New England Primer, famous American school book, first published before 1690. Its compiler was Benjamin Harris, an English printer who emigrated to Boston. This was the book from which most of the children of colonial America learned to read. The letters of the alphabet were illustrated by rhymed couplets (e.g., "The idle Fool/Is whipt at School") and woodcuts; the lessons frequently contained moral texts based on the Old Testament. The book was reprinted many times, with various changes in text and even in title. Although it has been estimated that as many as 2 million were sold in the 18th cent., copies of the book are now rare.
See P. L. Ford, ed., The New England Primer (1897, repr. 1962).
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