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[Illustration: "Ride a cock horse." - _Page 70._]



[Illustration: INTRODUCTION]

It is a good many years since Peacock, in one of those curiously
ill-tempered and not particularly happy attacks on the Lake poets, with
which he chose to diversify his earlier novels, conceived, as an
ornament of "Mainchance Villa," a grand allegorical picture, depicting
the most famous characters of English Nursery Tales, Rhymes,
&c. - Margery Daw, Jack and Jill, the other Jack who built the House, the
chief figures of "that sublime strain of immortal genius" called
_Dickory Dock_, and the third Jack, Horner, eating a symbolic Christmas
pie. At the date of _Melincourt_, in which this occurs, its even then
admirable author was apt to shoot his arrows rather at a venture; and it
may be hoped, without too much rashness, that he did not mean to speak
disrespectfully of the "sublime strain of immortal genius" itself, but
only of what he thought Wordsworth's corrupt following of that and
similar things.

Nevertheless, if he had lived a little longer, or if (for he lived quite
long enough) he had been in the mind for such game, he might have found
fresh varieties of it in certain more modern handlings of the same
subject. Since the Brothers Grimm founded modern folklore, it has
required considerable courage to approach nursery songs and nursery
tales in any but a spirit of the severest "scientism," which I presume
to be the proper form for the method of those who call themselves
"scientists." We have not only had investigations - some of them by no
means unfruitful or uninteresting investigations - into certain things
which are, or may be, the originals of these artless compositions in
history or in popular manners. We have not only had some of their queer
verbal jingles twisted back again into what may have been an articulate
and authentic meaning. I do not know that many of them have been made
out to be sun-myths; but that yesterday popular, to-day rather
discredited, system of exposition is very evidently as applicable to
them as to anything else. The older variety of mystical and moral
interpretation having gone out of fashion before they had emerged from
the contempt of the learned, it has not been much applied to them,
though the temptation is great, for, as King Charles observes in
"Woodstock," most things in the world remind one of the tales of Mother

But the most special attentions that nursery rhymes have received have,
perhaps, taken the form of the elaborate and ingenious divisions
attempted by Halliwell and others. Indeed, something of the kind has
been so common that the absence here of anything similar may excite some
surprise, and look like disrespect to a scientific age. The omission,
however, is designed, and a reason or two may be rendered for it.
Halliwell (to take the most generally known instance) has no less than
seventeen compartments in which he stows remorselessly these "things
that are old and pretty," to apply to them a phrase that Lamb loved.
There are, it seems, historical nursery rhymes, literal nursery rhymes;
nursery rhymes narrative, proverbial, scholastic, lyrical, riddlesome;
rhymes dealing with charms, with gaffers and gammers, with games, with
paradoxes, with lullabies, with jingles, with love and matrimony, with
natural (I wish he had called it unnatural) history, with accumulative
stories, with localities, with relics. It may be permitted to cry "Mercy
on us," when one thinks of the poor little wildings, so full of nature
and, if not ignorant of art, of an art so cunningly concealed, being
subjected to the trimmings and torturings of the _Ars Topiaria_ after
this fashion. The division is clearly arbitrary and non-natural; it is
often what logicians very properly object to as a "cross"-division; it
leads to the inclusion of many things which are not properly nursery
rhymes at all; and it necessitates, or at least gives occasion to, a
vast amount of idle talk. For instance, take King Arthur, this way, that
way, which way you please: as a hero of history, as a great central
figure of romance, or even (I grieve to say a learned friend of mine is
wont to speak of him so) as a "West-Welsh thief." Are we called upon in
the very slightest degree to connect any of these Arthurs with the
artist of the bag-pudding? to discuss what was the material that Queen
Guinevere preferred for frying, and to select the most probable
"noblemen" from the Table Round? Does anybody, except as a rather
ponderous joke, care to discuss whether King Cole was really father of
Constantine's mother, and had anything to do with Colchester? Though it
may be admitted that a "Colchester carpet-bag," that is to say, a very
thick steak all but sliced through and stuffed with oysters, would
probably not have been unacceptable to the monarch as a preliminary to
the bowl.

