Elizabeth Coltman,

Plain Tales, Tales 1 and 2 (1799)

Aside from the first edition (a selection of which is presented below), a second edition of this work appeared as Plain Tales; or the Advantages of Industry over Idleness (London: J. Harris, 1804);a third edition was published as Plain Tales; or, The Advantages of Industry. By E**** C******. Author of “Instructive Hints” &c. ... To which is added, The Happy School-Girl (London: Printed for the Author, and sold by Darton & Harvey, 1806), A final edition appeared in 1807, once again by J. Harris. On the title page of the first edition is a drawing of a country cottage surrounded by the heavy foliage of trees. The frontispiece is a drawing of a landowner, Mr. Ownoak, standing on a large log with his axe and conversing with two young girls, Sukey Dawkins and Polly Wood, all characters from Tale I. Printed underneath this picture is "Plain Tales, | Printed for Vernor & Hood, 31 Poultry, April 1799." At the back of the volume is an advertisement for nine books by Mrs. Pilkington, all printed and sold by Vernor and Hood, a dissenting publishing firm who took an early interest, as did Darton, in literature for young readers.. At the end of the 3rd edition an advertisement appeared providing more concrete evidence of Elizabeth Coltman’s authorship of works heretofore attributed to Elizabeth Coltman Heyrick, author of a number of abolitionist tracts published in the 1820s. Besides the use of "E**** C****** (Eliza Coltman), the works listed as by the author were "Instructive Hints, in East Lessons for Children. By E— C—," and "The Warning: Recommended to the serious Attention of all Christians and Lovers of their Country."

For biographical information on Elizabeth Coltman, click here; for a selection of her letters, click here; for a selection of her poetry, click here; for her published travel narrative, click here; for her published prose tract, click here.

Plain Tales,

Chiefly Intended for

the Use


Charity Schools.


Printed for Vernor and Hood.

No. 31, Poultry.



The children of the Poor can never be taught to read with facility and pleasure, unless they have Books exactly levelled to their capacities.


SUKEY DAWKINS and Polly Wood had been some time in the charity-school. They had behaved very well, and could do a good deal of work: they were regular in going at the exact time, and so soon as school hours were over, they went strait home to see what they could do to assist their mothers. As they were diligent, they sometimes got a spare half hour to take a walk in the fields. This was of great service to their health, and helped to make them strong, active, and cheerful. One evening, after they had been working very hard, their mothers gave them leave to go. Out they set, as brisk as larks; they tripped over the stile very nimbly, and had soon gathered a handful of primroses and violets. Presently they heard a loud noise at a little distance, and away they ran to find out what it was. In a wood, not far off, they observed a man felling a large tree, and around lay a great number of chips. I wonder, said Sukey Dawkins, if any body makes use of these: how glad my mother would be to have some to light her fires with; let us ask the carpenter. Pray, said she, do you think the person who owns these, would give me leave to take a few home to my mother? – Yes, said the man, I think he would: they belong to Mr. Ownoak, who is walking in the next field, and you may ask him, if you will. O, said Polly Wood, do not let us go, I cannot abide to ask: her companion replied, what is there to be ashamed of, I am not a going to do any thing wrong; and, unless I was, I do not see what reason I have to be ashamed. These chips are of no use to this gentleman, and, perhaps, he does not think how useful they might be to others. Come, let us make haste: so she went up to Mr. Ownoak, and said – Pray, Sir, will you give me leave to take a few of those chips home to light my mammy’s fire? Who is your mammy, my little girl, said he? Widow Dawkins, sir. Where does she live? In the Well-yard. How many children has she? Four, sir. I am the oldest: I strive to do a little, but we are very poor, and my mother has hard work to get cloaths, food, and firing; so that a few chips would be very useful to us. You may take as many as you can carry, my child, said he; and you may come again tomorrow, and the next day, and, if your companion wants any, let her have some too. Away they ran and told the carpenter that Mr. Ownoak had given them leave to take some. Sukey Dawkins had on a good strong woolen apron, which she had made of one of her mother’s, so she began filling it with chips; but Polly Wood’s apron was an old ragged checked one. Sukey had often begged her companion to endeavour to mend her cloaths; but this she had too much neglected, and was now very sorry she had. However, Sukey helped her to pin it together as well as she could; and, after filling them as full as they would hold, and wishing the carpenter a good night, away they set off towards home. As they were getting over the last stile, Polly’s tattered apron gave way, and down fell all the chips. This was a sad disaster, and she began to cry; but her companion asked her if crying could possibly remedy the misfortune, and begged her not to do what a little baby would. Let us think what is best to be done, that is all we ought to do when any accident happens. Let us see: well, your gown is whole, that is a good thing; suppose you take it up, and put the chips in that, and, if you like, I will help you to mend your apron to-morrow. So they picked up the chips again as fast as they could, and made haste to get home. Mother, said Sukey, I am afraid you thought me long; but these will make amends for staying. She then threw down the chips under the coal-shed, and told her mother how she came by them. Her mother thanked her very kindly for her attention to the comfort of the family, and told her she believed, that, if she had not been so good a girl, and often contrived, in some way to help her, they must all have gone to the workhouse. Sukey was much more satisfied with herself that evening, than if she had been romping with the girls in the street, and went to bed thankful that she had been useful.

Children, in many a different way,

Can give their friends delight;

Nor will she pass a useless day,

Who brings home chips at night.


Mother, said Nancy Bennet, I wish you would let us have tea to breakfast: there are neighbor Spendalls and their children drinking tea every morning when I go by to school, and we never have it but on Sunday afternoons. My dear, said her mother, every thing which is good for you, that I can buy, I wish you to have; but there are many reasons which would make it improper for us to drink much tea: One is, that it is very dear, and affords but little nourishment: Another, that it is neither pleasant nor wholesome without cream and sugar. Two pounds of the coarsest sugar I could buy, would cost eighteen pence. With that eighteen pence I could buy you a new shift; the sugar, you know, would be soon gone and forgotten; the shift will help to keep you warm and comfortable for years. Which would you rather have? O the shift, said she to be sure. Well, my dear, said her mother, it is by denying ourselves tea that we are able to get a comfortable change of shirts and shifts; and another advantage is, that I believe we have better health than many people who live a good deal on tea. Your father finds himself more able to work after bread and cheese and a pint of beer, than he would after tea: And a bason of milk-porridge is a much more satisfying meal for us; and, it is a very happy thing, that the most wholesome food is generally the cheapest. Ploughmen and milkmaids, who look so ruddy, and are the most healthy people in the kingdom, seldom taste tea. Part of their health and strength, it is true, is owing to their rising early, going to bed early, and living a good deal out of doors: but we, who are obliged to do our work more in the house, ought to get the most wholesome food we can; and, spending our money in tea and sugar, would deprive us of many more useful things. I have heard my mother say, that tea was very little drank when she was young; and, I believe, people were quite as healthy and as happy then. For one quarter of a year, I laid by, every week, just as much as I should have laid out had we drank tea. This, at the least I could reckon it, was one shilling and sixpence a week. As there are twelve weeks in a quarter of a year, this, you know, came to eighteen shillings; and, with that money, I bought myself and you these good stuff gowns, which have kept us so warm all the winter, and a pair of sheets for your bed: Would you rather have been starved in rags, and drank tea; or, comfortably clad, and had milk-porridge? O, I have heard enough about tea, said Nancy, give me milk-porridge, a stuff gown, and new sheets.

If comfort round a cottage fire,

The poor desire to see,

Let them to useful things aspire,

And learn to banish tea.