The ‘Little Willy‘ is a genre of short poems with an obscure origin but almost certainly inspired by, or inspired, the ‘Ruthless Rhymes‘ of ‘Harry’ Graham (Col. D. Streamer). They have in common a callous or light-hearted spirit and involve the horrible actions of the horrid Little Willy, with no one becoming particularly upset or more than a little irritated.
Perhaps you know ‘Little Willie the Poisoner’?
Willie poisoned his father’s tea;
Father died in agony.
Mother came, and looked quite vexed:
“Really, Will,” she said, “what next?!”
And Little Willie answered: Arsenic.
Little Willie feeling mean
Fed his sister Paris Green
As she lay in agony
Willie boy was full of glee.
And then, still full of glee, came radium in grandma’s tea:
Little Willie, full of glee,
Put radium in grandma’s tea.
Now he thinks it quite a lark
To see her shining in the dark.
Inevitably, perhaps, Little Willie himself eventually succumbed to his poisonous escapades. It is unclear whether he met his end due to a mishap with sulphuric acid:
Little Willie’s dead and gone.
His face we’ll see no more.
For what he thought was H2O
Or with mercury:
Little Willie from his mirror
Sucked the mercury all off.
Thinking, in his childish error.
It would cure his whooping-cough.
At the funeral, Willie’s mother1895 version…
Smartly said to Mrs. Brown,
‘T was a chilly day for William
When the mercury went down.’
- Reynolds S. A little tour in America. 1895
- Mumford EW. Smiles in Rime Philadelphia, The Penn Publishing Company, 1904
- Little Willies. 1911
- Graham H. Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes. 1901
- Graham H. Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes.