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"The Accidents of Youth"
"The Accidents of Youth"

10 Things Kids Shouldn't Do (in 1819)

"The Accidents of Youth"
"The Accidents of Youth"

Childhood can be a dangerous time—especially if kids insist on not listening to their parents. Looking to curb incidents of youthful disobedience, Jas. W. and Chas. Adlard published The Accidents of Youth, a book of short cautionary tales (only slightly less horrifying than these), in 1819. The authors hoped the stories would encourage children to improve their conduct, presumably by scaring the crap out of them with tales of the extreme consequences of foolish activities that had been forbidden by parents.

“The inexperience and thoughtlessness natural at your age exposes you to many dangers,” the Adlards write in the opening letter. “You will behold the misfortunes that arise from disobedience and want of thought.” Those misfortunes include, but are not limited to, breaking an arm or a leg, cutting or burning yourself, swallowing pins, poisoning, and laming or killing yourself (or others). It’s not that the authors don’t want children to play or get exercise. Quite the opposite! “I am very much amused by your games, though they are sometimes noisy,” they write. “I wish you to be gay and to amuse yourselves at proper times; but you should never be rash or disobedient.”

Obviously, some of the advice is sound (don't play with guns and firecrackers, for starters). But sometimes, the consequences of these playtime activities are taken to the extreme. Here is a list of some of the dangerous activities the authors thought kids should probably avoid—or risk doing at their own peril.

1. Climb Trees

In “The Climbers,” Little Henry had a bad day. It all started when one of his friends, George, wanted to climb a tree to look for a bird’s nest. When the group of boys found it—all the way out on the end of a skinny limb—they were quick to recognize that the branch wouldn’t hold “the least boy among us.” But Henry and George's friend Charles called them all cowards and went to get the nest. His friends laughed as the bough began to bend, which made Charles afraid—and also made him stick with his foolish journey out to the nest. When the branch broke, “poor Charles fell to the ground … [he] could not speak, and the blood ran from his mouth and nose. … He seemed to be dead.”

Thankfully, Charles didn’t die, but he suffered a long and painful illness and would be a cripple for the rest of his life. Henry’s father, meanwhile, had strong words for his son and the other foolish boy:

I am shocked you have contributed so much toward it: the thought of it will always make you unhappy … You knew the danger he was in, and your conduct is therefore as criminal as if you had pushed him off the branch yourself. … But Charles … in climbing up the tree, he disobeyed his parents, who are wise people and, no doubt, had often warned him of the danger. … If your unhappy friend had not alarmed you by the terrible accident which befell him, I should at this moment have to deplore your death.

In other words: I told you not to climb trees, dummy! See what can happen?

2. Be a Glutton

“You might have compared him to the half-starved dogs that are always thrusting their noses into everything they meet with,” says the author, of the subject of “The Sad Adventures of Peter the Guzzler.” Peter is a glutton, and suffers a series of accidents brought on by his gluttony: He drinks medicine intended for an ill servant, which not only makes him sick but also earns him that unfortunate nickname; he hangs over a ditch to eat some strawberries, only to fall in, “where he remained, for some time, up to his neck in mud and water. He would have lost his life, if a countryman … had not come to his relief”; he is punished severely for stealing custard from a classmate; and he eats poison berries, after which “he was ill for a long time, and no one thought he would live.”

But none of that could convince him to stop eating everything he saw—until he heard the tale of another young glutton who thought he was drinking wine when he was actually drinking aqua-fortis (also known as nitric acid), with devastating results: “The unfortunate child died … the surgeons who opened him said his inside was the same as if it has been burnt. Thus, you see the shocking effects of gluttony!”

3. Tease Animals

“Old Daddy Simon; or, The Three Accidents” deals with the youthful misadventures of a man the naughty village boys call Old Daddy Simon. Simon is lame, blind in one eye, and has only one hand. When the boys (who routinely harass Simon) ask how he got to his current state, he tells them that it was because he liked to terrorize animals, despite the fact that his mother warned him not to.

