The Poet and his Little Daughter
by Mary Howitt
It was a June morning. Roses and yellow jasmine covered the
old wall in the Poet's garden. The little brown mason bees
flew in and out of their holds beneath the pink and white and
yellow flowers. Peacock-butterflies, with large blue eyes on their
crimson velvet wings, fluttered about and settled on the orange-brown
wall-flowers. Aloft, in the broad-leaved sycamore-tree, the
blackbird was singing as if he were out of his senses for joy; his
song was as loud as any nightingale, and his heart was glad, because
his young brood was hatched, and he knew that they now
sat with their little yellow beaks poking out of the nest, and thinking
what a famous bird their father was. All the robins and tomtits
and linnets and redstarts that sat in the trees of the garden
den shouted vivas and bravuras, and encored him delightfully.
The Poet himself sat under the double-flowering hawthorn,
which was then all in blossom. He sat on a rustic seat, and his
best friend sat beside him. Beneath the lower branches of the
tree was hung the canary-bird's cage, which the children had
brought out because the day was so fine, and the little canary loved
fresh air and the smell of flowers. It never troubled him that
other birds flew about from one end of the garden to the other, or
sat and sung on the leafy branches, for he loved his cage; and
when the old blackbird poured forth his grand melodies, the little
canary sat like a prince in a stage-box, and nodded his head, and
sang an accompaniment.
One of the Poet's children, his little daughter, sat in her own
little garden, which was full of flowers, while bees and butterflies
flitted about in the sunshine. The child, however, was not noticing
them; she was thinking only of one thing, and that was the
large daisy-root which was all in flower; it was the largest daisy-root
in the whole garden, and two-and-fifty double pink-and-white
daisies were crowded upon it. They were, however, no longer
daisies to the child's eyes, but two-and-fifty
little charity children in green stuff
gowns, and white tippets, and white linen
caps, that had a holiday given them. She
saw them all, with their pink cheeks and
bright eyes, running in a group and talking
as they went; the hum of the bees
around seeming to be the pleasant sound
of their voices. The child was happy to
think that two-and-fifty charity children
were let loose from school to run about in
the sunshine. Her heart went with them,
and she was so full of joy that she started
up to tell her father, who was sitting with
his best friend under the hawthorn-tree.
Sad and bitter thoughts, however, just
then oppressed the Poet's heart. He had
been disappointed where he had hoped for
good; his soul was under a cloud; and as
the child ran up to tell him about the
little charity children in whose joy she
thought he would sympathize, she heard
him say to his friend, "I have no longer
any hope of human nature now. It is a
poor miserable thing, and is not worth
working for. My
best endeavors have
been spent in its service,—my
and my manhood's
strength, my very
life,—and this is
my reward! I will
no longer strive to do good. I will write for money alone, as others
do, and not for the good of mankind!"
The Poet's words were bitter, and tears came into the eyes of
his best friend. Never had the child heard such words from her father
before, for he had always been to her as a great and good angel.
"I will write," said he, "henceforth for money, as others do,
and not for the good of mankind."
"My father, if you do," said the child, in a tone of mournful
indignation, "I will never read what you write! I will trample
your writings under my feet!"
Large tears rolled down her cheeks, and her eyes were fixed on
her father's face.
The Poet took the child in his arms and kissed her. An angel
touched his heart, and he now felt that he could forgive his bitterest
"I will tell you a story, my child," he said, in his usually mild
The child leaned her head against his breast, and listened.
"Once upon a time," he began, "there was a man who dwelt in
a great, wide wilderness. He was a poor man, and worked very
hard for his bread. He lived in a cave of a rock, and because the
sun shone burning hot into the cave, he twined roses and jessamines
and honeysuckles all around it; and in front of it, and on
the ledges of the rock, he planted ferns and sweet shrubs, and
made it very pleasant. Water ran gurgling from a fissure in the
rock into a little basin, whence it poured in gentle streams through
the garden, in which grew all kinds of delicious fruits. Birds
sang in the tall trees which Nature herself had planted; and little
squirrels, and lovely green lizards, with bright, intelligent eyes,
lived in the branches and among the flowers.
