American Spelling Book

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The American Spelling Book
The American Spelling Book.jpg
Author Noah Webster
Original title The Grammatical Institute, Part 1
Publication date
1783

Noah Webster's The American Spelling Book (Webster's speller) was first published in 1783 under the title The Grammatical Institute, Part 1.[1][2] While it incorporated material from earlier spellers of British origins, it was the first of the 'American' spellers and was widely imitated and copied.[1] Three years after its first publication Webster changed the title to its current title. It was also widely known as The Blue-backed Speller because of its distinctive blue cover.

The speller went through several editions between 1873 and 1818 before being finally replaced in 1829 with Webster's Elementary Spelling Book.[3] The most extensive changes occurred in the 1787 edition, however, each printing typically contained some changes.

Webster's arrangement of existing material, his inclusion of new material and his unique, at the time, pedagogic approach represents an enduring improvement in spelling books and ushered in an era of 'American' literature that no longer relied on material sourced from Britain.

As of December 31, 2016, the Wikipedia page on The history of education in the United States[4] claimed that "Webster's speller was entirely secular." This claim seems hard to support in light of the large amount of material from the speller that can be shown to be Biblical in nature and in light of Webster's own statements in the introduction to the 1783 edition.

Versions

Webster's speller contained more than 100 pages and more than 50 tables. Tables often contained both lists of words to spell as well as sentences, paragraphs or other material for the learner to read or even transcribe, perhaps with the teacher dictating them for students to write. The tables also appear to function as chapters would today.

Monaghan states "... Emily Skeel, has pointed out, however, that while the editions can be grouped into these three major versions of 1783, 1787 and 1804 (that of 1818 being virtually unchanged from the 1804 edition) nearly every edition ... contained minor additions, corrections, deletions ..."[5]

However, because there are intermediate differences between the 1787 edition and the 1804 edition that show up in editions printed around 1800, they are also covered here.

This article quotes extensively from an on-line transcription by MerryCoz[6] of an edition of Webster's speller circa 1800 as well as other editions of Webster's speller. In many cases both page numbers for the 1783 and the MerryCoz edition are given.

1783

The frontispiece from the 1783 edition

The material in this section is based on a facsimile edition of A Grammatical Institute of the English Language, Part I from 1783 by The Scholar Press Limited.[2]

This edition of Webster's speller contains the following sections:

  1. The Frontispiece containing the full title: A Grammatical Institute, of the English Language, comprising, An easy, concise, and systematic Method of EDUCATION. Designed for the Use of English Schools In AMERICA. In Three Parts. PART I. Containing, A new and accurate Standard of Pronunciation. There is no date on this page, at least in the facsimile edition.
  2. An advertisement page on the unnumbered page 2.
  3. The Introduction. This starts on the unnumbered page 3 and continues to page 15 with several lngthy footnotes.
  4. A SCHEME starting on page 16 and ending on page 26 which seems to be a precursor to Webster's more compact Index and Key in subsequent editions. It also contains a discussion of Consonants, Syllables and a general rule relating to dividing words up.
  5. The ALPHABET on page 27, giving the lower- and upper-case Roman and Italic letters along with their names.
  6. Tables I through XXXV from pages 28 to 91. Tables XXXIV is a list of abbreviations while Table XXXV is a table of the names and principal kingdoms and states of Europe along with estimated populations along with a list of islands of the West Indies. The earlier tables are tables of words of different types.
  7. Page 92 starts a section on The United States of America and lists the thirteen states of that time along with a list of provinces not in the union (including East and West Florida.) It then lists the counties or parishes of each state and continues through to page 99. It would appear that the material here is meant to be part of Table XXXV as 100 starts with Table XXXVI.
  8. Table XXXVI on page 100 is An Explanation of the Pauses and other Characters used in writing (strictly, printing.)
  9. Table XXXVII on page 101 begins a section of lessons with words of differing complexity
    1. Table XXVII Lessons of easy words to learn (sic) children to read and to know their duty containing material some of which was derived from Dilworth's speller
    2. Table XXVIII containing material from the Old Testament
    3. Table XXIX Words not exceeding three syllables, divided containing further material from the Old Testament
    4. Table XL Words not divided containing material mostly from the New Testament
    5. Table XLI Familiar Phrases, and early Dialogues, for young beginners
    6. Table XLII, starting on page 113, contains the story of Tommy and Harry, taken substantially from Fenning's speller.
    7. Table XLIII, starting on page 118, contains 'A Chronological Account of remarkable Events in America." from 1492 to 1783.

In some sense, Webster's speller was impoverished compared to Dilworth's. The latter contained a short introduction to grammar as well as a collection of fables that Webster's was lacking, and it ran to only 154 pages in the Thirteenth edition, while Websters was 120 pages. Webster was also at pains to point out in his introduction why his speller did not contain a grammar on page 12:

The reason why no grammar is annexed to the Spelling-Book is very obvious. Children commonly wear out more than one book before they are able to read, much less to study grammar; in such hands a grammar is thrown away.

