Old Story Books
by Eliza Cook
Old Story Books! Old Story Books! we owe ye much, old friends,
Bright-colour’d threads in Memory’s warp, of which Death holds the ends.
Who can forget ye! who can spurn the ministers of joy
That waited on the lisping girl and petticoated boy?
I know that ye could win my heart when every bribe or threat
Fail’d to allay my stamping rage, or break my sullen pet.
A “promised story” was enough—I turn’d, with eager smile,
To learn about the naughty “pig that would not mount the stile.”
There was a spot in days of yore whereon I used to stand,
With mighty question in my head and penny in my hand;
Where motley sweets and crinkled cakes made up a goodly show;
And “story books,” upon a string, appear’d in brilliant row.
What should I have? The peppermint was incense in my nose;
But I had heard of “hero Jack,” who slew his giant foes:
My lonely coin was balanced long before the tempting stall,
‘Twixt book and bull’s-eye—but, forsooth! “Jack” got it after all.
Talk of your “vellum, gold emboss’d,” “morocco,” “roan,” and “calf,’
The blue and yellow wraps of old were prettier by half;
And as to pictures—well we know that never one was made,
Like that where “Bluebeard “swings aloft his wife-destroying blade.
“Hume’s England”—pshaw! what history of battles, states, and men,
Can vie with Memoirs all about “sweet little Jenny Wren?”
And what are all the wonders that e’er struck a nation dumb,
To those recorded as perform’d by “Master Thomas Thumb?”
Miss “Riding Hood,” poor luckless child! my heart grew big with dread,
When the grim “wolf,” in grandmamma’s best bonnet show’d his head;
I shudder’d when, in innocence, she meekly peep’d beneath,
And made remarks about “great eyes,” and wonder’d at “great teeth.”
And then the “House that Jack built,” and the “Bean-stalk Jack cut down,”
And “Jack’s eleven brothers,” on their travels of renown;
And “Jack,” whose crack’d and plaster’d head insured him lyric fame
These, these, methinks, make “vulgar Jack” a rather classic name.
Fair “Valentine,” I loved him well; but better still the bear
That hugg’d his brother in her arms with tenderness and care.
I linger’d spell-bound o’er the page, though eventide wore late;
And left my supper all untouch’d, to fathom “Orson’s” fate.
Then “Robin with his merry men,” a noble band were they;
We’ll never see the like again, go hunting where we may.
In Lincoln garb, with bow and barb, rapt Fancy bore me on,
Through Sherwood’s dewy forest paths close after “Little John.”
“Miss Cinderella” and her “shoe” kept long their reigning powers,
Till harder words and longer themes beguiled my flying hours;
And “Sinbad,” wondrous sailor he, allured me on his track;
And set me shouting when he flung the old man from his back.
And, oh! that tale—the matchless tale, that made me dream at night
Of “Crusoe’s “shaggy robe of fur, and “Friday’s “death-spurr’d flight;
Nay, still I read it, and again in sleep will come to me
The savage dancers on the sand—the raft upon the sea.
Old Story Books! Old Story Books! I doubt if “Season’s Feast”
Provides a dish that pleases more than “Beauty and the Beast;”
I doubt if all the ledger leaves that bear a sterling sum,
Yield happiness like those that told of “Master Homer’s plum.”
Old Story Books! Old Story Books! I never pass ye by
Without a sort of furtive glance—right loving, though ‘tis sly;
And fair suspicion may arise, that yet my spirit cleaves
To dear “Old Mother Hubbard’s Dog” and “All Baba’s Thieves.”
from Poems (1840) by Eliza Cook