There was a little girl
Who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good,
She was very good indeed,
But when she was bad
She was horrid.
This is one of the few nursery rhymes with certain origins. ‘There Was a Little Girl’, with its oft misquoted antepenultimate line, was written by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who is most famous for his epic The Song of Hiawatha.
Longfellow’s son, Earnest, recalled;
It was whilst he was walking up and down with Edith [his daughter], then a baby, in his arms that he composed and sang to her the well-known lines. Many people think it is a Mother Goose rhyme, but this it it’s true origin and history.
Pop Goes the Weasel; the secret meanings of nursery rhymes, p. 205
Longfellow often denied having composed the rhyme, ashamed of his juvenalia and early works and complaining that they ‘cling to one’s skirts with a terrible grasp’, but eventually admitted the truth.
It’s worth noting the chilling undertone of the rhyme which equates bad behaviour with being ‘horrid’. The air of parental disapproval that the rhyme suggests subtly induces children to behave well while appearing playful, for we do not love ‘horrid’ things.