Edith Nesbit

Edith Nesbit’s (1858-1924) stories were a big part of my childhood; I loved The Phoenix and the Carpet and the fantasy of being able to fly away to strange lands with a magical creature. The adventures of the Bastable family came a close second. I didn’t realise that Edith Nesbit wrote verse until I did a little digging around after reading Man of Parts (David Lodge) which tells of H.G.Well’s relationship with Edith Nesbit and her involvement with the Fabian Society.

I found a couple of Nesbit’s poems in The Oxford Book of Twentieth Century Verse, which I have used in an earlier post. I chose to post an extract of the following verse because it struck a chord with me. We spend a lifetime accumulating knowledge and skills which we hope to pass on to the next generation, but as the woman in Nesbit’s poem says, not everything can be written down and saved. I love the plea in the last line; I think I’d like to know something too.

The Things that Matter

Portrait of Edith Nesbit

Edith Nesbit

Now that I’ve nearly done my days,
 And grown too stiff to sweep or sew,
I sit and think, till I’m amaze,
About what lots of things I know:
 Things as I’ve found out one by one-
And when I’m fast down in the clay,
My knowing things and how they’re done
Will all be lost and thrown away.

There’s things, I know, as won’t be lost,
Things as folks write and talk about:
The way to keep your roots from frost,
And how to get your ink spots out.
What medicine’s good for sores and sprains,
What way to salt your butter down,
What charms will cure your different pains,
And what will bright your faded gown.

But more important things than these,
They can’t be written in a book:
How fast to boil your greens and peas,
And how good bacon ought to look;
The feel of real good wearing stuff,
The kind of apple as will keep,
The look of bread that’s rose enough,
And how to get a child asleep.

Forgetting seems such silly waste!
I know so many little things,
And now the Angels will make haste
To dust it all away with wings!
O God, you made me like to know,
You kept the things straight in my head,
Please God, if you can make it so,
Let me know something when I’m dead.

Poem originally published in the Rainbow and the Rose (Longman, 1905)

I discovered the Edith Nesbit Society, devoted to discussing and promoting Edith Nesbit’s life and work while trawling the internet. It has occurred  to me that it would be useful to compile a directory of all of the literary societies that I come across in the course of my blogging. I think it would fit in alongside the Bibliography pages. It’s probably a long-term project, but these last few #PoetryinJune posts have made me realise just how many literary societies are active, so I would like to support them in a small way.

That’s all for today’s #PoetryinJune – check out the link above for more information on Edith Nesbit.

Picture Credit: Wikipedia – with thanks


Advent Reading Challenge: More Pudding

20th December

Conscience Pudding a story taken  from New Treasure Seekers written by E. Nesbit and illustrated by C. Walter Hodges (Ernest Benn Ltd, 1904, 1948)

line drawing of making the Christmas pudding

Making the Conscience pudding

I have always loved Edith Nesbit’s stories, particularly the three books about the enterprising Bastable children, Oswald, Dora, Noël, Alice, Dicky and H.O. who find imaginative ways of restoring the family fortunes when their father’s business fails.

This book is one of a bundle I picked up in a second-hand shop in Birmingham sometime in the early 1990s. It looked as though one family had been having a clear out as several volumes were inscribed with the name of ‘Arrowsmith’. It is not in brilliant condition, but certainly worth the few pennies I paid.

In this episode of the children’s adventures, the young entrepreneurs decide to make a Christmas pudding for themselves rather than suffer the ‘plain pudding’ that their father has instructed the cook to make. However, they have no money to buy ingredients and two of the younger children come up with an enterprising solution:

“It’s no good. You know we’ve got no tin.
“Ah,” said Alice, “but Noël and I went out, and we called at some of the houses in Granville Park and Dartmouth Hill – and we got a lot of sixpences and shillings, besides pennies, and one old gentleman gave us half a crown. He was so nice. Quite bald, with a knitted red-and blue-waistcoat. We’ve got eight-and –sevenpence.”

