The incomparable Mrs. Favell Lee Mortimer. (New York Public Library)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Clumsiest People in Europe: Or: Mrs. Mortimer's Bad-Tempered Guide to the Victorian World.

By Todd Pruzan

Bloomsbury, $19.95,198 pp.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Protestants, Beware!

Or, Mrs. Mortimer’s bad-tempered guide to religion around the world.

By John D. Spalding

Victorian children’s writer Mrs. Favell Lee Mortimer was a woman of deep piety--and of even more profound prejudices. Born a Quaker in London in 1802, she converted to Evangelicalism at age 25 and devoted her life to the proper religious development of children, a task that involved extolling the virtues of Protestantism and denouncing as corrupt or evil every other form of faith and practice.

In 1833, she published “The Peep of Day,” her first of 16 books and by far her most popular, eventually selling a million copies in 38 languages. Subtitled “Or, a Series of the Earliest Religious Instruction the Infant Mind is Capable of Receiving,” “Peep” is a Bible primer seemingly intended to terrify four-year-olds into faith. In the opening chapter, for example, Mrs. M explains that though God housed our souls in flesh and bones, what fragile bodies He gave us, indeed:

How kind of God it was 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, or if a cart were to go over them....

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 knife were run though your body, the blood would come out. If a great box were to fall on your head, your head would be crushed. If you were to fall out of the window, your neck would be broken. If you were not to eat some food for a few days, your little body would be very sick, your breath would stop, and you would grow cold, and you would soon be dead.

In the 1840s, Mrs. Mortimer’s dark mind turned to world geography, as she produced a trilogy of travel books cataloging the faults and sins of virtually every nation on earth. Thus, the Irish “are very kind and good-natured when pleased, but if affronted, are filled with rage”; the Italians are “ignorant and wicked”; and the Turks are “so grave that they look wise. But how can lazy people really be wise?” In Sweden, she wrote, “Nothing useful is well done… The carpenters and the blacksmiths are very clumsy in their work.”

Best of all, these casual condemnations came from a woman who only ventured beyond her beloved England twice.

Two years ago, writer and editor Todd Pruzan compiled Mrs. Mortimer’s geography classics into one volume, “The Clumsiest People in Europe.” Her observations are so misinformed, so over-the-top, they're benign and make for hilarious reading. And yet, as Kurt Andersen noted on the back cover, "The Clumsiest People" is also a valuable book. “Mrs. Mortimer’s ignorant, self-confident, dreadfully English disrespect came at a moment of British imperial ascendance,” he wrote. “It’s interesting to read her now, at a moment when the American empire is both ascendant and—one sometimes worries—guided by an ignorant, self-confident, dreadfully American disrespect for other cultures and nations.”

Of course, Mrs. Mortimer had plenty of benighted ideas about faith and belief in other countries. Here are a few sterling examples of her religious xenophobia.

* * *

Ireland

The Irish say they are Christians, yet most of them will not read the Bible. Is not that strange? Why do they not read it, if they are Christians? Because their ministers tell them not to read it. Because these ministers or priests tell them a great many wrong things, which are not written in the Bible, and they do not want the people to find out the truth.

The religion they teach is called the Roman Catholic religion. It is a kind of Christian religion, but it is a very bad kind.

If you were to go to a Roman Catholic church, you would see a basin of water near the door. What is it for? It is called “holy water,” because the priest has blessed it. Everybody dips his hand in this water, and sprinkles himself with it, and thinks that doing this will keep him from Satan. O how foolish!

France

There are houses in France called Convents. In some of these women live called nuns. They think they please God by shutting themselves up in a home. But what can the nuns teach? They teach their little scholars to work, and to sing, and to draw; and also they teach them to worship the Virgin Mary. Protestant parents ought never to send their children to convents to be taught.

Russia

Perhaps you think the Russians are Roman Catholics. No, they are not. Instead of minding the pope at Rome, they follow the religion of Greece. It is hard to say which is the better and which is the worse, the Greek or the Roman religion.

The Russians behave very respectfully to the priests: instead of shaking hands with them, they always kiss their hands; but they do not respect them in their hearts, for many of the priests are as fond of drinking as any of the people.

Italy

Their religion is the Roman Catholic.

