I've been working on the part of my novel where Solomon Whitaker begins the laborious process of learning to write. He is determined to master the art because he has an important story to tell which must not be lost to later generations.
So I was quite naturally mousing around the cybershelves for titbits about learning to read among the working classes of 19th century England when I came across this delightful quote:
They spent nearly three hours one evening preparing a letter to a far-away sister, the mother painfully composing the sentences, the lad painfully writing them down. The glorious epistle was at last complete, the first great triumph of a combined intellectual effort between mother and son. Proudly they held the letter to the candle-light to dry the ink, when the flame caught it and ...the work of three laborious hours destroyed in three seconds. It was more than they could bear. Mother and son sat down and cried together.
From a biography of Will Crooks (G. Haw, 1907)
Even in the early Victorian period the motto above every mantelpiece had to be, back it up now!