The Children in the Wood: An Instructive Tale
This is a popular children’s book published by Darton and Harvey in 1806 and is based on the traditional tale ‘Babes in the Wood’. This book is rare and is unique to the five libraries being explored by the NCCB project. The book features a number of unusual full-colour illustrations, which depict the death of the children’s parents and other scenes from the story. ‘Babes in the Wood’ is frequently referenced in various ways in children’s literature throughout the centuries, from brief citations of the tale to rewritings such as this. In the original tale, the two children are left by their uncle to die in the forest, in order to acquire their inheritance. The children’s bodies are covered with leafs by robins, and their uncle is not brought to justice. However, in this book, with its slightly altered title and added subtitle which suggests a more directed purpose, the children do not die and are rescued from the woods by an old woman. The woman finds them a place in the School of Industry where they learn useful trades. The ‘ruffian’ hired by their uncle to kill them is apprehended and tells of their uncle’s plot to kill the children. Following the death of their uncle, the children return to their uncle’s estate, rename it ‘Happy Dell’ and live there in peace. Throughout, much emphasis is placed on the children’s goodness, honesty, and industry in comparison to their uncle’s laziness and dishonesty. For example, the children are much pleased with the ‘Vale of Content’ which they visit on the way to their uncle’s house, where ‘the rich took care to assist the poor, and see that their children were well educated, and employed as soon as they were able to work’ (31). Of further significance are the instructional stories the children tell each other at the beginning of the narrative, prior to their parents’ deaths. In one story, Ellen, a little girl, has her lamb stolen by an eagle. She is very distressed, particularly when her mother tells her the eagle will bring the lamb to his nest to devour it. However, the eagle drops the lamb and Ellen is reunited with her pet. The children discuss this before they are called because their parents are dying, though they do not understand what dying means. Significantly, another more vivid illustration of the lamb being stolen by the eagle is placed alongside an illustration of their parents’ deathbed scene, perhaps foreshadowing the children’s fate.
Place of Publication:
Darton & Harvey
Date of Publication:
69,  p. : ill. ; 14.4 cm.
Copy Specific Notes:
No title page; some pages are bound in wrong order
Folklore, Moral, Death, Edition of Interest, Orphan, Murder, Rewritings of Traditional Tales, Instructional, Industry
Pollard Collection - TCD