Jonathan Blanc’s animated version of Mounseer Nongtongpaw (2010). NYPL, Communications

Frontispiece and title page from Mounseer Nongtongpaw: A New Version, 1808. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection   More information

Plate I from Mounseer Nongtongpaw (1811), illustrated by William Mulready (1786–1863) and published by M.J. Godwin & Co. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection   More information

Plate II from Mounseer Nongtongpaw (1811), illustrated by William Mulready (1786–1863) and published by M.J. Godwin & Co. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection   More information

Plate III from Mounseer Nongtongpaw (1811), illustrated by William Mulready (1786–1863) and published by M.J. Godwin & Co. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection   More information

Plate IV from Mounseer Nongtongpaw (1811), illustrated by William Mulready (1786–1863) and published by M.J. Godwin & Co. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection   More information

Plate V from Mounseer Nongtongpaw (1811), illustrated by William Mulready (1786–1863) and published by M.J. Godwin & Co. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection   More information

Plate VI from Mounseer Nongtongpaw (1811), illustrated by William Mulready (1786–1863) and published by M.J. Godwin & Co. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection   More information

Plate VII from Mounseer Nongtongpaw (1811), illustrated by William Mulready (1786–1863) and published by M.J. Godwin & Co. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection   More information

Plate VIII from Mounseer Nongtongpaw (1811), illustrated by William Mulready (1786–1863) and published by M.J. Godwin & Co. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection   More information

Plate IX from Mounseer Nongtongpaw (1811), illustrated by William Mulready (1786–1863) and published by M.J. Godwin & Co. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection   More information

Plate X from Mounseer Nongtongpaw (1811), illustrated by William Mulready (1786–1863) and published by M.J. Godwin & Co. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection   More information

Plate XI from Mounseer Nongtongpaw (1811), illustrated by William Mulready (1786–1863) and published by M.J. Godwin & Co. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection   More information

Plate XII from Mounseer Nongtongpaw (1811), illustrated by William Mulready (1786–1863) and published by M.J. Godwin & Co. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection   More information

Mary Shelley’s Mounseer Nongtongpaw

share

The Story and a Modern Animation

The Original Juvenile Library Book

“Who Owns So Vast a Thing!”

“He Must Be King of France!”

“Poor Nongtongpaw, Adieu!”

A popular comic song by the actor and composer Charles Dibdin (1745–1814), “Mounseer Nongtongpaw” played on French and English national stereotypes. Traveling through France, John Bull, the personification of England, disdains the French language (“heathen Greek”) and speaks to everyone he encounters in English. The invariable response to his questions is, “Monsieur, je n’entend pas” (“Sir, I don’t understand you”). Thinking that people are referring to a Monsieur “Nongtongpaw,” John Bull envisions a man of enormous wealth and power.

In 1808, William Godwin commissioned a version of Dibdin’s song for his Juvenile Library, with illustrations by William Mulready (1786–1863), and titled it Mounseer Nongtongpaw; Or, The Discoveries of John Bull in France. Mary Shelley, then aged 10, seems to have played a small part in the volume’s genesis. Working from the original hand-colored plates, multimedia producer Jonathan Blanc, of The New York Public Library, has animated the story, as read by the British actor Simon Jones.

The following sections contain the original hand-colored plates and text from the 1811 edition of Mounseer Nongtongpaw, illustrated by William Mulready and published by M.J. Godwin & Co., housed in NYPL’s Pforzheimer Collection.

JOHN BULL, from England’s happy Isle,
Too bold to dread mischance,
Resolv’d to leave his friends awhile,
And take a peep at France.

He nothing knew of French indeed,
And deem’d it jabb’ring stuff,
For English he could write and read,
And thought it quite enough.

Shrewd JOHN to see, and not to prate,
To foreign parts would roam,
That he their wonders might relate
When snug again at home.

Arriv’d at Paris with his dog,
Which he for safety muzzled,
The French flock’d round him, all agog,
And much poor JOHN was puzzled.

He went into a tavern straight,
Where viands smok’d around,
And having gaz’d at ev’ry plate,
He sat in thought profound.

He ask’d who gave so fine a feast,
As fine as e’er he saw;
The landlord, shrugging at his guest,
Said “Je vous n’entends pas.”

“Oh! MOUNSEER NONGTONGPAW!” said he:
“Well, he’s a wealthy man,
“And seems dispos’d, from all I see,
“To do what good he can.

“A table set in such a style
“Holds forth a welcome sign,” —
And added with an eager smile,
“With NONGTONGPAW I’ll dine.”

