According to The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature, the death of the young French Prince Imperial during the Zulu wars of 1879 inspired Juliana Horatia Ewing to write the wistful tale of heroic sacrifice in which the orphaned son of a Waterloo cavalry officer is brought up by his spinster aunt and eventually dies saving the life of his childhood friend on the field of battle. The principal scene of the action is the little village of Goose Green in one of England's northern counties, the scenes of battle merely being located on a plain in a hot climate. Although originally without illustrations when she published it in the 1879 Aunt Judy's Magazine, the children's journal she edited, four years later it appeared as a slender, one-shilling volume with seventeen line illustrations by the noted artist Randolph Caldecott (1846-86).
Jackanapes' parents elope. [Click on the thumbnails for larger images.]
The story begins when "The Black Captain," a cavalry officer, carries off the younger Miss Jessamine to Gretna Green in Scotland. Shortly after they return to the village as husband and wife, he is ordered to the Continent and less than a year later, on 22 June 1815, falls on the battlefield of Waterloo. Just after the news of the great victory is carried by the mail coach to the crowd of villagers assembled at the public house of The George and Dragon at Goose Green, the postman delivers a London newspaper in which the Jessamine sisters read the roll of thirty-five slain British captains which includes the name of the younger sister's husband. Three days later, she dies in childbirth, leaving her unmarried sister to raise the infant, whom the attending obstetrician dubs "Jackanapes" because he is so robust.
In the third chapter, the boy Jackanapes (his Christian name being Theodore) and his friend Tony Johnson make themselves sick by smoking a brown-paper cigar of their own manufacture. At the annual fair, the constitutionally inferior Tony becomes sick to his stomach after riding a pony in the "giddy-go-round" (a children's ride) after being urged to take the challenge by his bosom friend Jackanapes, who apparently has no difficulty whatsoever in riding ponies. The young rascal, already determined to grow up to become a cavalry officer like his dead father, becomes particularly enamored of a red Gipsy pony named "Lollo," meaning "red" in his owner's language. When the boy's grandfather, a retired British general, visits shortly thereafter, the boy confides his dream of owning the pony (if only he had the requisite fifteen pounds for the Gipsy boy's father!), and the old man, admiring his grandson's pluck, agrees to buy the boy the horse, provided he can actually ride it.
At the beginning of the fourth chapter, twenty years have elapsed, during which time Jackanapes' grandfather has died and the boy has acquired a cavalry commission, thanks to his grandfather. The faithful Tony Johnson, despite his awkwardness in the saddle, has acquired a commission in the same regiment, thanks to his father. Whereas Tony is often the butt of humorous observations in the officers' mess, Jackanapes on his red-haired charger "Lollo" (named after the pony of his youth) is their hero, renowned for gallantry, daring, and horsemanship. In the heat of battle, Tony Johnson breaks his leg when his mount falls. Unable to remount, he draws his pistol, and prepares to face death as the British troops retire. Suddenly Jackanapes pulls his wounded friend across his saddle and attempts to follow the regiment. At the end of the fourth chapter, however, it seems doubtful that they will effect their escape.
At the beginning of the fifth chapter, when the army surgeon announces to the regimental Major that the injured trooper has suggested bruises and a compound fracture, the reader erroneously assumes that both young men have escaped; however, the surgeon then adds that Jackanapes has been shot in the lung and beyond medical assistance. On his deathbed, Jackanapes makes the Major promise to befriend and mentor the well-intentioned but occasionally impulsive Tony, and bequeaths his charger Lollo to the Major rather than to Tony, who could never handle such a spirited mount.
Left: The faithful, old pony Lollo draws Miss Jessamine's bath-cart across the green accompanied by the retired postman.
Right: First page of the final chapter. [Click on the thumbnails for larger images.]
While the majority of the villagers at Goose Green respond to the news of Jackanapes' heroic self-sacrifice with pride, the cobbler interprets the young officer's death as a waste resulting from his own foolhardiness. Thus, in the sixth chapter, Ewing intertwines a number of elements familiar to Victorian readers: the Muscular Christianity of the rector's funeral sermon, the sentimentality of the scene in which the faithful, old pony Lollo draws Miss Jessamine's bath-cart across the green accompanied by the retired postman, the romance of the scene in which Tony and his sisters wander with him and the Major through the lanes of bryony and brambles, and finally the imperial ethos of the moral: "There is a heritage of heroic example and noble obligation, not reckoned in the Wealth of Nations, but essential to a nation's life; the contempt of which, in any people, may, not slowly, mean even its commercial fall" (46) — a homily not unlike that of Kipling's "Requiem."
The story has several interesting features, including a catalogue of how a boy from the upper middle-class might spend his allowance at a fair, and a description of the mail coach that circulates word of the most recent British victory during the Napoleonic wars:
But a crowd soon gathered round the George and Dragon, gaping to see the Mail Coach dressed with flowers and oak-leaves, and the guard wearing a laurel wreath over and above his royal livery. The ribbons that decked the horses were stained and flecked with the warmth and foam of the pace at which they had come, for they pressed on with the news of Victory. 
Carpenter, Humphrey, and Mari Prichard, eds. The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature. Oxford and New York: Oxford U. P., 1987.
Ewing, Juiliana Horatia. Jackanapes. Il. Randolph Caldecott. Brighton and London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; New York: E. & J. B. Young, n. d.
Gatty, H. K. F. "A Celebration of Women Writers. Part II." by Horatia Katharine Frances Gatty (1846- ) Publication: Juliana Horatia Ewing And Her Books. by Horatia K. F. Gatty. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1885, pp. 26-46." Accessed 3 September 2007. http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/ewing/gatty/part-ii.html
"An Illustrated Family History Archive: Notable Ewings." Accessed 3 September 2007. http://www.garenewing.co.uk/family/ewingother.html
Magnusson, Magnus, and Rosemary Goring, eds. The Cambridge Biographical Dictionary. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge U. P., 1990.
Last modified 3 September 2007