Hilaire Belloc, Meet Edward Gorey

The astonishingly prolific Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953) lived to see the humor in being remembered for a book of light verse he published in 1907, Cautionary Tales for Children.  The cautionary tale, with its ghoulish mission to prevent juvenile misbehavior, can, for some children, be the stuff of nightmares.  Overkill is its mad method, as the  transgression is always imagined in a worst case scenario so that the dire punishment hardly ever fits the crime.

Mr. Belloc’s tongue-in-cheek self-defense of the exaggeration for satiric effect isn’t going to convince anyone without a black sense of humor themselves:  ” And is it True?  It is not true. / And if it were it wouldn’t do, / For people such as me and you / Who pretty nearly all day long / Are doing something rather wrong. / Because if things were really so, / You would have perished long ago / And I would not have lived to write / The noble lines that meet your sight, / Nor [Edward G.] survived to draw / The nicest things you ever saw.”    Maybe Calvin Trillin is right in saying parents find Belloc hillarious; children have to grow up and deal with their own offspring before they can titter at his brand of beastliness.

The late Edward Gorey (can it be that he has been gone for 20 years) was the ideal illustrator for Belloc, as can be seen in the illuminating self-portrait and his cover design for the poems., which shows shows the black forefinger of Fate pointing to the children gambolling across the grass, little thinking they are doomed.

In this second post in honor of  Children’s Book Week, Sir Peter Ustinov reads a selection of Belloc’s tales with Gorey’s illustrations scrolling in the background.

And here is the author himself, in a most memorable pose reproduced from the collection of the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Gorey, Feiffer, and Stamaty Drawings in William Cole’s Poetry-Drawing Book!

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The Poetry-Drawing Book (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960) was supposed to provide children with a substitute for coloring books, which co-editors William Cole and Julia Colmore believed were “insulting to their imagination and intelligence” with “the banal and badly drawn” pictures.  Their volume was designed with a blank page facing each poem, space for a boy or girl to draw whatever ideas the reading of the poem prompted.  To facilitate self-expression with pencil, crayons, or watercolors, the book was spiral-bound so that it would lay flat on a table (or the floor).  Cole and Colmore argued that this concept would encourage “a child’s innate sense of color and design, and to give free rein to his imagination.  At the same time our book functions as an introduction to the magical world of poetry.”

Bill Cole was not an educator, but a journalist, publicity director, publisher, board member of the  Poetry Society of America and Poets and Writers, and connoisseur of light verse and knock-knock jokes.  The Poetry-Drawing Book was just one of many anthologies he produced for children over his long career.

cole_ungererCotsen’s collection of manuscripts includes a very special copy of The Poetry-Drawing Book, whose purchase was underwritten several years ago by the Friends of the Princeton University Library.  It belonged to Cole  and his penciled initials are in the upper-left-hand corner just above the plates the clown is juggling.  Cole and Colmore claimed that the book had been “tried out on hundreds of children” and perhaps a few of the “enriching, enlightening, and often hilarious” results were selected to go on the cover.ctsn_ms_unproc_item_4347646_coverCole’s son Rossa grew up to be a professional photographer, but the Cotsen copy of The Poetry-Activity Book does not happen to be filled with the little boy’s drawings.   Cole intended it to be a showcase for somewhat older aspiring artists.

There is a drawing by the thirty-one-year old Jules Feiffer, political satirist and illustrator of Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth.

To deliver a message of good cheer satirist Jules Feiffer, photographed in New York City, March 3, 1976, has chosen theater rather than cartoons. The result is "Knock Knock," his hit Broadway farce. (AP Photo/Jerry Mosey)

Jules Feiffer in 1976 (AP Photo/Jerry Mosey).

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Feiffer was born in 1929. If he was thirty-one when he painted this rather ominous feline, then he must have done it in 1960.

And another by twenty-eight-year old cartoonist Mark Alan Stamaty, author/illustrator of Who Needs Doughnuts (1973) and Alia’s Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq (2004).

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If Stamaty was born in 1947 and he drew the rootin’ tootin’ shootin’ television when he was twenty-eight, then his page was completed in 1975.

Another surprise is this elaborate color drawing by a master of the macabre in black and white, Edward Gorey, then thirty six.edward-gorey-3

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This enchanting vision of the snake in the garden would have been executed in 1961 by the thirty-six-year-old Gorey, who was born in 1929.

And that’s what happens when you give an artist a blank page…

There is an array of  the famous Pere Castor activity books on the Cotsen virtual exhibitions page.