The simple fact seems to be, that one of Halliwell's
partitions - "jingles" - will do for the whole seventeen, and do a great
deal better than the other sixteen of them. It may be perfectly true
that most of the things indicated in these class-names supplied, in this
case and that, basis for the jingle, starting-points, texts, and so
forth. But all genuine nursery rhymes (even in fragments such as
"Martin Swart and his men, Sodledum [saddle them], sodledum," if it is
genuine, and others where definite history comes in) have never become
nursery rhymes until the historical fact has been practically forgotten
by those who used them, and nothing but the metrical and musical
attraction remains. Some of the alphabet and number rhymes may possibly
(it is sad to have to confess it) have been composed with a deliberate
purpose of instruction; but it is noticeable that these have never
become quite the genuine thing, except in cases such as -

"Big A, little a, bouncing B,
The cat's in the cupboard, and she can't see,"

where the subtle tendency to nonsense takes the weak intention of sense
on its back as a fox does a chicken and runs right away with it. Again,
it would be rash to say that it is impossible to make out popular
customs and popular beliefs from these texts. But it is quite certain
that they have for the most part left the customs and the beliefs a long
way behind them, that these things are, to vary the metaphor, merely in
palimpsest relation to the present purport and contents of the rhymes.

Perhaps, therefore, while not grudging folklorists their perquisitions
in this delightful region, and while acknowledging that there are many
interesting things to be found out by them in it, we may be permitted to
look at nursery rhymes from a rather different point of view. And from
this point it will not, I think, be fanciful to see in them, to a great
extent, the poetical appeal of sound as opposed to that of meaning
expressed in its simplest and most unmistakable terms. We shall find in
these pieces the two special pillars of all modern poetry, alliteration
and rhyme, or at least assonance, which is only rhyme undeveloped. And
we shall find something else, which I venture to call the attraction of
the inarticulate. It is not necessary to take the cynical sense of the
famous saying, that language was given to man to conceal his thoughts,
in order to admit that in moments of more intense and genuine feeling,
if not of thought, he does not as a rule use or at least confine himself
to articulate speech. If the "little language" of mothers to babies be
set down to a supposition that the object addressed does not understand,
that will hardly explain the other "little language" of lovers to
lovers, which has a tendency to be nearly as inarticulate as a
cradle-song, and quite as corruptive of dictionary speech as a nursery
rhyme. In the very stammering of rage there may be thought to be
something more than a simple inability to choose between words; and in
the moaning of sorrow something more than an inability to find suitable
expression. All children - and children, as somebody (I forget who he
was, but he was a wise man) has said, are usually very clever people
till they get spoilt - fall naturally, long after they are quite able to
express themselves as it is called rationally, into a sort of pleasant
gibberish when they are alone and pleased, or even displeased. And I
dare say that a fair number of very considerably grown-up folk, who have
not only come to the legal years of discretion but to the poetical age
of wisdom, do the like now and then.

"As one walks by oneself,
And talks to oneself,"

by the seaside or on a lonely country road, it must be a not infrequent
experience of most people that one frequently falls into pure jingle and
nonsense-verse of the nursery kind. In fact, it must have happened to
more people than one, or one thousand, by the malice of a sudden corner
or the like, to have been caught doing so to their great confusion, and
to the comfortable conviction of the other party that he has met with
an escaped lunatic.

I should myself, though I may not carry many people with me, go farther
than this and say that this "attraction of the inarticulate," this
allurement of mere sound and sequence, has a great deal more to do than
is generally thought with the charm of the very highest poetry, and that
no merely valuable thought presented without this accompaniment can
possibly affect us as it does when it summons to its aid such concert of
vowels and consonants as -

"Peace! peace!
Dost thou not see my baby at my breast
That sucks the nurse asleep?"

or as -

"Quærens me sedisti lassus,
Redemisti crucem passus;
Tantus labor non sit cassus!"

