Charles James Lever.

The nursery rhymes of England: obtained principally from oral tradition online

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Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe nursery rhymes of England: obtained principally from oral tradition → online text (page 1 of 12)
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The first edition of this work was printed at the
close of the year 1841, with a view only to a limited
circulation among the members of the Percy Society ;
but a demand for it, somewhat unusual when it is con-
sidered that its appearance was never advertised to the
public, has occasioned the present edition, in which it
is believed considerable improvements as well as addi-
tions will be found.

It has been the Editor's principal object to form as
genuine a collection of the old vernacular rhymes of
the English nursery as he possibly could, without ad-
mitting any very modem compositions, at least none
belonging to the present century. It may, perhaps, be
difficult to prove the antiquity of all of them — in fact

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very few can be traced back even as far as the sixteenth
century ; but there is a peculiar style in most of the
ancient ones that could not very well be imitated without
detection by a practised ear.

Many of the most popular nursery rhymes are merely
fragments of old ballads, and some of my readers will
probably detect more plagiiarisms of this kind than I
have yet been enabled to discover. The subject is a
truly curious one, and it would perhaps occasion some
difficulty to the most ingenious theorist to form a con-
jecture, that would account for the uniyersal dissemina-
tion of these strange scraps, and their tradition through
several centuries.

An ingenious writer has lately endeavoured to find
the " originals" of our nursery rhymes in the ancient
Oerman language, and if the odd similarities produced
by him in aid of his theory had been discovered instead
of invented, it would have formed an interesting subject
for antiquarian investigation. But as it is, I am afraid
Mr. Eer will rarely receive thanks for treating so bar-
barously our dear old nania ; certainly not from the
humble Editor, and those who with him regard with no
very favorable eyes the attempts that have been made

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by Mrs. Child, and other American writers, to substitute
popular science in that place in the education of infants,
which these truly English compositions have so long
occupied. I cannot help thinking that harmless and
euphonious nonsense may reasonably be considered a
more useful instrument in the hands of children than
that overstraining of the intellect in very early age,
which must unavoidably be the result of a more refined

If the indulgence of the public should be so far ex-
tended to my efforts in this very humble walk of
literature, as to enable me at some future period to
attempt a more complete collection, I shall hope to
render the classification less open to criticism than it is
at present. The difficulties of doing so in many cases
must be my apology ; and it is evident that the correct
nomenclature cannot always be obtained.

Should my readers remember any nursery rhymes not
inserted in this volume, or any different versions of those
here printed, and confer the great favour of communi-
cating them to me,* they wiU be duly and thankfully

• Directed to me, care of Mr. J. R. Smith, 4, Old Compton Street,
Soho Square, London.

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acknowledged. On a former occasion I had to acknow-
ledge my obligations to Sir £. F. Bromhead, Bart.,
and William Henry Black, Esq. I have now to
add my best thanks to R. S. Sharpe, Esq., William
Chappell, Esq., and E. F. Rimbault, Esq., for a
few interesting contributions.


I., O.; Oct.3]st, 1842.

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1. Historical 1

2. Tales 21

3. Jingles 97

4. Riddles . . . . HI

5. Proverbs 120

6. Lullabies 124

7. Charms 128

8. Games 132

9. Paradoxes 157

10. Literal 160

11. Scholastic 163

12. Customs 166

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13. Songs 170

14. Fragments 202

15. Translations 206

16. Appendix 212

17. Notes 219

18. Index 251

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[The traditional Nursery Rhymes of England commence with a
legendary satire on King Cole, who reigned in Britain, as the old
chronicles inform us, in the third century after Christ. According
to Robert of Gloucester, he was the father of St. Jtlelena, and if so,
Bntler must be wrong in ascribing an obscure origin to the cele-
brated mother of Constantine. King Cole was a brave and popular
roan in his day, and ascended the throne of Britain on the death of
Ascleplod, amidst the acclamations of the people, or as Robert of
Gloucester expresses himself, the " folc was tho of this londy-paid
wel y-nou.'> The following curious metrical history of King Cole
is talcen from Robert of Gloucester's Chronicle, in MS. Cotton.
Calig., A. xi.fol.30:

Cole was a noble mon, and gret poer adde an honde ;
Erl he was of Colchestre, here in thisse londe,
And Coldiestre after is name i-cluped is icb understonde.
Ure loverd, among other thinges, him sende a vair sonde.
That he adde an holi doghter at Colchestre in this lond.
That Seint Eleyne is i-cluped, that the holi rode vond.


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Bituene are king Asciepiod and this erl withonte faile>

Tber wer a gret worre, and that hii smite bataile ;

And the erl Cole slou then king and, tho be adde than over bond,

King he let him crownen here of this lond.