— Noah Webster, A Grammatical Institute of the English Language, Part I from 1783 by The Scholar Press Limited.[2]

However, Webster did eventually change his mind and include a small grammar section in 1787 and subsequent editions.

1787

The material in this section is based on the Library of Congress digitized edition printed in 1790.[7]

The 1787 edition changed substantially. The title changed to The American Spelling Book and it was subtitled An Easy Standard of Pronunciation. From page 12 onwards, this subtitle appeared as a running title across the top of each pair of facing pages. It contained a dedication to Reverand Ezra Stiles as well as several pages of recommendations. It also replaced the introduction with a preface, expanded the material printed and reorganized it. It is also the first edition that anyone is aware of to contain fables.

It contains the following sections:

  1. The Frontispiece
  2. An advertisement page
  3. A dedication to the Reverend Ezra Stiles, the President of Yale College
  4. Three pages of recommendations
  5. A preface comprising two pages that removes all but one reference to Dilworth and introduces a pedagogic approach that hints at a Piagetian approach
  6. Analysis of Sounds in the English Language
  7. The Index or Key (page 25)
  8. The Alphabet (page 28)
  9. Tables I through XII consisting exclusively of words of increasing complexity (add subsections.)
  10. Table XIII Lessons of early Words, to teach Children to read, and to know their duty. Table XXXVII from the 1783 edition has moved to here and the word teach is now used, instead of learn.
  11. Table XIV Words of Two Syllables, accented on the First
  12. Table XV Proverbs, Councils, and Maxims, in Words of One Syllable. Here we see entirely new material added to the 1787 edition of the speller.
  13. Tables XVI and XVII contain lists of words, the first of two syllables with the accent on the second syllable and the second table consisting of words of three syllables with the accent on the first.
  14. Table XVIII is Table XXXVIII from the 1783 edition moved forward.
  15. Table XIX consists of words of three syllables accented on the second syllable.
  16. Table XX Words not exceeding Three Syllables, divided is Table XXXIX from the 1783 edition moved forward.
  17. Table XXI through XXIV consist of words of four and five syllables with the stress on different syllables. They start at the top of page 75 and go through to the top part of page 79
  18. Table XXV Words not divided. on page 79 is the same as Table XL on page 105 of the 1783 edition.
  19. Table XXVI consists of several sub-tables of words ending with 'tion' and 'sion' and is followed by the first fable.
  20. Following Table XXVI we find the first of the fables: Fable I.-Of the Boy that stole Apples. This is another type of entirely new material in this edition.
  21. Tables XXVII and XXVIII, which are Lessons I and III from Table XXV of the 1783 edition made into separate tables and extended.
  22. Following Table XXVII we find Fable II.-The Country Maid and her Milk Pail
  23. Table XXIX is Table XXVIII from the 1783 edition with 'transubstantiation' and perhaps other words removed.
  24. Following Table XXIX we find Fable III.-The Fox and the Swallow.
  25. Table XXX is Table XXVII from the 1783 edition with a different introduction and a short additional table with words like 'Equity', 'liquor' and so on.
  26. Following table XXX we find Fable IV.-The Cat and the Rat
  27. Table XXXI is Table XXVIII from the 1783 edition with some words, like 'Brasier', 'courtier', etc moved to other tables (eg, XXVIII).
  28. Following table XXXI we find Fable V.-The Fox and the Bramble
  29. Table XXXII is Lessons I and II of Table XXIV from the 1783 edition without the division into separate lessons and expanded.
  30. Following table XXXII we find Fable VI.-The Bear and the Two Friends
  31. Table XXXIII is Lesson II of Table XXV from the 1783 edition expanded with more words.
  32. Following table XXXIII we find Fable VII.-The Two Dogs
  33. Table XXXIV is a new table: 'Words of French original (sic), in which ch sounds like sh; and i accented, like e long.'
  34. Following table XXXIV we find Fable VIII.-The Partial Judge
  35. Table XXXV 'Words in which g is hard before e, i, and y.'
  36. Table XXXVI "The Boy that went to the Woods to look for Birds' Nests, when he should have gone to School."
  37. Table XXXVII is Lesson IV of Table XXIV from the 1783 edition greatly expanded.
  38. Table XXXVIII is a new table: "Words in which h is pronounced before w though written after it."
  39. Table XXXIX is a new table: "In the following , with their compounds and derivatives, x is pronounced like gz"
  40. Table XL "The History of the Creation of the World" (See below.)
  41. Table XLI is Table XXXI from the 1783 edition reduced in length
  42. Table XLII "The Description of a Good Boy" is the first half of Webster's replacement of Table XLII, the "Tommy and Harry" story, from the 1783 edition.
  43. Table XLIII "The Description of a Bad Boy" is the second half of the replacement for Table XLII from the 1783 edition.
  44. Table XLIV is a new table: "Proper Names of One Syllable"
  45. Table XLV is a new table: "Proper Names of Two Syllables, the Accent on the First"
  46. Table XLVI is a new table: "Proper Names of Two Syllables, accented on the Second"
  47. Table XLVII is Table XXX from the 1783 edition.
  48. Table XLVII is a new table: "Other Names of Three Syllables, accented on the First"
  49. Table XLIX is a new table: "Proper Names of Three Syllables, accented on the Second" actually contains two sections
  50. Table L is a new table: "Proper Names of Four and Five Syllables" (with the accent on different syllables)
  51. Table LI is Table XXXII from the 1783 edition (On Numerals)
  52. Table LII is Table XXXIII from the 1783 edition (Words, the same in sound, but different in spelling and signification)
  53. Table LIII is Table XXXIV from the 1783 edition (Of ABBREVIATIONS)
  54. Table LIV is Table XXXV from the 1783 edition (Names of the principal Kingdoms and States of Europe and Islands of the West-Indies)
  55. Table LV The UNITED STATES of AMERICA did not have a separate table number in the 1783 edition and appeared immediately after Islands of the West-Indies.
  56. An of the Pauses, and other Characters used in writing appears next in the 1787 edition without a table number, but it is Table XXXVI in the 1783 edition.
  57. A Short Introduction to Grammar appears next and is subtitled Being an Abridgement of the Second Part of the Institute
  58. Additional Lessons appears lastly and consists of several sections:
    1. The three little Boys, and their three Cakes
    2. The FOUR SEASONS
    3. Familiar Phrases, and early Dialogues, for young beginners is actually Table XLI from the 1783 edition.
    4. Death the Destroyer is the last entry in the 1787 edition

