Makers of History
Makers of American History

The Rollo Books
Other Fiction, Educational, and Christian Living Books

by Jacob Abbott and John S. C. Abbott

Makers of History

These are now being reprinted by PrestonSpeed Publications!

The Makers of History series was published in a number of formats, most with lovely engravings, first by Harper Brothers in red and maroon covers and later by other publishers in a variety of cover styles. The first example, above, is part of Altemus' Young People's Library published in 1900. These were also published as "Famous Characters of History," "Histories of Celebrated Sovereigns," and, some, as "Famous Queens of History."

Although the 33 books in this series were written as textbooks, they read like the adventure stories they are! I have really enjoyed my set--and often find myself somewhat unwilling to put the books down!

Jacob Abbott (whose biography you can read first here and then, by his son, here) believed that children needed to begin their history studies with living stories of the men and women who made history. He wrote the following in his Preface to Cyrus the Great:

"One special object which the author of this series has had in view, in the plan and method which he has followed in the preparation of the successive volumes, has been to adapt them to the purposes of text-books in schools. The study of a general compend of history, such as is frequently used as a text-book, is highly useful, if it comes in at the right stage of education, when the mind is sufficiently matured.... Without this degree of maturity of mind, and this preparation, the study of such a work will be, as it too frequently is, a mere mechanical committing to memory of names, and dates, and phrases, which awaken no interest, communicate no ideas, and impart no useful knowledge to the mind.

"A class of ordinary pupils, who have not yet become much acquainted with history, would, accordingly, be more benefited by having their attention concentrated, at first, on detached and separate topics, such as those which form the subjects, respectively, of these volumes. By studying thus fully the history of individual monarchs, or the narratives of single events, they can go more fully into detail; they conceive of the transactions described as realities; their reflecting and reasoning powers are occupied on what they read; they take notice of the motives of conduct, of the gradual development of character, the good or ill desert of actions, and of the connection of causes and consequences, both in respect to the influence of wisdom and virtue on the one hand, and, on the other, of folly and crime. In a word, their minds and hearts are occupied instead of merely their memories. They reason, they sympathize, they pity, they approve, and they condemn. They enjoy the real and true pleasure which constitutes the charm of historical study for minds that are mature; and they acquire a taste for truth instead of fiction, which will tend to direct their reading into proper channels in all future years."

Of the characters chosen, Jacob Abbott wrote, in his preface to Alfred the Great,

"It is the object of this series of histories to present a clear, distinct, and connected narrative of the lives of those great personages who have in various ages of the world made themselves celebrated as leaders among mankind, and, by the part they have taken in the public affairs of great nations, have exerted the widest influence on the history of the human race. The end which the author has had in view is twofold: first, to communicate such information in respect to the subjects of his narratives as is important for the general reader to possess; and, secondly, to draw such moral lessons from the events described and the characters delineated as they may legitimately teach to the people of the present age...."

While Abbott recognizes and describes the moral lessons taught by history, the books do not attempt to contrive a moral lesson for every historical event. They are not overtly "preachy," but their approach to history is distinctly Christian. The books are not a set of 33 sermons, but a set of well-written, exciting, Christian history stories of men, both good and evil, who were providentially used to bring forth history.

For example, of Hernando Cortez, John Abbott wrote,

"The career of Hernando Cortez is one of the most wild and adventurous recorded in the annals of fact or fiction, and yet all the prominent events in his wondrous history are well-authenticated. All truth carries with itself an important moral. The writer, in this narrative, has simply attempted to give a vivid idea of the adventures of Cortez and his companions in the Conquest of Mexico. There are many inferences of vast moment to which the recital leads. These are so obvious that they need not be pointed out."

