The late Victorian period saw a rapidly increasing literacy rate and, by 1900, almost all men and women were literate. The Boys’ Brigade played its part in this progress as in 1889 they published a Christmas Gift Book for Boys with its primary purpose to encourage Boys to read. Professor Henry Drummond, a supporter of The Boys’ Brigade and friend of William Alexander Smith, made an address to 1,400 Boys at the City Hall of Glasgow and it was this address that was used for this first Christmas Gift Book, aptly named ‘First’.
Professor Henry Drummond was a Scottish evangelical writer and lecturer, becoming an ordained minister in the Free Church College and a Professor of Theology. He was particularly influenced and involved with the evangelising missions of Moody and Sankey and was once described by Moody as the most Christ-like man he had ever known. He was well travelled, including overseas visits to Australia, Africa and the USA. Later he became an Honorary Vice-President of The Boys’ Brigade, was a significant advocate for The Boys’ Brigade, and a great communicator to the youth and students both at home and abroad. His friendships extended widely including Lord Aberdeen (Honorary President) and William Gladstone. He wrote extensively with particular mention to his works of ‘The Ascent of Man’ and ‘The Greatest Thing in the World’ which sold over 12 million copies.
This initial Christmas Gift Book was written around the text ‘seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you’ (Matthew 6 v 33). There was a subscription of 10,000 for this inspiring message and finally nearly 12,000 books were published. The book – only 16 pages long – proved to be very popular and set a pattern for future books which continued until 1899.
There was a steady increase in publication numbers after this success and by 1896 20,000 books were being distributed. Writers for the following books were also well-known names and supporters, who held significant positions in society. In 1891 Professor Drummond allowed his story of ‘Baxter’s Second Innings’ to be published as a Gift Book. This is probably the most recognisable of the Christmas Books as reprints appeared in 1899 and, later, in the 1950s. This publication in 1891 also introduced a significant change as Professor Drummond put forward a competition whereby Boys would write back answers to questions on the story. Fifty three prizes were offered and in this first year 359 replies were received. The number of replies increased in later years and this initiative not only got Boys reading but also writing!
These books proved very successful and reached a good proportion of Boys in the Brigade. The covers were attractive and the stories thought provoking, written in a way for the Boys at the time. Few of these books now exist, and it is fortunate that enough remain for copies to be read here. They make fascinating reading, and certainly worthwhile looking more closely at their contents.
It is unclear why the last book ceased in 1899, but it may have been influenced by the start of the 2nd Boer War and a possible lack of finances or new writers available.
Whilst it is a challenge to capture the spirit of the Boys’ Brigade virtually, we hope to have succeeded in creating an interactive experience which will help in preserving the stories for future generations of BB members. This museum will continue to be developed through the efforts of volunteers dedicated to preserving the heritage of The Boys’ Brigade. If you would like to know more, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.