When Simon was pulling out the whiskers of a tom-cat, the cat “threw out his paw so nimbly, that he scratched me in the left eye, and burst it.” Once Simon was healed, he was back to bugging animals, pulling on the ears, paws, and tails of dogs. He one day made the mistake of grabbing the paw of a very large dog, startling it: “he made a leap, turned, and at once bit my wrist nearly in two.” You’d think Simon would have learned his lesson by that point, but no: Later, when he was attempting to pull hair from a horse’s tail to make a fishing pole, the horse kicked him and broke his thigh. The moral of the story, in the words of Old Daddy Simon: “Thus, you see, for not listening to my mother, God has punished me three times.”

4. Be thoughtless

Edward, the title character of “The Thoughtless Boy” is a walking disaster. “He did every thing that came into his head, without thinking of the consequences,” the author writes. Edward walks backward and falls down the stairs; he listens at keyholes and gets his cheek scratched when his sister opens the door (the scratch somehow leaves him ill for days); he frequently almost blinds his sister, and once even shut her fingers in a door “and nearly pinched her fingers off.” Thoughtless boys also get flogged by their fathers when they put chairs on top of tiny tables to see what’s on high shelves, and almost fall and break a bone. The lesson: Be good or get beaten!

5. Throw Stones

In “The Danger of Throwing Stones,” the author finds a young man crying over the grave of his mother. Years before, the man—then a boy—had picked up the habit of throwing stones at animals and property from some other wayward youth. His mother told him to play with a woolen ball, and not stones, but he never did. One day, he threw some stones at a few birds on a hedge; the largest stone went through the bush and hit his mother, who was walking by, in the temple, killing her. His father sent him away to boarding school, and the young man never saw him again, only returning home after his father had died. “This melancholy tale will certainly teach children how dangerous it is to throw stones at any time, and how fatal the effects of disobedience may be,” the author writes.

6. Stick your head in staircase balustrade

You might want to look down through the railing, kids, but just don’t do it. Your head will get stuck, like the little girl’s in “The Balustrade of the Staircase.” Her father told her to stay there or to get out on her own, because “I wish to make you remember that your mamma told you never to look through the railing of the staircase.” The little girl eventually figures out how to free herself, “but not until she had scratched her ear sadly.”

Things ended kind of happily for her, the author notes, but not all children are so lucky. One little boy, pretending he was on horseback, got in the balustrade and then fell to his death.

7. Pound on Windows

Hit glass, and it might break: That’s the lesson Victor learns in “The Broken Window.” He’s banging on the window, pretending it’s a drum, despite warnings from his parents and the maid not to do so. The glass breaks, “cutting his hand in a shocking manner.” After his mother dresses his hand—and despite the fact that her son is in great pain—she tells him “your accident was your own fault; you ought to have listened to the good advice that was given to you. … You must think yourself very lucky … for you might have been lamed for life. Go to your room; your disobedience gives me more pain than your accident.” Way harsh, mom.

8. Play with pins

There are many reasons why you shouldn’t play with pins. For one, if you put them in your mouth—they could be dirty. Or a large dog could jump on your back, forcing them down your throat, as happened to little George in “The Pins”: “The more he tried to vomit them up,” the author says of the pins, which were in George’s throat crossways, “the faster they stuck.” Even a surgeon could do nothing for poor George, who “suffered the most dreadful agony for five or six days, died, and and left all his friends to deplore his unhappy end.”

Then there’s Amelia in “The Pin in the Soup.” Despite being warned not to store her pins in the front part of her dress (“some day when you are at table, one may fall in your plate, and you may swallow it”) Amelia did just that, and one day, a pin fell in her soup and she swallowed it. Thankfully, a surgeon saved her, but she still “suffered dreadfully.”

But the danger from pins doesn’t just come from swallowing them. In “The Pin in the Chair,” a mischievous little boy hides a pin in a chair cushion and tries to get his sister to sit on it. She refuses, and he forgets about the pin—and later sits on it himself when he comes to dinner. “The pin made a very bad wound, and they were obliged to send for a surgeon. For some time everybody thought he would be lame for life; but nobody pitied him.” The moral? "The wicked must suffer at one time or other!"

