David Rands has kindly shared with readers of the Victorian Web his site about the life and works of W. B. Rands, the prolific writer of children's literature and originator of The Boy's Own Paper. Readers may wish to consult this site for more information about this little-known figure who had an immense influence upon Victorian children. [GPL]

W.B.Rands, (1823-1882), proclaimed "Laureate of the Nursery" by many, was a prolific and versatile writer in several genres. He is mostly remembered now for his many children's verses, and his 2-volume Chaucer's England, but his largest output was probably in the field of essays — some specifically for children. Though many carry that moralistic message characteristic of so much Victorian writing for the young, this was usually applied with a very light touch and his understanding of the child's mind as revealed in some of his essays was unusually perceptive.

Much of his work has fallen into obscurity for several reasons, but his best-known poems, such as "The Pedlar's Caravan" and "Great, Wide, Beautiful, Wonderful World", are still known and loved by several generations. The main reason for his present obscurity is surely the fact that he rarely wrote under his own name but used at least 30 noms-de-plume. In fact, of the ten or twelve books and innumerable articles published during his lifetime, only the slim volume of poems titled A Chain of Lilies bears his name; dissatisfied with this work, he pleaded with his friends to forget the book. Much of his literary output consisted of contributions to major influential periodicals, magazines and annuals, such as Good Words, Good Words for the Young, Tom Hood's Comic Annual, and Strachan's Annual. He contributed articles to the Spectator, Illustrated Times, Saturday Journal and several other journals, now extinct, and wrote literary criticism and topical comment for the Contemporary Review.

Born in Chelsea, South London, the son of poor, devout Calvinist parents, he was largely self-educated, although his parents did contrive, by dint of sacrifice, to get him some schooling, frequently interrupted, between the ages of 10 and 13. His father was a candle-maker and later became a dealer in china and glass, while his mother would supplement the household earnings by clipping wicks. Linguistically precocious, he was reading at the age of two, according to his parents, and he recalled that, at 5, apart from unusual words, his vocabulary was no smaller than it was at 20. Before he started school he had learnt to read Latin and Greek, and knew all the Greek New Testament. His first employment, aged 13, was in a Solicitors' office, earning 6 shillings a week, and 10 shillings at his second job. He evidently found his main duty, the serving of writs to poor trades people, too upsetting, so he left to take employment as a foreign correspondent in a city merchants office, being now competent in French and Spanish. After several happy years here, he joined, in 1857, the Parliamentary reporting staff of Messrs Gurney engaged in reporting Committee proceedings, and remained until forced by ill-health into retirement in 1875.

It is now clearly time for the collation and correct attribution to allow for re-assessment of his large body of work and we hope that this official web-site will facilitate that. Although some research will be needed to unearth all his published material, it should be accessible at the British Library. It would also be fascinating to discover correspondence that he is believed to have had with contemporary writers, such as Dickens, Stevenson and George Eliot. His introduction to a volume of the complete poetry of Eliot has recently come to light.


Victorian Web Overview W. B. Rands

Last modified 23 October 2005