Romantic Circles Gallery
The Hindoo Woman and her Babe
A Hindu woman, wearing a short-sleeved dress, walks away from the basket in which she has placed her baby. A scarf is draped over her head, and she holds one end in her left hand. Her right hand is raised in a wave-like gesture, and her head is half-turned to the left, back towards the basket. She is smiling. The basket is suspended by a rope from the limbs of a tree with palm-like leaves. The oval basket is lined with white cloth in which the baby is wrapped up to his chest, his arms atop the cloth. Plants with large, exotic leaves grow at the base of the tree, which appears to be at the edge of a dark forest. In the background, the dome and minaret of a mosque are visible, as well as a palm tree.
Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison
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The following text accompanies the image:
Here is a sad sight. A Hindoo mother has put her smiling baby into a basket, and hung it to a tree. There the babe will be left to be killed by the wild birds or the tigers. A heathen woman was once heard to say to her child, "You are of no use to me; only a burden to carry, and I cannot get food for us both. I will leave you to die in the palm-grove." But a Christian, who heard her words, took care of the babe, and brought it up in the fear of God. Happy English boys and girls, who have kind parents to watch over you, and to teach you about the love of Jesus the Saviour.
"The Hindoo Woman and Her Babe" appeared in the Religious Tract Society’s Picture Book for Little Children.
Thomas Bewick (1753-1828)
Thomas Bewick was a well-known woodcut illustrator from northern England. Unlike many woodcut artists of the time, Bewick used harder woods such as box, carving against the grain of the wood with the fine tools of engravers rather than those usually favored in his profession (Campbell). His illustrations for children’s books were notable for their lack of defined borders; like this one, they faded at the edges (Thompson 5). Bewick’s “vignettes” tended to feature entire scenes around which children could construct a story independent of the text (Thompson 12). Bewick’s influence is significant, not only technically but also aesthetically; this image shows the way his techniques were being adapted in London. Bewick used borderless images exclusively for images of carefree or playful scenes, while those he created for moralizing works were heavily enclosed, sometimes by multiple borders. This image, both borderless and moralistic, suggests that by its publication in 1806 Bewick’s technique had been adapted beyond its original use, becoming a tool for moralizing as well as appearing in cheaper contexts.
The Religious Tract Society
Like Hannah More’s Cheap Repository Tracts (1795-1798), the Religious Tract Society was founded in 1799 with the project of counteracting “radical, antireligious and sensational writing” (Carpenter 256). It set about this goal by distributing cheap, “improving” literature among the lower classes; this literature was written to be comprehensible for even the semiliterate. While in its early years the RTS provided only explicitly religious and moral literature for young people, it later began to include more secular material as well. At this time, children’s publications were split between two audiences: the middle-class, and poor students in charitable schools. The publications aimed at the former audience consisted largely of stories about family life or adventure; publications aimed at charity students veered more towards accounts of “street arabs.” By the end of the nineteenth century, the RTS was publishing content for children that contained no explicitly religious content, and which appealed to readers of all classes (Carpenter 254).
Like "The Hindoo Woman and her Babe," "Arab Scholars" is an illustration in the Picture Book for Little Children.
In this image, a Hindu woman abandons her baby in a basket hung from a tree. The illustration serves as a counterexample to the moral lesson of the accompanying text, while also serving as an example of the absence of "Christian" virtue in "pagan" cultures.
The clear allusion to Moses in an image otherwise occupied with depicting a colonial setting and situation shows the growing acceptance of visual associationism in overtly morally or religiously instructive contexts. Many conservative children’s authors, such as Sarah Trimmer and Hannah More, disagreed with the use of associationism in images for children, particularly in the case of religious subject matter; they feared that the mixed nature of these associations might misfire and create detrimental connections (Ruwe 8). Whatever texts in conservative children’s literature might show, however, their images reveal a less firm stance on association. In this image, the baby hanging in its basket—with its unmistakable connection to the baby Moses found in the rushes—creates an association between the exotic and subtly shocking scene and the biblical tale. Since the Religious Tract Society also produced illustrated bible stories for children, the image serves not only as a connection between the nature of the heathen child and the great Old Testament leader, but also as a link between the two types of publications put out by the RTS (Grenby 33). Since the tracts were distrubted for pennies each, it seems tenuous to claim that this is a marketing ploy; however, it does indicate a potential, visual project on the part of the RTS to create ties between the explicitly biblical and the morally instructive.
As part of the “picture show” section of the book, this image recalls the peepshows popular in the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-centuries. Early peepshows consisted of large boxes with a small hole on one side through which viewers looked at images. These images were three-dimensional, and usually depicted cities, battles, landscapes, or biblical events (Ogata 69). At fairs and gatherings, peepshow men would accompany the images with spoken narration; here, the extensive labels serve the same purpose. By the early nineteenth century, peepshows made of paper—"foldout paper construction with printed scenes and a peephole"—were widely available and fairly inexpensive. They evoked the grandness of the expositions they recreated and the magic of exotic scenes; peepshows were “not only a way to inculcate lessons of nationalism and principles of taste and consumption, but also provided a form of successful entertainment" (Ogata 70). The series of images in which "A Hindoo Woman" appears is labeled and arranged to deliberately invoke the peepshow aesthetic, and shares similar aims. As the reader flips through this first section of the book, the text is presented with images from a variety of exotic scenes; consequently, the visual experience created by this collection mimics the sense of wonder and surprise elicited by the more complicated and visually rich peepshows.
Images like this one were intended to teach children proper attitudes concerning Christian duties, class responsibilities, and the inferiority of non-Europeans.
Campbell, Colin. "Bewick, Thomas." Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford UP, 18 Jan. 2006. Web. 6 May 2009.
Carpenter, Humphrey and Mari Pritchard. “Religious Tract Society.” The Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999. Print.
Grenby, M.O. “Adults Only? Children and Children's Books in British Circulating Libraries, 1748-1848.” Book History 5 (2002): 19-38. Print.
Kinnell, Margaret. “Scepterless, Free, Uncircumscribed? Radicalism, Dissent and Early Children’s Books.” British Journal of Educational Studies 36.1 (1988): 49-71. Print.
Ogata, Amy F. "Viewing Souvenirs: Peepshows and the International Expositions." Journal of Design History 15.2 (2002): 69-82. Print.
Ruwe, Donelle. "Guarding the British Bible from Rousseau: Sarah Trimmer, William Godwin, and the Pedagogical Periodical." Children's Literature 29 (2001): 1-17. Print.
Thompson, Hilary. "Enclosure and Childhood in the Wood Engravings of Thomas and John Bewick." Children's Literature 24 (1996): 1-22. Print.