So after acquiring these riches, Alice and Dora sally forth to buy the ingredients from the grocer (who is kind enough to tell them that a cupful of ginger would be too much) and the children begin secretly to make the pudding:

“…we barricaded the nursery door and set to work. We were very careful to be quite clean. We washed our hands as well as the currants. I have sometimes thought we did not get all the soap off the currants. The pudding smelt like a washing-day when the time came to cut it open. And we washed a corner of the table to chop the suet on. Chopping suet looks easy till you try.” (see picture!)

Not exactly Jamie or Delia then! But where does the ‘conscience’ bit come in, I hear you ask. This is because the younger children collecting the money had asked for money to make a pudding for ‘poor children’. When the older children found out, they declared that the pudding had to be given away to some truly poor children, as it was dishonest to keep it.

This results in comical efforts to give the pudding way, ending in a trip to the workhouse in a desperate quest to salvage the family’s honour. This is not exactly a workhouse as depicted in Dickens, as the matron puts on Christmas entertainment for the older residents.

All’s well that ends well, when matron listens to the sorry tale and relieves the children of their ‘conscience pudding’ both literally and figuratively. An apt Christmas story in more ways than one…

The Humour of Dickens

Book cover of The Humour of Dickens featuring several characters

A little light Dickens…

My Reading Challenge has just taken a useful turn, as the members of my book club (all four of us!) have decided to read Charles Dickens this month as a contribution towards the centenary year. This means that I can read a book for my book challenge and tackle the latest book group choice at the same time. I am rather pleased about it, though unfortunately I cannot claim credit for the book club’s good idea.

I ran through a mental list of the Dickens titles that I have not yet read (the dreaded TBR Pile) and I thought of choosing Hard Times. My rationale was that Dickens based the story upon his experiences of Preston (re-naming it Coketown), and as I have lived in that very city it seemed a good reason to choose the book. Although, as I retain a great fondness for the Lancashire city, this may not prove to be wise move on my part. I have metaphorically crossed swords before now with authors who portray my favourite places in a bad light. I wouldn’t want to fall out with Dickens at his time of life.

Finally, I have settled on a compilation volume that I have had on the shelf for some time, The Humour of Dickens edited by R.J. Cruikshank. I have read this volume before, so is not strictly a TBR Pile candidate, but it is reading for sheer pleasure. It deserves a re-read especially in view of the brilliant illustrations it contains which add to the enjoyment enormously. The Humour of Dickens was published in 1952 (my copy has an inscription saying ‘Xmas 1953, from Mairi’) by the News Chronicle, London. The original price of the volume was a princely three shillings and sixpence. I did a quick out of print book search and discovered that copies of the Dickens anthology can now fetch up to around thirty pounds depending on the condition. You can also pay as little as sixty three pence plus postage, which would be more like my price. I can only hazard a guess that I probably paid a pound or so for my copy several years ago in (I think) Birmingham.

The collection has excerpts from fifteen of Dickens’ novels including Oliver Twist, Our Mutual Friend, Hard Times and The Pickwick Papers. I mentioned the illustrations above; there are twenty of these by well-known contemporary (and by now highly collectible) illustrators. One of my all time favourites is Edward Ardizzone (remember the Tim stories?) whose frontispiece drawing of ‘Dinner at the Veneerings’ endows the dinner party guests with more charm than they probably deserve. Other great cartoon artists represented in the collection regularly featured in the newspapers of the time: Horner of the News Chronicle, Low of the Daily Herald and Giles of the Daily Express to name but three. All are different in style but equally vivid in their interpretation of Dickens’ characters.    

I shall be in the right mindset to tackle Dickens since I am reading David Lodge’s novel about HG Wells, A Man of Parts at present. After rubbing shoulders with HG and his literary circle including Henry James and Edith Nesbit, I shall slide back into communing with Dickens quite smoothly I think. Apart from seasonal re-reading of A Christmas Carol it must be a long time since I have read any of Dickens novels. I was all prepared to take the plunge again after our book group had an outing last year to hear Claire Tomalin speaking about her Dickens biography. That plan fell by the wayside (until now), along with the intention of reading said biography. Dickens is still on my ‘to read’ list as I have previously very much enjoyed Claire Tomalin’s literary biographies.

In the meantime, Reading Challenge satisfied, I will be content with Charles Dickens’ funny bits….