.... between the posts on poetry and banning of books with sad endings.
Reading Kipling's 'If' reminded me of a custom we had as children: we used to have autograph books, not for collecting celebrity signatures but for friends and family members to write in. As I recall, the entries were pretty standard because my book looked very similar to those of my sisters and cousins. 'Best friends' would write of their undying devotion, teachers would write something encouraging and uplifting, older siblings would attempt to shock or mystify and aunts and grandparents would write something 'worthy.'
My book was lost long ago but I can remember a few of the entries. Long before textese was invented, we had our clever ways of baffling the adults (or so we thought!):
YYUR, YYUB, ICUR YY4me appeared in all our books along with "Si senor, der dego, forte lores inaro. Desno lores, deis trux, fu lov cowsan ensan dux"
Someone would always write the final stanza of "If" in the boys' books while we girls had to make do with this:
Be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever;
Do noble things, not dream them, all day long:
And so make life, death and that vast forever
- one grand, sweet song
I have only just discovered that Charles Kingsley was responsible for this annoying piece of drivel. It enraged me when I was nine years old and it still does. There doesn't seem to be anything written for girls to equate with the stirring "You'll be a man, my son!" However, the effect of the soppy Kingsley lines in my autograph book was to stir me into rebellion against the image of the sweet maid forever doing noble things.
Now for the segue into this morning's post ... How far should we censor and control what our children read? Should we shelter them from everything sad, violent or frightening? Should Humpty Dumpty bounce back with a grin? How about a nice little kitten sitting on the tuffet with Miss Muffet instead of that nasty spider? Perhaps the fox should be kind and carry the gingerbread man (oops, person) gently across the river and send him on his way with a cheerful wave. The little match girl should be rescued from poverty by a handsome prince.
What a dull world it would be with all those happy endings. My mother, who was generally considered to be a kind and loving person, used to sing the most terrifying song to us as she tucked us in at night. I can't remember all of the words and googling hasn't come up with anything but it went something like this:
"Hush, there's a Grey Man coming up the stairs. Hush lest the Grey Man catch you unawares. For he's crawling and he's creeping, and his bogey eyes are peeping, just to see if everybody's fast asleep.
Hush, little one, don't let him catch you. Hush little one, don't let him see. Hide head beneath the clothes, count ten upon your toes. For where the Grey Man goes, it's black as night."
I'm sure there were more words and I would love to hear from anyone who can source it for me. Did it terrify us? Did it do permanent harm? Ridiculous! The fact that we all still sleep with the light on is totally unrelated.