9. Get too close to fire

In “The Fire,” little Thomas pays his mother no heed when she tells him to step back from the candle. Instead, he gets too close, and sets his own hair aflame. His cries of distress bring his mother, who puts the fire out with a handkerchief. Here, the author has some advice: Don’t just cry like a baby, as Thomas did. Take action! “Make haste and smother the flame with the first thing you can find. … Many children [would do] nothing but cry, till they had been burned to death.” Still, Thomas learned a valuable lesson from singeing his hair: “The accident did him good, by teaching him to be more careful and obedient.”

The author isn’t done with fire, though. “The Little Girl Who Was Burnt” tells the story of Elizabeth, a beautiful but vain little girl who one day put on her mother’s jewelry and went to admire herself in the looking glass above the fireplace. But she stood too close to the flame, and her dress caught on fire. Her cries brought help, but too late: “The fire had burnt her clothes to ashes and scorched her in a shocking manner, and she expired, a few hours later, in the greatest agony,—leaving a dreadful lesson to those children who play too near to fire.”

10. Stick a stick in a beehive

“The Bees” opens with an authority figure telling William—“a naughty boy, who frequently did what he was told not to do”—not to go near the bees in the garden: “The bees are armed with a sting, which inflicts a severe wound; and they never fail to use it when they are disturbed.”

But William loves honey almost as much as he loves disobeying, and so he goes into the garden and thrusts a stick into the hive. He hopes to get a sweet treat, but what he gets instead is a swarm of bees, which settle on his head and start stinging “everything that was uncovered.” William runs into the house, still covered in bees; his family eventually drives the bees off, and William eventually turns “red as scarlet, and swelled beyond conception. The pain was so great that it was thought he would die.”

William had a fever and was ill for a long time, but eventually recovered, a valuable lesson learned: “I can assure you, that he never went again to disturb the bees, and was ever afterwards attentive to what was told him.”

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12 Smart Book Ideas for Everyone in Your Life
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Books make the perfect gift: they're durable, transportable, and they promise some (hopefully) quality alone time. But what do you get the aunt who loves mystery novels if you're not familiar with the genre? Or the nephew who devours travelogues and goes backpacking around the world? Look no further—we've got them covered, plus 10 other very specific categories.

1. FOR THE VINTAGE COOKBOOK LOVER: LEAVE ME ALONE WITH THE RECIPES: THE LIFE, ART, AND COOKBOOK OF CIPE PINELES, EDITED BY SARAH RICH,‎ WENDY MACNAUGHTON, DEBBIE MILLMAN, AND MARIA POPOVA; $27

Book cover for Leave Me Alone With the Recipes
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Author Sarah Rich and illustrator Wendy MacNaughton fell in love with the work of Cipe Pineles, the first female art director at Condé Nast, after discovering her recipes at a San Francisco antiquarian book fair. Filled with vibrantly colored illustrations, Leave Me Alone With the Recipes shows the joyful spirit and homespun flair that made Pineles’s work so influential. Alongside the recipes, the book includes contributions from luminaries in the worlds of food and illustration, including artist Maira Kalman and Maria Popova of Brain Pickings renown.

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2. FOR ANYONE HAVING SURGERY THIS YEAR: THE BUTCHERING ART: JOSEPH LISTER’S QUEST TO TRANSFORM THE GRISLY WORLD OF VICTORIAN MEDICINE BY LINDSEY FITZHARRIS; $27

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Back in the bad old days of medicine, a consistently blood-soaked apron was a sign of pride. Surgeons rarely washed them—or their hands, or their operating tools. Joseph Lister, the somewhat reluctant hero of Lindsey Fitzharris's new book The Butchering Art, was the genius who convinced the medical world that germs were not only real but a major cause of mortality in their hospitals. With an eye for vivid details and the colorful characters of 19th century medicine, Fitzharris has crafted a book that will make you thank Lister for his foresight—and make you glad you weren't alive back then.

