A Museum for Young Gentlemen and Ladies was first published about 1750, and ran to fifteen editions by the end of the century. It is one of the first children"s encyclopedias, and counts as a miscellany by virtue of the selections of poetry sandwiched in between its accounts of the history of the world, the solar system, and the arts of punctuation.
It was published by the most famous and prolific publisher for children of the 18th century, John Newbery. From his shop in St Paul"s Churchyard, Newbery published a whole range of books and periodicals, and employed writers such as Oliver Goldsmith, Samuel Johnson and Tobias Smollett. He is chiefly remembered as the first publisher to develop the children's book market as a major part of his business. The firm that he founded published nearly 400 titles by the end of the century. Like many other cheap publishers, Newbery sold medicines as a side-line - presumably in order to exploit to the full the network of small retailers and pedlars travelling from town to town with packs of relatively light-weight goods. In his edition of Little Goody Two Shoes, we can see how one business might be used to benefit the other: the narrator describes how the heroine's father "died miserably seized with a violent fever where Dr James's powder was not to be had".
The Museum"s poetic contents vary from one edition to the next. The version here is the ninth edition, and has in fact got much less poetry in it than many of the preceding versions – it actually only includes John Gay"s "Fable of the Hare". Earlier versions had contained poems by Matthew Prior and verse taken from the Grub Street Journal. By the ninth edition, the poetry had been squeezed out by more factual and historical material. There is a question of whether, by the end of the century, the Museum for Young Gentlemen can really be called a poetic miscellany at all.
It seems to fit more comfortably into the growing market for encyclopedias, a genre of relatively recent date. Ephraim Chambers Cyclopaedia: or, An Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences (1728) was one of the first general encyclopaedias to be produced in England, and was a precursor of the celebrated and influential Encyclopédie of Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d'Alembert. Like these encyclopedias, the Museum is presented as no less than a complete system of learning: and the rewards of reading it are proclaimed in grandiose terms:
"he who applies his Heart to Wisdom, does, at the same Time, take the most proper Method for gaining long Life, Riches and Reputation, which are very often not only the Reward, but the Effects of Wisdom."
Dr Abigail Williams, University of Oxford