Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Horrifying Moral Lessons

Hilaire Belloc was an English Man of Letters of the old school. Not a single form was neglected by him: essays, novels, politics, biography, history, theology, editorials and poetry filled page after page, book after book (some of them quite good and even still in print.) Nowadays, he is chiefly remembered (and reprinted) as a defender of the Catholic Church. But do not let his reputation as a very serious patriarch daunt you. Belloc was also a delightful and funny fellow. Witness his children's verse, available again in a new Dover reprint: Cautionary Tales & Bad Child's Book of Beasts. This edition restores Belloc's own, very funny and rather weird illustrations.

I recommend, this Halloween, sharing his appalling (and hilarious) stories of very bad children indeed, with any very bad children of your own. Herewith, a favorite:

by Hilaire Belloc

The Chief Defect of Henry King
Was chewing little bits of String.
At last he swallowed some which tied
Itself in ugly Knots inside.
Physicians of the Utmost Fame
Were called at once; but when they came
They answered, as they took their Fees,
``There is no Cure for this Disease.
``Henry will very soon be dead.''
His Parents stood about his Bed
Lamenting his Untimely Death,
When Henry, with his Latest Breath,
Cried, ``Oh, my Friends, be warned by me,
That Breakfast, Dinner, Lunch, and Tea
Are all the Human Frame requires...''
With that, the Wretched Child expires.

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