The other day I visited with a four-year-old friend; we read a book called Manners. As the title implies, this is a guide to basic children’s etiquette, with an emphasis on consideration for others, and it was cute and instructive. But I couldn’t help thinking that it didn’t have quite the élan of The Goops.
Created by the humorist Gelett Burgess (also inventor of “the blurb”) in the late nineteenth century, the Goops were humanoid characters with enormous round heads who behaved disgracefully—children could profit from their example and get an illicit thrill from their antics. “The Goops” comic strip was a recurring feature in the children’s magazine St. Nicholas. The book, Goops and How to Be Them: A Manual of Manners for Polite Infants Inculcating Many Juvenile Virtues Both by Precept and Example, with Ninety Drawings, came out in 1900 to instant acclaim. I can still remember the opening lines:
The Goops, they lick their fingers,
and the Goops, they lick their knives;
They spill their broth on the tablecloth,
Oh, they lead disgusting lives!