The Lighter Side of Morality

The Lighter Side of Morality September 15, 2009

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


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


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.

Henry King, who chews bits of String, and was early cut off
in Dreadful Agonies

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