Doctor Foster went to Glo'ster [Glochester]
Roads could be bad in earlier times. Puddles could be deep here and there, much deeper than suspected. What about nursery rhymes? Are some of them deeper than suspected? Many think so and have written books about it. Two such books are in the book list at the bottom of the page.
Rhymes and rhymed jingles are fine things. They can assist fanciful creations of child imagination, and easily assist in accessing heritage parts. Yet it depends on which rhymes and jingles a child is nurtured with, for a tradition can be cruel, and traditional nursery rhymes tend to reflect sides to the traditions they are outgrowths of.
Many nursery rhymes are quite complete in themselves, telling some story tersely and perhaps rudimentary, but that is OK with children. Also, some nursery rhymes are nonsensical. Andrew Lang holds in The Nursery Rhyme Book that nonsense is "a very good thing in its way" (1897, 19). What nonsense will bring and do, would depend on the kind of nonsense, however. There is fit nonsense and unfit nonsense, for example. What may be fit would depend on the circumstances, the receivers and so on.
To read the old Nursery Rhymes brings back queer lost memories of a man's own childhood. (1897, 7)
The memory traces of snatches sung in the nursery last long. Later in life they can bring back with them myriads of slumbering feelings and half-forgotten images.
One generation is linked to another by the everlasting spirit of song; and ballads of the nursery may still be brought from memory's recesses to amuse our children or our grandchildren.
The collection of jingles we know and love as the "Melodies of Mother Goose" is drawn from many sources. They are, taken altogether, a rather merry union of rhyme, wit, pathos, satire and sentiment. Many of them contain reflection, wit and melody. Some of the older verses are offshoots from ancient folk lore songs, and have descended to us through the centuries.
A man of words and not of deeds,
The figure of Mother Goose is an invented author of a collection of nursery rhymes. They are often published as Old Mother Goose's Rhymes.
Both France and England claim Mother Goose for their own:
About the year 1650 there appeared in London a small book named "Rhymes of the Nursery; or Lulla-Byes for Children". In it were many of the pieces that have been handed down to us; but the name of Mother Goose was not then used. In that edition were the rhymes of "Little Jack Horner," "Old King Cole," "Mistress Mary," "Sing a Song of Sixpence," and "Little Boy Blue."
In 1697 Charles Perrault published in France a book of children's tales entitled "Contes de ma Mere Oye," and this is the first time we find authentic record of the use of the name of Mother Goose. Perrault's tales comprised "The Sleeping Beauty," "The Fairy," "Little Red Riding Hood," "Blue Beard," "Puss in Boots" "Riquet with the Tuft," "Cinderella," and "Little Thumb"; eight stories in all. On the cover of the book was depicted an old lady holding in her hand a distaff and surrounded by a group of children listening eagerly. The Scottish folklorist Andrew Lang later edited a beautiful English edition of this work (Lang 1897).
John Newbery was once believed to have published a compilation of English nursery rhymes entitled Mother Goose's Melody, or, Sonnets for the cradle, some time in the 1760s, but the first edition was probably published in 1780 or 1781 by his stepson, Thomas Carnan, who was one of Newbery's successors. This edition was registered with the Stationers' Company, London in 1780. But no copy has been traced. The earliest surviving edition is dated 1784. The first authentic American edition was a reprint of Carnan's edition, made by Isaiah Thomas of Worcester in Massachusetts, in 1785. (WP, "Mother Goose"?
None earlier editions contained all the rhymes so well known at the present day, for every decade has added its quota to the mass of jingles attributed to "Mother Goose." It is to be hoped that the gems (but which are they?) of the collection will live and thrive for many more ages.
The Opies bring knowledge of the tradition
In The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (1997), Iona and Peter Opie include over 500 rhymes, songs, nonsense jingles and lullabies, and show that rhymes have been tied to a variety of historical events or folklorish symbols. The Opies also present reproductions of early art found in ballad sheets and music books over the last two centuries.
The Opies note the earliest known publications of rhymes, describing how they originated, illustrating changes in wording over time, and indicating variations and parallels in other languages. They also discuss the different types of rhyme and the earliest published collections. Treasured by parents and children, their book is also a reference source for scholars for its literary and bibliographic information.
