The Ingoldsby Legends, by Thomas Ingoldsby

The Babes in the Wood; Or, the Norfolk Tragedy.

An Old Song to a New Tune.

When we were all little and good —

A long time ago I’m afraid, Miss —

We were told of the Babes in the Wood

By their false, cruel Uncle betray’d, Miss;

Their Pa was a Squire, or a Knight;

In Norfolk I think his estate lay —

That is, if I recollect right,

For I’ve not read the history lately.1

Rum ti, &c.

Their Pa and their Ma being seized

With a tiresome complaint, which, in some seasons,

People are apt to be teased

With, who’re not on their guard against plum-seasons,

Their medical man shook his head

As he could not get well to the root of it;

And the Babes stood on each side the bed,

While their Uncle, he stood at the foot of it.

‘Oh, Brother!’ their Ma whisper’d faint

And low, for breath seeming to labour, ‘Who’d

Tnink that this horrid complaint,

That’s been going about in the neighbourhood,

Thus should attack me, — nay, more,

My poor husband besides, — and so fall on him!

Bringing us so near Death’s door

That we can’t avoid making a call on him!

‘Now think, ’tis your Sister invokes

Your aid, and the last work she says is,

Be kind to those dear little folks

When our toes are turned up to the daisies! —

By the servants don’t let them be snubb’d, —

— Let Jane have her fruit and her custard, —

And mind Johnny’s chilblains are rubb’d

Well with Whitehead’s best essence of mustard.

‘You know they’ll be pretty well off in

Respect to what’s called ‘worldly gear,’

For John, when his Pa’s in his coffin,

Comes in to three hundred a-year;

And Jane’s to have five hundred pound

On her marriage paid down, ev’ry penny,

So you’ll own a worse match might be found,

Any day in the week, than our Jenny!’

Here the Uncle pretended to cry,

And, like an old thorough-paced rogue, he

Put his handkerchief up to his eye,

And devoted himself to Old Bogey

If he did not make matters all right,

And said, should he covet their riches,

He ‘wished the old Gentleman might

Fly away with him, body and breeches!’

No sooner, however, were they

Put to bed with a spade by the sexton,

Than he carried the darlings away

Out of that parish into the next one,

Giving out he should take them to town

And select the best school in the nation,

That John might not grow up a clown,

But receive a genteel education.

‘Greek and Latin old twaddle I call!’

Says he, ‘While his mind’s ductile and plastic,

I’ll place him at Dotheboys Hall

Where he’ll learn all that’s new and gymnastic.

While Jane, as, when girls have the dumps,

Fortune-hunters, by scores, to entrap ’em rise,

Shall go to those worthy old frumps,

The two Misses Tickler of Clapham Rise!’

Having thought on the How and the When

To get rid of his nephew and niece,

He sent for two ill-looking men,

And he gave them five guineas a-piece. —

Says he, ‘Each of you take up a child

On the crupper, and when you have trotted

Some miles through that wood lone and wild,

Take your knife out and cut its carotid!’

‘Done’ and ‘done’ is pronounced on each side,

While the poor little dears are delighted

To think they a-cock-horse shall ride,

And are not in the least degree frighted;

They say their ‘Ta! Ta!’ as they start,

And they prattle so nice on their journey,

That the rogues themselves wish to their heart

They could finish the job by attorney.

Nay, one was so taken aback

By seeing such spirit and life in them,

That he fairly exclaim’d, ‘I say, Jack,

I’m blow’d if I can put a knife in them!’ —

‘Pooh!’ says his pal, ‘you great dunce!

You’ve pouch’d the good gentleman’s money,

So out with your whinger at once,

And scrag Jane, while I spiflicate Johnny!’

He refused, and harsh language ensued,

Which ended at length in a duel,

When he that was mildest in mood

Gave the truculent rascal his gruel;

The Babes quake with hunger and fear,

While the ruffian his dead comrade, Jack, buries;

Then he cries, ‘Loves, amuse yourselves here

With the hips, and the haws, and the blackberries!

‘I’ll be back in a couple of shakes;

So don’t, dears, be quivering and quaking,

I’m going to get you some cakes,

And a nice butter’d roll that’s a-baking!’

He rode off with a tear in his eye,

Which ran down his rough cheek, and wet it,

As he said to himself with a sigh,

‘Pretty souls! — don’t they wish they may get it!!’

From that moment the Babes ne’er caught sight

Of the wretch who thus wrought their undoing,

But pass’d all that day and that night

In wandering about and ‘boo-hoo’-ing.’

The night proved cold, dreary, and dark,

So that, worn out with sighings and sobbings,

Next morn they were found stiff and stark,

And stone-dead, by two little Cock–Robins.

Wandering about and "Boo-hoo"-ing

These two little birds it sore grieves

To see what so cruel a dodge I call, —

They cover the bodies with leaves,

An interment quite ornithological;

It might more expensive have been,

But I doubt, though I’ve not been to see ’em,

If among those in all Kensal Green

You could find a more neat Mausoleum.

Now, whatever your rogues may suppose,

Conscience always makes restless their pillows,

And Justice, though blind, has a nose

That sniffs out all conceal’d peccadilloes.

The wicked old Uncle they say,

In spite of his riot and revel,

Was hippish and qualmish all day,

And dream’t all night long of the d — l.

He grew gouty, dyspeptic, and sour,

And his brow, once so smooth and so placid,

Fresh wrinkles acquired every hour,

And whatever he swallow’d turn’d acid

The neighbours thought all was not right,

Scarcely one with him ventured to parley,

And Captain Swing came in the night,

And burnt all his beans and his barley.

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!

It was clear he lay under a curse;

None would hold with him any communion,

Every day matters grew worse and worse,

Till they ended at length in The Union;

While his man being caught in some fact,

(The particular crime I’ve forgotten,)

When he came to be hanged for the act,

Split, and told the whole story to Cotton.

Understanding the matter was blown,

His employer became apprehensive

Of what, when ’twas more fully known,

Might ensue — he grew thoughtful and pensive;

He purchased some sugar-of-lead,

Took it home, popp’d it into his porridge,

Ate it up, and then took to his bed,

And so died in the workhouse at Norwich.


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. —

— When you set about making your will,

Which is commonly done when a body’s ill,

Mind, and word it with caution and skill,

And avoid, if you can, any codicil!

When once you’ve appointed an heir

To the fortune you’ve made, or obtain’d, ere

You leave a reversion beware

Whom you place in contingent remainder!

Executors, Guardians, and all

Who have children to mind, don’t ill treat them,

Nor think that, because they are small

And weak, you may beat them, and cheat them;

Remember that ‘ill-gotten goods

Never thrive;’ their possession’s but cursory,

So never turn out in the woods

Little folks you should keep in the nursery.

Be sure he who does such base things

Will ne’er stifle Conscience’s clamour;

His ‘riches will make themselves wings,’

And his property come to the hammer!

Then He, — and not those he bereaves,

Will have most cause for sighings and sobbings,

When he finds himself smother’d with leaves

(Of fat catalogues) heap’d up by Robins!

1 See Bloomfield’s History of the County of Norfolk, in which all the particulars of this lamentable history are (or ought to be) fully detailed, together with the names of the parties, and an elaborate pedigree of the family.

The incidents recorded in the succeeding Legend were communicated to a dear friend of our family by the late lamented Sir Walter Scott. The names and localities have been scrupulously retained, as she is ready to testify. The proceedings in this case are, I believe, recorded in some of our law reports, though I have never been able to lay my band upon them.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56