'I'm always looking for the Hows and the Whys and the Whats,' said Muskrat, 'That is why I speak as I do. You've heard of Muskrat's Much-in-Little, of course?'
'No,' said the child. 'What is it?'
- The Mouse and his Child. Russell Hoban.

Go here to find out more.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Merry Stories and Funny Pictures

In the last post I was talking about games we used to play when we were young.  Thinking about childhood rhymes and songs prompted me to remember an incident that occurred when I was about 12.

I used to have piano lessons with Miss Gray.  She was a plump, kind old woman who charged $12 a lesson and often, if I played well, would fall asleep.  She'd start awake at the end of each piece and turn the page with a little stick that she also used to point to notes and passages.
She'd also wake up if I played badly.  A very sensible teaching strategy, now that I think of it.

I was encouraged to arrive early for my lessons and often did so while the previous youngster was being taught.  The waiting room was her sun-porch and it contained ancient and smelly old books including an assortment of children's book from her childhood, which were placed out for us modern kids to read.  One was 'Struwwelpeter' written by Dr Heinrich Hoffman.

Before I show you some pages, here is the dedication, inviting children to be good so they will get this book for Christmas:

"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."

However, if you are lucky enough to get this book, here's a sample of what you'll find inside...

There were a series of illustrations and accompanying verse describing bad behaviour, and the results that could be expected.

This was what happened to Hans who didn't watch where he was going.  He fell in the canal and all the fishes laughed.  Luckily he was rescued but his writing book was not.

And because 'Suck-a-thumb' didn't stop this bad habit, the tailor came and cut his thumbs off completely.

This is the lass who would keep playing with matches.  She was burnt to death in the end.  Even her eyes were burnt.

But the one that impressed me most was Augustus who wouldn't eat his soup.  He ended up the size of a plum, and of course, died too.  It took only 5 days.

"Augustus was a chubby lad;
Fat ruddy cheeks Augustus had:
And everybody saw with joy
The plump and hearty, healthy boy.
He ate and drank as he was told,
And never let his soup get cold.
But one day, one cold winter's day,
He screamed out "Take the soup away!
O take the nasty soup away!
I won't have any soup today."

Next day, now look, the picture shows
How lank and lean Augustus grows!
Yet, though he feels so weak and ill,
The naughty fellow cries out still
"Not any soup for me, I say:
O take the nasty soup away!
won't have any soup today."

The third day comes: Oh what a sin!
To make himself so pale and thin.
Yet, when the soup is put on table,
He screams, as loud as he is able,
"Not any soup for me, I say:
O take the nasty soup away!
I WON'T have any soup today."

Look at him, now the fourth day's come!
He scarcely weighs a sugar-plum;
He's like a little bit of thread,
And, on the fifth day, he was—dead!"

I never went so far as to actually enjoy 'StruwwelPeter', but confess to a continual morbid fascination with the horrific, detailed, cautionary stories and graphic images.  Perhaps it is because I sucked my thumb until I was about eleven, ate like a sparrow, and often didn't look where I was going...

The full title, incidentally, was "Struwwelpeter: Merry Stories and Droll Pictures".

*K. - see, no romping allowed.


  1. The title sounded familiar to me (and so did the Swedish title when I looked that up) but the actual stories or illustrations ring no bells with me. So I must assume I never actually read it in childhood but have only heard/seen it referred to. (And I think I'll add that to my list of things to be thankful for.)

  2. DawnTreader; Struwwelpeter was first published in German in 1844, and the first English version came out in 1848. So it would have been our great-great-grandparent's growing-up book, probably. It was very popular in Europe. And the influence would have been felt on the next generation too, no doubt. It could account for some particularities of my great-grand-parents, and their own children!

    It was originally given the title "Lustige Geschichten und drollige Bilder mit 15 schön kolorierten Tafeln für Kinder von 3–6 Jahren (Funny Stories and Whimsical Pictures with 15 Beautifully Coloured Panels for Children Aged 3 to 6)".
    Imagine giving it to a three-year-old today!

  3. It must have seemed a strange book to you as a young child Katherine.

    When I was quite young and visited my girl cousins in Auckland they had a book with the poem about the "House that Jack Built." It was my favourite and I always asked for it whenever we visited them. I don't know what happened to the book in the end but I was later able to print the poem off the Internet - Dave

  4. And can you believe the man who wrote it was a psychiatrist?!
    The book was translated into Swedish a few years after the original. I'm certain we did not have it in my home or in either of my grandparents' houses. I suppose I've just seen/heard the name referred to, like in other books of somewhat later date.