In the best nursery rhymes, as in the simpler and more genuine ballads
which have so close a connection with them, we find this attraction of
the inarticulate - this charm of pure sound, this utilising of
alliteration and rhyme and assonance, and the cunning juxtaposition now
of similar, now of contrary vowels - not in a passionate, but in a frank
and simple form. Many of them probably, some of them certainly, had, as
has been said, a definite meaning once, and we may attend to the
folklorist as he expounds what it was or may have been; but for the most
part they have very victoriously got the better of that meaning, have
bid it, in their own lingo, "go to Spain," without the slightest
meditation or back-thought whether Spain is the proper place for it or
not. In that particular _locus classicus_ "Spain" rhymes to "rain," and
that is not merely the chief and principal, but the absolutely
all-sufficient thing. So, too, there is no doubt a most learned
explanation of the jargon (variously given and spelt) -

"Hotum-potum, paradise tantum, perry-merry-dictum, domaree,"

at which a friend of mine used to laugh consumedly, declaring that this
cavalier coupling of "paradise _tantum_" "_only_ paradise," was the
nicest thing he knew. But the people who mellowed it into that form, and
recited it afterwards, never cared one scrap for the meaning. They had
got it into a pleasant jingle of vowels, a desirable sequence of
consonants, and a good swing of cadence, and that was enough. When
"Curlylocks" is invited to be "mine" by the promise "thou shalt sew a
fine seam," does anybody suppose that this housewifely operation was
much more (it may have been a little more) of a bait to the Curlylocks
of those days than to the Curlylocks of these? Not at all. "Sew" and
"seam" went naturally together, they made a pleasing alliteration, and
the latter word rhymed to "cream," of which the Curlylocks of all days
has been not unusually fond.

Not, of course, that there is not much wit and much wisdom, much
picturesqueness and not a little pathos in our rhymes. All good men have
justly admired these qualities in "Sing a Song of Sixpence" and
"Ding-dong Bell," in "Margery Daw" and "Who Killed Cock Robin?" I rather
suspect the wicked literary man of having more to do than genuine
popular sentiment with the delightful progress and ending of "There was
a Little Boy and a Little Girl." But the undoubtedly genuine notes are
numerous enough and various enough, from that previously mentioned and
admirable thrift of good King Arthur, or rather of Queen Guinevere (from
whom, according to naughty romancers, we should have less expected it),
to the sound common-sense of "Three Children;" from the decorative
convention of "Little Boy Blue" to the arabesque and even grotesque of

But I shall still contend that the main, the pervading, the
characteristic attraction of them lies in their musical accompaniment of
purely senseless sound, in their rhythm, rhyme, jingle, refrain, and the
like, in the simplicity and freshness of their modulated form. For thus
they serve as anthems and doxologies to the goddess whom in this context
it is not satirical to call "_Divine_ Nonsensia," who still in all lands
and times condescends now and then to unbind the burden of meaning from
the backs and brains of men, and lets them rejoice once more in pure,
natural, senseless sound.


[Illustration: INDEX TO FIRST LINES]

A carrion crow sat on an oak

A diller, a dollar

A farmer went trotting upon his grey mare

A frog he would a-wooing go

A gentleman of good account

A little cock sparrow sat on a green tree

A long-tailed pig, and a short-tailed pig

A man of words and not of deeds

An apple pie, when it looks nice

A nick and a nock

An old woman was sweeping her house

A pie sate on a pear-tree

Around the green gravel the grass grows green

As I walked by myself

As I was a-going by a little pig-sty

As I was going o'er Westminster Bridge

As I was going to sell my eggs

As I was going to St. Ives

As I was going up Pippen Hill

As little Jenny Wren

As soft as silk, as white as milk

A swarm of bees in May

A was an apple-pie

A was an archer, and shot at a frog

Baa, baa, black sheep

Barber, barber, shave a pig

Bat, bat

Bessy Bell and Mary Gray

Billy, Billy, come and play

Bless you, bless you, burny-bee

Blow, wind, blow! and go, mill, go

Bobby Shaftoe's gone to sea

Bow, wow, says the dog

Bryan O'Lin, and his wife, and wife's mother

Bryan O'Lin had no breeches to wear

Buttons a farthing a pair

Bye, baby bunting

Charley, Charley, stole the barley

Cherries are ripe

Cock a doodle doo

Cold and raw the north wind doth blow

Come, let's to bed

Come, take up your hats, and away let us haste

"Croak!" said the toad, "I'm hungry, I think"

Cross patch

Curly locks! curly locks! wilt thou be mine?

