Stories for adult readers go in and out of fashion, but children’s tales are timeless. Paul Elder and Company published a number of delightful children’s books that any modern parent could read at bedtime. One of these is A Child’s Book of Abridged Wisdom, from 1905. Each page has a short poem with accompanying amusing illustration. The simple pen-and-ink drawings are an interesting view into (and perhaps parody of) turn-of-the-century upper-class domestic life, particularly of children’s fashions: wide-brimmed hats, neckties and short pants for boys, hats and dresses for girls. Every page includes an animal, usually the pet dog or cat. Hints of Arts & Crafts architecture can be seen: wide porches, box beam ceilings, casement windows.
Two versions of the book have been seen: one in monochrome, the other in color. The latter is printed in as many as five different colors. The printing is on one-side only, with adjoining leaves left unopened.
The author and artist was the multi-talented Edward Salisbury “Ned” Field (1878-1936), who was also a journalist, playwright and poet. Early in his career he worked as an artist for the Hearst Newspapers in San Francisco and signed his drawings “Childe Harold”. During this time he became the secretary and possibly also the lover of Fanny Osbourne Stevenson, recent widow of author Robert Louis Stevenson. Fanny was 38 years his senior, but they were companions until her death in 1914. Just six months later, Ned married Fanny’s daughter Isobel Osbourne (Ned was 20 years younger than Isobel, and only three years older than her son Austin).
Ned later became a successful real estate developer in Southern California and built a home on Zaca Lake, in the mountains north of Santa Barbara. The Field home became a popular destination for writers and actors. Ned Field died on 20 September 1936 at the age of 58. Isobel outlived him by seventeen years, and died in 1953 at age 95.