The Butterfly's Ball and The Grasshopper's Feast is a whimsical poem about a night of revelry for mini bugs and beasts.
Who are the characters in the poem?
The poem is an early example of fantasy writing for children, which uses strange situations and gives human features to animals. What sets it apart from other children’s literature of the time is that there is no under-lying moral tale. The poem was purely for fun and amusement, written in lively and light-hearted rhyming couplets.
It tells the story of a procession of insects and small animals who make their way to a ball being held by the butterfly. The guests range from a blind mole, assisted by a dormouse, to a wasp and hornet, both of whom promise not to use their stings during the evening. They eat supper and watch the spider’s acrobatics, then everyone returns home, accompanied by the light of the glow-worm watchman.
Who wrote the poem?
William Roscoe, MP for Liverpool, was an early advocate of the abolition of slavery, as well as an historian and botanist. But this poem is the work for which he is best known today. A father to seven sons and three daughters, Roscoe wrote The Butterfly's Ball for his son ‘little Robert’, who he named in the text.
Roscoe's delightful poem caught the imagination of many children. Even the royal princesses Mary, Elizabeth and Augusta! By royal request the poem was set to music by George Smart, and was then performed by the princesses on a trip to Weymouth.
Originally, the poem was first published in the November 1806 edition of Gentleman’s Magazine. Proving popular, it was published as a book the next year with illustrations by William Mulready. This is the second edition, published in 1808, in which the text was slightly re-worked and the illustrations were replaced. Its popularity led to many reprints and imitation sequels, such as The Lion’s Masquerade, and The Elephant’s Ball.