if you’ve ever read Struwwelpeter or any of shel silverstein’s cautionary-tale poetry, then you have probably already learned a thing or two about the many different ways in which being naughty can lead to an unforeseen downfall but also to a super-fun rhyming poem.
this is what i learned from this book about medicine and manners, through some of its stories.
What Happened to Lazy Charlotte
if you are too lazy to knit your own stockings while your mom is out and about in her bonnet, doing whatever people in bonnets do, she’s bound to become very cross that you haven’t followed her commands upon her return and will make you go to school barefoot—not just without stockings, but flat-out barefoot—as punishment, and then everyone will make fun of you instead of calling child services. because choosing to live in a sweatshop is totally your fault.
crying too much, and refusing to stop despite all chiding and scolding, leads initially to blindness and then your eyes will fall out altogether. medical fact.
but at least it can be turned into a singsongy double-dutch kinda rhyme!
from the concluding portion of the poem:
For she certainly feels, or at least she supposes
Her eyesight is going away.
She is not mistaken, her sight is departing;
She knows it and sorrows the more;
Then rubs her sore eyes, to relieve them from smarting
And makes them still worse than before.
And now the poor creature is cautiously crawling
And feeling her way all around;
And now from their sockets her eyeballs are falling;
See, there they are down on the ground.
My children, from such an example take warning,
And happily live while you may;
And say to yourselves, when you rise in the morning,
“I’ll try to be cheerful today.”
The Story of Romping Polly
there are a lot of lessons to learn from romping polly. and they are lessons for little girls only, so you boys can go throw rocks at birds or set things on fire or whatever it is you guys do.
I know that you will often see
Rude boys push, drive, and hurry;
But little girls should never be
All in a heat and flurry.
so—little girls should never be in heat—i can get behind that, but basically this is a story about how little girls should not have any kind of enthusiastic outdoorsy fun and should probably stay home knitting stockings or something. because when they DO go out and play with the boys, all rowdy and carefree:
This little girl, who, spite of all
Her good old aunt had spoken,
Would romp about, had such a fall
That her poor leg was broken.
girls legs are so fragile! and to naughty little girls in german cautionary tales, a broken leg means the leg will actually break off.
and a boy will run off with it
See how her brother bursts in tears,
When told the dreadful story;
And see how carefully he bears
The limb all wet and gory.
incidentally, i don’t think he’s bearing it all that carefully. he’s just running around leaving a blood trail and letting all the bits dangle offa it. plus, he’s crying, so he will probably go blind soon. unless that lesson, too, only applies to girls.
The Dreadful Story of Pauline and the Matches
listen to cats. if your cats tell you not to play with matches, heed them. otherwise, you will go up in flames and the cats will be able to do NOTHING to save you and all that will be left of you at the end will be your shoes because apparently shoes do not burn. and the cats will cry. which we have learned leads to blindness and eyes falling out so unless you wanna be responsible for a bunch of eyeless cats or you have your own reasons for wanting to be reduced to a pile of ashes, listen to the advice of cats. always.
The Little Glutton
i don’t have any bones to pick with gluttony, which is the sin being warned against here. food is delicious and should be celebrated every few minutes. the larger lesson here, to my mind, is don’t be a freaking idiot. don’t stick your face in a beehive to get to the honey within. just wait until it has evolved into honey nut cheerios like a civilized person. otherwise, yeah—you will probably get a faceful of bees.
so, while i’m glad this is a lesson hoffmann deemed important enough to illustrate here, my quarrel is with his framing of the lesson.
because this sounds familiar
Oh! how this Mary loved to eat, –
It was her chief delight;
She would have something, sour or sweet,
To munch from morn till night.
She to the pantry daily stole,
And slyly she would take
Sugar, and plums, and sweetmeats, too,
And apples, nuts, and cake.
but i’m not about to barge into someone’s home uninvited and eat all the food they’ve been stockpiling for the winter months. that’s just rude, and stinging wildly is a totally appropriate response to a home invasion. i’m on the side of the bees in this one.
there are many other lessons in this book, including warnings against pride, laziness, envy, having poor personal hygiene, and the irrefutable fact that santa hates destructo kids, and if you break your dolls you will get no more dolls and zero holiday cheer and it will be all your fault when you grow up to be a sociopath who goes on spree-killings every christmas. that conclusion is not covered in this book, but i’m pretty sure it’s reasonable cause-and-effect. i’ve seen my share of splatter films.
thanks for the birthday gift, greg! i hope you’re not trying to tell me something with this, because i am never gonna adjust my behavior! neverrrrrrr!