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Gelett Burgess’ Goops

Author Rita Smith
Air Date 5/11/2000

Gelett Burgess’ Goops Transcript

Today we are celebrating Etiquette Day. Multitudes of etiquette books have been written over the years for children. Most of the early ones took themselves very seriously, but in 1900, Gellett Burgess wrote and illustrated a book entitled Goops and How to be Them.

Just what are the Goops? They are onery bald-headed little imps with tiny circles for eyes and curved lines (usually downward curves) for mouths. As Burgess explains in the introduction: Goops are “a race, void of beauty and of grace, extraordinary creatures with a paucity of features. In rudeness they’re precocious, They’re atrocious, they’re ferocious!”

The book puts all kinds of childish naughtiness right in front of the young reader showing him what he shouldn’t do rather than giving him rules about what he should do. In 1900 it was an interesting new concept: to try to foster good manners in children by illustrating misdeeds of extremely ill-mannered creatures.

The Goops they lick their fingers,
The Goops they lick their knives
They spill their broth on the tablecloth
Oh, they lead disgusting lives!
The Goops they talk while eating,
And loud and fast they chew
And that is why I’m glad that I
Am not a Goop–are you?

The book is, indeed, a litany of bad behavior. The Goops are loud when the baby is sleeping. They point and stare at people, stick gum underneath their chairs, grab the last cookie on the plate, and forget to feed their pets.

They are very messy.
Little scraps of paper
Little crumbs of food
Make a room untidy
Everywhere they’re strewed.
Do you sharpen pencils ever, on the floor?
What becomes of orange-peels
And your apple core?
Can you blame your mother
If she looks severe
When she says, “It looks to me
As if the Goops were here?!”

Goops beg insistently for money, toys and candy and interrupt their father when he’s telling funny jokes. They’re dishonest, too, cheating at marbles, for example, and peeking when they are “it.” They even get sick when it’stime to go to church or school!

When ’tis time to go to church
Do you ever have a chill?
When ’tis time to go to school,
Do you fancy you are ill?
O, be very cautious, please,
I can tell by signs like these
You have got the Goop Disease!!

“Don’t be a goop,” was an admonition I heard often enough when I was growing up. I got to know these balloon-headed personifications of naughtiness in the 1950’s because there was a cartoon of the Goops every month in one of the magazines that came to our house. I loved them then, and I still laugh at the humorous verses and expressive illustrations which poke gentle fun at the foibles of children, in hopes that the young readers will learn, if they’re bright, politeness from the impolite.

Burgess, Gelett. Goops and How to be Them: A Manual of Manners for Polite Infants Inculcating many Juvenile Virtues both by Precept and Example. New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1900.

Posted in Education, Literature