The preface started with:

THE design of this Grammatical institute is to furnish schools in this country with an easy, accurate and comprehensive system of rules and lessons for teaching the English language.
To frame a complete system upon such an extensive plan, it was judged requisite to compile a small cheap volume for the use of beginners, containing words methodically arranged, sufficient to give the learner a just idea of spelling.

— Noah Webster, The American Spelling Book.[7]

It finishes with a footnote to the effect that "Mr. Morse's Geography has supplied this defect."

1800+

This type of edition contains two appendices that do not appear in the 1787 to 1893 editions that are available on the web.

It contains the following sections:

  1. The title page
  2. A dedication to the president of Yale College
  3. Recommendations (Letters of recommendation). The last recommendation is dated July 4, 1788.
  4. The Preface which is still the same as the preface from the 1787 edition
  5. Introductory material where Webster analyses the "sounds in the English Language" and provides his "index or key"
  6. The tables of lessons, starting with Table I. These can be further subdivided into types of words but start with very simple sounds that are only fragments of words
  7. "A short introduction to Grammar" towards the end of the book (page 120 in the version used here)
  8. Appendices containing:
    1. "A Moral Catechism"
    2. "A Federal Catechism" on the Constitution, etc.

1804

In this edition and subsequent printings we begin to see a longer preface and a foot note in the preface informing readers how many copies of the speller have been sold. The first printings mention 2 Millions (sic), while subsequent ones mention 3 Million and so on.[8]

Other changes include:

  1. The running head An Easy Standard of Pronunciation now appears on each page from page 7 on.
  2. All the material in Lessons I through VI were removed from Table XV.
  3. Table XVIII now becomes Familiar Lessons and the material that was in that table in the 1787 edition becomes Table XX.
  4. Table XX from the 1787 edition becomes Table XXII in the 1804 edition.
  5. Table XXV from the 1787 edition becomes Table XXIX in the 1804 edition.
  6. Table LI becomes a list of the Names of Cities, Towns, ... in America
  7. The Additional Lessons section now contains a lesson on DOMESTIC ECONOMY: Or. The History of Thrifty and Unthrifty.
  8. Merging the appendices introduced in the 1787 edition into the main work (as the final section) but with the removal of the Federal Catechism
  9. Many more changes

1818

Criticism of earlier spellers

The 1783 edition of Webster's speller contains extensive criticism of Dilworth's speller in its introduction. Perhaps this is because, as Geraldine Rodgers reports, Webster had used Dilworth's speller when learning to read and he must have been intimately familiar with it:

On page 5 of the 1783 edition of his speller, Webster begins his criticisms of previous spellers with:

The sounds of our letters are more capricious and irregular than those of any alphabet with which we are acquainted. Several of our vowels have four or five different sounds; and the same sounds are often expressed in five, six or seven different characters. The case is much the same with our consonants: And the different sounds have no mark of distinction. ... Yet these and fifty other irregularities have passed unnoticed by authors of Spelling Books and Dictionaries.

