December 13, 2016

The World Turned Upside Down

        A title like Rhymes for Children Illustrated with Appropriate Wood-cuts kind of makes you wonder whether all the other children’s books were illustrated with inappropriate woodcuts.  But in fact the publisher probably felt quite pleased at finding appropriate illustrations for these poems, seeing as he clearly didn’t have them purpose made, but simply rifled through the boxes of old wood blocks in the basement looking for something to reuse.  Despite being published in 1919, the illustrations are distinctly nineteenth century in style, some even eighteenth century.  In some cases the insipid little poems match the illustrations so very appropriately that I wonder whether the publisher actually commissioned verse to match the available illustration.  In any case, this isn’t a very high-quality production and I would have thought that by 1919 children were expecting something better, but there is one illustration here that tickles my fancy greatly.  The poem it heads is entitled “The World Turned Upside Down,” and relates a rather abrupt tale of birds, fish, and small animals turning hunter and wiping out sportsmen.  But given the apparent making of the book, I wonder what this block was originally intended to illustrate.  [Addendum: While looking through something else, I discovered this image with the title "The Water Wonder, or Fishes Lords of Creation" attributed to an eighteenth century chap-book also entitled The World Turned Upside Down.  But the chap-books also reused wood blocks, so this still might not be the original usage.]
        The fish fishing for a man is obviously what inspired the poem, but you can also see that fish are flying in the air and birds swimming underwater, and a lamb is attacking a lion or wolf.  I'm not sure what the balls under the tree are - apples growing from the ground, perhaps?  “The World Turned Upside Down” was the name of a British ballad from the mid-seventeenth century, which had nothing to do with fish or birds or any of the rest of it, so the original block print doesn’t illustrate that.  It leaves me very curious as to what the original block print illustrated.  Anyway, I think it’s funny.

[Picture: The World Turned Upside Down, wood block print from Rhymes for Children, 1919 (Image from Internet Archive).]

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