Cautionary Tales for Children

Cautionary Tales for Children  (1907) 
by Hilaire Belloc
Cover of the first edition


On being asked by a reader whether the tales were true

And is it true? It is not True.
And if it were it wouldn't do,
For people such as me and you
Who pretty nearly all day long
Are doing something rather wrong.
Because if things were really so,
You would have perished long ago,
And I would not have lived to write
The noble lines that meet your sight,
Nor B.T.B. survived to draw
The nicest things you ever saw.


Who ran away from his Nurse, and was eaten by a Lion.

      There was a Boy whose name was Jim;
      His Friends were very good to him.
      They gave him Tea, and Cakes, and Jam,
      And slices of delicious Ham,
      And Chocolate with pink inside
      And little Tricycles to ride,
      And read him Stories through and through,
      And even took him to the Zoo—
      But there it was the dreadful Fate
      Befell him, which I now relate.

      You know—at least you ought to know,
      For I have often told you so—
      That Children never are allowed
      To leave their Nurses in a Crowd;
      Now this was Jim's especial Foible,
      He ran away when he was able,
      And on this inauspicious day
      He slipped his hand and ran away!

      He hadn't gone a yard when—Bang!
      With open Jaws, a lion sprang,
      And hungrily began to eat
      The Boy: beginning at his feet.
      Now, just imagine how it feels
      When first your toes and then your heels,
      And then by gradual degrees,
      Your shins and ankles, calves and knees,
      Are slowly eaten, bit by bit.
      No wonder Jim detested it!
      No wonder that he shouted "Hi!"

      The Honest Keeper heard his cry,
      Though very fat he almost ran
      To help the little gentleman.
      "Ponto!" he ordered as he came
      (For Ponto was the Lion's name),
      "Ponto!" he cried, with angry Frown,
      "Let go, Sir! Down, Sir! Put it down!"
      The Lion made a sudden stop,
      He let the Dainty Morsel drop,
      And slunk reluctant to his Cage,
      Snarling with Disappointed Rage.
      But when he bent him over Jim,
      The Honest Keeper's Eyes were dim.
      The Lion having reached his Head,
      The Miserable Boy was dead!

      When Nurse informed his Parents, they
      Were more Concerned than I can say:--
      His Mother, as She dried her eyes,
      Said, "Well—it gives me no surprise,
      He would not do as he was told!"
      His Father, who was self-controlled,
      Bade all the children round attend
      To James's miserable end,
      And always keep a-hold of Nurse
      For fear of finding something worse.

Henry KingEdit

Who chewed bits of string, and was early cut off in Dreadful agonies.

      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.


Who told Lies, and was Burned to Death

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.

Franklin HydeEdit

Who caroused in the Dirt and was corrected by His Uncle

His Uncle came on Franklin Hyde
Carousing in the Dirt.
He Shook him hard from Side to Side
And Hit him till it Hurt,
Exclaiming with a Final Thud
"Take that! Abandoned Boy!
For playing with Disgusting Mud
As though it were a Toy!"

From Franklin Hyde's adventure, learn
To pass your Leisure Time
In Cleanly Merriment, and turn
From Mud and Oose and Slime
And every form of Nastiness—
But, on the other Hand,
Children in ordinary Dress
May always play with Sand.

Godolphin HorneEdit

Who was cursed with the Sin of Pride, and, Became a Boot-black.

Godolphin Horne was Nobly Born;
He held the Human Race in Scorn,
And lived with all his Sisters where
His father lived, in Berkeley Square.
And oh! The Lad was Deathly Proud!
He never shook your Hand or Bowed,
But merely smirked and nodded thus:
How perfectly ridiculous!

Alas! That such Affected Tricks
Should flourish in a Child of Six!
(For such was Young Godolphin's age).

Just then, the Court required a Page,
Whereat the Lord High Chamberlain
(The Kindest and the Best of Men),
He went good-naturedly and took
A perfectly enormous Book
Called People Qualified to Be
Attendant on His Majesty,
And murmured, as he scanned the list
(To see that no one should be missed),

"There's William Coutts has got the Flu,
And Billy Higgs would never do,
And Guy de Vere is far too young,
And . . . wasn't D'Alton's father hung?

And as for Alexander Byng!— ...
I think I know the kind of thing,
A Churchman, cleanly, nobly born,
Come, let us say Godolphin Horne?"

But hardly had he said the word
When Murmurs of Dissent were heard.
The King of Iceland's Eldest Son
Said, "Thank you! I am taking none!"

The Aged Duchess of Athlone
Remarked, in her sub-acid tone,
"I doubt if He is what we need!"
With which the Bishops all agreed;

And even Lady Mary Flood
(So kind, and oh! So really good)
Said, "No! He wouldn't do at all,
He'd make us feel a lot too small."

The Chamberlain said, "Well, well, well!
No doubt you're right. One cannot tell!"
He took his Gold and Diamond Pen
And scratched Godolphin out again.

So now Godolphin is the Boy
Who Blacks the Boots at the Savoy


Who played with a Loaded Gun, and, on missing his Sister, was reprimanded by his Father.

Young Algernon, the Doctor's son,
Was playing with a loaded gun.
He pointed it towards his sister,
Aimed very carefully, but missed her.

His Father, who was standing near,
The Loud Explosion chanced to Hear,
And reprimanded Algernon
For playing with a Loaded Gun.


Who was frightened by a Passing Motor, and was brought to reason.

"Oh Murder! What was that Papa!"

"My child, It was a Motor-Car,
A Most Ingenious Toy!
Designed to Captivate and Charm
Much, rather than to rouse Alarm
In any English Boy.

