Saturday, 12 May 2012

The Prodigal Daughter; Or, Anna Taylor's Warning

The Prodigal Daughter; Or, A Strange and Wonderful Relation (or, indeed, The Disobedient Lady Reclaimed) is an eighteenth-century chapbook story about a "proud and disobedient daughter" who, at the instigation of the devil, attempts to poison her parents.

None of the early editions of this 248-line poem are dated, and the date-ranges suggested for the seventeen editions on ESTC are fairy wide, but a copy held by the American Antiquarian Society appears to be the earliest. It can be dated to "between 1742 and 1754" by the woodcut ornaments that appear before and after the text.

It is not possible to establish an exact sequence for the following sixteen editions on ESTC, but my copy—the 1799 edition printed in Hartford—is the last listed. Three copies of this edition are listed on ESTC, which is more than almost every other edition of the story. So, definitely a rare book.

When I went looking online for information about this story I pretty-much drew a blank. No copies of the text, no discussion of the story, and only a few brief mentions (and a few short quotes) appear in any of the books scanned by Google. I thought this was pretty odd, given the nature of the story, which I will summarise here:

The "fair" daughter of a Bristol merchant—guilty of disobedience, "Swearing and whoring, sabbath breaking too"—responds to her father's attempt to humble her pride by vowing to sell her soul for the money he has threatened to withhold. When he "strip[s] her of her rich array," said daughter calls upon the devil who advises her to poison her parents, which she promptly does.

But, the parents are tipped off by a meddling angel, and so they feed the poisoned meal to their dog! What the dog did to deserve to be knowingly-poisoned in this way, and what punishment the parents face for murdering their innocent dog, is not explained.

The daughter is confronted with her crime, swoons, and as the title-page says "lay in a trance four days; and when she was put into the grave, she came to life again, and related the wonderful things she saw in the other world." (That is, how she was denied entrance into Heaven, argued with the gate-keeper, is shown "the burning lake of misery", repents etc.)

The story is predicable, but fun. You have to wonder whether the story was bought and read by adults and children alike for its no-nonsense heroine and supernatural silliness (i.e, for fun), or if it was only bought by dour parents, who forced their children to read the tale in the vain hope that said long-suffering children would repent from [insert insignificant moral infraction] before trying their hand at poisoning.

Interestingly, this copy is inscribed "Anna Taylor's Book" in a contemporary hand. So perhaps, this didactic tale was Anna Taylor's warning from her parents: give up your disobedience, sabbath breaking, swearing and whoring(!), before you are dragged off to hell.

And, on that happy thought, here is the text of the 1799 edition [ESTC: w26926; Evans, 36166].

* * * * *

The Prodigal Daughter; Or, A Strange and Wonderful Relation. Shewing, how a Gentleman of great estate in Bristol, had a proud and disobedient daughter, who, because her parents would not support her in all her extravagance, bargained with the devil to poison them. How an angel informed them of her design. How she lay in a trance four days; and when she was put into the grave, she came to life again, and related the wonderful things she saw in the other world (Hartford: Printed for the Travelling Booksellers, 1799).

The Prodigal Daughter; Or, The Disobedient Lady Reclaimed.

