Saturday, December 24, 2011

Emily Plenderleath Harrison

Emily Plenderleath Harrison (b. reg. Hart, Durham, Oct.-Dec. 1843; d. reg. Windsor, Berkshire, Oct.-Dec. 1933)

Emily Plenderleath Harrison was the fourth of eleven daughters of William Gorst Harrison (1803-1891), the oldest of five sons of shipbroker William Harrison of Thornhill, Sunderland. In a brief introduction to her sole book, The Lion’s Birthday (Eton, London, and Colchester: Spottiswoode, Ballantyne & Co., [1920]), Harrison notes that the book was written by her sister and herself more than sixty years earlier (i.e., before 1860), and though she admitted to collaboration, she did not name any one of her sisters on the title page as co-author.  This short children’s book contains illustrations by Dora Barks, and a one-paragraph “Foreword” by M.R. James, the noted ghost story writer, then Provost of Eton College. Harrison worked at Eton College from around 1890, and from that work came her association with James. Harrison never married, and died in late 1933, aged 89.

The Lion’s Birthday is a story told in forty verses, each containing four lines.  The story tells of the Lion, who in order to celebrate the ten years he has been monarch of the wood and plain, sends out invitations to the various animals to join him for a party. Not all the animals are eager:

The Elephant, in private, thought
That it would be an awful bore;
But yet he thought he ought to go
As he had never been before.

The Tigers, Wolves and Panthers said
“Pray tell the Lion we’ll be charmed.”
The Stags (poor things!) replied the same,
But inwardly they felt alarmed.

The monkeys are excited, the sheep are shy (fearing that the Wolves surely would be there), the Bears and Leopards were delighted.  Alas, the party does not work out so well, for the Tiger is tempted by the Deer and kills her, breaking everything up, and some animals giving chase to the murderer.

James ironically calls the story a “pleasant ballad” in his foreword.

NB: A slightly different version of this entry previously appeared at here at Wormwoodiana. 

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