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3. FOR THE GENEALOGY OBSESSIVE: IT’S ALL RELATIVE: ADVENTURES UP AND DOWN THE WORLD’S FAMILY TREE BY A.J. JACOBS; $27

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What constitutes a "family"? In his latest book, A.J. Jacobs (famed for lifestyle experiments like trying to live an entire year in accordance with the Bible) delves into the world of genetics and genealogy to try and orchestrate the world's largest family reunion. With his trademark humor and insight, he ends up exploring the interconnectedness of all of humankind.

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4. FOR THE SOCIALLY AWARE YOUNG ADULT: THE HATE U GIVE BY ANGIE THOMAS; $18

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Amazon

Already caught between the conflicting worlds of the poor neighborhood where she lives and her fancy prep school, 16-year-old Starr Carter finds herself in the middle of a tragedy when her childhood best friend is shot and killed by a police officer. As his death becomes a national flashpoint, it becomes clear that she may be the only person alive who can explain what really happened that night. Angie Thomas's writing has earned praise for being gut-wrenching, searing, and deftly crafted; Publishers Weekly called the book "heartbreakingly topical."

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5. FOR FANS OF PRESIDENTIAL HISTORY THAT READS LIKE A NOVEL: THE WARS OF THE ROOSEVELTS: THE RUTHLESS RISE OF AMERICA'S GREATEST POLITICAL FAMILY BY WILLIAM J. MANN; $35

You might think you know the Roosevelts, but historian William J. Mann looks beyond the well-worn stories to expose the bitter rivalries that drove its most famous members' quest for power. Along the way, he examines the Roosevelts who were kept away from the limelight, and the secrets they hold—all told in dramatic style.

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6. FOR THE INTREPID TRAVELER: ATLAS OBSCURA: AN EXPLORER'S GUIDE TO THE WORLD'S HIDDEN WONDERS, BY JOSHIA FOER, DYLAN THURAS, AND ELLA MORTON; $35

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An amusement park in a salt mine? Check. A tree so big it has its own pub? Check. A giant hole that's been spouting flames for 40 years? Check. This guidebook is a compendium of the world's strangest and most wonderful places, and it's guaranteed to inspire some serious wanderlust, especially in more adventurous travelers. For the complete experience, you can also get an awesome wall calendar featuring destinations from the book designed as vintage travel posters; there's a page-a-day desk calendar and explorers' journal too.

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7. FOR YOUR FRIEND WHO LOVES WEIRD HISTORY: THE PUBLIC DOMAIN REVIEW SELECTED ESSAYS; $20

The Public Domain Review is one of the premier online destination for fans of curious history. If you know someone who enjoys stories about weird medieval medicine treaties, ancient automata, deranged 18th century scientists, and other odd subjects well off the beaten historical path, look no further than this book of essays (the site's fourth).

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8. FOR PEOPLE WHO LOVE A GOOD MYSTERY: THE BIG BOOK OF ROGUES AND VILLAINS, EDITED BY OTTO PENZLER; $25

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At the heart of every good mystery is a (usually dastardly) perpetrator, whether it's a Count Dracula or a Jimmy Valentine. With this anthology, Edgar Award winner Otto Penzler has combed through 150 years of literary history to find 72 stories featuring the most famous and entertaining antiheroes authors have ever been able to dream up.

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9. FOR PEOPLE WHO KNOW WHAT THE BORSCHT BELT IS: JEWISH COMEDY: A SERIOUS HISTORY BY JEREMY DAUBER; $28.95

Jews and humor go together like challah and Manischewitz (after all, as my bubbie says, if you don't laugh, you'll cry). In this "serious history," Columbia professor Jeremy Dauber considers the origins of Jewish humor in Biblical times through its life on Twitter today; how it's reflected—and even influenced—Jewish history; the production of major archetypes like the Jewish mother; and the prominence of Jewish comedians like Sarah Silverman and Larry David. You don't have to be Jewish to love it, but it may help you understand the in-jokes.

