The Ingoldsby Legends "Toes Turned Up To The Daisies!"

Richard Harris Barham

"Toes Turned Up To The Daisies!"

Context: The tragic old story of the Babes in the Woods is of course well known to nearly everyone. Barham's version of this tale about the two children abandoned to their death in the forest is a light and cheerful burlesque of the original. Here the parents die of a familiar malady caused by eating too many fresh plums and leave a modest fortune to their two children, naming a wicked uncle the guardian. No sooner are the parents "put to bed with a spade by the sexton" than the uncle leaves town with Jane and Johnny, ostensibly to educate them. Instead, he hires two ruffians to take them into the forest and dispose of them. The children, delighted with a ride on horseback, "prattle so nice on the journey/ That the rogues themselves wish to the heart/ They could finish the job by attorney." One vows he cannot do the foul deed, but the other points out that they have already been paid for it–"So out with your whinger at once,/ And scrag Jane, while I spiflicate Johnny." A duel ensues, in which the kindlier ruffian gives "the truculent rascal his gruel." Then he reassures the children and abandons them to their death. The wicked uncle, though he inherits all, does not prosper. He suffers from bad dreams, gout, indigestion, and worry; his crops fail and worse things follow:

There was hardly a day but some fox
Ran away with his geese and his ganders:
His wheat had the mildew, his flocks
Took the rot, and his horses the glanders;
His daughters drank rum in their tea,
His son, who had gone for a sailor,
Went down in a steamer at sea,
And his wife ran away with a tailor!
Obviously under a curse, the wicked uncle is shunned by everyone and eventually lands in the workhouse; finally his man confesses all to the authorities, and the uncle commits suicide. Barham provides a moral to the story:
Ponder well now, dear Parents, each word
That I've wrote, and when Sirius rages
In the dog-days, don't be so absurd
As to blow yourselves out with Green-gages!
Of stone-fruits in general be shy,
And reflect it's a fact beyond question
That Grapes, when they're spelt with an i,
Promote anything else but digestion.
And the reader is left to ponder the children's sad fate and the utter futility of their mother's last request:
"Now, think, 'tis your sister invokes
Your aid, and the last word she says is,
Be kind to those dear little folks
When our toes are turned up to the daisies!–"
. . .