Strange Take on Childhood Back in the Late 1800’s

Harper’s Young People was an illustrated weekly published in New York in the late 1800’s. I came across this poem called Spoon-faces from an 1879 issue. 

It’s hard to imagine this poem being written in the US today.  Parents might still want to dissuade their kids from whining and frowning… but from giggling?  If a kid is frowning, shouldn’t the parent figure find out what’s wrong in the first place?  Not many American parents today would want to try to stop their children from laughing and giggling or disregard a frown.  Here’s the poem…



When they’re bright and shining
Like the summer moons,
Two queer faces look at you
From the silver spoons.
One is very long, and one
Broad as it can be,
And both of them are grewsome things,
As ever you did see.

Then careful be, young people,
And do not whine or frown,
Lest some day you discover
Your chin’s a-growing down.
Nor must you giggle all the time
As though you were but loons;
We want no children’s faces
Like those in silver spoons.

It’s interesting to see how parenting ideas change over time.  What will people say about how we parent in 100 years?  Just this week I read an article in the New York Times about how our generation is making our kids obsessed about eating healthy foods (organic only, no trans-fats, low salt, etc.) – potentially encouraging eating disorders down the road.  Maybe the key is not to push anything too hard on kids of any generation. 

Feel free to let us know what you think in the comments below. 

This poem can be found online at Project Gutenberg: Harper’s Young People, December 16, 1879.

-Mama Lisa

This article was posted on Friday, March 6th, 2009 at 11:18 am and is filed under Countries & Cultures, English, Languages, Parenting, Poems, Poetry, USA. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

2 Responses to “Strange Take on Childhood Back in the Late 1800’s”

  1. Uly Says:

    Actually, it makes perfect sense to me. It doesn’t say children mustn’t ever laugh, just that they shouldn’t giggle *all the time*. Believe me, after the fifth straight minute of hysterical laughter, I’m ready to hand out time-outs all around. (They usually deserve it. Not for the laughing, but for whatever *prompted* the laughing.)

  2. Marjorie Says:

    Compared to some of the pretty gruesome cautionary tales around at the time. I suppose this is fairly mild! I’ll read the poem to my two and see what there reaction is – I think they’ll just be bemused!

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