarkable collection of catechisms brought together half a century ago by Mr. George Livermore of Dana Hill in Cambridge. When his library was dispersed by public sale in 1894, the collection referred to was secured almost intact for the Lenox Library, now a part of the New York Public Library. The credit for this paper, therefore, is largely due to Mr. Livermore, to whom we are indebted for gathering the material and saving it from destruction. There was, moreover, an earlier owner of a portion of this collection of catechisms, a contemporary of the Rev. Thomas Prince, in the last century, to whom we are under obligations for the preservation of some of the oldest American catechisms now extant. I do not know his name, and can only say that he had nine of these little publications, dating between 1656 and 1740, bound together in one volume. The catechisms are now separate, having been broken apart some time before the Livermore sale, but the evidence of their former condition still remains.