My attention was called the other day to ‘Der Struwwelpeter: Merry Stories and Funny Pictures’, a book of admonitory childrens’ poems written in German in 1844 by Heinrich Hoffmann. Hoffmann was apparently a good-natured, liberal, and humane psychiatrist who write ‘Struwwelpeter’ to entertain a friend’s son. As the subtitle suggests, these poems were considered merely amusing and not terrifying by the standards of the day.
Here is my favorite, ‘The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb’:
One day Mamma said “Conrad dear,
I must go out and leave you here.
But mind now, Conrad, what I say,
Don’t suck your thumb while I’m away.
The great tall tailor always comes
To little boys who suck their thumbs;
And ere they dream what he’s about,
He takes his great sharp scissors out,
And cuts their thumbs clean off—and then,
You know, they never grow again.”
Mamma had scarcely turned her back,
The thumb was in, Alack! Alack!
The door flew open, in he ran,
The great, long, red-legged scissor-man.
Oh! children, see! the tailor’s come
And caught out little Suck-a-Thumb.
Snip! Snap! Snip! the scissors go;
And Conrad cries out “Oh! Oh! Oh!”
Snip! Snap! Snip! They go so fast,
That both his thumbs are off at last.
Mamma comes home: there Conrad stands,
And looks quite sad, and shows his hands;
“Ah!” said Mamma, “I knew he’d come
To naughty little Suck-a-Thumb.”
The poem is accompanied by several illustrations. Here is the climactic one:
I am particularly struck that the great tall tailor has lost his hat in his hurry to remove Conrad’s thumbs.
The translation and image here were taken from the Project Gutenberg EBook of Struwwelpeter. If you enjoyed it, go and read about Augustus, who wouldn’t eat his soup and so died.