14744946George Cruikshank here responds to the Infant School movement by showing babies in their little walkers chasing after their letters. This is part of a sheet from his Scraps and Sketches, 1828-32. Pictures like this were often cut out and pasted into albums and commonplace books which were popular at the time. In the background Literature, hunted by horse and hounds, is shouting “We shall be run down — be devoured! — there won’t be a bit of us left for succeeding ages! the dogs have such large capacities!”

The idea that literature could get all used up if too many people had access to it sounds totally weird to us now, but this all came at a time when reading was moving from an intensive to extensive mode of use. As cheap printing made more and more books available to more and more people, reading travelled from a repetitive, over-and-over reading of the same few books to a pattern more familiar to us, where almost any book was available to the curious reader. If there were only two or three books in the house, obviously having too many people wanting to read them would create difficulties.