That folc was tho of this lond y-paid wel y-noa,

That be adde y-wonne the kinedom and be the other sloa.

The tydinge to Rome come, that the kyng as lawe was.

That hom adde i-don so moche ssame, bii were glad of that cas.

The noble prince hii sende hider the g^e knight Costance,

That wan hom aUe poer of Spaine and ek of France*

That he Molde ek this lond winne agen to Rome,

So that thitf noble prince and is men hider come,

Tho the king Cole it ander get, he dradde in is mod,

Vor he was so noble knight that no mon him ne withstod :

To him he sende of acord, g^f it were is wille,

That be wolde to Rome abuye and lete al contek be stiUe ;

And under here is tniage, other dude bivore,

wat he huide the kinedom wanne the traage were y-bore,

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grete prince of the Romaynes, the whiche hete Coiutancey and
come to the King Cole to chalenge his trewage thatt was woned to
paiedd to Rome. But the king answeryd and seid thatt resonn
wolde and right, and to thei accoidedenne witfaonte contekke, and
dwelledenne togeder with ffiryenschippe. And thenne the kyng
gaff to this Constance his daughter Elyne to wyfe, for she was fayre
and wysoy and well y-lettred ; and thanne this Constance wedded
her with grete worschipp. Than anone after that, Cole dyghed in
the xiii. yere of his reigne, and is entier entered atte Colchester.''
At Colchester there is a large earth-work, supposed to have been a
Roman amphitheatre, which goes popularly by the name of " King
Cole's kitchen." According to Jeffery of Monmouth, King Cole's
daughter was well skilled in music, but we unfortunately have no
evidence to show that her father was attached to that science,
further than what is contained in the following lines, which are of
doubtful antiquity. The song was very popular a century ago, and
may be found in Gay's ballad opera of Achilles, printed in 1T33,
and other similar pieces. I may mention abo that in Lewis's
''History of Great Britain," fel. Lond. 1729, three kings of
Britain of the same name are mentioned.]

Old King Cole

Was a merry old soiil.

And a merry old soul was he ;

He called for his pipe.

And he called for his bowl.

And he called for his fiddlers three.

Every fiddler, he had a fine fiddle.

And a very fine fiddle had he ;

Twee tweedle dee, tweedle dee, went the fiddlers.

Oh, there's none so rare.

As can compare

With King Cole and )us fiddlers three !

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When good king Arthur ruled this land^

He was a goodly king ;
He stole three pecks of barley-meal^

To make a bag-pudding.

A bag-pudding the king did make,
And stuflTd it well with plums :

And in it put great lumps of fat.
As big as my two thumbs.

The king and queen did eat thereof.

And noblemen beside ;
And what they could not eat that night,

Th» queen next morning fried.


[The foUowing song, relating to Robin Hood, the celebrated
outlaw, is weU Icnown at Worksop, in Nottinghamshire, where it
constitutes one of the nursery series.]

Robin Hood, Robin Hood,
Is in the mickle wood !
Little John, Little John,
He to the town is gone.

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Robin Hood, Robin Hood,
Is telling his beads.

All in the green wood.
Among the green weeds.

Little John, Little John,
If he comes no more,

Robin Hood, Robin Hood,
He will fret fiill sore I


[SU Hugh of Lincoln, a child's ballad. From Godalming in Surroy.]

He tossed the ball so high, so hi^,

lie tossed the ball so low;
He tossed the ball in the Jews' garden.

And the Jews were all below.

Oh ! then out came the Jew's daughter,

She was dressed all in green ;
Come hither, come hither, my sweet pretty fellow.

And fetch your ball again.

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[The original of << The hoiue that Jack boilt'* is preiiamed to be
a hymn in Sepher Haggadah, fol. 23, a translation of which is here
giTon* The historical interpretation vas first given by P. N.
Leberecht, at Leipsic in 1731, and is printed in the << Christian
Reformer/' voL XTii. p. 28. The original is in the Chaldee
langoage, and it may be mentioned that a very fine Hebrew
manuscript of the fable> with illominationsy is in the possession of
George Ofibr, Esq. of Hackney.]

1 . A Md, a kid, my father bought
For two pieces of money :

A kid, a kid.

2. Then came the eat, and ate the kid
That my father bought

For two pieces of money :

A kid, a kid.

3. Then came the dog, and bit the dit.
That ate the kid.

That my father bought
For two pieces of money :

A kid, a kid.

4. Then came the etuff, and beat the dog^
That bit the cat.

That ate the kid.
That my father bought
For two pieces of money :

A kid» a kid.

