Favell Lee Mortimer: Best writer ever?

If you desire outrageously bigoted 19th century writing for children, written by a possibly demented and unquestionably sadistic Englishwoman, with instructional emphasis on the characteristics of different cultures, look no further...

In 1800s England a woman named Favell Lee Mortimer rose to prominence in children's literature. Among her works:

  • "The Peep of the Day", which introduces children to God and the Bible by means of passages like the following:

    How kind of God to give you a body! I hope that your body will not get hurt. Will your bones break? Yes, they would, if you were to fall down from a high place. [...] How easy it would be to hurt your poor little body! If it were to fall into the fire, it would be burned up. [...] If a great box were to fall on your head, it would be crushed. [...] If you were to fall out of a window, your neck would be broken.

  • "Reading without tears," filled with practice lessons for young readers:

    What is the matter with that little boy? He has taken poison. He saw a cup of poison on the shelf. [...] So he drank it. [...] Can the doctor cure him? Will the poison destroy him? He must die.

  • A trilogy of books about the peoples of the world, recently compiled into one by Todd Pruzan and reprinted. (Pruzan also wrote an excellent introduction to Mortimer in the April 11 issue of the New Yorker.)

These last books are matter-of-fact in their bigotry and filled to the brim with bizarre and unrecognizable stereotypes. Mortimer's unique brand of ferocious religious sadism runs thoughout. (In case you have to ask, no, she didn't visit any of the places she wrote about. Why should she?) And thanks to Project Gutenberg, one of these masterpieces is available online. Feast your browsers on Far Off: or, Asia and Australia Described, With Anecdotes and Illustrations. This book is a gold mine. Here are some excerpts, chosen at random...

On Taoism and Buddhism:

The religion of Taou teaches men to act like mad-men. The religion of Buddha teaches them to act like idiots.

More on non-Christian religions:

There is no nation that has so many gods as the Hindoos. What do you think of three hundred and thirty millions! There are not so many people in Hindostan as that. No one person can know the names of all these gods; and who would wish to know them? Some of them are snakes, and some are monkeys!

On the "Toorkomans":

When their hands are idle, their thoughts are still busy in planning new robberies and murders. It was by such men that the earth was inhabited when God sent the flood to destroy it.

On the cunning Chinaman:

One traveller, because he stayed too long in Tartary, was imprisoned for three months; and before he was let go, a picture of him was taken. What was done with this picture? It was copied, and the copies were sent to various towns on the borders of Chinese Tartary, with this command, "If the man, who is like this picture, enter the country, his head is the Emperor's, and his property is yours." Happily the traveller heard of this command, and was never seen again in the country. You see how cunning it was of the Chinese to allow any one who killed the traveller to have his property; for thus they made it the interest of all to kill him.

On the "Dyaks" of Borneo (note the return of a theme raised in "Peep"):

When the Dyaks fight against their enemies, they try to get, not only the heads of men, but also the heads of women and CHILDREN. How dreadful it must be to see a poor BABY'S HEAD hanging from the ceiling! There was a Dyak who lost all his property by fire, but he cared not for losing anything, so much as for losing his PRECIOUS HEADS; nothing could console him for THIS loss; some of them he had cut off himself, and others had been cut off by his father, and left to him!

Read and enjoy.