What would your Great Grandfather who
Was Aide-de-Camp to General Brue[1],
And lost a leg at Waterloo
And Quatre-Bras and
...Ligny too!
...And died at Trafalgar!
What would he have remarked to hear
His Young Descendant shriek with fear,
Because he happened to be near
A Harmless Motor-Car!

But do not fret about it! Come!
We'll off to Town, and purchase some!"

Lord LundyEdit

Who was too Freely Moved to Tears, and thereby ruined his Political Career.

Lord Lundy from his earliest years
Was far too freely moved to Tears.
For instance if his Mother said,
"Lundy! It's time to go to Bed!"
He bellowed like a Little Turk.

Or if his father Lord Dunquerque
Said "Hi!" in a Commanding Tone,
"Hi, Lundy! Leave the Cat alone!"
Lord Lundy, letting go its tail,
Would raise so terrible a wail
As moved His Grandpapa the Duke
To utter the severe rebuke:

"When I, Sir! was a little Boy,
An Animal was not a Toy!"

His father's Elder Sister, who
Was married to a Parvenoo,
Confided to Her Husband, "Drat!
The Miserable, Peevish Brat!
Why don't they drown the Little Beast?"
Suggestions which, to say the least,
Are not what we expect to hear
From Daughters of an English Peer.

His Grandmamma, His Mother's Mother,
Who had some dignity or other,
The Garter, or no matter what,
I can't remember all the Lot!
Said "Oh! That I were Brisk and Spry
To give him that for which to cry!"

(An empty wish, alas! For she
Was Blind and nearly ninety-three).

The Dear Old Butler thought—but there!
I really neither know nor care
For what the Dear Old Butler thought!
In my opinion, Butlers ought
To know their place, and not to play
The Old Retainer night and day.
I'm getting tired and so are you,
Let's cut the poem into two!

arbitrary poem break into "Lord Lundy Cont'd"

It happened to Lord Lundy then,
As happens to so many men:
Toward the age of twenty-six,
They shoved him into politics;
In which profession he commanded
The income that his rank demanded
In turn as Secretary for
India, the Colonies, and War.

But very soon his friends began
To doubt if he were quite the man:
Thus, if a member rose to say
(As members do from day to day)
"Arising out of that reply . . . !"
Lord Lundy would begin to cry.

A Hint at harmless little jobs
Would shake him with convulsive sobs.
While as for Revelations, these
Would simply bring him to his knees,
And leave him whimpering like a child.
It drove his colleagues raving wild!

They let him sink from Post to Post,
From fifteen hundred at the most
To eight, and barely six—and then
To be Curator of Big Ben!. . .

And finally there came a Threat
To oust him from the Cabinet!
The Duke—his aged grand-sire—bore
The shame till he could bear no more.

He rallied his declining powers,
Summoned the youth to Brackley Towers,
And bitterly addressed him thus—

"Sir! you have disappointed us!
We had intended you to be
The next Prime Minister but three:
The stocks were sold; the Press was squared:
The Middle Class was quite prepared.
But as it is! . . . My language fails!
Go out and govern New South Wales!"

The Aged Patriot groaned and died:
And gracious! how Lord Lundy cried!


Who Slammed Doors For Fun And Perished Miserably

      A trick that everyone abhors
      In little girls is slamming doors.
      A wealthy banker's little daughter
      Who lived in Palace Green, Bayswater
      (By name Rebecca Offendort),
      Was given to this furious sport.

      She would deliberately go
      And slam the door like billy-o!
      To make her uncle Jacob start.
      She was not really bad at heart,
      But only rather rude and wild;
      She was an aggravating child...

      It happened that a marble bust
      Of Abraham was standing just
      Above the door this little lamb
      Had carefully prepared to slam,
      And down it came! It knocked her flat!
      It laid her out! She looked like that.

      Her funeral sermon (which was long
      And followed by a sacred song)
      Mentioned her virtues, it is true,
      But dwelt upon her vices too,
      And showed the dreadful end of one
      Who goes and slams the door for fun.

      The children who were brought to hear
      The awful tale from far and near
      Were much impressed, and inly swore
      They never more would slam the door,
      — As often they had done before.


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
Exploded 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
Were 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.

Charles Augustus FortescueEdit

Who Always Did what was Right, and so Accumulated an Immense Fortune

      The nicest child I ever knew
      Was Charles Augustus Fortescue.
      He never lost his cap, or tore
      His stockings or his pinafore:
          In eating Bread he made no Crumbs,
          He was extremely fond of sums,

      To which, however, he preferred
      The Parsing of a Latin Word—
      He sought, when it was within his power,
      For information twice an hour,

      And as for finding Mutton-Fat
      Unappetising, far from that!
      He often, at his Father's Board,
      Would beg them, of his own accord,

      To give him, if they did not mind,
      The Greasiest Morsels they could find—
      His Later Years did not belie
      The Promise of his Infancy.
          In Public Life he always tried
          To take a judgement Broad and Wide;

      In Private, none was more than he
      Renowned for quiet courtesy.
      He rose at once in his Career,
      And long before his Fortieth Year

      Had wedded Fifi, Only Child
      Of Bunyan, First Lord Aberfylde.
      He thus became immensely Rich,
      And built the Splendid Mansion which

      Is called The Cedars, Muswell Hill,
      Where he resides in affluence still,
      To show what everybody might
      Become by SIMPLY DOING RIGHT.

  1. General of the 2nd French Brigade at the Battle of Waterloo

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1950, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 72 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.