— Noah Webster, A Grammatical Institute of the English Language, Part I[2]

He then went on to criticize Dilworth specifically on page 7 for creating arbitrary rules for dividing multi-syllabic words:

Mr. Dilworth has endeavoured to establish general and arbitrary rules for division of syllables, and has has divided his tables according to them, without any regard to the proper sound of words, which is the only just rule in this matter. This single circumstance has led learners into more errors in articulation, than all other causes whatever.

— Noah Webster, A Grammatical Institute of the English Language, Part I p.7[2]

Webster also criticized the way in which Dilwirth divided words:

It is an unerring rule in our language, that when the accent falls upon a consonant, the foregoing vowel is short, and then the accent falls upon a vowel, it is long.
The words cluster, habit, Mr. Dilworth divies clu-ster ha-bit; according to which, a child naturally pronounces the vowel in the first syllable, long. But the vowels are all short. ..."

— Noah Webster, A Grammatical Institute of the English Language, Part I, p.8[2]

Influences

Webster's speller contains very clear influences from two other spellers that were widely available in America in the 18th century:

  • Thomas Dilworth's A New Guide to the English Tongue with the first American edition being printed by Benjamin Franklin in 1747 (Dilworth's speller), [1] and
  • Daniel Fenning's Universal Spelling Book[10] (Fenning's speller)

It also contains clear and extensive Biblical influences, although someone who has not read beyond page 100 of the 1783 edition of the speller (or page 52 of the 1804 edition) might miss them.

These influences go beyond the sets of word tables used by Webster and include what appears to be direct copies of material from each of them. Webster also makes at least one reference to both Dilworth and Fenning in a footnote within the speller as well as extensive criticism of Dilworth's speller in the introduction to the 1783 edition.

Influences from Dilworth's speller

It is clear from the introduction to the 1783 edition that Dilworth's speller was a major influence on Webster in producing his speller. He devotes several paragraphs to criticizing Dilworth's speller starting with page 6, where he says:

As Mr Dilworth's New Guide (which by the way, is the oldest and most imperfect guide we use in schools) is commonly used and his authority become as sacred as the traditions of the Jews, or the Mahometan bible (sic), I shall take the liberty to make some remarks upon it, with that plainness that is due to truth.

— Noah Webster, A Grammatical Institute of the English Language Part 1, p. 8[2]

Because the introduction was dropped from the 1787 and subsequent editions a reader gets less of a sense of Dilworth's influence on Webster.

At the end of Table XXXIII, page 88 (Table LII, page 116 in the 1790 version;Table LII, page 112 in MerryCoz) we find the following mention of Dilworth (and Fenning):

N.B. In this Table I have omitted several words which are found in Dilworth and Fenning; either because the English differs from the American pronunciation, or because they have inserted words together as nearly the same in sound, which may lead into error. ...

— Noah Webster, A Grammatical Institute of the English Language Part 1[2]

In subsequent editions, the "N.B" were dropped, but the rest of that text remains.

However, it is also possible to see Dilworth's influence by comparing material that is the same, or nearly the same in both spellers.

The following side-by side comparisons of Dilworth's speller[11] with Webster's speller demonstrate that Webster borrowed from Dilworth, in some cases copying sentences exactly as they appeared in Dilworth's speller, in some cases re-arranging the material. While the material from Dilworth's speller was taken from the 1796 edition printed in America, exactly the same material exists in the Thirteenth edition printed in London in 1751,[12] the Thirty-seventh edition printed in London in 1783[13] and the Fifty-fourth edition printed in London in 1793 on pages 5 and on.[14] (The pages where this material appears in the 1783 edition and the MerryCoz edition of Webster's speller are given. Other editions after the 1783 edition of Webster's speller contain the same material but possibly on different pages.)

Dilworth's speller Webster's speller
Lesson I, Page 9 1783, Table XXXVII, Lesson I, Page 101;
MerryCoz, Table XIII, Lesson I, Page 52

No man may put off the law of God.
The way of God is no ill way.
My joy is in God all the day.
A bad man is a foe to God.

No man may put off the law of God.
My joy is in his law all the day.
O may I not go in the way of sin.
Let me not go in the way of ill men.

Lesson VI, Page 10 1783, Table XXXVII, Lesson III, Page 101;
MerryCoz, Table XIII, Lesson III, Page 53

The way of man is not as the way of God.
The law of God is joy to me.
My son, if you do ill you cannot go to God.
Do as you are bid: but if you are bid do no ill.

The way of man is ill.
My son, do as you are bid.
But if you are bid, do no ill.
See not my sin, and let me not go to the pit.

Lesson I, Page 12 1783, Table XXXVII, Lesson IV, Page 101;
MerryCoz, Table XIII, Lesson IV, Page 53

HOLD fast in the Lord, and mind his word.
  My son, hold fast the law of the lord.
  My son, mind not thine own way, but the
way of god.
  Do not tell a lie, and let not thy hand do hurt.