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10. FOR YOUR FRIEND WHO LOVES DARK SHORT STORIES: HER BODY AND OTHER PARTIES, BY CARMEN MARIA MACHADO; $16

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A story told in the form of Law & Order episode summaries. A strange plague that makes girls go invisible, as narrated by a mall worker. A recollection of romantic encounters with the last of humanity’s survivors. In this collection, Carmen Maria Machado fuses urban legends, dystopian tropes, and heavy helpings of sexuality to create a new kind of magical realism strangely appropriate to our era. The images will haunt you long after you put the book down, if you let them.

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11. FOR THE PERSON WHO LOVES BIG-DEAL LITERARY NOVELS AND ALSO ABRAHAM LINCOLN: LINCOLN IN THE BARDO, BY GEORGE SAUNDERS; $18

A meditation on sorrow and the Civil War populated by a rag-tag group of ghosts, Lincoln in the Bardo starts with the real-life death of 11-year-old Willie Lincoln, Abraham's son. In the book, Willie has entered the Bardo—a Tibetan Buddhist term for a transitional limbo—where there's a fierce struggle underway for his soul.

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12. FOR THE GENERALIST: A BOOK-OF-THE-MONTH SUBSCRIPTION; $45 FOR THREE MONTHS

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Book of the Month Club

Can’t decide what to get, but feeling generous? Give your friend who loves to read a new hardcover book of their choice every month. Literary fans who are short on time will love having someone else do the legwork to find the best new novels; plus, there’s early access to new releases. Prices vary depending on the length of the subscription, and there’s a deal right now where you can get a month free when you give a subscription as a gift.

Find It: Book of the Month

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10 Little Facts About Louisa May Alcott
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Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Born on this day in 1832, Louisa May Alcott led a fascinating life. Besides enchanting millions of readers with her novel Little Women, she worked as a Civil War nurse, fought against slavery, and registered women to vote. In honor of her birthday, here are 10 facts about Alcott.

1. SHE HAD MANY FAMOUS FRIENDS.

Louisa's parents, Bronson and Abigail Alcott, raised their four daughters in a politically active household in Massachusetts. As a child, Alcott briefly lived with her family in a failed Transcendentalist commune, helped her parents hide slaves who had escaped via the Underground Railroad, and had discussions about women’s rights with Margaret Fuller. Throughout her life, she socialized with her father’s friends, including Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Although her family was always poor, Alcott had access to valuable learning experiences. She read books in Emerson’s library and learned about botany at Walden Pond with Thoreau, later writing a poem called "Thoreau’s Flute" for her friend. She also socialized with abolitionist Frederick Douglass and women’s suffrage activist Julia Ward Howe.

2. HER FIRST NOM DE PLUME WAS FLORA FAIRFIELD.

As a teenager, Alcott worked a variety of teaching and servant jobs to earn money for her family. She first became a published writer at 19 years old, when a women’s magazine printed one of her poems. For reasons that are unclear, Alcott used a pen name—Flora Fairfield—rather than her real name, perhaps because she felt that she was still developing as a writer. But in 1854 at age 22, Alcott used her own name for the first time. She published Flower Fables, a collection of fairy tales she had written six years earlier for Emerson’s daughter, Ellen.

3. SHE SECRETLY WROTE PULP FICTION.

Before writing Little Women, Alcott wrote Gothic pulp fiction under the nom de plume A.M. Barnard. Continuing her amusing penchant for alliteration, she wrote books and plays called Perilous Play and Pauline’s Passion and Punishment to make easy money. Alcott wrote about cross-dressers, spies, revenge, and hashish. These sensational, melodramatic works are strikingly different than the more wholesome, righteous vibe she captured in Little Women, and she didn’t advertise her former writing as her own after Little Women became popular.

