Adults had some strange ideas about what children should read in the 19th century. The cautionary tale, with appropriate punishments for transgression of the Christian moral code, served as both a warning and (theoretically) an entertainment. Only a milksop, goody-two-shoes could possibly find them readable. Heinrich Hoffmann (1809-1894) stands head and shoulders above these authors, satirising the genre in full Swiftian mode. The clue’s in the subtitle. Der Struwwelpeter (Shock-Headed Peter) kicks up the punishment dial to 11. Most of his subjects die horribly, or are dreadfully mutilated, for minor infractions of social etiquette. And apparently his book was hugely popular with children, who know a good thing when they see it.
Here’s the introduction, with links to individual poems.
|When the children have been good,
That is, be it understood,
Good at meal-times, good at play,
Good all night and good all day—
They shall have the pretty things
Merry Christmas always brings.Naughty, romping girls and boys
Tear their clothes and make a noise,
Spoil their pinafores and frocks,
And deserve no Christmas-box.
Such as these shall never look
At this pretty Picture-book.
It’s not surprising that The Tiger Lillies, who I saw twice in Seattle, gleefully seized on Shockheaded Peter and created a stage show based on these tales. Here’s a clip.