A hornbook is a book that serves as primer for study. The hornbook originated in England in 1450 (Huey, Edmund Burke). The term has been applied to a few different study materials in different fields. In children's education, in the years before modern education materials were used, it referred to a leaf or page containing the alphabet, religious materials, etc., covered with a sheet of transparent horn and fixed in a frame with a handle. In United States Law, a hornbook is a text that gives an overview of a particular area of law.
Use in Early Childhood Education
In early childhood education, a hornbook was a primer
for children consisting of a sheet containing the letters of the alphabet, mounted on wood, bone, or leather and protected by a thin sheet of transparent horn or mica. Sometimes the sheet was simply pasted against the slice of horn. The wooden frame often had a handle, and it was usually hung at the child's girdle. The sheet, which in ancient times was of vellum
and later of paper, contained first a large cross, from which the horn-book was called the Christ Cross Row, or criss-cross-row. The alphabet in large and small letters followed. The vowels then formed a line, and their combinations with the consonants were given in a tabular form. The usual Trinitarian formula
- "in the name of the Father and of the Sonne and of the Holy Ghost, Amen" - followed, then the Lord's Prayer
, the whole concluding with the Roman numerals
. The hornbook is mentioned in William Shakespeare
's Love's Labour's Lost
, act 5, scene 1, where the ba, the a, e, i, o, u, and the horn, are alluded to by Moth:
- ARMADO. [To HOLOFERNES] Monsieur, are you not lett'red?
- MOTH. Yes, he teaches boys the hornbook. What is a, b, spelt backward with the horn on his head?
- HOLOFERNES. Ba, pueritia, with a horn added.
- MOTH. Ba, most silly sheep with a horn. You hear his learning.
- HOLOFERNES. Quis, quis, thou consonant?
- MOTH. The third of the five vowels, if You repeat them; or the fifth, if I.
- HOLOFERNES. I will repeat them: a, e, I-
- MOTH. The sheep; the other two concludes it: o, U.
It is also described by Ben Jonson in his play Volpone, act 4, scene 2:
- CORVINO: ... And yet I hope that I may say, these eyes
Have seen her glued unto that piece of cedar,
That fine well-timber'd gallant; and that here
The letters may be read, through the horn,
That make the story perfect.l
Huey, E. B. (1908).