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Good Manners Month

Author Rita Smith
Air Date 9/26/2003

Good Manners Month Transcript

Most parents have rules, rules, and more rules for just how they want their children to behave and they often have cruel little stories, known as cautionary tales, that go along with the rules showing exactly what will happen if they are not obeyed. Two writers from the late 19th century, Heinrich Hoffman and Hilaire Belloc, wrote some truly dire cautionary tales for children, but tempered them with a dose of droll humor. The point is to show what happens to one misbehaving little boy or girl in order to keep the young reader from going down the same destructive road. Here is Hoffman’s cautionary tale on the rule, Don’t suck your thumb!

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 that 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 scissors-man.
Oh, children, see! The tailor’s come
And caught our little Suck-a-Thumb.
Snip! Snip! 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.1

Belloc has an entire book entitled Cautionary Tales for Children, including this this poem that shows what happens to a little girl who disobeyed the rule, Don’t slam the door!

Rebecca, Who Slammed Doors for Fun and Perished Miserably

A Trick that everyone abhors
In little girls is slamming doors.
A wealthy banker’s little daughter
Who lived in Palace Green, Bayswater
(By name Rebecca Offendort)
was given to this furious sport.
She would deliberately go
And slam the door like Billy-ho
She was not really bad at heart,
But only rather rude and wild:
She was an aggravating child….

It happened that a marble bust
Of Abraham was standing just
Above the door this little lamb
Had carefully prepared to slam,
And down it came! It knocked her flat!
It laid her out! She looked like that.

Her funeral sermon (which was long
And followed by a sacred song)
Mentioned her Virtues, it is true,
But dwelt upon her vices too.
And showed the dreadful end of one
Who goes and slams the door for fun…2


1 Hoffman, Heinrich, in The Home Book of Verse for Young Folks, selected by Burton Egbert Stevenson, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1915, p 66-67.

Belloc, Hilaire, Cautionary Tales for Children. London: Eveleigh Nash Company, 1907. p. 63-68.

Posted in Holidays, Poetry