Rest in the Lord, and mind his word.
My son, hold fast the law that is good.
You must not tell a lie, nor do hurt.
We must let no man hurt us.

Lessons IV & V, Page 13 1783, Table XXXVII, Lesson V, Page 101;
MerryCoz, Table XIII, Lesson V, Page 53

God is kind, and doth help me.
Mark the man that doth well, and do so too.
Let thy eye be on me, O Lord my God.
Help such men as want help; and do not sin.

Hurt no man; and let no man hurt you.
Let thy sins past put thee in mind to mend.
Send aid to help me, O Lord my God.
Use not thy self to tell a lie.

Do as well as you can, and do no harm.
Mark the man that doth well, and do so too.
Help such as want help, and be kind.
Let your sins past, put you in mind to mend.

Lesson 1 & 2, page 16 1783, Table XXXVII, Lesson VII;
MerryCoz, Table XIII, Lesson VII

  God doth mind all that we say and do.
  This life is not long; but the life to come has no
end
  We must love them that do not love us, as well
as them that love us.
  We must pray for them that hate us.

  We must do to all men as we like to be done to.

This life is not long, but the life to come has no
   end.
We must pray for them that hate us.
We must love them that love not us.
We must do as we like to be done to.

Lesson I, page 22 1783, Table XXXVII, Lesson XII;
MerryCoz, Table XIII, Lesson XI, page 54

  Love not the world, nor the things that are in
the world; for all that is in the world, the lust of
the flesh, and the lust of the eye, is not of God
but is of the world.
  In God I have put my trust, I will not fear what
flesh can do to me.

  Love not the world, nor the things that are in the
world; for they are sin.
  I will not fear what flash can do to me; for my
trust is in him who made the world:
  He is nigh to them that pray to him, and praise
his name

The following table about The UNITED STATES of AMERICA appears on page 78 of Dilworth's speller, at the end of Part I and is similar to, although more limited than, the tables of American States that appear in the 1783 and subsequent edditions of Webster's speller.

States. Capital Towns.
Ver-mont Ben-ning-ton
New-Hamp-shire Ports-mouth
Mas-sa-chu-setts Bos-ton
Rhode-Isl-and New-port
Con-nec-ti-cut Hart-ford
New-York New-York
New-Jer-sey Tren-ton
Penn-syl-va-ni-a Phil-la-del-phia
Del-a-ware New-cas-tle
Ma-ry-land Bal-ti-more
Vir-gin-i-a Rich-mond
Ken-tuc-ky Dan-ville
North-Ca-ro-li-na New-bern
South-Ca-ro-li-na Charles-ton
Geor-gi-a Sa-van-nah
South West Ter-ri-to-ry Knox-ville
North West Ter-ri-to-ry Ma-ri-et-ta

However, since the Southwest Territory only existed from 1790 to 1796, the table most likely was inserted by the printers after 1790 in order to better compete with Webster's speller. Moreover, this table does not appear in the 1793 edition printed in London and it is squeezed in after what appears to be the author's text on the last page of part 1.

Further, the above list contains Rhode Island, Vermont, and Kentucky which Webster's 1783 edition did not, and Kentucky was only admitted to the union in June, 1792.

Influences from Fenning's speller

The influences of Fenning's speller are unusual, in that the 1783 edition of Webster's speller contained material from Fenning's speller, but that was eliminated in subsequent versions, which contained different material.

The 1783 edition of Webster's speller contained The Story of Tommy and Harry and was attributed to Fenning, with the following footnote:

The substance of this fictitious narrative is taken from Mr. Fenning's Spelling Book. In the original, the language is flat, puerile and ungrammatical; for which reason, I have taken the liberty to make material alterations and throw the whole into a shorter compass. ...

— Noah Webster, A Grammatical Institute of the English Language Part 1[2]

The Story of Tommy and Harry was, as has been mentioned, eliminated from the 1787 and subsequent editions. Monghan suggests that this is because Webster "responded to the criticisms of the Tommy and Harry story by dropping it altogether, ..."[15]

The following fable, Fable I. Of the Boy that stole Apples appears on page 37 of Fenning's speller and starts on page 82 of the 1787 edition Webster's speller (MerryCoz) substantially unchanged. However, the illustrations are different:

The differences are minor, with less capitalization in Webster's version and the replacement of the archaic word turves (plural of turf in British English) with tufts.

However, this amount of copying is interesting in light of Webster's later pursuit of strong copyright laws in America.

None of the other fables from Fenning's speller appeared in Webster's speller, it seems.

Influences from the Bible

Webster's speller contains substantial quotes and near quotes from the Bible, most often from the King James Version (KJV) and Webster would go on to revise portions of the KJV. It seems obvious that this must be so because the material in his speller would have to be familiar to educators. That is, both to teachers and parents of his time.

They were taken from both the Old Testament, principally Proverbs, and the New Testament, and sometimes there are minor wording differences between what is seen in the KJV today and the text Webster included in his speller.

