The Living History Books of Jacob Abbott

February 19, 2017

Who is Jacob Abbott? I asked this question one day as I surveyed the latest public domain offerings at Project Gutenberg and found an interesting text by Mr. Abbott about Peter the Great. A Google search turned up a plethora of links and website answering this question for me.

Jacob Abbott was the eldest son in a large Christian family where all five sons (there were 2 daughters) graduated from Bowdoin College, studied theology at Andover and became teachers and ministers. All except the youngest became authors as well. Besides being an author, Mr. Abbott was also a college professor and tutor, a pastor, the principal of a young ladies school, and later, of a boy’s school over the course of a long and productive life.

Jacob Abbott wrote the first fictional series for children, the Rollo Books. In these books, Mr. Abbott uses a representative boy, Rollo, to both entertain and teach. From the preface to Rollo at Work, Jacob Abbott declares these purposes in addition to entertainment:

To aid…

* In cultivating the thinking powers…

* In promoting the progress of children in reading and in knowledge of the language…

* In cultivating the amiable and gentle qualities of the heart…

William Lawrence characterizes Abbott’s educational philosophy as a belief in “discipline . . . tempered with sympathy and understanding of a child’s point of view,” adding that Abbott “loved boys and girls — perhaps the ultimate secret of his popularity.”

Jacob Abbott’s son, Lyman, says this about his father:

This confidence in children and cooperation with children was one of his distinguishing characteristics. I have known men as fond of children as my father, but I have never known a man who had for them such respect…. This respect which he showed to children inspired them with respect for themselves and for one another. It gave dignity to the children who came under his influence. That influence was a masterful one.

Jacob Abbott was a prolific author, publishing books from 1828 to 1871. His works are not difficult to find used and in fairly good condition for affordable prices. In addition to his extensive Makers of History series and the Rollo books, he also wrote series for girls, numerous other children’s books, and books on Christian living.

My own Jacob Abbott collection currently consists of twelve books. I hope that will grow quickly now that I have begun to keep an eye out for them. On any given day, there are a selection of them on eBay. Homeschoolers looking for living history books would do well to keep an eye out for them. The Makers of History series are historical narratives that are comparable in quality to the historical fiction of G. A. Henty. They are beginning to find their way into reprints and audio recordings and will enhance the study of history at your home as they have at mine.

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