[‘Make children as either-handed as our Creator intended’: the novelist Charles Reade urges parents to train their children to be ambidextrous.] Printed Victorian handbill circular: ‘CHILDREN SHOULD BE EITHER-HANDED.’ Signed and addressed by Reade.

Charles Reade (1814-1884), Victorian novelist and playwright [ambidexterity]
Publication details: 
Dated in type 2 April 1878, from 19 Albert Gate, Knightsbridge.
SKU: 24657

Excessively scarce, with no copy listed on either WorldCat or JISC LHD, and absent from Parrish (1940). Not only a desideratum of a leading Victorian author (at his height only equalled in financial success by Dickens, George Eliot and Wilkie Collins), but also a fine example of eccentric Victorian zeal pushed almost to the point of insanity. The earnestness of the present item suggests that it is satirical in intent, but this is not the case. Reade’s entry in the Oxford DNB notes the campaigns he waged with ‘vehemence’ at various stages of his career, ‘and often with an almost laughable one-sidedness. Among the causes he took up were animal welfare and ambidexterity—which he believed all children should be taught.’ The text of the present item appears to have been first published in the Daily Telegraph, as the sixth in a series of letters from Reade under the heading ‘The Coming Man’. It was reprinted in America in Harper’s Weekly, 18 May 1878, and was republished in the book of the same title by Harper in New York later in the same year. The present item is a handbill circular, printed in black, on one side of a 32 x 25.5 cm piece of wove paper. In fair condition, lighty-aged, folded four times, and with tearing to the folds neatly repaired, mainly on the reverse (but not over the Reade’s autograph) with archival tape. Arranged in three 44-line columns, beneath heading in bold and large type: ‘CHILDREN SHOULD BE EITHER-HANDED.’ Signed in type at end: ‘CHARLES READE. / 19, ALBERT GATE, KNIGHTSBRIDGE, / April 2nd, 1878.’ Addressed and signed in autograph, on blank reverse: ‘F Schosky Esq / 58 Grove / Hammersmith / Charles Reade’. (Reade’s signature is presented like a frank, between two lines at bottom left.) With penny red stamp postmarked ‘Z O / 25 4 78 / S W’. Reade begins: ‘To make children as either-handed as our Creator intended, first fix the word “either-handed” in the minds of the whole household, and never let a day pass without using it aloud to denote the only perfect child. Next, impress the word “lop-handed,” applying it equally to the mere right-handed child, and to the mere left-handed child, and declare them both to be equally imperfect and on the road to deformity.’ Reade finds infants ‘over handled’: ‘More floor and less lap; more safety-chair, with both arms free, and less hugging, cuddling, and carrying, with one little arm crippled against a nurse’s body. [...] Carrying for an hour on one arm and five minutes on the other, makes the nurse lop-sided and the infant lop-handed.’ The infant is to be encouraged to ‘throw things down with either hand alternately, [...] Let him be a quadruped and a suckling rather longer than usual, not shorter.’ At the basis of the system is throwing, ‘which is a great part of labor, [sic] sport, and war.’ In the case of close work, the object of attention ‘should be opposite to the nose; indeed all objects should be so looked at to make the sight even and correct’. A girl playing the piano should have ‘no mercy’ shown to her ‘if she plays her bass notes inaccurately, or thumps them and only plays the treble’. He turns to the process of writing, commenting along the way that ‘A shorthand writer, who could type-write his notes, would be safer from poverty than a great Greek scholar.’ Children should be ‘taught to swim three times earlier than they ever are. Many a life has been literally thrown away for want of this easy accomplishment, that can be learned in a week’. Rowing (‘especially with sculls’) and fives are commended, and advice is given for the playing of cricket. ‘Use hammer, hatchet, gauge, saw, foil, and single-stick with either hand. Do not let your son squint down the barrel of a gun or rifle because the government order it.’ With regard to ‘any inequality [...] in the legs’, ‘the best practice of all, perhaps, is to stand on each leg in turn, and swing the other as high as possible both forward and backward’. About one matter in particular Reade is vehement: ‘Never let stays in any form come near a growing girl. It is a wicked action. Hang her petticoats by braces, as a boy does his trousers.’ In conclusion Reade explains that he is offering his ‘crude hints to parents as a friend, not an oracle. [...] we are all groping our way out of heathen darkness six thousand years old.’ He is ‘willing to be a medium of communication between one parent and another. Their love and their intelligence will, I dare say, soon make me their pupil, whom, at first starting, they have been pleased to accept as a teacher.’ See partial image.