Mary Botham Howitt was born on March 12, 1799 in Gloucestershire, England to Samuel and Ann Botham. Mary had two sisters and one brother. She was educated at home and read everything she could get her hands on. She began writing poetry at a very young age.
On April 16, 1821 Mary married William Howitt who was a pharmacist as well as a writer. In 1823 he gave up his pharmacy business and devoted his time to writing with Mary. They had poems and other contributions published in annuals and periodicals. William and Mary knew many famous literary figures of the day, including Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Alfred Tennyson, and William Wordsworth. In 1829, Mary published one of her most famous poems, The Spider and the Fly, that tells the story of a cunning Spider who ensnares a naive Fly through the use of seduction and flattery. The poem is a cautionary tale against those who use flattery and charm to disguise their true evil intentions.
Mary translated, wrote or edited over 100 works, some with her husband and some on her own, winning a silver medal from the Literary Academy of Stockholm. She died of bronchitis on January 30, 1888.
An illustrated version of Mary Botham Howitt’s The Spider and the Fly was later published and received the 2003 Caldecott Honor.
The Spider and the Fly by Mary Howitt
“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 shew 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.”
“I’m sure you must be weary, dear, with soaring up so high;
Will you rest upon my little bed?” said the Spider to the Fly.
“There are pretty curtains drawn around; the sheets are fine and thin,
And if you like to rest awhile, I’ll snugly tuck you in!”
“Oh no, no,” said the little Fly, “for I’ve often heard it said,
They never, never wake again, who sleep upon your bed!”
Said the cunning Spider to the Fly, “Dear friend what can I do, To prove the warm affection I’ve always felt for you?
I have within my pantry, good store of all that’s nice;
I’m sure you’re very welcome — will you please to take a slice?”
“Oh no, no,” said the little Fly, “kind Sir, that cannot be,
I’ve heard what’s in your pantry, and I do not wish to see!”
“Sweet creature!” said the Spider, “you’re witty and you’re wise,
How handsome are your gauzy wings, how brilliant are your eyes!
I’ve a little looking-glass upon my parlour shelf,
If you’ll step in one moment, dear, you shall behold yourself.”
“I thank you, gentle sir,” she said, “for what you ‘re pleased to say,
And bidding you good morning now, I’ll call another day.”
The Spider turned him round about, and went into his den,
For well he knew the silly Fly would soon come back again:
So he wove a subtle web, in a little corner sly,
And set his table ready, to dine upon the Fly.
Then he came out to his door again, and merrily did sing,
“Come hither, hither, pretty Fly, with the pearl and silver wing;
Your robes are green and purple — there’s a crest upon your head;
Your eyes are like the diamond bright, but mine are dull as lead!”
Alas, alas! how very soon this silly little Fly,
Hearing his wily, flattering words, came slowly flitting by;
With buzzing wings she hung aloft, then near and nearer drew,
Thinking only of her brilliant eyes, and green and purple hue —
Thinking only of her crested head — poor foolish thing! At last,
Up jumped the cunning Spider, and fiercely held her fast.
He dragged her up his winding stair, into his dismal den,
Within his little parlour — but she ne’er came out again!
And now dear little children, who may this story read,
To idle, silly flattering words, I pray you ne’er give heed:
Unto an evil counsellor, close heart and ear and eye,
And take a lesson from this tale, of the Spider and the Fly.
The Spider and the Fly, written by Mary Howitt and illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi, (Note: Some English spelling of words are changed.)
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FREE Very Busy Spider Unit Study with Printables
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