Little Nancy and the Punishment of Greediness

Children's Literature

Background Notes

"Little Nancy" is the story of a little girl who did not heed her mother's warnings and who overindulged at her friend's party.  The story begins with Nancy receiving an invitation to play and feast with her friends, which she very much looked forward to.  Before she leaves for the party, however, her mother warns her "Not to greedily eat" at the event because this was a habit mother was trying to "break" Nancy of.  Nancy skips off to join her friends, completely forgetting what her mother said.  While most children play and eat, Nancy dwells "A deal more on the feast than the play!"  Nancy then becomes so sick that she needs to go home "From the pain that intemperance brings," crying that she'll never disobey her mother's warnings again.

Here the product of the Christian sensibilities is to instruct morals by way of example rather than by proscription.  The punishment resulting from intemperate consumption is seen as punishment enough for poor Nancy

This book was published in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, by Morgan & Yeager, a company that published a number of juvenile books in 1824 and 1825.  This pamphlet does not present a moral or particular moral code contained in the story itself, beyond a reproof of excessive consumption; this is a similar style to modern children's literature.  This story is pre-Christian or non-Christian, where the children are not punished for their flaws.

Transcription of Primary Source


Little Nancy one day
Was invited to play,
And with her young friends to make merry;
In a garden so fine,
Where fruit, cakes, and sweet wine,
Were provided to make them all cheery.

When the letter was brought,
She was pleased at the thought,
And a dozen times over ’twas read:
On each word she did dwell,
Till by heart she could tell
The whole letter, ’ere she went to bed.

Now the day soon appear’d
But she very much fear’d
She should not be permitted to go.
Her best frock she had torn,
The last time it was worn;
Which was very vexatious, you know.

But mamma gave consent,
Yet, before Nancy went,
Thought a caution might not be amiss;
Not to greedily eat,
The nice things at the treat;
As she much wish’d to break her of this.

Nancy promis’d, and run
Quite impatient for fun,
Where all the young folks were together;
Some laughing, some talking,
Some sitting, some walking,
And all of them pleas’d with the weather.

The young folks, at high play,
Much enjoy’d the fine day,
At a distance, when Nancy appear’d,
When she saw them indeed,
She redoubled her speed,
And was by them welcom’d and cheer’d.

Now her friends she embrac’d,
Whom she met in great haste,
And quite out of breath with her pace;
Though she felt no dismay,
But was happy and gay,
And look’d round at the beautiful place.

Overjoy’d at the sight,
She now join’d, with delight,
Her young friends in the sports of the day;
But the truth we must tell,
Little Nancy did dwell
A deal more on the feast than the play!

And what games they did play,
I indeed cannot say,
Whether tag, blindman’s buff, hide-and-seek,
Or thread-my-needle Nan,
Which ’tis said they began,
But deferr’d it for some other freak.

At length she was seated,
With her friends to be treated;
So determin’d on having her share,
That she drank and she eat
Ev’ry thing she could get,
Yet still she was loth to forbear.

Forgetting the warning,
Receiv’d in the morning,
Very soon she grew quite sick and ill;
And unable to eat
Any more of the treat,
Yet gave up with a very ill will.

Nancy’s pleasure now gone,
By her friends she was borne
Away from nice tempting things;
But she did not recover,
Though the feast was now over,
From the pain that intemperance brings.

Now being unable
To return to the table,
Yet anxiously wishing to stay;
She was sent home to bed!
Crying out, (though half dead)
“I will never again disobey!”

My young readers beware,
And avoid with great care,
Such excesses as this you’ve read;
For be sure you will find
It your interest to mind
What your friends and relations have said.

Curator Notes

Exact Title: 
Little Nancy, or, The Punishment of Greediness: A Moral Tale
Probable Date: 
1824 or 1825
8 pages, illustrated
Morgan and Yeager
Place of Publication: 
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
14 cm.
American Antiquarian Society
Catalog Code: 
CL-Pam L778 N176 1824