After all, nearly every web site about Little Willie poems claim that this book is jam-packed with them.
Those web sites are wrong.
Don’t feel badly, I once read all those web sites and, like you, I believed them. It’s why I own the book.
I wanted more Little Willies than I had found on the web (at this moment, I am steadfastly ignoring the filthy-minded among you). But as you will soon find out, there’s not a single Little Willie poem in the lot. There are poems similar to Little Willies and while it’s certain that this book was the inspiration for at least some of the wretched deeds of Little Willie, this is not a book of Little Willie poems.
There is one poem in Ruthless Rhymes that many aficionados consider to be the first Little Willie (even though the title character is actually “Billy”).
Again, they are wrong. Four years prior to the original publication of Ruthless Rhymes, an Englishman documented attending a luncheon in Cincinnati where this poem was recited.
So, if this isn’t a book of Little Willies, what exactly is it? In 1902, the following review of Ruthless Rhymes was published in the Philadelphia Inquirer (please note the lack of mention of Little Willie):
“Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes,” by Colonel D. Streamer, illustrated by John W. Alexander and published by R. H. Russell is one of those extravaganzas in verse that are interesting if not instructive. It is full of nonsense and very readable, even if not convincing. The humor is broad in scope and clever in its way. It is not meant to teach morals, but it is mighty good in its way. A clever skit. That is all.”
But, fear not — while there aren’t Little Willies in Ruthless Rhymes, there are plenty of naughty children breaking the necks of their siblings; fathers taking the sternest of measures with their noisy children; and general frivolity surrounding the pains and woes of all manner of relations.