70 Old-time Schools and School-books
thought of the people so effectively. The need of guiding public sentiment on this subject was plainly apparent; for those who studied the Bible did not understand its teachings alike, and printing no sooner gave the Scriptures a wide distribution than divergent opinions multiplied. The Bible itself does not contain a distinct creed, nor does it tell us what to think about it—hence the importance of setting forth the simple tenets of religion in a form for genera] distribution. The primers were an especially valuable medium, because they went to the fountain head. Their precepts were instilled in minds as yet unformed, and the children were drilled to believe what they were to think out for themselves when they were more mature.
One trouble, however, was that primers from different sources did not present the truth alike, and successive rulers from Henry VIII down tried to control their teachings. The unauthorized books were seized and burned, and preachers and printers guilty of preparing and distributing them were whipped, imprisoned, and put to death. But their production could not be stifled, and after the reign of James II, the people were allowed to have such primers and catechisms as they chose.
No doubt the early settlers of New England possessed primers that they brought across the ocean with them. The family Bible and primer occupied the same shelf in the pioneer homes, and from the primer the children were faithfully catechised every Sabbath day. The exact date of the first issue of the " New England" primer is not known, but