While it was claimed that:

however, it will be seen below that in many cases Webster replaced one type of religious content with direct or near-direct quotations of Biblical material.

Moreover, Webster explained his approach very clearly in the introduction to the 1783 edition, but unfortunately, that explanation did not survive into subsequent editions. Webster said:

It will be observed, that in all the early lessons, taken from scripture, the name of the Deity is generally omitted. The reason of this omission is important and obvious. Nothing has a greater tendency to lessen the reverence which mankind ought to have for the Supreme Being, than a careless repetition of his name upon every trifling occasion. ... Let sacred things be appropriated to sacred purposes.(Emphasis added)

— Noah Webster, A Grammatical Institute of the English Language Part 1, p. 12[2]

Too many, it seems, only notice the last part of what Webster wrote and ignore the first part which clearly states that he selected material from scripture.

Finally, Table XXXVII Lesson XI from the 1783 edition (and Table XIII, Lesson XI from MerryCoz,) contains a very clear reference to Jesus Christ:

1783 Edition MerryCoz Edition

    He who came to save us, will wash us from all
sin; I will be glad in his name.

   He that came to save us will wash us from all sin;
I will be glad in his name.

Note also that while Webster is claimed to have had a "conversion" to Christianity in 1808[16] the editions referred to here are all from before 1808 and Webster clearly documented his use of material from scripture in 1783. Moreover, the material that Webster used from the Bible appears first in the 1783 edition, and remains in subsequent editions but is moved to different places. It is one of the constant themes in the speller.

Wherever the word 'substantially' is used below it indicates minor differences between Webster's material and online editions of the KJV, or where Webster has created a shorter, pithier version of a paragraph from the Bible.

Influences from the Old Testament

There are many quotes in Webster's speller that are substantially from the KJV. In some cases there are minor differences from the biblical material. Largely all of Table XXXIX from the 1783 edition and Table XX from MerryCoz are from Proverbs in the Old Testament. One is from Ecclesiastes.

These tables are both titled Words not exceeding Three Syllables, divided.

Quote and location Source
1783 Page 102, MerryCoz Page 54

   I will not fear what flesh can do to me; for my
trust is in him who made the world.

Substantially from Psalms 56:4
1783 Page 103, MerryCoz Page 68

   Walk not in the way with them; refrain
thy feet from their path: For their feet run
to evil, and make haste to shed blood.

Proverbs 1:15-16
1783 Page 103, MerryCoz Page 68

   Be not wise in thine own eyes; but be humble.

Substantially from Proverbs 3:7
1783 Page 103, MerryCoz Page 68

   Happy is the man that findeth wisdom.
She is of more value than rubies. Length of
days is in her right hand, and in her left hand
riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant, and
all her paths are peace. Exalt her, and she
shall promote thee: She shall bring thee to
honor when thou dost embrace her.

Proverbs 3:13-18
1783 Page 104, MerryCoz Page 70

   THE Wick-ed flee when no man pur-su-eth;
but the right-e-ous are as bold as
a li-on.

Proverbs 28:1
1783 Page 104, MerryCoz Page 70

   Vir-tue ex-alt-eth a na-tion; but sin is a
re-proach to a-ny peo-ple.

Substantially from Proverbs 14:34
1783 Page 104, MerryCoz Page 70

   The law of the wise is a foun-tain of life to
de-part from the snares of death.

Proverbs 13:14
1783 Page 104, MerryCoz Page 70

   Wealth got-ten by de-ceit, is soon wast-ed
but he that gath-er-eth by la-bour shall in-crease
in rich-es.

Substantially from Proverbs 13:11
1783 Page 104, MerryCoz Page 71

   Wealth mak-eth ma-ny friends; but the
poor are for-got-ten by their neigh-bors.

Substantially from Proverbs 19:4
1783 Page 104, MerryCoz Page 71

   A pru-dent man fore-seeth [sic] the e-vil and
hid-eth him-self; but the thought-less pass
on and are pun-ish-ed.

Substantially from Proverbs 22:3
1783 Page 104, MerryCoz Page 71

   Train up a child in the way he should go,
and when he is old he will not de-part from
it.

Proverbs 22:6
1783 Page 104, MerryCoz Page 71

   Where there is no wood, the fire go-eth
out, and where there is no tat-ler the strife
ceas-eth.

Substantially from Proverbs 26:20
1783 Page 104, MerryCoz Page 71

   A word fit-ly spok-en is like ap-ples of
gold in pic-tures of sil-ver.

Proverbs 25:11
1783 Page 104, MerryCoz Page 71

   He that cov-er-eth his sins shall not
pros-per; but he that con-fess-eth and for-sak-eth
them shall find mer-cy.

Substantially from Proverbs 28:13
1783 Page 105, MerryCoz Page 71

   The rod and re-proof give wis-dom; but
a child left to him-self bring-eth his pa-rents
to shame.

