A Very Good Children’s Book (1865)

“Jingles and Jokes for Little Folks. By Tom Hood. Illustrated by C.H. Bennett, W. Brunton, Paul Gray, and T. Morten.” London: Cassell, Petter & Galpin [1865].

Tom Hood is a son of Tom Hood. From Tom Hood, the son of Tom Hood, the world naturally expects something delightful. Not yet persuaded but that it is the inevitable and the proper thing that the son of a wise or clever father should be himself wise or clever, and finding examples enough to support that theory, the world goes on expecting great things of the children of the great. And to this Thomas, the son of Thomas, when he publishes verse, everybody looks for wit or pathos, or both, if it is a serious work; for unusually graceful and delicate play, if it is play.

But when a rash man offers to the world a new “Mother-Goose” book, what good can we expect? To write children’s books is proverbially difficult. But a publisher could find a score of men and women who could write clever novelettes, or instructive tales, or “hymns in prose” or in verse for children for one who is capable of musical and comical “jingles and jokes.” It has been tried many a time. We have seen a “sensible Mother Goose,” in which the somewhat extravagant statements of the original work of that name are pared down to the compass of probability, as in the only quatrain that lingers in our memory:

“Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle!
The cow looked up at the moon,
The little dog barked to see the sport,
and the dish was laid by the spoon.”

We will not insult our readers by quoting the original stanza, of which the above is a disgracefully bad parody. Then it was discovered that nine-tenths of “Mother Goose’s” own original songs were songs of bloodshed and strife, grinding of bones to make bread, downfall of babies and cradles from tree-tops, shooting of cock-robins by bloodthirsty sparrows — death and destruction on every side. It was attempted to eliminate all this and produce an innocent work. The resulting collection was innocent of any effect, good or evil. Then came “The Book of Nonsense,” appearing in England in 1860, and at once becoming popular, but not reaching us in America until about a year ago. The metre of this was in its favor, and the tang of it — the note, as Matthew Arnold would say; but the poems of the originalo “Book of Nonsense” were such rubbish — without fun or point — that the feeblest imitators have surpassed their model. Private circles have been delighted with the “thick-coming fancies” which take form in that fortunate metre; conceited people have been gracefully “taken down a peg;” “toad-eating little cities” or communities have been properly characterized and quizzed, as the “Nonsense Book” showed how. Punch, last winter, published a series of these verses, glorifying the “young ladies” and “old girls” of England:

“There was a young lady of Hitchin,
§Who never went down in the kitchen
Till her father said: ‘Rose,
You’re a goose to suppose
Affectation’s genteel and bewitchin’.’”

“There was an old girl of Devizes,
Whose forte was in little surprises;
She let you come near,
Then cried: ‘Bless us, my dear,
Your eyes are of different sizes.’”

And so oon; announcing in each number that the series would “be continued until every town in the kingdom has been immortalized.” But the best result of the “Nonsense Book” so far is “Rummical Rhymes with Pictures to Match, set forth in fayre prospect, alphabetically and geographically.” The pictures to this — admirable caricatures of medievalism, cleverly designed for printing in red and black — are so unusually good that worse verses would be endurable, but the verses are good too; exempli gratia, take the third one

“There was ayoung lady of Cork,
Who, declining to eat with a fork,
Her fingers would use
And the feelings abuse
Of the delicate people of Cork.”

The title of the above is “Contrary to etiquette.” Now that we have written the stanza, we see how much it lacks in lacking the illustration. Until to-day we have met no rhyme and picture book so good as “Rummical Rhymes.”

It seems to us a pity that Mr. Hood has taken a rhyming and chiming title for his excellent little book. “Jingles and Jokes for the Little Folks” is very tiresome. If one owns the book and uses it and has to call it by its name now and then, “how he would hate that name” after a week had passed. But, after we pass the title-page, we find no more chance to find fault. The critic has the rare pleasure of heartily and ureservedly praising. There are thirty-four little poems; they vary somewhat in character from “Scotland, Ireland, and Wales,” which is actual “Mother Goose,” to the comparative profundity of “The Arbour” and the gravity of “The launch of the Lily Leaf.” But all are delightful. Hear the first-named:

SCOTLAND, IRELAND, AND WALES

Paddy comes from Ireland,
And carries hods of bricks;
Sandy comes from Scotland,
Where they know some cunning tricks;
Taffy come sfrom Wales,
Where they’ve toasted cheese for rabbits;
So now you’ve heard my tales
Of those people and their habits.

That seems to us in the true “Mother Goose” swing, but as great an improvement on the original as the “Rummical Rhyme” quoted above is on the best stanza in “The Book of Nonsense.” In selecting one of a slightly graver character, we can safely choose for brevity alone, and thus we choose:

PUSS IN NEW BOOTS

Patter, clatter,
What’s the matter?
Our Tom Cat, who’s such a ratter,
Two new pair
Of shoes to wear
Has been buying at the fair.

Isn’t he making a noise in the house!
Won’t he frighten each rat and mouse!
‘T wasn’t wise to choose
Such noisy shoes –
To be caught his dinner will now refuse!
To each rat and mouse his approach he tells,
For he’s popped his paws into walnut shells;
Into walnut shells — into walnut shells –
He haa spopped his paws into walnut shells!

We shall find little bloodshed and no hopeless and profitless destruction and ruin. One little mouse is caught by a cat, who is at once reprobated for catching the mouse in a dishonorable way –

“I don’t think her conduct was pretty — do you?”

One little boy falls out of a tree, but, although he has been naughty, the worst result of the tumble is that

     “Kind little Jane
Pitied his pain,
And carried him home to mamma!”

Antoher little boy is punished in the style of the little boys in “Struwelpeter” for his dirty habits. These are all the terrible disasters we have found. But more than this, the author has shown a rare faculty in setting forth a moral without moralizing. Most of the fables with morals youth reads without the morals. We don’t see how youth can do so here. Read this — the end of a poem:

FURTHER MORAL

The folks who exclaimed –
“That surely can’t be him!”
Lindley Murray’d have whipped
If they’d happened to see him:

For he was a very
Particular gammer,
And punished all people
Who didn’t talk grammar.

And though he’d not find
Fault with you or with me, he
Would teach them to say,
“That surely can’t be he!”

And now we hope every reader will buy this book and read it. And therefore we do not care to quote any more. But meny of the pictures are as good in their way as the poems. There are thirteen, all full-page woodcuts, simply drawn in black lines on white, few of them at all carefully executed in style and finish. The frontispiece is capital — the two rival lovers with (tin) swords drawn, and scabbards thrown away, and the stairs crowded with little people looking at the fight — the boys interested and quiet, the little girl delightfully frightened, and a greedy little chap on the bottom step with a plate of fruit on his lap and a bitten cake in either hand, happy in being able to munch and enjoy the battle at once. Of the others it is hard to say which is the best. That is very clever which illustrates “Puss and the Three Kittens,” though the infantile mind will need much explanation before it will understand the “Pepper-pot,” and “Sootikin” with a seam up her back. They are all spirited and tell the stories well, and help to make the book the good book it is. And the cover, even in these days when such clever designs come from the English binders, is noticeable, for there is a morning’s meditation for a little one and lecture material for its nurse. The books come to pieces easily, though, and the pretty covers will soon be off.

The Nation. 11 January 1866:. 54-5.

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