SpeakerAngela Cannon

Institution Library of Congress

SubjectBukvar s razlichny poucheniia (Primer with Various Instructions)

The Bukvar s razlichny poucheniia or Primer with Various Instructions of 1824 was the first primer published for pupils learning the modern Bulgarian language and the first to emphasize secular rather than religious education. Before this time, students of Bulgarian had to learn to read using the lofty and archaic Church Slavic language.

The author of the primer, Petur Beron, who lived from 1800-1871, was a scholar and educational figure in Bulgaria during the Bulgarian revival period, an era of national awakening in which the Bulgarians strove for greater cultural autonomy under the Ottoman Empire. The movement eventually led to a struggle for an independent state, achieved in 1878 at the conclusion of the Russo-Turkish War. The revival period occurred approximately from the mid 1700s to 1878. At the beginning of this era the Bulgarians had a low rate of literacy and were under the cultural and religious sway not only of the Ottomans, but also of the Greeks. In fact, for much of this time period due to Ottoman restrictions the Bulgarians were not allowed to publish in their native language on Bulgarian territory and had to print books and periodicals outside of Bulgaria.

Petur Beron’s teaching experiences as a Bulgarian instructor living in Romania led him to write a simple primer in the spoken language of the people. He published his Primer with Various Instructions in 1824 in Brashov, Romania, where he was teaching. This primer enjoyed a number of subsequent editions and was used to teach several generations of Bulgarian children including such famous figures as Georgi Rakovski, the Bulgarian revolutionary, and Petko Slaveikov, one of the most notable Bulgarian authors of the 19th century. It was a kind of mini encyclopedia for children in that it contained much general information about nature and simple arithmetic as well as grammar. The book has come to be known as the Fish Primer or Riben bukvar because of the picture of the whale printed at the end.

It is comprised of an introduction, eight numbered sections, and an afterword with an appeal to fellow Bulgarians for pedagogical reforms. The first section presents the alphabet and basic grammar such as parts of speech, gender, number and verbal conjugation. The second section has short prayers, while the third and fourth sections consist of aphorisms and proverbs. The fifth, sixth and seventh sections have passages for reading with fables and descriptions of the natural world including various agricultural products and animals. The 8th section is devoted to simple arithmetic. Illustrations of animals, among them the famous rendering of the whale, appear at the end of the book.

During the revival period, several dozen primers and early grammars were published, but none were as influential as the Fish Primer, for Beron’s groundbreaking work helped him to promote his ideas of secular education, first by abandoning the use of the Church Slavic language for primary education and using the Bulgarian language instead. Second, he recommended the Bell-Lancaster, or mutual method, of teaching begun in England, which encourages older students to assist the teacher in instructing the younger ones. He also proposed eliminating corporal punishment in schools and the introduction of physical education.

Beron eventually left the teaching profession and went on to become a physician and scientific researcher, but he is principally remembered for his Fish Primer, a work which inspired his moniker as the father of modern Bulgarian. Beron and his primer are so significant to Bulgarian culture that they are both commemorated on present day Bulgarian currency, specifically on the 10 lev note.

The Fish Primer and hundreds of other titles from the Bulgarian revival period are held in the Todor Plochev Collection of Early Bulgarian Imprints in the Rare Books and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress.