Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Little Humor

Hillaire Belloc was a prolific Catholic writer from the late 19th century through the early 20th. Among his writings was a satire of the common "Cautionary Tales" of the Victorian era. Cautionary tales were often stern, priggish and humorless, and were used to instruct children on the prospective consequences of misbehavior (with titles like, "John, Who Attempted to Light the Stove Himself and Suffered a Terrible Fright"), concluding with a moral lesson - "And this is why little boys should check with mother before lighting the stove."

Belloc, with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, adhered to this basic format, and then took it to hilarious, absurd extremes in his Cautionary Tales for Children, with titles such as Jim, Who Ran Away From His Nurse and was Eaten by a Lion and Matilda, Who Told Lies and was Burned To Death.

My favorite is George, Who Played With a Dangerous Toy and Suffered a Catastrophe of Considerable Dimensions:

When George’s Grandmamma was told
That George had been as good as Gold,
She Promised in the Afternoon
To buy him an Immense BALLOON.

And so she did; but when it came,
It got into the candle flame,
And being of a dangerous sort
Exploded with a loud report!

The Lights went out! The Windows broke!
The Room was filled with reeking smoke.
And in the darkness shrieks and yells
Were mingled with Electric Bells,
And falling masonry and groans,
And crunching, as of broken bones,
And dreadful shrieks, when, worst Of all,
The House itself began to fall!
It tottered, shuddering to and fro,
Then crashed into the street below-
Which happened to be Savile Row.

When Help arrived, among the Dead

Were Cousin Mary, Little Fred,

The Footmen (both of them), The Groom,
The man that cleaned the Billiard-Room,
The Chaplain, and The Still-Room Maid.
And I am dreadfully afraid
That Monsieur Champignon, the Chef,
Will now be permanently deaf-

And both his Aides are much the same;
While George, who was in part to blame,
Received, you will regret to hear,
A nasty lump behind the ear.


The moral is that little Boys
Should not be given dangerous Toys.

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