  5. The cover illustration reminds me of Edward Scissorhands.

  6. It sounds like the stuff of nightmares to me and anybody raised on such a book will probably have had psychological issues in adult life (not you of course!). I imagine the book was read avidly by Mitt Romney, George W. Bush, Osama bin Laden and the nannies of our own beloved prime ministerial double act - David Cameron and Nick Clegg.

  7. I don't know about Edward Scissorhands, the cover looks more like Freddy Krueger!

  8. I am with YP bit scary for me as a kiddie
    but loved reading about it all

  9. Yes in those days parents were not afraid to hurt the “sensitive children’s soul”. The stories are very direct and filled with horror. Not unusual for the early 1800, compare the original ferry tales of the Grimm brothers of the same period.

  10. Wow scarey stories. Never heard of any of them. Not surprised they are not around these days !

  11. Wow! Is it on Amazon?! I'll try my best to find it - and probably keep it away from my kids!

    Which reminds me; when I first came from the UK to Catalonia I was surprised to learn that many fairy tales had "softer" endings - for example, in my copy of the Red Shoes she has her feet chopped off and spends the rest of her life on crutches cleaning the church to amend for her sins. In my wife's (Catalan) version, just as the woodchopper raises his axe (hope you know the story or I've just spoiled the ending), and angel appears and takes the shoes off as she is already sorry for her sins.
    Something to do with Protestant v Catholic way of looking at things?? Maybe.

  12. Dave - I remember that rhyme from my childhood. It's interesting how strongly some childhood books evoke memories, isn't it?
    Dawn - yes I read a bit about the author on wiki. I read he wrote it because he couldn't find 'good children's stories' anywhere else.
    Robert - I think I read that Edward Scissorhands was inspired by Struwwelpeter.
    YP - you may well be right. Not about me, of course.
    SP - I've never watched Nightmare on Elm Street. Maybe I'll choose a windy, rainy evening alone for the full effect.
    John - not for sensitive souls, as Ben says.
    Helsie - they bred 'em tough in those days, obviously!
    Brian - it's available free on the Gutenburg Press. I put a link on the post. And yes, it's also definately on Amazon. But I prefer Richard Gorey. Do you know him?

  13. Thanks, on re-reading the post I did see the link. No, I don't know Richard Gorey but will check him out, having been suitably impressed by a couple of books you've recommended in the past!
    My dealings with "black" or surreal humour as a kid were basically down to Roald Dahl and Spike Milligan!

  14. Oddly enough I did know of Struwwelpeter although not, I'm sure, from my parents who adopted a much more positive attitude to life. Now you have me playing a mental guessing game with myself.

  15. Yep. We had that one. And Hillaire Belloc's cautionary tales, which was very funny. But the scariest book in the house was a very old copy of Grimm's fairy tales, a translation dating from the late 19th Century. It still is the scariest book in the house. You should read that stuff! Or, if you are of a timid disposition, maybe you shouldn't . Psychopathic serial killers, rape, torture, black magic, ferocious child eating animals, it's all there. I suppose if you lived in the Black Forest and it was full of bandits, bears and wolves these are the stories you might tell your kids to keep them away from the trees.

  16. GB, have you worked out yet where you've seen it? Maybe you had piano lessons too?

    VenDr - Until you mentioned, I had no knowledge of Belloc beyond the name and the 'Tales'. Now I've looked him up, what an interesting person he was!

    Of course there's also Edward Gorey... A sort-of gothi-Edwardian Grimm.
    Tame example here:

  17. Brian - I put you wrong. I got muddled with Richard COREY (Simon and Garfunkel's song & Edwin Arlington Robinson's Poem).
    It's EDWARD Gorey.

  18. I gave up looking after a while Katherine.

    I loved Hilaire Belloc though. Possibly my favourite quote of his now is "When I am dead, I hope it may be said: His sins were scarlet, but his books were read." It's possibly my favourite because I can't recall any others. He did have one about a microbe though which you'd probably like. I'll have to look it up.

    1. Ah, Geeb, after all this time I found it.

      The Microbe is so very small
      You cannot make him out at all,
      But many sanguine people hope
      To see him through a microscope.
      His jointed tongue that lies beneath
      A hundred curious rows of teeth;
      His seven tufted tails with lots
      Of lovely pink and purple spots,
      On each of which a pattern stands,
      Composed of forty separate bands;
      His eyebrows of a tender green;
      All these have never yet been seen--
      But Scientists, who ought to know,
      Assure us that is must be so...
      Oh! let us never, never doubt
      What nobody is sure about!