Substantially from Proverbs 29:15
1783 Page 105, MerryCoz Page 71

   Cor-rect thy son and he will give thee rest;
yea, he will give thee de-light to thy soul.

Proverbs 29:17
1783 Page 105, MerryCoz Page 71

   A man's pride shall bring him low; but
hon-or shall up-hold the hum-ble in spi-rit.

Proverbs 29:23
1783 Page 105, MerryCoz Page 71

   The eye that mock-eth at his fa-ther, and
scorn-eth to o-bey his moth-er, the ra-vens
of the val-ley shall pick it out, and the young
ea-gle shall eat it.

Proverbs 30:17
1783 Page 105, MerryCoz Page 72

   By the bless-ing of the up right, the ci-ty
is ex-alt-ed, but is o-ver-thrown by the mouth
of the wick-ed.

Proverbs 11:11
1783 Page 105, MerryCoz Page 72

   Where no coun-cil is the peo-ple fall; but
in the mul-ti-tude of coun-sel-lors there is
safe-ty.

Proverbs 11:14
1783 Page 105, MerryCoz Page 72

   The wis-dom of the pru-dent is to un-der-stand
his way, but the fol-ly of fools is de-ceit.

Proverbs 14:8
1783 Page 105, MerryCoz Page 72

   A wise man fear-eth and de-part[-]eth from
evil; but the fool rag-eth and is con-fi-dent.

Proverbs 14:16
1783 Page 105, MerryCoz Page 72

   Be not hast-y in thy spir-it to be an-gry;
for an[-]ger rest-eth in the bo-som of fools.

Ecclesiastes 7:9

Influences fom the New Testament

In Table XXV of Webster's speller we find much material from the New Testament, principally from Matthew.

Quote and location Source
1783 Page 102, Table XXXVII, Lesson XII
MerryCoz Page 54, Table XII, Lesson XI

   Love not the world , nor the things that are in the
world; for they are sin.

Substantially from John 2:15
1783 Page 105, Table XL, Lesson I
MerryCoz Page 76, Table XXV, Lesson I

BE not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat,
or what ye shall drink; nor for your body,
what ye shall put on; for your heavenly Father
knoweth that ye have need of these things.

   Behold the fowls of the air: For they sow not
neither do they reap nor gather into barns; yet
your heavenly Father feedeth them.

   Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow;
they toil not, neither do they spin; and yet Solomon
in all his glory, was not arrayed like one of
these.

Substantally from Matthew 6:25
1783 Page 105, Table XL, Lesson II
MerryCoz Page 77, Table XXV, Lessons II

   Therefore be not anxious for the good things of
this life, but seek the kingdom of heaven and its
righteousness, and all things shall be added to you.

Substantially from Matthew 6:33
1783 Page 106, Table XL, Lesson II
MerryCoz Page 77, Table XXV, Lesson II

Ask, and it shall be given [un]to you: Seek and
ye shall find: Knock, and it shall be opened.[17]

Matthew 7:7
1783 Page 106, Table XL, Lesson II
MerryCoz Page 77, Table XXV Lesson II

   Love your enemies; bless them that curse you;
do good unto them that hate you, and pray for
them that scornfully use you and persecute you.

Substantially from Matthew 5:44
1783 Page 106, Table XL, Lesson III
MerryCoz Page 77, Table XXV, Lesson III

   When thou prayest, be not as the hypocrites,
who love to pray standing in the synagogues, and
in the streets, that they may be seen of men: But
when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when
thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father who
is in secret, and thy Father who seeth in secret
shall reward thee openly.

Substantially from Matthew 6:5-8
1783 Page 106, Table XL, Lesson IV
MerryCos Page 77, Table XXV, Lesson IV

   Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth,
where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves
break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves
treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust
doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break
through and steal: For, where your treasure is
there will be your heart also.

Matthew 6:19-21
1783 Page 106, Table XL, Lesson IV
Page 77, Table XXV, Lesson IV

           Our Saviour's Golden Rule.
   All things which ye would have men do to you,
do ye the same to them, for this is the law and the
prophets.

Matthew 7:12 with Webster's title

General Biblical influences

On page 54 of the MerryCoz edition (with minor differences, the same passage appears on page 102 of the 1783 edition) we find the following passage:

Starting on Page 98 of the MerryCoz edition under Table XL, we find the following passage:

This passage does not exist in the 1783 edition but is present in the 1787 and subsequent editions, however, the final poem disappears from the 1804 and subsequent editions.

All these are clearly derived from the Bible.

Novel aspects

The novel aspects of Webster's speller are:

  1. Webster provided an "index, or key" to pronunciation (Page 24) of vowels used in tables II and on as an aide to pronunciation. These were or more use in the early tables where only one syllable was provided than they were in multi-syllable words. Neither Dilworth nor Fenning provided such a key.
  2. Webster provided material more directed at Americans, such as a list of States, along with State Capitols, counties, etc. While the 1796 printing of Dilworth referred to in this article includes a list of American States and Capitols, it is likely a local addition in response to Webster's speller.
  3. Webster provides a Moral Catechism (Or, Lessons for Saturday), that is not provided by either Dilworth or Fenning, although this does not seems to appear until the 1804 edition.