Then to the Palais Royal on
He trudg’d with honest Tray:
“Whose house is this,” said curious JOHN,
“So spacious and so gay?”

A Frenchman, as he gap’d around
With wonder and with awe,
Salutes him with the former sound —
“Eh! Je vous n’entends pas.”

“Hah, hah!” says JOHN, “Is this his place?”
Why surely he’s the King —
“How high is he in Fortune’s grace
“Who owns so vast a thing!”

He rambled next to Marli’s height,
Versailles’ grand scene to view,
And ask’d a country begging wight
If he the master knew.

The fellow, staring, scratch’d his head,
And idly stretch’d his jaw:
At length to JOHN in answer said —
“Eh! Je vous n’etends pas.”

“What, this too his!” exclaims JOHN BULL,
“His riches have no end, —
“I wish my pockets were as full —
“Would i had such a friend!”

Strolling along another day,
To feast his eager eyes,
A lady pass’d him, young and gay —
He stood in fix’d surprise.

Struck by her charms, he ask’d her name
Of the first man he saw;
From whom, with shrugs, no answer came
But — “Je vous n’entends pas.”

“The girl too NONGTONGPAW’s?” says he,
Then cast a tender glance,
“I’m right — this NONGTONGPAW must be
“The greatest man in France.”

Soon after trudg’d a footman nigh,
Whose hands were full of game;
JOHN saw them with a hungry eye,
And ask’d for whom they came.

But “Je vous n’entends pas” again
Was all that he could draw,
Which raised new wonder in his brain
At this great NONGTONGPAW!

A shepherd with his flock appears,
The sheep were large and fact,
Not understanding JOHN, he hears,
But humbly doffs his hat.

For JOHN with earnest looks began
To ask whose flock he saw:
At length he heard the poor old man
Cry — “Je vous n’entends pas.”

“Why, what the deuce!” our hero cries,
“Are these too NONGTONGPAW’s?
“Why surely all that meets his eyes
“He gets within his claws.”

An infant train then comes in view,
And fills his heart with joy,
He gazes with affection true,
And pats a smiling boy.

He asks the nurse, but asks in vain,
Whose pretty brood appears;
For “Je vous n’entends pas” again
Assails his wond’ring ears.

A splendid carriage next he sees,
That four fine horses draw —
“Boy, say, whose coach, whose steeds are these?” —
“Eh! Je vous n’entends pas.”

“Well!” honest BULL astonish’d roars,
“I’m surely in a trance —
“On NONGTONTPAW what fortune pours —
“He must be King of France!”

Next day to view a vast balloon
The folks came far and near,
To see it start JOHN hurried soon,
For ev’ry sight was dear.

He ask’d a woman on the ground
Who paid for the balloon,
But “je vous n’entends pas” he found
Was still the only tune.

Says hem, “I now don’t wonder, Dame,
“To find ‘tis his balloon,
“For sure this NONGTONGPAW can claim
“All that’s beneath the moon.”

Then he beheld a train of cooks,
Whose heads rich dishes bear;
With a keen appetite he looks,
And longs to have a share.

But “Je vous n’entends pas” he heard
When he the host would know.
“Aye! NONGTONGPAW,” says he,”‘s the word
“For all things good below.”

At last he saw a hearse pass by,
And to the Sexton said,
His bosom heaving with a sigh,
“Pray who, my friend, is dead?”

The man the self-same answer made,
As all had done before.
JOHN heav’d another sigh, and said,
“Is then thy grandeur o’er!”

“I envy’d thee thy worldly state.
“Alas! I little knew
“The malice of approaching fate, —
“Poor NONGTONGPAW, adieu!”

Then, pond’ring o’er th’ untimely fall
Of one so rich and great,
Reflections deep his mind appal
On man’s uncertain state.

For, though in manners he was rough,
JOHN had a feeling heart,
So thought he now had seen enough,
And homeward should depart.

Besides, he panted to relate
All that heard and saw,
The pride, the pomp, the wealth, the fate
Of mighty NONGTONGPAW.

Borne swiftly by a fav’ring gale,
He reach’d his native ground,
And, to surprise them with the tale,
He calls his friends around.

They hear it all with silent awe,
Of admiration full,
And think that next to NONGTONGPAW
Is the great trav’ler BULL.

 

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
Type the characters you see in this picture. (verify using audio)
Type the characters you see in the picture above; if you can't read them, submit the form and a new image will be generated. Not case sensitive.

Patrons who contribute comments are asked to read our Policy on Patron-Generated Web Content.

View our privacy policy