In his account of Alfred the Great, Jacob Abbott wrote,

"There was a certain Saint Neot, a kinsman and religious counselor of Alfred...[who] often rebuked Alfred in the severest terms for his sinful course of life, predicting the most fatal consequences if he did not reform, and using language which only a very culpable degree of remissness and irregularity could justify. 'You glory,' said he, one day, when addressing the king, 'in your pride and power, and are determined and obdurate in your iniquity. But there is a terrible retribution in store for you. I entreat you to listen to my counsels, amend your life, and govern your people with moderation and justice, instead of tyranny and oppression, and thus aver if you can, before it is too late, the impending judgements of Heaven.'

"Such language as this it is obvious that only a very serious dereliction of duty on Alfred's part could call for or justify..... The noblest human spirits are always, in some periods of their existance, or in some aspects of their characters, strangely weakened by infirmities and frailties, and deformed by sin. This is human nature. We like to imagine that we find exceptions, and to see specimens of moral perfection in our friends or in the historical characters whose general course of action we admire; but there are no exceptions. To err and to sin, at some times and in some ways, is the common, universal, and inevitable lot of humanity."

Of the Pilgrims John Abbott wrote,

"Thus the explorers on the land and in the boat passed the first part of this dismal night. At midnight, however, those in the boat, unable longer to endure the cold, ventured to land, and, with their shivering companions, huddled round the fire, the rain still soaking them to the skin.

"When the morning again dawned, they found that they were in the lee of a small island. It was the morning of the Sabbath. Notwithstanding their exposure to hostile Indians and to the storm, and notwithstanding the unspeakable importance of every day, that they might prepare for the severity of winter, now so rapidly approaching, these extraordinary men resolved to remain as they were, that they might "remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy." There was true heroism and moral grandeur in this decision, even though it be asserted that a more enlightened judgment would have taught that, under that circumstances in which they were placed, it was a work of 'necessity and mercy' to prosecute their tour without delay. But these men believed it their duty to sanctify the Sabbth; and, notwithstanding the strength of the temptation, they did what they thought to be right, and this is always noble. To God, who looketh at the heart, this must have been an acceptable sacrifice. For nearly two hundred years all these men have now been in the world of spirits, and it may very safely be affirmed that they have never regretted the scrupulous reverence they menifested for the law of God in keeping the Sabbath in the stormy wilderness."

Of New England, John Abbott wrote,

"...nothing is more conspicuous than the spires of the churches--those churches of a pure Christianity to which New England is indebted for all her intelligence and prosperity. It was upon the Bible that our forefathers laid the foundations of the institutions of this New World; and, though they made some mistakes, for they were but mortal, still they were sincere, conscientious Christian men, and their Christianity has been the legacy from which their children have derived the greatest benefits."

Of the Crusades, Jacob Abbott wrote,

"He [Richard the Lion-Hearted] could there satiate himself, too, with the luxury of killing men without any misgiving of conscience, or, at least, without any condemnation on the part of his fellow-men, for it was understood throughout Christendom that the crimes committed against the Saracens in the Holy Land were committed in the name of Christ. What a strange delusion! To think of honoring the memory of the meek and lowly Jesus by utterly disregarding his peaceful precepts and his loving and gentle example, and going forth in thousands to the work of murder, rapine, and devastation, in order to get possession of his tomb."

As you search for "The Makers of History" series, be aware that the titles vary somewhat from printing to printing, For example, for the first book, I have seen the titles, Alexander, Alexander the Great, and The History of Alexander the Great.

Makers of American History

I have not read from this series, yet, but I assume that it is similar in tone and content to "The Makers of History." Mary recently found this set at a book sale and has graciously sent me the title list, along with publisher descriptions for the books.

The Rollo Books

This series is another one I have not read or seen. It was Jacob Abbott's attempt to clothe practical instruction in the fictional stories of Rollo.

Other Fiction, Educational, and Christian Living Book

Some of these were published as part of a multi-volume set or series: "Harper's Story Books: A Series of Narratives, Dialogues, Biographies, and Tales for the Instruction and Entertainment of the Young."

Other Fiction:


Christian Life:

Note: As you search for books by "Jacob Abbott," note that this is not the same man as the Jacob Bates Abbott who did wonderful nature illustrations in the mid-twentieth century.

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