Oct. 6, 2002

Matilda Who Told Lies, and Was Burned to Death

by Hilaire Belloc

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Poem: "Matilda Who Told Lies, and Was Burned to Death," by Hilaire Belloc from Complete Verse (Pimlico).

Matilda Who Told Lies, and Was Burned to Death

Matilda told such Dreadful Lies,
It made one Gasp and Stretch one's Eyes;
Her Aunt, who, from her Earliest Youth,
Had kept a Strict Regard for Truth,
Attempted to Believe Matilda:
The effort very nearly killed her,
And would have done so, had not She
Discovered this Infirmity.
For once, towards the Close of Day,
Matilda, growing tired of play,
And finding she was left alone,
Went tiptoe to the Telephone
And summoned the Immediate Aid
Of London's Noble Fire-Brigade.
Within an hour the Gallant Band
Were pouring in on every hand,
From Putney, Hackney Downs, and Bow
With Courage high and Hearts a-glow
They galloped, roaring through the Town,
'Matilda's House is Burning Down!'
Inspired by British Cheers and Loud
Proceeding from the Frenzied Crowd,
They ran their ladders through a score
Of windows on the Ball Room Floor;
And took Peculiar Pains to Souse
The Pictures up and down the House,
Until Matilda's Aunt succeeded
In showing them they were not needed;
And even then she had to pay
To get the Men to go away!

It happened that a few Weeks later
Her Aunt was off to the Theatre
To see that Interesting Play
The Second Mrs Tanqueray.
She had refused to take her Niece
To hear this Entertaining Piece:
A Deprivation Just and Wise
To Punish her for Telling Lies.
That Night a Fire did break out -
You should have heard Matilda Shout!
You should have heard her Scream and Bawl,
And throw the window up and call
To People passing in the Street -

(The rapidly increasing Heat
Encouraging her to obtain
Their confidence) - but all in vain!
For every time She shouted 'Fire!'
They only answered 'Little Liar'!
And therefore when her Aunt returned,
Matilda, and the House, were Burned.

It's the birthday of architect Le Corbusier, born Charles Edouard Jeanneret-Gris in Le-Chaux-de-Fonds, France (1887). He once said, "A house is a machine for living in," and believed that precise mechanization of the environment could uplift man to an ideal level.

It's the birthday of editor George Horace Lorimer, born in Louisville, Kentucky (1867 -- some sources say 1868), who edited the Saturday Evening Post from 1899 to 1936. He was able to raise the magazine's circulation from eighteen hundred in 1908 to more than three million in the 1920s. He commissioned top writers such as Jack London, Willa Cather, Rudyard Kipling, Frank Norris, and Theodore Dreiser to contribute their material. In 1916, he began hiring Norman Rockwell to create the front covers for the magazine.

It's the birthday of soprano Jenny Lind, born in Stockholm, Sweden (1820), who made her London debut in 1847. Her manager wrote, "The struggle for entrance was violent beyond precedent." The phrase 'a Jenny Lind crush' became a proverbial expression. The Times reported, "torn dresses and evening coats reduced to rags; ladies fainting in the pressure and even gentlemen carried out senseless."

It's the birthday of engineer and inventor George Westinghouse, born in Central Bridge, New York (1846). His most famous invention was the air brake for trains, in 1869.

It's the birthday of novelist and critic Caroline Gordon, born in Merry Mont, Kentucky (1895). Caroline Gordon grew up in the ease of the plantations of the South, and the slow southern style influenced Gordon's life and her life's work. After marrying her husband, Allen Tate, in 1924 in New York, she bought with him a large house back in Clarksville, Tennessee, and set up what became a mecca for some of America's greatest writers. It was called Benfolly. She was known as a great storyteller, with works like Penhally, Aleck Maury, Sportsman, and The Women on the Porch. She was a great influence on writers like Katherine Anne Porter and Flannery O'Connor, who said of her stories: "…you walk through her stories like you are walking in a complete real world. And watch how the meaning comes from the things themselves and not from her imposing anything."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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