I was going to call this post 'Dr Barnardo's Bubbles', but then I remembered all of those annoying, possessive book titles that seemed to be a craze in the publishing world after 'Captain Corelli's Mandolin', so I decided against it.
Yesterday I found a children's annual from the 1890s, edited by Dr Barnardo. Like many annuals of this period, it contains a selection of mawkish, sentimental short stories and rather dull, worthy articles. This copy was given as a present to a boy called Herbert:
It's a brief message, but in true Victorian fashion, Mrs Thwaite Metcalfe manages to squeeze in a quick reference to her son's eventual demise.
I wonder what Herbert thought when he unwrapped his present from Mama on Christmas Day? Perhaps his heart sank when he saw that the package was book-shaped, rather than toy steam engine-shapped. However, he might have changed his mind once he opened the pages, as this is no ordinary annual.
Unlike most books of this period, 'Bubbles' is packed with attractive, full page colour illustrations covering a variety of themes: fairy tales, Bible stories, scenes from the Empire and portraits of the deprivation and poverty that Barnardo fought to alleviate. In the 1890s, it must have seemed miraculous.
It has been observed that if you want to really want to get the flavour of a particular period, you should eschew great art in favour of the second rate, the ephemeral and the commercial. I'm not completely convinced by this argument, but the following illustrations probably tell us a lot more about late-Victorian society than any Van Gogh painting:
And finally, here is the back cover:
I'm sure that young Herbert loved these bright, colourful illustrations. But I bet he never read the short stories.