Tuesday, June 7, 2011
(Illustration by B. T. B., or Basil T. Blackwood, from Cautionary Tales for Children by Hilaire Belloc)
Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953), was a French-born poet, essayist, and historian who became a naturalized British citizen and even served as a Member of Parliament for five years.
His cautionary verse about Alexander Byng’s sister shows us how affection for our siblings can at times make us a bit too indulgent towards them.
SARAH BYNG, WHO COULD NOT READ AND WAS TOSSED INTO A THORNY HEDGE BY A BULL
Some years ago you heard me sing
My doubts on Alexander Byng.
His sister Sarah now inspires
My jaded Muse, my failing fires.
Of Sarah Byng the tale is told
How when the child was twelve years old
She could not read or write a line.
Her sister Jane, though barely nine,
Could spout the Catechism through
And parts of Matthew Arnold too,
While little Bill who came between
Was quite unnaturally keen
On “Athalie,” by Jean Racine.
But not so Sarah! Not so Sal!
She was a most uncultured girl
Who didn’t care a pinch of snuff
For any literary stuff
And gave the classics all a miss.
Observe the consequence of this!
As she was walking home one day,
Upon the fields across her way
A gate, securely padlocked, stood,
And by its side a piece of wood
On which was painted plain and full,
BEWARE THE VERY FURIOUS BULL.
Alas! The young illiterate
Went blindly forward to her fate,
And ignorantly climbed the gate!
Now happily the Bull that day
Was rather in the mood for play
Than goring people through and through
As Bulls so very often do;
He tossed her lightly with his horns
Into a prickly hedge of thorns,
And stood by laughing while she strode
And pushed and struggled to the road.
The lesson was not lost upon
The child, who since has always gone
A long way round to keep away
From signs, whatever they may say,
And leaves a padlocked gate alone.
Moreover she has wisely grown
Confirmed in her instinctive guess
That literature breeds distress.