Wednesday, June 18, 2014

"Matilda, who told lies..."

A blog post at "The Imaginative Conservative" reminds me that G.K. Chesterton's friend, Hilaire Belloc, wrote several books for children.
.... In 1896, his first two books were published, Verses and Sonnets and The Bad Child’s Book of Beasts. The latter became an instant popular success prompting more of the same, including More Beasts (for Worse Children) in 1897 and Cautionary Tales for Children ten years later, in which the author’s indefatigable mirth is kindled by the kindergarten army of Matilda, who told such dreadful lies; Jim, who ran away from his Nurse, and was eaten by a Lion; and Algernon who played with a loaded gun, and, on missing his sister, was reprimanded by his father. .... [more]
I went looking for them online and found Cautionary Tales for Children downloadable for e-readers at both Gutenberg and ManyBooks.net. The tales are genuinely cautionary as this example illustrates:

MATILDA, Who told Lies, and was Burned to Death.
Matilda told such Dreadful Lies,
It made one Gasp and Stretch one's Eyes;
Her Aunt, who, from her Earliest Youth,
Had kept a Strict Regard for Truth,

Attempted to Believe Matilda:
The effort very nearly killed her,
And would have done so, had not She
Discovered this Infirmity.

For once, towards the Close of Day,
Matilda, growing tired of play,
And finding she was left alone,
Went tiptoe to the Telephone

And summoned the Immediate Aid
Of London's Noble Fire-Brigade.
Within an hour the Gallant Band
Were pouring in on every hand,
From Putney, Hackney Downs and Bow,
With Courage high and Hearts a-glow
They galloped, roaring through the Town,

"Matilda's House is Burning Down!"
Inspired by British Cheers and Loud
Proceeding from the Frenzied Crowd,
They ran their ladders through a score
Of windows on the Ball Room Floor;
And took Peculiar Pains to Souse
The Pictures up and down the House,

Until Matilda's Aunt succeeded
In showing them they were not needed
And even then she had to pay
To get the Men to go away!

                    * * *

It happened that a few Weeks later
Her Aunt was off to the Theatre
To see that Interesting Play
The Second Mrs. Tanqueray.

She had refused to take her Niece
To hear this Entertaining Piece:
A Deprivation Just and Wise
To Punish her for Telling Lies.

That Night a Fire did break out—
You should have heard Matilda Shout!
You should have heard her Scream and Bawl,
And throw the window up and call

To People passing in the Street—
(The rapidly increasing Heat
Encouraging her to obtain
Their confidence)—but all in vain!
For every time She shouted "Fire!"

They only answered "Little Liar!"
And therefore when her Aunt returned,
Matilda, and the House, were Burned.
Amazon has an edition of Cautionary Tales for Children with illustrations by Edward Gorey, who is perfect for this book. The second illustration is his.