This week’s bad child of history comes from Meddlesome Matty, a 1925 volume that is chock-full of devilish youth doing misguided things: eating an entire plum cake, hoping people will admire a new ruffly dress, trying to steal an apple, throwing balls in the general vicinity of windows, fishing for fun instead of profit– all manner of atrocities.
One particularly dire warning focuses on Richard, a lad who often stops to “loiter and chatter” instead of diligently completing tasks. Here he is:
It’s obvious from this illustration that the goat is up to no good (and what goat isn’t?), but what did Richard do to deserve such a caprine intervention?
John Brown is a man without houses or lands;
Himself he supports by the work of his hands:
He brings home his wages each Saturday night;
To his wife and his children a very good sight.
His eldest son Richard, on errands when sent,
To loiter and chatter is very much bent;
And in spite of the care his mother bestows,
He is known by his tatters wherever he goes.
His shoes too are worn, and his feet are half bare,
And now it is time he should have a new pair;
‘Go at once to the shop,’ said John Brown to his son,
‘And change me this bank-note–I have only one.’
So Richard comes from a working-class family, likes to chat, and wears worn-out clothes? That doesn’t sound so bad…
But now comes the mischief, for Richard would stop
To prate with a boy at a green-grocer’s shop!
And to whom in his boasting he shows his bank-note:
Just then to the green-stall up marches a goat.
The boys knew full well that it was this goat’s way,
With any that passed her, to gambol and play:
The three then continued to skip and to frisk,
Till his note on some greens Dick happened to whisk:
And what was his wonder to see the rude goat,
In munching the greens, eat up his bank-note!
To his father he ran, in dismay, with the news,
And by stopping to gossip he lost his new shoes.
The saddest part of the story isn’t even narrated in the poem, it’s just illustrated at the end. Not only does Richard lose the money and his chance at new shoes–
But also, he gets spanked through the trap-door of his pajamas, next to a teeny-tiny bed. With what looks to be a conductor’s baton.
Consider yourself warned.