The Bird, by Helen Allingham, RWS (1848-1926). Frontispiece to William Allingham's Rhymes for the Young Folk (1887), illustrating a poem of that title on p.41, in which the children try to tempt the bird to become their pet. A cage door swings open invitingly inside the window. The bird, however, prefers its freedom to any amount of spoiling, and flies away. "Can running water be drunk from gold? / Can a silver dish the forest hold?" it responds rhetorically, concluding, "A rocking twig is the finest chair, / And the softest paths lie through the air" — before taking its leave.

Although Helen Allingham told Thomas Hardy firmly in 1880 that she had given up book illustration (see "Helen Paterson Allingham"), she was known for her earlier work in children's books, and she was bound to help illustrate her own husband's poems. William Allingham (1824-1889) was a poet of Anglo-Irish origin, and one of the Pre-Raphaelite circle, and it is easy to see the influence of that movement in all the separate ivy leaves in this composition. It is rather cloying for today's taste, matching the poems themselves (Allingham is better remembered now as a diarist), and lacks the distinctive character of Kate Greenaway's work. But it is charming in its own way.

Sources

Allingham, William. Rhymes for the Young Folk. London: Cassell, 1887. Internet Archive.. Web. 8 May 2013.

Carpenter, Humphrey, and Mari Prichard. The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature. Corrected ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1985. Print.

Trotter, Bob. The Hilltop Writers: A Victorian Colony among the Surrey Hills. Headley Down, Hampshire: John Owen Smith, 2003. See pp. 87-90. Print.

Victorian Web Victorian Book Illustration Helen
Allingham

Last modified 8 May 2013