Lewis Lapham explains:
German psychiatrist Heinrich Hoffmann wanted to read his kids to sleep with a storybook that was both entertaining and instructional, so he wrote and illustrated the first edition of what was to become Der Struwwelpeter, a picture book of moralizing fairy tales where the children don’t always meet happy endings.Here's an excerpt:
Now, on the table close at hand,For the rest of the text, visit Lapham's Quarterly (which has LOTS of interesting stuff).
A box of matches chanced to stand,
And kind Mamma and Nurse had told her,
That if she touched them they would scold her;
But Pauline said, "Oh, what a pity!
For, when they burn, it is so pretty...
When Minz and Maunz, the little cats, saw this,
They said, "Oh, naughty, naughty Miss!"
And stretched their claws,
And raised their paws;
"Tis very, very wrong, you know;
Me-ow, me-o, me-ow, me-o!
You will be burnt if you do so,
our mother has forbidden you, you know. "
Now see! oh! see, what a dreadful thing
The fire has caught her apron-string;
Her apron burns, her arms, her hair;
She burns all over, everywhere...
So she was burnt with all her clothes,
And arms and hands, and eyes and nose;
Till she had nothing more to lose
Except her little scarlet shoes;
And nothing else but these was found
Among her ashes on the ground.
Image credit to Omega's photostream.
Addendum: A hat tip to Keith, who found a muscial version of the poem.