Bad Children of History #11: The Era B.A.S. (Before Alka-Seltzer)

Look, I found the least-subtly-titled children’s book of all time:

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It’s Little Nancy, or, the Punishment of Greediness: A Moral Tale. It was published around 1810 by Morgan & Yeager, the fine Philadelphians who also brought you Little Sophy, or, the Punishment of Idleness and Disobedience (not joking).

When we first meet little Nancy, she’s at home, and she’s just received a delightful invitation.

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Little Nancy one day
Was invited to play,
And with her young friends to make merry;
In a garden so fine,
Where fruit, cakes, and sweet wine,
Were provided to make them all cheery.

When the letter was brought
She was pleased at the thought,
And a dozen times over ’twas read;
On each word did she dwell,
Till by heart she could tell
The whole letter, ‘ere she went to bed.

Extreme slant rhyme of “merry” and “cheery” aside, I’d say this sounds like a typical little girl who is very, very excited to go to a party with her friends.

The next morning, before little Nancy leaves for the party, her mother reminds her not to eat greedily, “as she much wish’d to break her of this”. Nancy tries to bear this advice in mind, but then she gets to the party, where she runs around with her friends and proceeds to see this:

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What warm-blooded human could possibly resist that basket of fruit, those extremely tiny plates, that enticing egg cup, or that round thing on the end that might be a pie?

Not Nancy, unfortunately. She eats as much as she can. In fact, she keeps eating until her friends drag her away, whereupon she slumps in a glade, overcome by her spate of gluttony.

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Gosh. Now that’s a little girl overcome by “the pain that intemperance brings”, if ever I’ve seen one.

Nancy’s not fit to play tag in the forest any more, so she’s taken home and put to bed.

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Now being unable
To return to the table,
Yet anxiously wishing to stay;
She was sent home to bed
Crying out, (though half dead)
“I will never again disobey!”

We’re not really told how little Nancy makes the transition from “stomach ache” to “half dead”, so we’ll have to take Morgan and Yeager’s word for it. Luckily, she seems to have a good adult by her side, ready to help her don her bonnet and remove her long socks, especially as she seems to have learned her lesson entirely through a single treatment of aversive therapy. And you, young readers– you don’t even have to eat a whole bunch of pie off of extremely tiny plates to learn this lesson! You can just read Nancy’s tale and take heed.

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