The Accidents of Youth

I'm reblogging this from the blog Jane Austen's World, with some extra material I found on my own. Their post is here.

In Jane Austen's time (Regency England, in the late 18th- and early 19th century) there were illustrated educational books for children on school topics, as well as ones on morality. This one, however, takes the freaking cake. It is a 1819 guide called The Accidents of Youth that was intended to scare the hell out of your kids show children how they could avoid common grievances and injuries like getting stung by bees, breaking bones, falling into quicksand and getting kidnapped by aliens. Okay, not really the last two. Probably.

But it's very like, "Little Tommy didn't listen to his mother around the horse, and he got kicked in the head and now he's DEAD, so you should always listen to your mother and be careful around equines."

I find the illustrations way funnier than I probably should.

For example, here on the very title page, we get this hilarious account of "The sad Effects of Climbing Trees". I guess those effects are that you will definitely swan-dive to your death because your friends are too lazy to actually make a real effort to catch you. Moral: your friends are slacker bastards. Don't climb trees with them.

Here is a boy getting his eye scratched out by a cat.
Then he is kicked by a horse. He kept aggravating the animals and now he only has one eye and one leg. You know what? These books anticipate Darwin. Seriously. This is some "survival of the fittest" stuff going on here. If your kids are this stupid, they probably don't deserve to live.

Here is one of the more hilarious stories where the boy keeps shooting at birds with his slingshot, and his mother tells him to stop but he doesn't big frigging surprise, and he accidentally hits her and she DIIIIIIES. I guess he grieves best by . . . plugging his nose toward the heavens?
This is little Billy No-Sense who leaned too close to a candle and now he's bald and also maybe dead. I don't know. I would love it if this had been a warning not to wear too much hairspray. "You'll go up like a tinderbox, kid!"

I'm really not sure how this child has any limbs left by page 68. The universe is out for his blood. Or maybe his parents have set out an obstacle course death-trap in order to sacrifice him to some god from a minor pantheon so the crops will grow next year.
Here is Lisa Simpson, with her dress catching on fire. Actually, kitchen accidents were pretty common for women (billowing dresses, lots of open flame), so this probably the most reasonable one I've seen. The rest just kind of seem like idiot-tests to see if your kid is worth the expense of raising.

I hope the little boy in the below picture got a serious spanking afterwards. That was Mama's best sewing window and that tiny hooligan broke it. I'd tell you not to ruin things, Little Tommy, but by the time the sentence is out of my mouth, you're already over there, RUINING.
I'm sorry, but a fall like that would not kill you. It was unlikely to even hurt you. I think this kid had a death wish and is just throwing himself from anything he can find.

Now, that wraps up all the pictures published in this volume, but there is AMPLE hilarity to be found in some of the chapter titles. There is a chapter called–I kid you not–"The Sad Adventures of Peter the Guzzler", which is about the sins and dangers of gluttony. Little Peter is constantly hungry, always looks weak, always has headaches, and begs people for food even though his parents provide him with everything he could want. Just throwing this out there, but is it possible your child is, you know, ACTUALLY SICK?  Maybe he has a tapeworm? Maybe he is going through a growth-spurt or has a really fast metabolism? Nope. Gluttony is unconditional and inexcusable. Little Peter breaks into the pantry late at night and eats what he thinks is a treat, but is actually some medicine. He projectile pukes and goes right back to eating.

Then he eats too much and gets sick and can't go to a party. But he doesn't learn his lesson. He then crosses a ditch to eat some luscious strawberries, but falls in on his way back and has to be rescued even though that story is more about the dangers of ditches. Then he eats some poisonous berries again, more about the dangers of eating poisonous berries than the dangers of gluttony and projectile pukes again. Then his father pours him a glass of wine and when he leave the room Little Peter turns into a total alcoholic and decides to chug the whole bottle. But he gets the bottles mixed up and downs NITRIC ACID instead (this should be about the dangers of putting a bottle of NITRIC ACID IN YOUR LIQUOR CABINET, YOU IDIOTS). His mother tries to save him, but he is beyond the power of projectile puking. ALAS!

"the unfortunate child died the same day, in the greatest agony. His body became discoloured, his lips and tongue scorched with the terrible liquid; and the surgeons who opened him said that his inside was the same as if it had been burnt. Thus, you see the shocking effects of gluttony!" (47). Jesus Christ, you guys, this is MESSED UP.

You also have "The Imprudent Youths and the Young Hero", which basically says that if your friends fall through thin ice, you should definitely try to rescue them after you pray to God for His support and strength. I took it to mean that you should go home and enjoy your evening, because your friends are a lost cause and you should just  get new ones.

Then there is "The Pin in the Soup" about a girl who has pins in her dress pocket and they fall in the soup she's eating, and she almost dies. The moral of the story? Chew your food better.

Then there is "The Well and the Window" which sums up its one-page lesson by saying "Take care, then, my dear children, never to go near a well, or a window, for both are dangerous." (99) LIVE IN THE DARK, THIRSTILY, FOREVER.

The last chapter in the book is "The Powder Flask", which is about kids making home-made fireworks. Okay. Is this REALLY a concern? Is this LIKELY to happen? I think they're just making stuff up now. I mean, what's going to come in the sequel? "Kids, don't get involved in a land war in Asia"? "Kids, don't play with piranhas"? "Kids, don't do self-surgery to sell your organs on the black market"? I mean, really. "Don't make your own fireworks", INDEED.

So, this whole book is basically A Christmas Story, only instead of just "shooting your eye out", the kids get more and more mangled. Also this is not a comedy–it's just unintentionally funny.

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2 Responses to The Accidents of Youth

  1. Anonymous says:

    Oh, ye have little faith. I have happy childhood memories experimenting with home-made fireworks (and the subsequent property damage).

    I also see an additional danger to these illustrations. Subtext: “Here is a really stupid child. Can you manage to do everything he tried to so, without dying/being seriously injured/getting caught?”


  2. linda_lupos says:

    Too bad it was published too late for Jane Austen to have read it. She would have found it *hilarious* (and with good reason! :p).


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