The Wise Boys: or, The Entertaining Histories of Fred Forethought, Matt Merrythought, Luke Lovebook and Ben Bee (ca. 1842)

This collection of poetic stories — championing the exemplary boyhood behaviour of Fred, Matt, Luke, and Ben — is the work of the American poet Sarah Josepha Buell Hale. Like many female poets of her time Hale often turned her talents to penning verse for children, including, most famously, the nursery rhyme "Mary Had a Little Lamb" which was part of her 1830 collection Poems for Our Children.

As regards her output aimed at adults, in 1823 she published a collection of her poems The Genius of Oblivion, and four years later, a novel about slavery titled Northwood: Life North and South, making her one of the first novelists to broach the subject (as well as one of the first ever American woman authors). From 1837, for the next four decades, she was editor of the hugely influential Godey's Lady's Book, retiring aged 90 in 1877, the same year the lines of her "Mary Had a Little Lamb" became the first ever recorded speech after Thomas Edison spoke them into his newly invented phonograph. As well as many other novels and poetry collections, Hale can also lay claim, after a 17-year campaign including letters written to five Presidents, to being the person most responsible for making Thanksgiving a national holiday in the United States.

Hale wore black for most of her adult life as a sign of perpetual mourning for her firstborn son David who died aged seven. It is a sadness reflected in the history of the particular copy of The Wise Boys featured here, which bears on its front endpapers the following inscription: "This book was the property of William Turner Clarke younger brother of Amanda F. Todd. He died at the age of nine years".