CTS logo
Hockliffe logo
Fables and Fairy Tales Stories Before 1850 Stories After 1850 Periodicals and Annuals Religious Books, Bibles, Hymns, etc Books of Instruction Nursery Rhymes and Alphabets
Movable and Toy Books; Myths and Heroes Poetry, Verse and Rhymes; Games Games and Pastimes Natural Science Geography and Travel History and Biography Mathematics
Previous Next

Stories Before 1850. 0085: Anon., Bysh's Edition of the History of the Children in the Wood

Author: Anon.
Title: Bysh's Edition of the History of the Children in the Wood, Embellished with Eight Coloured Engravings. To which is added, The History of Joseph, and the Noble Basket Maker. Also, the Generous Blacksmith
Cat. Number: 0085
Date: No date but c.1829
1st Edition:
Pub. Place: London
Publisher: J. Bysh, 8, Cloth Fair, West Smithfield
Price: 6d
Pages: 1 vol., 36pp.
Size: 14 x 8 cm
Illustrations: Engraved and coloured frontispiece and one other page

Images of all pages of this book

Page 005 of item 0085

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. For its part, Bysh's edition of Children in the Wood contains two versions of the tale, one in prose and one in verse. Since together these filled less than half of the book's 36 pages, several other unrelated stories were included. The 'History of Joseph', the 'Noble Basket Maker', 'The Basket Maker' (c.f. 0121) and 'The Generous Blacksmith' are moral fables with no particular link to the rather a-moral title-story.

The Hockliffe Collection also possesses two chapbook sequels to the original story published by J. G. Rusher of Banbury (0083 and 0084). The traditional version of the tale 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 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 he has taken in recognise their father as one of the huntsmen, for his death had been mistakenly reported. Not only can this family live happily ever after, but the hermit-farmer, upon revisiting his old home, finds that his children have also returned.

This edition of The History of the Children in the Wood was published by J. Bysh of 8 Cloth Fair, West Smithfield, London. A publisher named John Bysh - or perhaps two separate men sharing the same name - was operating in London in the 1820s and then again in the early 1860s (although the Smithfield address does not appear as frequently as addresses in Paternoster Row for the earlier period, nor Albany Road for the later. See Brown 1982: p.31). This edition of The History of the Children in the Wood seems more likely to date from c.1829 than c.1860, although the book itself offers little substantiating evidence (the titles listed in the book-list on the back cover are too generic to be dated themselves). A comparison with the Hockliffe Collection's copy of The Voyages and Adventures of La Perouse (0253), published in 1829 with a very similar imprint, suggests a similar date for Children in the Wood. Also, a very similar book, Bysh's Edition of Tom Thumb, apparently in the same series, is bound together with the British Library's copy of Children in the Wood. It also bears the imprint 'For J. Bysh, 8, Cloth Fair, West Smithfield' but also records its printer as 'T. Richardson, 98, High Holborn'. According to Todd 1972, Thomas Richardson was printing at this address from 1821-30.

The book-list which ends Children of the Wood contains an impressive list of fairy tales and chapbook tales. These are advertsied alongside such diverse titles as Newbery's Goody Two-Shoes and Ann Taylor's famous poem My Mother (which first appeared in 1804 in Original Poems for Infant Minds), as well as several of Bysh's pedagogical primers. The popular tales had only two decades previously been thought unfit for well-bred children. That they should appear in such eclectic but approved company on Bysh's list demonstrates how respectable they had come since Benjamin Tabart and John Harris first began to market them as a legitimate and reputable form of children's book in the first years of the century (see essay accompanying 0043).

Brown, Philip A. H., London Publishers and Printers, c.1800-1870, London: British Library, 1982

Todd, William B., A Directory of Printers and others in Allied Trades, London and vicinity, 1800-1840, London: Historical Society printing, 1972