Today’s Bad Child of History is, in my estimation, not bad so much as annoying. His name is Jack, and he comes from Charles Bennett’s 1863 book Little Breeches.
Unlike other bad children, who crash about with no regard for the mess they leave behind, or for the stress they cause to undeserving nurses and kind butchers, Jack is a bit of a hand-wringer.
Here one can see Jack in his perpetual state, namely: positively beside himself with terror. In true 19th-century style, he wanders about the countryside completely unsupervised, leading to a series of terrifying encounters with scary animals, after each of which he wails for his father.
A “genteel Wasp” inquires about the time (which would, truthfully, give me a fright, as well); an upright cat in a jacket with some sort of lumpy club asks “civilly” for directions; a Francophone gander wearing a Chemex as a hat says nothing at all; and yet each time, Jack shouts for assistance.
Why is he crying for his father? Well, “when anybody said anything to him, he was afraid lest they should hurt him; so he would call out ‘Father!’ as loud as he could, although his father might not be near at the time, and if he were would only be very angry with him for being so silly.”
As if this isn’t scary enough, Jack also encounters a spider who needs help finding a fly, an oversized frog in pants (alarming enough to cause Jack to fall into the pond), and a bull who is inexplicably wearing leather breeches, smoking a pipe, and enjoying a mug of beer.
Seeing Jack’s state of abject terror, the bull wisely offers him some of the beer (for what negates fear like a mug of ale that probably just had bull lips on it?). Of course, in response, Jack (you guessed it) cries “Father!”
If this is truly to be the story of a Bad Child of History, of course, something ill must befall Jack such that he learns his lesson.
“Very well,” said the Bull, looking after him. “I tell you what it is: if you come crying ‘Father’ to me any more, I think I know where you’ll go to.”
And the next morning the silly boy did meet the Bull again; again the Bull offered him some beer; the boy cried “Father!” and the Bull, who always kept his word, ran after him. Where do you think he went to?
Why, up into the withered tree, for that was where the old Bull tossed him, and there he is now for all I know.