LET every wicked graceless child attend,
And listen to these lines that here are penn'd;
God grant it may to all a warning be,
To love their parents and shun bad company.
  No further off than Bristol, now of late,
A gentleman lived of a vast estate,
And he had but one only daughter fair,
Whom he most tenderly did love so dear.
  They kept her clothed in costly rich array,
And as the child grew up, for truth they say,
Her heart with pride was lifted up so high,
She fix'd her whole delight in vanity.
  Each sinful course did to her pleasant seem,
And of the holy scriptures made a game,
At length her patents did begin to see,
Their tender kindness would her ruin be.
  Her mother thus to her began to speak,
My child, the course you run my heart will break,
The tender love which we to you have shown,
I fear will cause our tender hearts to groan.
  Come, come, my child, this course in time refrain,
And serve the LORD now in your youthful prime,
For if in this your wicked course you run,
Your soul and body both will be undone.
  Laughing and scoffing at her mother, she
Said, Pray now trouble not yourself with me,
Why do you talk to me of heaven's joy?
My youthful pleasures all for to destroy?
  I am not certain what I shall possess,
After that I've resign'd my vital breath,
I nothing for another world do care,
Therefore I'll take my pleasure while I'm here.
  The mother said, my child, how do you know
How soon your pride into the dust may go?
For young as well as old to death bow down,
And you must die God only knows how soon.
  She from her mother in a passion went,
Filling her aged heart with discontent;
She wrung her hands and to her husband said,
She's ruin'd, soul and body, I'm afraid.
  Her father said, her pride I will pull down,
Money to spend no more, I'll give her none,
I'll make her humble before I have done,
Or else forever I will her disown.
  All night she from her father's house did stray,
Next morning she came home by break of day,
Her father he did ask her where she'd been?
She straightway answer'd What was that to him.
  He said your haughty pride I will pull down,
Money to spend of me you shall have none,
She said, if you deny me what I crave,
I'll fell my foul, for money I will have.
  Her father stripped her of her rich array,
And then he drest her in a russet grey,
And to her chamber he did her confine,
With bread and water fed her for some time.
  Altho' their hearts did ache for her full sore,
This course they took her soul for to restore,
But all in vain, she wanted heaven's grace,
And sin within her heart had taken place.
  One night as in her room she musing were,
The devil in her room did then appear,
In shape and person like a gentleman,
And seemingly he took her by the hand.
  He said, fair creature, why do you lament?
Why is your heart thus fill'd with discontent?
She said, my parents cruel are to me,
And keep me here to starve in misery.
  The devil said, if you'll be rul'd by me,
Reveng'd on them you certainly shall be.
Seem to be humble, tell them you repent,
And soon you'll find their hearts for to relent.
  And when your father he doth use you kind,
An opportunity you soon will find,
Poison your father and your mother too,
There's none will know who 'twas the fact did do.
  This wicked wretch quite void of grace and shame,
Seemed to be well pleased at the same,
She said, your counsel I'm resolv'd to take,
And be reveng'd for what they've done of late.
  Where do you live? pray tell me where to come,
That I may tell you when the job is done.
He said, my name is Satan, and I dwell
In the dark regions of the burning hell.
  At first she seem'd to be something surpriz'd,
But want of grace so blinded had her eyes,
She said, well sir, if you the devil be,
I'll take the counsel which you gave to me.
  But mind what wonders God does every hour,
His mercies are above the devil's power,
He will his servants keep both night and day,
From the devouring subtle serpent's prey.
  Next day, when she her father's face did see,
She instantly did fall upon her knee,
Saying; father now my wicked heart relents,
And for my sins I heartily repent.
  Her father then with tears did her embrace,
Saying, I'm blest for this small spark of grace,
That heaven hath my, child bestow'd on thee;
No more I'll use you with such cruelty.
  Unto her mother then straightway he goes,
And told to her the blest and happy news.
Her mother was rejoic'd then for her part,
Not knowing of the mischief in her heart.
  But the Almighty her designs did know,
And 'twas his blessed will it should be so,
That other graceless children they might see,
All things are done by heaven's great decree.
  The poison strong she privately had bought,
And only then the fatal time she sought,
To work the fall of these her parents dear,
Who'd brought her up with tender love and care,
  One night her parents sleeping were in bed,
Nothing but troubled dreams run in their head;
At length an angel did to them appear,
Saying, awake, and unto me give ear.
  A messenger I'm sent by heaven kind,
To let you know your deaths are both design'd,
Your graceless child whom you do love so dear,
She for your precious lives hath laid a snare.
  To poison you, the devil tempts her so,
She hath no power from the snare to go;
But God such care doth of his servants take,
Those that believe on him he'll not forsake.
  You must not use her cruel and severe,
For tho' to you these things I do declare,
It is to shew you what the Lord can do,
He soon can turn her heart, you'll find it so.
  Pray to the Lord his grace for to send down,
And like the prodigal she will return;
The fatted calf with joy you'll kill that day,
The angels shall rejoice in heaven high,
  Because a wretched sinner doth repent,
Who in vice and sin her time hath spent.
This pious couple then awoke we hear,
And soon the angel he did disappear.
  They to each other did the vision tell,
And from this time we'll mark her actions well,
And if this vision unto pass does come,
We'll praise the Lord for such great favors done.
  Next morning she rose early, as we hear,
And for her parents' breakfast did prepare,
And in the fame she put the poison strong,
And brought it unto them when she had done.
  Her father took the victuals which she bro't,
