The Bishop and the Caterpillar
I loved this story as a child.
THE BISHOP AND THE CATERPILLAR
by Mary E Manners
The Bishop sat in the Schoolmaster's chair :
The Rector, and Curates two, were there,
The Doctor, the Squire,
The heads of the Choir,
And the Gentry around of high degree,
A highly distinguished company;
For the Bishop was greatly beloved in his See !
And there, below,
A goodly show,
Their faces with soap and with pleasure aglow,
Sat the dear little school-children, row upon row ;
For the Bishop had said ('twas the death-blow to schism).
He would hear those dear children their Catechism.
And then to complete
The pleasure so sweet
Of these nice little children so pretty and neat,
He'd invited them to a magnificent treat !
And filled were the minds of these dear little ones
With visions of cakes, and of "gay Sally Lunns,"
Of oceans of tea, and unlimited buns
(The large ones called " Bath," not the plain penny ones).
I think I have read,
Or at least heard it said :
"Boys are always in mischief, unless they're in bed."
I put it to you,
I don't say it's true,
But if you should ask for my own private view,
I should answer at once, without further ado :
"I don't think a boy can be trusted to keep
From mischief in bed — unless he's asleep!"
But the Schoolmaster's eye hath a magic spell,
And the boys were behaving remarkably well —
For boys ; and the girls — but 'tis needless to say
Their conduct was perfect in every way ;
For I'm sure 'tis well known in all ranks of society.
That girls always behave with the utmost propriety.
Now the Bishop arises, and waves his hand ;
And the children prepared for his questions stand ;
With admiring eyes his form they scan ;
He was a remarkably fine-looking man !
His apron was silk of the blackest dye,
His lawn the finest money could buy ;
His sleeves and his ruffles than snow were whiter,
He'd his best shovel-hat, and his second-best mitre.
With benignant glance he gazed around —
You might have heard the slightest sound ! —
With dignified mien and solemn look
He slowly opened his ponderous book,
And proceeded at once the knowledge to try
Of those nice little children standing by.
Each child knew its name.
And who gave it the same.
And all the rest of the questions profound
Which his Lordship was pleased to the school to propound.
Nor less did secular knowledge abound.
For the Bishop, to his great pleasure, found
That they knew the date when our Queen was crowned,
And the number of pence which make up a pound ;
And the oceans and seas which our island bound ;
That the earth is nearly, but not quite, round ;
Their orthography, also, was equally sound,
And the Bishop, at last, completely astound-
In a tone of pride,
"You bright little dears, no question can trouble you,
You've spelled knife with a K! and wrong with a W!
And now that my pleasing task's at an end,
I trust you will make of me a friend :
You've answered my questions, and 'tis but fair
That I in replying should take a share ;
So if there is aught you would like to know.
Pray ask me about it before I go.
I'm sure it would give me the greatest pleasure
To add to your knowledge, for learning's a treasure
Which you never can lose, and which no one can steal;
It grows by imparting, so do not feel
Afraid or shy.
But boldly try.
Which is the cleverer, you or I!"
Thus amusement with learning judiciously blending,
His Lordship made of his speech an ending.
And a murmur went round of "How condescending!"
But one bright little boy didn't care a jot
If his Lordship were condescending or not ;
For, with scarce a pause
For the sounds of applause,
He raised his head,
And abruptly said :
"How many legs has a Caterpillar got ? "
Now the Bishop was a learned man,
Bishops always were since the race began,
But his knowledge in that particular line
Was less than yours, and no greater than mine ;
And, except that he knew the creature could crawl.
He knew nothing about its legs at all —
Whether the number were great or small,
One hundred, or five, or sixty, or six, —
So he felt in a "pretty consid'rable fix!"
But, resolving his ignorance to hide.
In measured tones he thus replied :
"The Caterpillar, my dear little boy,
Is an emblem of life and a vision of joy !
It bursts from its shell on a bright green leaf,
It knows no care and it feels no grief."
Then he turned to the Rector and whispered low, -
"Mr. Rector, how many ? You surely must know."
But the Rector gravely shook his head,
He hadn't the faintest idea, he said.
So the Bishop turned to the class again,
And in tones paternal took up the strain :
"The Caterpillar, dear children, see.
