When our little girl began to show extreme moodiness, long before we knew anything about bipolar disorder, my husband and I would muse over this rhyme as we read it to her. “The Real Mother Goose,” copyrighted in 1916, is the bestselling hardcover children’s book of the 20th century. My mother read from it when I was a child and I read it to my children. Somehow, it got lost and I no longer have the book to read to my grandchilren, but, I can still picture the cover of it in my mind.
Here is the poem:
There Was a Little Girl
There was a little girl
Who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead,
She was good indeed,
But when she was bad she was horrid.
Many are familiar with the poem, but few realize that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned it. Longfellow’s son, Ernest, said his father, Henry, composed this poem for his second daughter. He put this rhyme to music and sang it, while pacing the floor with his baby girl in his arms. (One wonders if she was a colicky baby.)
The fifth line of the verse was originally written, “she was good indeed,” but later was changed to “she was very very good.” The following two verses were added and eventually published in “The Real Mother Goose:”
She stood on her head in her little trundle bed
With nobody by for to hinder
She screamed and she squalled and she yelled and she bawled
As she drummed her little feet against the winder
Her mother heard the noise and thought it was the boys
Playing in the empty attic
She ran upstairs and caught her unawares,
And spanked her most emphatic!
[That was back in the day when it was just fine to spank naughty children.]
Some nights, when we finally got our Tammy to sleep after an hour-long ordeal, my husband and I would snuggle on the couch, look in each other’s eyes, smile, and whisper, “When She Was Bad, She Was Horrid!”