And down the same unto the dog he set,
Who ate the food and instantly did die;
The case was plain, she could not it deny.
  They call'd her there the sight for to behold,
Which when she saw, her spirits soon ran cold,
She cry'd, the devil hath me now deceiv'd,
I've miss'd my aim, for which I'm sorely griev'd.
  Her mother said, hard is the fate of me,
I've been a tender mother unto thee,
And can you seek to take my life away?
Oh graceless child! what will become of thee?
  With bitter pains my child, I did you bear,
I taught you how the Lord of life to fear,
Whole days and nights I did in labor spend,
To bring you up, now to my discontent.
  Quite void of grace you in your sins do run,
You flight my counsel after all I've done,
Instead of obedience which you ought to pay,
Your parents' lives you seek to take away.
  When thus she heard her tender mother speak,
She in a swoon did drop down at her feet,
With all the arts that e'er they could contrive,
They could not bring her spirit to revive.
  Four days they kept her, when they did prepare,
To lay her body in the dust we hear,
At her funeral a sermon then was preach'd,
All other wicked children for to teach,
  How they should fear their tender parents kind,
Their words observe their counsel for to mind,
And then their days will long be in this land,
All things will prosper which they take in hand.
  So close the Reverend Divine did lay
This charge, that many wept that there did stay
To hear the sermon, and her parents dear
Were overwhelm'd with sorrow, grief and care.
  The sermon being over and quite done,
To lay her body in the dust they come,
But suddenly they bitter groans did hear,
Which much surprized all that then were there.
  At length they did perceive the dismal sound
Come from the body just laid under ground;
The coffin then they did draw up again,
And in a fright they opened the same,
  When soon they found that she was yet alive,
Her mother seeing that the did survive,
Did praise the Lord, in hopes she would have time
And would repent of all her heinous crimes.
  She in her coffin then was carried home,
And when unto her father's house she come,
She in her coffin sat and did admire
Her winding sheet, and thus she did desire
  The worthy minister for to sit down,
And she would tell the wonders which were shown
Unto her, since her soul had took its flight:
She'd seen the regions of eternal night.
  She said, when first my soul did hence depart,
For to relate the story grieves my heart,
I handed was to lonesome wild desarts,
And briery woods, which dismal were and dark.
  The briars tore my flesh, the gore did run,
I call'd for mercy but I could find none;
But I at length a glimpse of light did spy,
And heard a voice which unto me did cry,
  Now sinful soul observe and you shall see
How precious does that light appear to thee?
But in the regions of eternal night
You never must expect for to see light.
  Now hasten to that light which does appear,
And there your sentence you shall quickly hear.
I hearing this did hasten then along,
At length unto a spacious gate I come.
  I knock'd aloud, but no one answer made;
At length one did appear to me and said,
"What want you here?" I answered to come in,
He ask'd my name then shut the gate again.
  He staid awhile then to the door did come,
He said be gone, for you there is no room,
For we have no such graceless wretches here,
That disobey their tender parents dear.
  I sorely wept, and to the man thus said,
Am I the first that parents disobey'd?
If all be cast in hell who thus do sin,
Few at this gate I fear will enter in.
  He said but you have been a sinner wild,
In things besides a disobedient child,
Swearing and whoring, sabbath breaking too,
Therefore be gone, for here's no rest for you.
  I said, Sir, hear me, and remember pray,
How holy David he did run astray,
A man whose heart once with the Lord did join,
Adultery and murder was his crime.
  He said, like David you did not return,
For he in ashes for his sins did mourn,
And God is merciful you well do know,
Free to forgive all those that humble so.
  I still my case with him pursu'd to plead,
And told him, Sir, in scripture I did read,
How Mary Magdalen, who here doth rest,
At once by many devils was possest.
  Go silly woman, he did answer then,
Had you so much lamented for your sin,
And mercy at your Saviour's feet implor'd,
For all your fins, he had your soul restor'd.
  I said in prison she her Saviour saw:
He said, you may behold him every day,
He ne'er leaves those that in his mercy trust,
He's always with the pious and the just.
  In holy scripture there he doth appear,
Read the apostles, and you'll find him there;
You mull believe, if that you sav'd will be,
That Christ for sinners died upon a tree.
  Then save me Lord, I to him did reply,
For I believe that Christ for me did die;
Lord let my soul return from whence it came,
And I will honour thy most holy name.
  A voice I heard, which said to me return,
But first behold the wretched place of doom,
Where the reward of sin is justly paid.
I turn'd about, but sadly was dismay'd.
  I saw the burning lake of misery,
I saw the man there that first tempted me,
My loving tender parents for to slay,
And he both fierce and grim did look at me.
  He told me he at last was sure of me.
I said, my Saviour's blood has set me free.
Then in a hideous manner he did roar,
When God my senses did to me restore.
  When thus the story she to them had told,
She said, put me to bed for I am cold,
And then these my tender parents dear,
Whom I will always honour while I'm here.
  To them the sacrament she did require,
They gave it her then as she did desire,
And now she is a Christian just and true,
No more her wicked vices doth pursue.
  I hope this will a good example be,
Children your parents honour and obey,
And then the Lord will bless you here on earth,
And give you crowns of glory after death.


[UPDATE: 2 July 2016: After all my pictures disappeared from this site (again) I decided to give up on external hosts for large versions (1000px) of my image files and, for now on, will stick with the smaller images (500px), which Blogger is prepared to host.]

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