Subtle this work is not – witty, macabre, amusing, candid, and deliciously scandalous, these short works will surely entertain and delight, lest one be entirely acquiesced to today’s political correctness.
It appears this journal of compositions and drawings was a collaboration of two sisters, a work continued over a few years, from circa 1900 to 1918. Pasted to front board, an informal acknowledgment leaf reads: “Odes of Olivia, Jot up by Grandma, Inspirations of Irene, for the Mirth of Mama.” A manuscript annotation in pencil reads “finished spring 1918.”
The authors’ clever quip, either intentionally or inadvertently, imparts impressions of inhabitants and visitors to such faraway places as Tibet, Vanuatu, Kashmir, Baghdad, Albania, Rangoon in Burma, Hong Kong, Brazil, as well as the folks of Great Britain of course.
The feature rhyme, on which the book is titled, is of an act of regretful petty thievery by an indigenous boy at Hog Harbour, a village in the island of Espiritu Santo in, Vanuatu. A remarkably detailed watercolour illustrates indigenous dress, food, and shelter, another shows one of the earliest missions. (In 1897 Dr. Bowie, who was then a Scottish missionary, established the first Presbyterian Church mission in Hog Harbour).
Interesting personae include a Sultan and harem of Baghdad (then still under Ottoman rule), a foolhardy Burmese man, a Chinese composer, an Albanian shepherd, and several wayward children. A swank impression is made of Lord Napier, drawn in his knighthood armour. (Napier was made a Knight of the Thistle in 1864). Decidedly English characters include a fictional “Pretty Polly Perkins,” while in the realm of fantasy, there is a mermaid and a winged fairy tale prince.
Particularly creative, is a rhyme about a Ling Chow, written in English, with the appearance upon first glance, to be an attempt at writing in Chinese. It is to be read top to bottom, starting at the right side.
Admittedly dreadful and thankfully fleeting thoughts captured in verse and skilfully illustrated!
Some examples from the journal:
“Mahitiphal Banks was a wife and a mother
She killed her first husband then took another
The children she spanks, she starves the poor cob
The baby she whoops him plump down on the hub”
“At the early age of six
Billy delt in cuff and kicks
Till his naughty wicked tricks
sent him whirling down the styx”
“The was a young man called Forsife
Who was weary to death of his life
Though he lived on tin’d beef
He found no relief
So he cut off his head with a knife”
“A very naughty boy is John
He will not have his clothes put on
He yells, he shrieks, he writhers, he raves
At last he’s drowned beneath the waves!”
The history and origins of most nursery rhymes reflect events in history.