Webster is noted as having written to the New York Legislature about its main innovation:

Geraldine Rodgers believes that Webster's Speller was the first use of Synthetic Phonics, which she calls "Pascal phonics," and said:

Prior spellers such as Dilworth's used analytic phonics.

Sales and use of the speller

Monaghan states "Back in 1950 the publishers of the "Old Blue-back," as Webster's 1829 edition came to be called, claimed a total of 70 million sales. There are still two editions of it in print today--a copy of the first edition of 1783, and a copy of an 1831 edition of The American Spelling Book.[19]

It is also being used to teach reading and spelling today by homeschooling families. [20] Homeschoolers generally use a version by Don Potter, either a PDF version of the 1908 Speller available at his website[21] or the print version of his reformatted PDF titled Noah Webster's Spelling Book Method for Teaching Reading and Spelling. [22]

False claims about the speller

As of December 31, 2016, the Wikipedia page on The history of education in the United States[23] claimed that "Webster's speller was entirely secular." This claim seems hard to support in light of the large amount of material from the speller shown to be Biblical in nature.

However, such claims are clearly obviously false because at the time when Webster's speller was developed and sold, educated people were more aware of and familiar with the Bible than perhaps people are today. Any speller at that time that failed to include Biblical material would be a failure.

See also

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 "Early American Spellers: 1775-1900". Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Dept. of Education, 1985. Retrieved December 31, 2016. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 2.9 Noah Webster (1968). A Grammatical Institute of the English Language, 1783, Printed by Hudson & Goodwin, Hartford, CT. Facsimile Edition by The Scholar Press Limited. 
  3. E. Jennifer Monaghan. A Common Heritage: Noah Webster's Blue-Backed Speller. Archon Books. p. 137. ISBN 0-208-01908-1. 
  4. "The history of education in the United States". Retrieved December 31, 2016. 
  5. E. Jennifer Monaghan. A Common Heritage: Noah Webster's Blue-Backed Speller. Archon Books. p. 52. ISBN 0-208-01908-1. 
  6. "The American Spelling Book by Noah Webster (1800?)". Retrieved December 31, 2016. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Library of Congress Digitized Edition. "The American spelling book, containing an easy standard of pronunciation : being the first part of a grammatical institute of the English language (1790)". Retrieved January 14, 2017. 
  8. Noah Webster. "The American spelling book : containing the rudiments of the English language, for the use of schools in the United States, Hudson and Goodwin, 1809". Retrieved January 22, 2017. 
  9. Rodgers, Geraldine (2001). The History of Beginning Reading: From Teaching by Sound to Teaching by Meaning, Vol. 1. p. 297. ISBN 978-1588209726. 
  10. Daniel Fenning. "Universal spelling; a new & easy guide to the English language. (1838)". Retrieved December 31, 2016. 
  11. Thomas Dilworth. "Dilworth's spelling-book, improved : a new guide to the English tongue ... 1796 Edition". Retrieved December 31, 2016. 
  12. Thomas Dilworth (1967). A New Guide to the English Tongue, Thirteenth Edition, 1751, printed by Henry Kent. Facsimile Edition by The Scholar Press Limited. 
  13. Thomas Dilworth. "A new guide to the English tongue, in five parts ... The thirty-seventh edition, 1783". T. Moore. Retrieved January 17, 2017. 
  14. Thomas Dilworth. "A new guide to the English tongue (1793)". Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints. Retrieved January 14, 2017. 
  15. E. Jennifer Monaghan. A Common Heritage: Noah Webster's Blue-Backed Speller. Archon Books. p. 53. ISBN 0-208-01908-1. 
  16. K. Alan Snyder. "Defining Noah Webster: A Spiritual Biography (2002)". Allegiance Press. Retrieved January 1, 2017. 
  17. The two sources differ; The 1783 edition uses 'to' while MerryCoz lists 'unto'
  18. Geraldine Rogers (June 10, 2004). "Why Noah Webster's Way was the right way" (PDF). Retrieved January 1, 2017. 
  19. Monaghan, Jennifer (1983). A common Heritage: Noah Webster's Blue-Back Speller. Archon Books. p. 11. ISBN 978-0208019080. 
  20. "Homeschool use of Webster's Speller". Retrieved January 1, 2017. 
  21. "Dan Potter version of Webster's Speller" (PDF). Retrieved January 1, 2017. 
  22. "Noah Webster's Spelling Book Method for Teaching Reading and Spelling". Retrieved January 1, 2017. 
  23. "The history of education in the United States". Retrieved December 31, 2016.