On its bright green leaf from care lives free.
And it eats, and eats, and grows bigger and bigger,
(Perhaps the Curates can state the figure?)"
But the Curates couldn't; the Bishop went on.
Though he felt that another chance was gone.
"So it eats, and eats, and it grows and grows,
(Just ask the Schoolmaster if he knows.)"
But the Schoolmaster said that that kind of knowledge
Was not the sort he had learned at college.
"And when it has eaten enough, then soon
It spins for itself a soft cocoon,
And then it becomes a chrysalis —
I wonder which child can spell me this ?
'Tis rather a difficult word to spell —
(Just ask the Schoolmistress if she can tell.) "
But the Schoolmistress said, as she shook her grey curls,
She considered such things were not proper for girls.
The word was spelled, and spelled quite right,
Those nice little boys were so awfully bright !
And the Bishop began to get into a fright,
His face grew red — it was formerly white —
And the hair on his head stood nearly upright ;
He was almost inclined to take refuge in flight,
But he thought that would be too shocking a sight ;
He was at his wits' end — nearly — not quite,
For the Pupil Teachers caught his eye.
He thought they might know — at least he would try-
Then he anxiously waited for their reply :
But the Pupil Teachers enjoyed the fun,
And they wouldn't have told if they could have done.
So he said to the Beadle, "Go down in the street,
And stop all the people you chance to meet,
I don't care who,
Any one will do ;
The old woman selling lollipops.
The little boys playing with marbles and tops,
Or respectable people who deal at the shops ;
The crossing-sweeper, the organ-grinder,
Or the fortune-teller, if you can find her.
Ask any or all,
Short or tall,
Great or small, it matters not —
How many legs has a Caterpillar got ? "
The Beadle bowed, and was off like a shot
From a pop-gun fired, or that classical arrow
Which flew from the bow of the wicked cock-sparrow.
Now the Bishop again put on a smile,
And the children, who had been waiting meanwhile,
In their innocent hearts imagined that these
(They were spoken aside)
To the weighty affairs of the Diocese.
"The Caterpillar is doomed to sleep
For months — a slumber long and deep.
Brown and dead
It looks, 'tis said,
It never even requires to be fed ;
And, except that sometimes it waggles its head,
Your utmost efforts would surely fail
To distinguish the creature's head from its tail.
But one morning in spring,
When the birds loudly sing,
And the earth is gay with blossoming ;
When the violets blue
Are wet with dew,
And the sky wears the sweetest cerulean hue !
When on all is seen
The brightest sheen —
When the daisies are white, and the grass is green ;
Then the chrysalis breaks,
The insect awakes, —
To the realms of air its way it takes ;
It did not die,
It soars on high,
A bright and a beauteous butterfly ! "
Here he paused and wiped a tear from his eye ;
The Beadle was quietly standing by,
And perceiving the lecture had reached its close,
Whispered, softly and sadly, "Nobody knows ! "
The Bishop saw his last hope was vain,
But to make the best of it he was fain ;
So he added, "Dear children, we ever should be
Prepared to learn from all we see,
And beautiful thoughts of hope and joy
Fill the heart, I know, of each girl and boy !
Oh, ponder on these, and you will not care
To know the exact allotted share
Of legs the creature possessed at its birth.
When it crawled, a mean worm, on this lowly earth.
Yet, if you know it, you now may tell,
Your answers so far have pleased me well."
Then he looked around with benignant eye,
Nor long did he wait for the reply.
For the bright little boy, with a countenance gay.
Said, "Six, for I counted 'em yesterday ! "
To all who have children under their care,
Of two things, nay, three things, I pray you beware —
Don't give them too many "unlimited buns,"
Six each (Bath) is sufficient, or twelve penny ones ;
Don't let them go in for examination,
Unless you have given them due preparation.
Or the questions, asked with the kindest intention,
May be rather a strain on their powers of invention.
Don't pretend you know everything under the sun,
Though your school-days are ended, and theirs but begun.
But honestly say, when the case is so,
"This thing, my dear children, I do not know ; "
For they really must learn, either slower or speedier,
That you're not a walking Encyclopaedia!