Amusements & Useful Devices from K. A. Wisniewski
This week I was looking up where the expression “goody two-shoes” originated. A friend used it in conversation and I remarked or rather asked whether or not this is even used anymore. I was fascinated to learn that the phrase comes from an eighteenth century children’s book–another example of how the century continues to creep into our own popular culture.
The History of Little Goody Two Shoes (1765) was published anonymously but is most often attributed to John Newberry, the book’s publisher, or to Irish novelist and poet Oliver Goldsmith. The title went through thirty editions by 1800.
Looking back at recent posts, the blog has gradually been shifting to reviews, tributes and “on this date in history” articles while I work on my dissertation. This happens to be the month of the 250th Anniversary of the title…and a fitting topic for my next post.
Accompanied by a dozen woodcut illustrations by Richard Johnson–
who used the pseudonym Michael Angelo–the children’s book serves as a remarkable precursor to the Victorian novels to come (think Dickens’ Little Nell, Pip, and Oliver Twist), although the introduction’s note on the woodcuts bears some
resemblance to Lewis Carroll’s Alice:
“What use is a book without
pictures or conversations?”
Told in iambic octameter, the tale depicts orphan Margery Meanwell, who is cast into the streets with only a single shoe. When a local vicar provides her with a new pair of shoes, Margery trumpets her good fortune–with a “two shoes, two shoes!”–everywhere she goes. The young woman is then led on a series of adventures. After learning to read and write, she dedicates her life to education youth. But in addition to her duties as governess and schoolteacher, she saves friends from murder, foils a plot to steal local treasure from group of convicts, and dedicates her time caring for animals.
Interested in science, in one chapter she profits from her invention of what she calls “a Considering Cap.” The OED notes the first use of “a thinking cap” to a story in the Ladies’ Repository . . . over eighty years later. So perhaps this is the first thinking cap mentioned in literature?
Margery remains kind and in good spirits throughout her adventures, but her continued success often brings anger and jealousy from those around her. Accused of witchcraft by one envious neighbor, she stands trial for aiding a local farmer’s productivity via scientific means:
“A witch why surely no one can
Prove himself such a silly man
As to believe the charge!—but here,”
She laughing added, “shall appear
My tools of witchcraft,” (on the table
Laying the weather glass): “I’m able,
With this wise instrument to show,
Whether we shall have frost and snow,
If rain will pour for days together,
Or if we may expect fair weather:
If this be witchcraft, then am I
Guilty—and at your mercy lie.”
Like most moral tales, do-gooder Margery’s virtuous life is ultimately rewarded at the end of the story when she marries a wealthy widower . . . happier ever after.