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5. Then came thefire^ and burned the staff.
That beat the dog»
That bit the cat.
That ate the kid.
That my father bought
For two pieces of money :

A kid, a kid.

,6. Then came the water^ and quenched the fire.
That burned the staff.
That beat the dog,
That bit the cat.
That ate the kid.
That my father bought
For two pieces of money :

A kid, a kid.

7* Then came the or, and drank the water.
That quenched the fire.
That burned the staff.
That beat the dog.
That bit the cat.
That ate the kid.
That my father bought
For two pieces of money :

A kid, a kid.

8. Then came the butcher^ and slew the ox.
That drank the water,

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That quenched the fire^
That burned the staff.
That beat the dog.
That bit the eat.
That ate the kid.
That my father bought
For two pieces of money :

A kid, a kid.

9. ThencBmetheanffelo/deathaoidldlledthehnicher,
That slew the ox.

That drank the water.
That quenched the fire.
That burned the staff.
That beat the dog,
That bit the cat.
That ate the kid.
That my father bought
For two pieces of money :

A kid, a kid.

10. Then came the Hofy OnCy blessed be He !
And killed the angel of death.

That killed the butcher.
That slew the ox.
That drank the water.
That quenched the fire.
That burned the staff.
That beat the dog.

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That bit the cat.
That ate the kid.
That my father bought
For two pieces of money :

A kid, a kid.

Tbe following is the interpretation :

1. Tbe kid, wiiich was one of the pure animals, denotes the

Tbe father, by whom it was purchased, is Jehovah, who re-
presents himself as sustaining this relation to the Hebrew nation.
The two pieces of monej signify Moses and Aaron, through whose
mediation the Hebrews were brought out of Egypt.

2. The cat denotes the Assyrians, by whom the ten tribes were
carried into captirity.

3. The dog is symbolical of tbe Babylonians.

4. The staff signifies the Persians.

6. The fire indicates the Grecian empire under Alexander the

6. The water betokens the Roman, or the fourth of the great
monarchies to whose dominion the Jews were subjected.

7. The ox is a symbol of the Saracens, who subdued Palestine,
and brought it under the caliphate.

8. The butcher that killed the ox denotes the crusaders, by
whom the Holy Land was wrested out of the hands of the

9. The angel of death signifies the Turkish power, by which the
land of Palestine was taken from the Franks, and to which it is
still subject.

10. The commencement of the tenth stanza, is designed to show
that God will take signal vengeance on the Turks, immediately
after whose overthrow the Jews are to be restored to their own
land, and live under the government of their long-expected Messiah.


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f The following version of a popular rhyme is in one of Donee's
books. I consider it to refer to the rebellions times of Richaid II.]

My father he died« I cannot tell how»
But he left me six horses to drive out my plough :
With a wimmy lo ! wommy lo ! Jack Straw blazey boys!
Wimmy lo I Wommy lo ! Wob, wob, wob!



My father he died^ but I can't tell you how^
He left me six horses to drive in my plough :

With my wing wang waddle oh«

Jack idng saddle oh,

Blowsey boys bubble oh.

Under the broom.

I sold my six horses and I bought me a cow,
I'd fain have made a fortune, but did not know how :
With my, &c.

I sold my cow, and I bought me a calf;
I'd fain have made a fortune, but lost the best half:
With my, &c.

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I sold my calf, and I bought me a cat ;
A pretty tiling she was, in my chimney corner sat :
With my, &c.

I sold my cat, and bought me a mouse ;
He carried fire in his tail, and burnt down my house.
With my, &c.


[The same song as the preceding, dictated by a lady now living
in the Isle of Man, but a far better version.]

My daddy is dead, but I can't tell you how ;
But he left me six horses to follow the plough :

With my whim wham waddle ho !

Strim stram straddle ho !

Bubble ho ! pretty boy.

Over the brow.

I sold my six horses to buy me a cow.
And wasnH that a pretty thing to follow the plough ?
With my, &c.

I sold my cow to buy me a calf.
For I never made a bargain, but I lost the best half.
With my, &c.

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I sold my calf to buy me a cat,
To sit down before the fire^ to warm her little back :
With my, &c.

I sold my cat to buy me a mouse.
But she took fire in her tail« and so burnt up my house :
With my, &c.


[The following perhaps refers to Joanna of Castile, who visited
the court of Henry the Seventh, in the year 1506.]

I had a little nut-tree, nothing would it bear
But a golden nutmeg and a silver pear ;
The king of Spain's daughter came to visit me.
And all for the sake of my little nut-tree.