4. SHE WROTE ABOUT HER EXPERIENCE AS A CIVIL WAR NURSE.


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In 1861, at the beginning of the U.S. Civil War, Alcott sewed Union uniforms in Concord and, the next year, enlisted as an army nurse. In a Washington, D.C. hotel-turned-hospital, she comforted dying soldiers and helped doctors perform amputations. During this time, she wrote about her experiences in her journal and in letters to her family. In 1863, she published Hospital Sketches, a fictionalized account, based on her letters, of her stressful yet meaningful experiences as a wartime nurse. The book became massively popular and was reprinted in 1869 with more material.

5. SHE SUFFERED FROM MERCURY POISONING.

After a month and a half of nursing in D.C., Alcott caught typhoid fever and pneumonia. She received the standard treatment at the time—a toxic mercury compound called calomel. (Calomel was used in medicines through the 19th century.) Because of this exposure to mercury, Alcott suffered from symptoms of mercury poisoning for the rest of her life. She had a weakened immune system, vertigo, and had episodes of hallucinations. To combat the pain caused by the mercury poisoning (as well as a possible autoimmune disorder, such as lupus, that could have been triggered by it), she took opium. Alcott died of a stroke in 1888, at 55 years old.

6. SHE WROTE LITTLE WOMEN TO HELP HER FATHER.

In 1867, Thomas Niles, an editor at a publishing house, asked Alcott if she wanted to write a novel for girls. Although she tried to get excited about the project, she thought she wouldn’t have much to write about girls because she was a tomboy. The next year, Alcott’s father was trying to convince Niles to publish his manuscript about philosophy. He told Niles that his daughter could write a book of fairy stories, but Niles still wanted a novel about girls. Niles told Alcott’s father that if he could get his daughter to write a (non-fairy) novel for girls, he would publish his philosophy manuscript. So to make her father happy and help his writing career, Alcott wrote about her adolescence growing up with her three sisters. Published in September 1868, the first part of Little Women was a huge success. The second part was published in 1869, and Alcott went on to write sequels such as Little Men (1871) and Jo’s Boys (1886).

7. SHE WAS AN EARLY SUFFRAGETTE.

In the 1870s, Alcott wrote for a women’s rights periodical and went door-to-door in Massachusetts to encourage women to vote. In 1879, the state passed a law that would allow women to vote in local elections on anything involving education and children—Alcott registered immediately, becoming the first woman registered in Concord to vote. Although met with resistance, she, along with 19 other women, cast ballots in a 1880 town meeting. The Nineteenth Amendment was finally ratified in 1920, decades after Alcott died.

8. SHE PRETENDED TO BE HER OWN SERVANT TO TRICK HER FANS.


Orchard House, the Alcott family home. Phillip Capper from Wellington, New Zealand (Flickr) // CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

After the success of Little Women, fans who connected with the book traveled to Concord to see where Alcott grew up. One month, Alcott had a hundred strangers knock on the door of Orchard House, her family’s home, hoping to see her. Because she didn’t like the attention, she sometimes pretended to be a servant when she answered the front door, hoping to trick fans into leaving.

9. ALCOTT NEVER HAD CHILDREN, BUT SHE CARED FOR HER NIECE.

Although Alcott never married or had biological children, she took care of her orphaned niece. In 1879, Alcott’s youngest sister May died a month after giving birth to her daughter. As she was dying, May told her husband to send the baby, whom she named Louisa in honor of Alcott, to her older sister. Nicknamed Lulu, the girl spent her childhood with Alcott, who wrote her stories and seemed a good fit for her high-spiritedness. Lulu was just 8 when Alcott died, at which point she went to live with her father in Switzerland.

10. FANS CAN VISIT ALCOTT'S FAMILY HOME IN CONCORD, MASSACHUSETTS.

At 399 Lexington Road in Concord, Massachusetts, tourists can visit Orchard House, the Alcott family home from 1858 to 1877. Orchard House is a designated National Historic Landmark, and visitors can take a guided tour to see where Alcott wrote and set Little Women. Visitors can also get a look at Alcott’s writing desk and the family’s original furniture and paintings.

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