Cautionary Tales for Children: Designed for the Admonition of Children between the ages of eight and fourteen years is a 1907 children’s book written by Hilaire Belloc. There is a long tradition of ‘Naughty Children’ verses designed to terrify youngsters, the grand-daddy of them being the rather too frightening German collection Struwwelpeter. Belloc’s are far more benign and have amused generations of adults and kids ever since with stories of Jim, Who Ran Away from his Nurse, and was Eaten by a Lion; Henry King: Who Chewed Bits of String, and was early cut off in Dreadful agonies; – and many other immortals.
Belloc has been much parodied over the years. In 1984 I joined the ranks with Raspberries and Other Trifles: Tales for Discerning Delinquents, a collection of modern cautionary tales that not only copied Belloc’s rhyming scheme but also the typeface and illustrations (the brilliant Jon Higham) of the first edition. Here’s a Belloc original followed by one of mine.
Matilda, Who told Lies, and was Burned to Death.
from Cautionary Tales for Children – Hilaire Belloc (1907)
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.
Alexander Phillinoy, who suffered a severe blow
from Raspberries and Other Trifles – Jeremy Nicholas (1984)
A most revolting little boy
Was Alexander Phillinoy
Who, from his very early years,
(Without tuition it appears)
Developed with alarming zeal
A habit not at all genteel
Yet one which I must now disclose:
Young Alexander picked his nose.
The subject is distasteful, yes,
And Alex did it to excess.
At breakfast time, at lunch, at tea
Especially in company,
Whenever anybody looked
His thumb and finger would be hooked
Within the left- or right-hand hole;
And there he’d burrow like a mole.
He didn’t care who saw him do it –
Picked it, scraped it, never blew it.
His parents did the best they could –
They smacked his hands; it did no good.
They told him it was not polite;
It was a truly awful sight.
They told him that a handkerchief
Was often used to bring relief
And that this small receptacle
Would help to hide the spectacle
(Which, quite apart from being rude,
Put both his parents off their food).
The more they pleaded and implored
The more young Alexander clawed
And scoured inside the dark abyss
That was his nasal orifice.
And what was more obscene and vile
Was watching Alexander while
He looked at what he’d excavated,
Licked it, liked it and then ATE it!
At length his father groaned, “Enough!
Here, Alexander, take some snuff!”
He begged his son on bended knees:
“Inhale it – it will make you sneeze.
And here’s a handkerchief in case
You feel the need to wipe your face.”
Young Phillinoy could not resist:
He scooped a pile up in his fist
And sniffed the snuff up in a trice
(A hundred grammes to be precise).
He stuffed the lot up all at once
Accompanied by snorts and grunts.
ATCHOO!! His father cried, “God bless!”
And then, “Oh dear, dear. What a mess.”
ATCHOO!! A-A-T-CHOO!!! And then, “O Lor’!”
For red and shiny on the floor
They saw a sight at which they froze:
Alas! ‘Twas Alexander’s nose.
His Dad gasped, “Holy Moses, son!
You had two nostrils – now there’s one!”
And sure enough, as black as coal,
There was, between his eyes, a hole.
His nose is now not on his face
But in a glass museum case.
It’s mounted, with a silver plate
Inscribed: ‘Presented to The Tate
By Alexander Phillinoy
Who Used To Use It As A Toy.’ –
A terrifying sight that’s not
By any easily forgot.