Cushy cow bonny

Cut them on Monday

Daffy-down-dilly has come up to town

Dame Trot and her cat

Diddle diddle dumpling, my son John


Ding, dong bell

Dingty, diddledy, my mammy's maid

Doctor Faustus was a good man

Doctor Foster went to Glo'ster

Early to bed, and early to rise

Elizabeth, Eliza, Betsy, and Bess

Elsie Marley is grown so fine

For every evil under the sun

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost

Four and twenty tailors went to kill a snail

Gay go up and gay go down

Girls and boys, come out to play

God bless the master of this house

Good people all, of every sort

Goosey, goosey, gander

Great A, little A

Handy-Spandy, Jack-a-dandy

Hark, hark

Have you seen the old woman of Banbury Cross

He loves me

Hector Protector was dressed all in green

Here a little child I stand

Here comes a poor widow from Babylon

Here's Sulky Sue

He that would thrive

Hey! diddle, diddle

Hey ding-a-ding

Hey, my kitten, my kitten

Hickety, pickety, my black hen

Hickory, Dickory, Dock

Higgledy piggledy

Hot-cross Buns!

How do you do, neighbour?

How many miles is it to Babylon?

Humpty Dumpty sate on a wall

Hush-a-bye, baby, on the tree top

Hushy baby, my doll, I pray you don't cry

I am a gold lock

I do not like thee, Doctor Fell

If all the world were water

If I'd as much money as I could spend

I had a little castle

I had a little hen, the prettiest ever seen

I had a little husband

I had a little moppet

I had a little nut tree, nothing would it bear

I had a little pony

I had four brothers over the sea

I have seen you, little mouse

I like little pussy, her coat is so warm

I'll tell you a story

I love my love with an A, because he's agreeable

I love you well, my little brother

In Egypt was a dragon dire

In marble walls as white as milk

I saw a ship a-sailing

I saw three ships come sailing by

Is John Smith within?

I will sing you a song

Jack and Jill went up the hill

Jack Jingle went 'prentice

Jack Sprat

Jack Sprat could eat no fat

Jack Sprat's pig

Jacky, come give me my fiddle

January brings the snow

Jenny Wren fell sick

Jocky was a piper's son

John Cook had a little grey mare; he, haw, hum!

John Gilpin was a citizen

Johnny Pringle had a little pig

Johnny shall have a new bonnet

Lady bird, lady bird, fly away home

Lavender blue and rosemary green

"Let us go to the woods," says Richard to Robin

"Let us go to the wood," says this pig

Little Betty Blue

Little Bo-peep has lost her sheep

Little Bob Snooks was fond of his books

Little Boy Blue, come blow up your horn

Little Jack Horner

Little Miss Muffet

Little Nancy Etticoat

Little Polly Flinders

Little Robin Redbreast sat upon a tree

Little Tommy Tittlemouse

Little Tom Tucker

London Bridge is broken down

Lucy Locket

Mary had a pretty bird

Mary, Mary, quite contrary

Master I have, and I am his man

Merry are the bells, and merry would they ring

Monday alone

Monday's bairn is fair of face

Multiplication is vexation

My father he died, but I can't tell you how

My lady Wind, my lady Wind

Needles and pins, needles and pins

Nose, nose, jolly red nose

Now what do you think

Oh, what have you got for dinner?

Oh, who is so merry, so merry, heigh ho!

