Cautionary Tales

Another change to the genre came in the form of cautionary tales—stories or poems that explicitly warn about the dangers of foolish behavior—which first appeared in the late 18th century.  While the moral tale focused on the rewards of good behavior, the cautionary tale focused on the repercussions of bad behavior.  In Rhymes for the Nursery (1806) Ann and Jane Taylor, authors of “The Star” (“Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”), included morbid warnings about playing with fire and falling into wells. 

The most popular of the cautionary tales is Heinrich Hoffmann’s Der Struwwelpeter, published in German in 1845 and in English in 1848.  Hoffmann wrote it as a Christmas present for his young son after being disappointed by the overly moralizing and heavy-handed offerings in the Frankfurt bookstores.  The fates of the unfortunate children in Der Struwwelpeter, while often graphically depicted, are humorous and satirical in their exaggeration, and were justified by Hoffmann as simply echoing the perversity and violence in most fairy tales.


Rhymes for the Nursery, by Ann and Jane Taylor (Boston: J. H. Francis, 1837)