Definitions

hornbook

hornbook

[hawrn-book]
hornbook, primer of a kind in use from the 15th to the 18th cent. On one side of a sheet of parchment or paper the matter to be learned was written or printed; over the sheet, for its protection, a transparent sheet of horn was placed; and the two were fastened to a thin board, which usually projected to form a handle, perforated so that the hornbook might be attached to a girdle. The matter printed or written included the alphabet in capitals and small letters and other material, varying in different hornbooks, such as numerals and the Lord's Prayer. Sometimes the base and handle were made of metal, stone, or ivory and had letters carved or cast on them.

See A. W. Tuer, History of the Hornbook (2 vol., 1896, repr. 1968).

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

References

Huey, E. B. (1908).

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