Old King Cole

Old Mother Goose

Old Mother Hubbard

On Christmas Eve I turned the spit

One, he loves

One misty moisty morning

One old Oxford ox opening oysters

One, two, buckle my shoe

One, two, three, four, five

Over the water, and over the lea

Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker's man!

Pease-porridge hot, pease-porridge cold

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled pepper

Please to remember

Polly, put the kettle on

Poor old Robinson Crusoe!

Punch and Judy

Pussy-cat, pussy-cat, where have you been?

Pussy sits beside the fire

Queen Anne, Queen Anne, you sit in the sun

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit Pie!

Rain, rain, go away

Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross

Ride away, ride away, Johnny shall ride

Robert Barnes, fellow fine

Robin-a-Bobbin bent his bow

Robin the Bobbin, the big bouncing Ben

Rock-a-bye, baby, thy cradle is green


Says A, Give me a good large slice

See, Saw, Margery Daw

See-saw, sacaradown

Simple Simon met a pieman

Sing a song of sixpence

Six little mice sat down to spin

Snail, snail, come out of your hole

Solomon Grundy

St. Swithin's day, if thou dost rain

Sukey, you shall be my wife

Taffy was a Welshman, Taffy was a thief


The cock's on the housetop

The cuckoo's a fine bird

The Dog will come when he is called

The dove says coo, coo, what shall I do?

The fox and his wife they had a great strife

The girl in the lane, that couldn't speak plain

The Hart he loves the high wood

The King of France went up the hill

The lion and the unicorn

The man in the moon

The man in the wilderness asked me

The north wind doth blow

The Queen of Hearts

The rose is red, the violet blue

There once were two cats

There was a crooked man, and he went a crooked mile

There was a jolly miller

There was a jovial beggar

There was a lady loved a swine

There was a little boy and a little girl

There was a little boy went into a barn

There was a little Guinea-pig

There was a little man

There was a little man, and he had a little gun

There was a little woman, as I've been told

There was a man, and he had naught

There was a man of Newington

There was a monkey climb'd up a tree

There was a piper had a cow

There was an old woman, and what do you think?

There was an old woman, as I've heard tell

There was an old woman called Nothing-at-all

There was an old woman had three sons

There was an old woman lived under a hill

There was an old woman tossed up in a basket

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe

There were three jovial Welshmen

There were two blackbirds

There's a neat little clock

Thirty days hath September

This is the death of little Jenny Wren

This is the house that Jack built

This is the way the ladies ride

This little pig went to market

Three blind mice, see how they run!

Three children sliding on the ice

Three little kittens

Three wise men of Gotham

Tinker, tailor

Tit, tat, toe

To market, to market, to buy a plum bun

Tom, Tom, the piper's son

Tom, Tom, the piper's son

Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee

Twinkle, twinkle, little star

Two legs sat upon three legs

Two little kittens, one stormy night

Up hill and down dale

Upon St. Paul's steeple

Wash me and comb me

We are three brethren out of Spain

Wee Willie Winkie runs through the town

What are little boys made of, made of?

What is the news of the day?

When a Twister a twisting, will twist him a twist

When good King Arthur ruled this land

When I was a bachelor, I lived by myself

When I was a little boy

When little Fred

When the wind is in the east

"Where are you going, my pretty maid?"

Where have you been all the day?

Where should a baby rest?

Who killed Cock Robin?

Willy boy, Willy boy, where are you going?

"Will you walk into my parlour?" said the spider to the fly

Yankee Doodle went to town

Yet didn't you see, yet didn't you see

Young Lambs to sell!

National Rhymes of the Nursery

_Old King Cole_

Old King Cole
Was a merry old soul,
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 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 his fiddlers three!

_Lock and Key_

I am a gold lock.
I am a gold key.
I am a silver lock.
I am a silver key.
I am a brass lock.
I am a brass key.
I am a lead lock.
I am a lead key.
I am a monk lock.
I am a monk key!

_The days of the month_

Thirty days hath September,
April, June, and November;
February has twenty-eight alone,
All the rest have thirty-one,

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