[There is an old proverb which says that ** a cat may look at a
king." Whether the same adage applies equally to a female
sovereign, and is referred to in the foUowing nursery song, or
whether it alludes to the glorious Queen Bess, is now a matter of

Pussy cat, pussy cat, where have you been?
I've been up to London to look at the Queen.
Pussy cat, pussy cat, what did you there ?
I frighten'd a little mouse under the chair.

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The rose is red, the grass is green,

Serve Queen Bess our noble queen !
Kitty the spinner
Will sit down to dinner.

And eat the leg of a frog :
All good people
Look over the steeple.

And see the cat play with the dog.


[From MS. Sloane, 1489, foh 19, written about the year 1600. Mr.
Wright informs me this relates to events in the reign of James I.]

There was a monkey climbed up a tree.
When he fell down, then down fell he.

There was a crow sat on a stone,
. When he was gone, then was there one.

There was an old wife did eat an apple.
When she had eat two, she had eat a couple.

There was a horse going to the mill.
When he went on, he stood not still.

There was a butcher cut his thumb.
When it did bleed, the blood did come.

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There was a lackey ran a race.
When he ran fast, he ran apace.

There was a cobbler ekiwting shoon.
When they were mended, they were done.

There was a chandler making candle.
When he them stript, he did them handle.

There was a navy went into Spain,
When it returned it came again.


Little General Monk

Sat upon a trunk,
Eatinga crust of bread;

There fell a hot coal

And burnt in his clothes a hole.
Now Uttle General Monk is dead.

Keep always from the fire :

If it catch your attire.
You too, like Monk, will be dead.

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As I was going by Charing Cross,
I saw a black man upon a black horse ;
They told me it was King Charles the First:
Oh dear! my heart was ready to burst !


High diddle ding

Did you hear the beUs ring ?

The parliament soldiers are gone to the king !

Some they did laugh, some they did cry.

To see the parliament soldiers pass by.


High ding a ding, and ho ding a ding,
The parliament soldiers are gone to the king ;
Some with new beavers, some with new bands.
The parliament soldiers are all to be hang'd.

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[Taken from MS. Douce, 357, fol. 124. See Echard»« <* History of
England/' book liL chap. 1.]

See saw^ sack-a-day ;
Monmouth is a pretie boy,

Richmond is another,
Grafton is my onely joy.
And why should I these three destroy,

To please a pious brother ?


[Written on occasion of the marriage of Mary, the daughter of
James Duke of York, afterwards James II., with the young Prince
of Orange. See the entire song in the next number, but the fol-
lowing three lines are those now appropriated to the nursery.]

What is the rhyme for porringer ?
The king he had a daughter fair.
And gave the Prince of Orange her.

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[From « Jacobite Minstrelsy/' 12mo> Glasgow^ 1828, p. S8.]

Oh what's the rhyme to porringer ?

Ken ye the rhyme to porringer ?

King James the Seventh had ae daughter.

And he gae her to an Granger.

Ken ye how he requited him ?

Ken ye how he requited him ?

The lad has into England come.

And ta'en the crown in spite of him.

The dog> he shall na keep it long,
To flinch we'll make him fain again ;
We'll hing him high upon a tree.
And James shall hae his ain again.
Ken ye the rhyme to grasshopper ?
Ken ye the rhyme to grasshopper ?
A hempen rein, and a horse o tree,
A psalm book — and a presbyter.


[The following nursery song aUades to William IJI. and
George, Prince of Denmark.]

William and Mary, George and Anne,
Four such children had never a man :
They put their father to-flight and shame.
And call'd their brother a shocking bad name.

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Over the water, and over the lee.
And over the water to Charley.
Charley loves good ale and wine.
And Charley loves good brandy,
And Charley loves a pretty girl,
As sweet as sngar-candy.


Bobby Shafto's gone to sea.
With silver buckles at his knee ;
He'll come home and marry me.

Pretty Bobby Shafto !

Bobby Shafto's fat and fair.
Combing down his yellow hair ;
He's my love for evermore !

Pretty Bobby Shafto!

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[The following may possibly allade to King G«orge and
the Pretender*]

Jim and George were two great lords^

They fought all in a chum ;
And when that Jim got George by the nose.

Then Geoi^e began to gem.


[The following is a fragment of a song on the subject, wbicb was
introduced by Russell in tbe character of Jerry Sneak. Mr. Sharpe
showed me a*copy of the song with the music to it.]

Poor old Robinson Crusoe !
Poor old Robinson Crusoe !
They made him a coat.
Of an old nanny goat,

I wonder how they could do so !
With a ring a ting tang,
And a ring a ting tang,

Poor old Robinson Crusoe !

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Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe nursery rhymes of England: obtained principally from oral tradition → online text (page 1 of 12)