"All would have gone well with the man, had not evil spirits
taken possession of his cave. They troubled him night and day.
They dropped canker-blight upon his roses, nipped off his jasmine
and honeysuckle-flowers, and, in the form of caterpillars and blight,
ate his beautiful fruits.
"It made the man angry and bitter in his feelings. The flowers
were no longer beautiful to him, and when he looked on them he
thought only of the canker and the caterpillar.
"'I can no longer take pleasure in them,' he said; 'I will leave
the cave, and go elsewhere.'
"He did so; and travelled on and on, a long way. But it was
a vast wilderness in which he dwelt, and thus it was many and
many a weary day before he came to a place of rest; nor did he
know that all this time the evil spirits who had plagued him so in
his own cave were still going with him.
"But so they were. And they made every place he came to
seem worse than the last. Their very breath cast a blight upon
"He was footsore and weary, and very miserable. A feeling
like despair was in his heart, and he said that he might as well die
as live. He lay down in the wilderness, so unhappy was he, and
scarcely had he done so, when he heard behind him the pleasantest
sound in the world,—a little child singing like a bird, because her
heart was innocent and full of joy; and the next moment she
was at his side.
"The evil spirits that were about him drew back a little when
they saw her coming, because she brought with her a beautiful
company of angels and bright spirits,—little cherubs with round,
rosy cheeks, golden hair, and laughing eyes between two dove's
wings as white as snow. The child had not the least idea that
these beautiful spirits were always about her; all she knew was
that she was full of joy, and that she loved above all things to do
good. When she saw the poor man lying there, she went up to
him, and talked to him so pityingly, and yet so cheerfully, that he
felt as if her words would cure him. She told him that she lived
just by, and that he should go with her, and rest and get well in
"He went with her, and found that her cave was just such a
one as his own, only much smaller. Roses and honeysuckles and
jasmine grew all around it; and birds were singing, and goldfish
were sporting about in the water; and there were beds of
strawberries, all red and luscious, that filled the air with fragrance.
"It was a beautiful place. There seemed to be no canker nor
blight on anything. And yet the man saw how spiders had woven
webs like the most beautiful lace from one vine-branch to another;
and butterflies that once had been devouring caterpillars were
flitting about. Just as in his own garden, yellow frogs were
squatted under the cool green strawberry leaves. But the child
loved both the frogs and the green lizards, and said that they did
her no harm, and that there were plenty of strawberries both for
them and for her.
"The evil spirits that had troubled the man, and followed him,
could not get into the child's garden. It was impossible, because
all those rosy-cheeked cherubs and white-robed angels lived there;
and that which is good, be it ever so small, is a great deal stronger
than that which is evil, be it ever so large. They therefore sat
outside and bit their nails for vexation; and as the man stayed a
long time with the child, they got so tired of waiting that a good
number of them flew away forever.
"At length the man kissed the child and went back to his own
place; and when he got there he had the pleasure of finding that,
owing to the evil spirits having been so long away, the flowers and
fruits had, in great measure, recovered themselves. There was
hardly any canker or blight left. And as the child came now very
often to see him,—for, after all, they did not live so very far apart,
only that the man had wandered a long way round in the wilderness,—and
brought with her all the bright company that dwelt
with her, the place was freed, at least while she stayed, from the
"This is a true story, a perfectly true story," added the Poet,
when he had brought his little narrative to an end; "and there are
many men who live like him in a wilderness, and who go a long
way round about before they can find a resting-place. And happy
is it for such when they can have a child for their neighbor; for
our Divine Master has himself told us that blessed are little children,
and that of such is the kingdom of heaven!"
The Poet was silent. His little daughter kissed him, and then,
without saying a word about the little charity children, ran off to
sit down beside them again, and perhaps to tell them the story
which her father had just related to her.