"Shock-Headed Peter (Der Struwwelpeter)" (1845) by Heinrich Hoffmann, an extraordinary set of illustrated lessons showing children how to behave – or else!
Friday 20 April 2018, by
Dr. Heinrich Hoffman (1809-1894) drew this sketchbook with verse lessons for his three-year-old son as a Christmas present for him in 1844, after having been unable to find any books able to really interest someone of that age in the bookstores in his town of Frankfurt – they were all either too long, too boring, too stodgily moralistic, too full of adult vocabulary or, mostly, all of that together.
He was at the time the psychiatrist at the city’s Institute for the Mentally Ill – this is more than 50 years before Freud wrote his first book on the subject, so Dr. Hoffmann can surely be considered a precursor in the field – after having practiced general medicine for several years, when he had been struck by the widespread use of dramatic threats by parents to keep their children out of harm’s way – for example by telling them that the chimneysweep would come out of the chimney to take them away if they didn’t behave, or that if they ate too much they would have stomach aches and the doctor would come and give them terrible medicine that would taste awful. So he was used to having children break out in tears when he was called to their household – a problem he solved by drawing colourful sketches for them to make them forget their fears and woes.
In the short sketches that he did for his son there are amazingly direct - and often gruesome - lessons about the (usually) really awful things that will happen to you:
– if you don’t behave properly,
– if you don’t take care of your appearance,
– if you mistreat pets,
– if you play with matches,
– if you make fun of black people,
– if you shoot animals,
– if you suck your thumb,
– if you don’t eat your soup,
– if you fidget at table,
– if you don’t pay attention to where you are going,
– if you go out in a storm,
in episodes that are more than understandable for very young people and the others too, all in verse and all quite magnificently illustrated.
His son was happy with the present, and when he showed the sketchbook to friends and neighbours he was insistently encouraged to have it printed, which he did with astounding success – it sold millions of copies and became one of the most-sold books of the time, going through over 400 (!) editions by the end of the century, both in Germany and in many other countries.
It has remained one of the best-known books for young people in German-speaking countries, but is less well-known elsewhere now.
We present here the remarkable English-language version by an unknown translator that was published in England in 1848.
An e-book, with the author’s illustrations and with the original German text in an annex, is available for downloading below.
The original German-language version can also be seen here.
SHOCK-HEADED PETER (Der Struwwelpeter)
1. MERRY STORIES AND FUNNY PICTURES
2. SHOCK-HEADED PETER
3. CRUEL FREDERICK
4. THE DREADFUL STORY OF HARRIET AND THE MATCHES
5. THE STORY OF THE INKY BOYS
6. THE STORY OF THE MAN THAT WENT OUT SHOOTING
7. THE STORY OF LITTLE SUCK-A-THUMB
8. THE STORY OF AUGUSTUS, WHO WOULD NOT HAVE ANY SOUP
9. THE STORY OF FIDGETY PHILIP
10. THE STORY OF JOHNNY HEAD-IN-AIR
11. THE STORY OF FLYING ROBERT