Linda Alchin offers a trimmed-down history of nursery rhymes
Needles and pins, needles and pins,
The proverb could be taken to mean that some recurrent problems in life are long-standing and speak to folks about the typical human condition . . . Linda Alchin makes efforts to ferret out "the secret history of nursery rhymes" in a book by that name (2013). From the marketing information:
Many of the history and origins of the humble nursery rhyme are believed to be associated with actual events in history, with references to murder and persecution, betrayal, greed and to tyrants and royalty. Rhymes are usually short and therefore easy to remember.
The blurb also says:
Reciting old Nursery Rhymes to our children is one of the most pleasurable first steps to developing their language skills and extending their vocabulary. The words were remembered but their secret histories were forgotten . . . seemingly innocent, nursery rhymes . . . were used as safe vehicles to parody unpopular political, royal and historical events of the day . . . Although some of the most popular Nursery Rhymes are rooted in English history they are told to children throughout the English-speaking world.
"It helps to be informed," one might say, assumptions aside.
With jingles and rhymes tastes differ. We may allow for that. Even so, children pick up phrases and delight in rhymes. Besides, it could help to learn that the humour or entertainments of folks tends to get less savage with the centuries, as Jan Bremmer and Herman Roodenburg (1997) illustrate in A Cultural History of Humour: From Antiquity to the Present Day (1997). We can hope that they are right.
If wishes were horses,
The rhyme's origins are uncertain. The first verse appeared in print in Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book, published in London around 1744, in the form:
Sing a Song of Sixpence,
The next printed version that survives, from around 1780, has two verses and the boys have been replaced by birds. A version of the modern four verses from 1784, ends with a magpie attacking an unfortunate maid. Verses with happier endings were added from the middle of the 19th century. A common modern version is:
Sing a song of sixpence,
One of the following additional verses is often added to moderate the ending:
They sent for the king's doctor,
There was such a commotion,
(Source: WP, "Sing a Song of Sixpence")
From the history of it
It is known that a 16th-century amusement was to place live birds in a pie, as a form of elaborate dish. An Italian cookbook from 1549 (translated into English in 1598) contained such a recipe: "to make pies so that birds may be alive in them and flie out when it is cut up" and this was referred to in a cook book of 1725 by John Nott.
The wedding of Marie de' Medici and Henry IV of France in 1600 contains some interesting parallels. "The first surprise, though, came shortly before the starter – when the guests sat down, unfolded their napkins and saw songbirds fly out. The highlight of the meal was sherbets of milk and honey, which were created by Buontalenti."
Linda Alchin says in The Secret History of Nursery Rhymes (2011) that blackbirds and other song birds were eaten as a delicacy especially during the Tudor period. The references to the counting house and eating honey were [parts of] the common man's perception of what a King and Queen spent their time doing. The nursery rhyme, when sung to a child, always ends with the tweaking of a child's nose!
The English nursery rhyme "The Cat and the Fiddle" is also known as "Hey Diddle Diddle" (and "Hi Diddle Diddle", and "The Cow Jumped Over the Moon"). It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 19478.
The rhyme is the source of the English expression "over the moon", meaning "delighted, thrilled, extremely happy".
The name "Cat and the Fiddle" was a common name for inns, including one known to have been at Old Chaunge, London by 1587.
The earliest recorded version of the poem resembling the modern form was printed around 1765 in London in Mother Goose's Melody.
The rhyme may date back to at least the sixteenth century. Some references suggest it dates back in some form a thousand or more years, and base the half-guess on the fact that a cat playing a fiddle was a popular image in early medieval illuminated manuscripts.
The melody commonly associated with the rhyme was first recorded by the composer and nursery rhyme collector James William Elliott in his National Nursery Rhymes and Nursery Songs (1870).
(WP, ""Hey Diddle Diddle")
Alchin, Linda. 2011. The Secret History of Nursery Rhymes. Los Gatos, CA: Smashwords Edition.
Bremmer, Jan and Herman Roodenburg, eds. 1997. A Cultural History of Humour: From Antiquity to the Present Day. Oxford: Polity Press.
Lang, Andrew, ed. 1897. The Nursery Rhyme Book. London: Frederick Warne and Co.
Lear, Edward. 1904. Nonsense Books. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, and Co.
Opie, Iona and Peter. 1997. The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes. 2nd ed. Oxford University Press. ⍽▢⍽ Recommended.
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