This little fellow is Rollo Holiday, the principal character of Jacob Abbott’s multi-volume series of books for children, first published in the 1850s and reprinted periodically during the last half of the 19th century.
Rollo lives with his parents (Mr. and Mrs. Holiday, of course, who don’t seem to have first names) and Jonas and Dorothy (who don't seem to have last names), the household’s outside/inside domestic help; he’s got a cousin James and a friend George, whose father is a local farmer. The stories are selectively sprinkled with other town characters that pop in and out of Rollo’s life; the books are chock-a-block full of morals, ethics and drama.
In his “Notice to Parents,” Abbott explains that although his Rollo Books for children are meant primarily for entertainment, he also intends they will stimulate thinking, expand linguistic skills and, perhaps most importantly, cultivate “the amiable and gentle qualities of the heart...”
I have an odd sense of connection to this Jacob Abbott. He was born in
Hallowell, Maine in 1803 (about 30 miles north of me), graduated from (two blocks from my house). He studied at Bowdoin College Andover Theological (where my brother lived for twenty-odd years) and was later pastor of a Congregational Church in (where my Howell ancestors lived, although they were staunch Unitarians!). Roxbury, MA
I’ve got ten Rollo books. They were purchased by my great-grandfather Selah Howell (1840-1910), who read them to his children; in 1880, he mentions Rollo in his diary:
Read Rollo to dear Will after supper and before his bed
In his last will and testament, Selah states:
The Rollo Books I give to that one of my children who has the most children. If none of them has children, which God forbid! the Rollo Books are to be divided equally among “the joys of my life,” the said Fred, Fanny and Will.”
(Don’t you just love the “God forbid!” in there? Talk about drama!)
Well, Fanny (see “The Face,” posted May 25) and Will each had two children, and Fred had none. Somehow, my line (Will’s) got the lion’s share of the Rollo Books, and they now live on the top shelf in my living room bookcase.
It’s amazing to me that Rollo, although he’s a child of a lost time and place, still has relevance. He learns life’s lessons as we all learn – by parental guidance (hopefully) and by personal experience (definitely). He does chores, learns his manners, rescues baby birds, carves jack-o’-lanterns, builds bridges and catches squirrels.
And learns the importance of keeping promises.
“Because I want you, when you grow up to be a man, to be bound by your agreements. Men will hold you to your agreements when you are a man...”
Perhaps, one hundred fifty years after publication, the Rollo Series should be required reading for all politicians...
...and they’re just for starters!
NOTE: Be sure to visit other Sepians at http://sepiasaturday.blogspot.com