Poland

All children who have read the Bible, know that the Jews were once called Israelites, and that they once lived in the land of Canaan. Where do they live now? In all lands; but more Jews live in Poland than in any other country.

The Jews are not idle like the Poles, but try in every way to get money. It is they who keep all the inns--and wretched inns they are, because the Jews are very dirty.

Holland

Are you not already sure there is a good religion in this country? The Protestant is the religion.

The Holy Land

The children of Jerusalem once loved the Lord, and sang His praises in the temple.

Which is the place where the temple stood?

It is the Mount Moriah. There is a splendid building now on that Mount.

Is it the temple? Oh, no, that was burned many hundreds of years ago. It is the Mosque of Omar; it is the most magnificent mosque in all the world. How sad to think the Mahomedans should now worship in the very spot where the Son of God taught the people.

China

The Buddhists are full of tricks by which to get presents out of people. Once a-year they cause a great feast to be made, and for whom? For the poor? No. For beasts? No. For children? No. For themselves? No. You will never guess. For ghosts! The priests declare that the souls of the dead are very hungry, and that it is right to give them a feast.

Hindostan

There is no nation that has so many gods as the Hindoos. What do you think of three hundred and thirty million? 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!

The United States

The government supports no ministers, but leaves the people to find ministers for themselves. In the great towns the people have provided themselves with many ministers; but there are large tracts of country without any.

 

Comment on this article here.

Email article Print article

John D. Spalding is the editor of SoMAreview.com. His last piece was The Kosher King.

Excerpts reprinted from The Clumsiest People in Europe with permission by Bloomsbury USA. Copyright 2005 by Todd Pruzan.

Back to top

 


May 7, 2010

The Mother of Mother's Day
By Mary Beth Crain
Anna Jarvis, the founder of Mother's Day, hated flowers, candy, and greeting cards. Our kind of mom!

January 28, 2010

Securing Your Pet's Post-Rapture Future
By Mary Beth Crain
What will happen to Christians' pets after the Rapture? No worries. These animal-loving atheists will feed them.

January 13, 2010

Whither Wheaton?
By Andrew Chignell
The evangelical flagship college charts a new course.

December 21, 2009

Ho, Ho, Hollywood
By Mary Beth Crain
My four top Christmas Movies.

December 14, 2009

Bad Dream Girls
By Mary Beth Crain
Sarah Palin and Carrie Prejean remind us that in America, dumb and dumber equals rich and richer.

July 16, 2009

The New, Updated Gospel of Mark
By Stephanie Hunt
In South Carolina, Vacation Bible School gets Sanforized.

July 16, 2009

Why Is a Spiritual Advisor Like a Lay's Potato Chip?
By Mary Beth Crain
Answer: Betcha Can't Have Just One!

December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve Blues
By Ondine Galsworth
Your best friend is dead. Your mother is bi-polar. And you've lived your life as a fake Catholic. Where do you go from here?

December 23, 2008

Christmas Gifts of Long Ago
By Mary Beth Crain
What would it be like if today's techno-spoiled kids were forced to have a good old-fashioned Victorian Christmas?

November 25, 2008

Giving Thanks in Thankless Times
By Mary Beth Crain
In times of fear and despair, gratitude is sometimes all we've got left.

November 16, 2008

Seeing Red
By Stephanie Hunt
Obama's presidential victory is a huge step forward for our nation. But in the Carolinas, it's still North versus South.

October 29, 2008

Ghost Writer
By Mary Beth Crain
Our senior editor talks about her new book, "Haunted U.S. Battelfields," the perfect read for a creepy and kooky, mysterious and spooky, altogether ooky All Hallows Eve.

October 26, 2008

The Poison Seeds Spread by Dying Congregations
By Matthew Streib
Just as a certain presidential candidate has gone to the extremes of negativity in a desperate attempt to keep his campaign alive, so parallels can be seen on the religious front.

October 11, 2008

Palin Watch V: Troopergate, Poopergate!
By Mary Beth Crain
Confronted with a scathing indictment of abuse of power, Governor Palin thumbs her nose at the "Troopergate" report.

October 4, 2008

Palin Watch IV: Post-Debate Musings
By Mary Beth Crain
This hockey mom belongs in the penalty box.

To view more articles, visit
SoMA's archive
here



 
             
......................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
Copyright © 2017 SoMAreview, LLC. All Rights Reserved