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Stories Before 1850. 0084: Anon., Perfidy Detected! or, The Children in the Wood Restored

Author: Anon.
Title: Perfidy Detected! or, The Children in the Wood Restored, By Honestas, the Hermit of the Forest: Who were supposed to have been either murdered or starved to death, by order of their inhuman Uncle, being The Continuation of the History of the Children In The Wood
Cat. Number: 0084
Date: No date
1st Edition:
Pub. Place: Banbury
Publisher: J. G. Rusher, Bridge-Street
Price: 1d
Pages: 1 vol., 18pp.
Size: 10 x 6.5 cm
Illustrations: Wood-cut frontispiece and seven further cuts

Images of all pages of this book

Page 004 of item 0084

Introductory essay

The Children in the Wood, sometimes known by the alternative title of The Babes in the Wood, had been in print in England since the sixteenth century. From then, all the way through to the nineteenth century, it appeared in chapbooks and broadsides, in prose and in verse, and, from the early 1800s, as a pantomime for the stage. The Hockliffe Collection has several renderings of the story. These range from a version in Benjamin Tabart's collection of Popular Tales (0043: begins p.25), which did so much to rehabilitate this kind of traditional story for polite society, to one of Randolph Caldecott's celebrated Picture Books from 1879 (0740), which provided lavish, colourful illustrations to accompany an eighteenth-century verse text. In between came Bysh's Edition of the History of the Children in the Wood (0085), published sometime between 1820 and 1830. Probably at about the same time, J. G. Rusher of Banbury published these sequels.

The traditional version of The Children in the Wood ends with the discovery of the corpses of the two luckless children, although their bodies have been miraculously preserved, thanks to a friendly robin which had covered them with leaves. The narrative had started with the death of the children's parents. They had then been placed in the care of their uncle. Determined to inherit the fortune due to them, he had ordered his nephew and niece to be taken to the forest and killed. Two ruffians had been hired for the job, and even though one had refused to murder the children, and had killed his more barbarous accomplice, the children had been left in the forest to die pathetically in one another's arms. This tale was no more bloody than Blue Beard or Jack the Giant-Killer, say, but objections were raised to children reading such a melancholy, not to say brutal, tale. In her campaign against fairy tales, for instance, this was useful ammunition for Sarah Trimmer. A sequel provided a useful means of appending a happy ending while leaving intact an established, popular tale. Just as today, sequels also provided a good chance of profit for the publishers, being one more title to sell, but also capitalising on already known characters and situations. In Rusher's sequel the children in the wood do not die, but are taken in by Honestas, a hermit-like farmer who had retired to the deepest recesses of the forest when his own children were abducted by Scottish raiders. When a hunt passes by, the children Honestas has taken in recognise their father as one of the huntmen, for his death had been mistakenly reported. Not only can this family live happily ever after, but Honestas, upon revisiting his old home, finds that his children have also returned.

Rusher's of Banbury was a leading producer of chapbooks, but one about whom little is known. John Golby Rusher (1784-1877) succeeded his father William (1759-1849) in his printing business, and established Banbury as an important publishing centre. Beyond this meagre data, we have only Rusher's own description of his enterprise to go on. His Galloping Guide to the ABC contains this verse:

At RUSHER'S fam'd Warehouse,
Books, Pictures and Toys,
Are selling to please all
The good Girls and Boys:
For youth of all ages
There's plenty in store,
Amusement, instruction,
For rich and for poor. (Stockham 1980, 29)

Because J. G. Rusher published for so long (the British Library has a collection of 'Banbury Lists' - annual directories of local information - the first of which is dated 1812 and the last 1874) - it is difficult to establish the publication dates of his productions. As an estimate of the date of these editions of The Children in the Wood Restored, based purely on their appearance, 1820-1830 does not seem wholly improbable. Rusher's two versions use the same text, although it has been re-set for the later edition, which seems likely to be 0083. The title-page of 0083 uses a more modern typeset than that of 0084, and it has dispensed with the rather crude wood-cut frontispiece, compensating the reader with several additional cuts in the body of the text. These have been purloined from other works, rather than designed especially for this book, with the original story of The Children in the Wood having been raided for several of the 'new' cuts (e.g. pp.7 and 9). Perhaps this indicates that Rusher no longer necessarily expected readers of the sequel to be familiar with the original story. In other respects, the later edition has been pared down. It is printed on thiner paper, folded into slightly smaller paper. And it is shorter by two pages because a separate cover of blue, sugar-paper has not been added (although it it is possible that it has simply not survived). The inside front cover (on blue paper, with a book-list of Rusher's publications) and the first page of the main body of the book (two four-line stanzas of verse along with two small cuts) of 0084 have not been digitised. For other texts in the Hockliffe Collection published by Rusher see 0012, 0022, 0093, 0112, 0474, 0475, 0476, 0679, 0682 and 0689.

Stockham, Peter, 'On Selling Children's Books', The Private Library, 3rd ser., 3, i (Spring 1980), 21-36