Most of us are familiar with the classic poem “The Spider and the Fly” which is a cautionary tale for both young and old about not being lured by kind words and false promises. Here is the first stanza of the poem:

“Will you walk into my parlour? said the Spider to the Fly,
‘Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy;
The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
And I’ve a many curious things to show when you are there.
Oh no, no, said the little Fly, to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair can ne’er come down again.”

The author of this poem is Mary Botham Howitt. Mary was born in 1979, in Coleford, a small town in the Forest Dean area of Gloucestershire. This was a coal mining area at the time and Mary’s father was a custodian of some mining property. The house where she grew up is now known as Howitt Place in her memory.

Mary was home tutored and was surrounded by great books. She was also encouraged to write poetry at a young age. In Volume 1 of the Charlotte Mason Series (Home Education), Ms. Mason narrated the story wherein the young Mary found an old Bible and discovered “the opening chapters of St Luke––which her father objected to reading aloud––and the closing chapter of Revelation. The exquisite picture of the Great Child’s birth in the one chapter and the beauty of the description of the New Jerusalem in the other, were seized upon by the eager little girl of six years old with a rapture which, she used to say, no novel in after years ever produced.” Ms. Mason used Mary’s story to emphasize the need to make available to the children the bible and other great literature and to avoid giving children second-rated, watered down, slipshod books.

Needless to say, Mary’s life was much influenced by her love for great literature.

When Mary grew up, she married a man who shared the same passion and together they published a collection of poems. Mary and her husband enjoyed the company of respected writers such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Charles Dickens. Their reputation grew rapidly. Even Queen Victoria enjoyed her work.

Mary loved writing for children and she translated many of Hans Christian Andersen’s Tales from Danish to English. Some people believe that Mary was influenced by these stories when she wrote the famous poem “The Spider and the Fly.”

Mary also wrote factual books such as The Literature and Romance of Northern Europe (published in 1852) and two volumes of a Popular History of the United States (published in 1859). She has won many awards during her lifetime and became an inspiration to many.

Mary lived into the old age of 88. She passed away on January 30, 1888, at the age of 88. In her obituary, she was described as a “spreader of good and innocent literature.”

Researched and written by Heidi @our.unhurried.home

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