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Popular Rhymes and Nursery Tales by James Orchard Halliwell

Nursery Antiquities

Return to Popular Rhymes and Nursery Tales by James Orchard Halliwell

ALTHOUGH the names of Scott and Grimm may be enumerated amongst the writers who have acknowledged the ethnological and philosophic value of traditional nursery literature, it is difficult to impress on the public mind the importance of a subject apparently in the last degree trifling and insignificant, or to induce an opinion that the jingles and simple narratives of a garrulous nurse can possess a worth beyond the circle of their own immediate influence.
But they who despise the humbler sources of literary illustration must be content to be told, and hereafter to learn, that traces of the simplest stories and most absurd superstitions are often more effectual in proving the affinity of different races, and determining other literary questions, than a host of grander and more imposing monuments. The history of fiction is continually efficacious in discussions of this kind, and the identities of puerile sayings frequently answer a similar purpose. Both, indeed, are of high value. The humble chap-book is found to be descended not only from medieval romance, but also not unfrequently from the more ancient mythology, whilst some of our simplest nursery-rhymes are chanted to this day by the children of Germany, Denmark, and Sweden, a fact strikingly exhibiting their great antiquity and remote origin.

The subject, however curious and interesting, is far too diffuse to be investigated at any length in a work like the present; and, indeed, the materials are for the most part so scattered and difficult of access, that it would require the research of many years to accomplish the task satisfactorily. I shall, then, content myself with indicating a few of the most striking analogies between the rhymes of foreign countries and those of our own, for this portion of the inquiry has been scarcely alluded to by my predecessors. With regard to the tales, a few notices of their antiquity will be found in the prefaces or notes to the stories themselves, and few readers will require to be informed that Whittington's cat realized his price in India, and that Arlotto related the story long before the Lord Mayor was born; that Jack the Giant-killer is founded on an Edda; or that the slipper of Cinderella finds a parallel in the history of the celebrated Rhodope. To enter into these discussions would be merely to repeat an oft-told tale, and I prefer offering a few notes which will be found to possess a little more novelty.
Of the many who must recollect the nursery jingles of their youth, how few in number are those who have suspected their immense age, or that they were ever more than unmeaning nonsense; far less that their creation belongs to a period before that at which the authentic records of our history commence. Yet there is no exaggeration in such a statement. We find the same trifles which erewhile lulled or amused the English infant, are current in slightly varied forms throughout the North of Europe; we know that they have been sung in the northern countries for centuries, and that there has been no modern outlet for their dissemination across the German Ocean. The most natural inference is to adopt the theory of a Teutonic origin, and thus give to every genuine child-rhyme, found current in England and Sweden, an immense antiquity. There is nothing improbable in the supposition, for the preservation of the relics of primitive literature often bears an inverse ratio to their importance. Thus, for example, a well-known English nursery rhyme tells us,—

There was an old man,
And he had a calf,
And that's half
He took him out of the stall,
And put him on the wall,
And that's all.

A composition apparently of little interest or curiosity; but Arwidsson, unacquainted with the English rhyme, produces the following as current in Sweden, Svenska Fornsånger, iii. 488, which bears far too striking a similarity to the above to have had a different origin,—

Gubben och gumman hade en kalf,
Och nu är visan half!
Och begge så körde de halfven i vall,
Och nu ar visal all!

We could not, perhaps, select a better instance of this kind of similarity in nepial songs as current throughout the great northern states of Europe than the pretty stanza on the ladybird. Variations of this familiar song belong to the vernacular literature of England, Germany, Denmark, and Sweden. The version at present current in the North of England is as follows:

Lady-cow, lady-cow, fly thy way home,
Thy house is on fire, thy children all gone;
All but one that ligs under a stone,
Fly thee home, lady-cow, ere it be gone! [1]

These lines are said by children, when they throw the beautiful little insect into the air, to make it take flight. Two Scottish variations are given by Mr. Chambers, p.170. In Germany it is called the Virgin Mary's chafer, Marienwürmchen, or the May-chafer, Maikäferchen, or the gold-bird, Guldvogel. In Sweden, gold-hen, gold-cow, or the Virgin Mary's maid. In Denmark, our Lord's hen, or our Lady's hen. We may first mention the German song translated by Taylor as frequently alluded to by writers on this subject. The second verse is the only one preserved in England.

Lady-bird! Lady-bird! pretty one! stay!
Come sit on my finger, so happy and gay;
      With me shall no mischief betide thee;
No harm would I do thee, no foeman is near,
I only would gaze on thy beauties so dear,
      Those beautiful winglets beside thee.

Lady-bird! lady-bird! fly away home;
Thy house is a-fire, thy children will roam!
      List! list! to their cry and bewailing!
The pitiless spider is weaving their doom,
Then, lady-bird! lady-bird! fly away home!
      Hark! hark! to thy children's bewailing.

Fly back again, back again, lady-bird dear!
Thy neighbours will merrily welcome thee here;
      With them shall no perils attend thee!
They'll guard thee so safely from danger or care,
They'll gaze on thy beautiful winglets so fair,
      And comfort, and love, and befriend thee!

In Das Knaben Wunderhorn, Arnim und Brentano, 1808, iii. 82, 83, 90, we have three German songs relating to the ladybird. The first two of these are here given:

Der Guldvogel.
Guldvogel, flieg aus,
Flieg auf die Stangen,
Käsebrode langen;
Mir eins, dir eins,
Alle gute G'sellen eins.

"Gold-bird, get thee gone, fly to thy perch, bring cheese-cakes, one for me, one for thee, and one for all good people."

Maikäferchen, Maikäferchen, fliege weg!
Dein Häusgen brennt,
Dein Mütterchen fleent,
Dein Vater sitzt auf der Schwelle,
Flieg in Himmel aus der Hölle.

"May-bird, May-bird, fly away. Thy house burns, thy mother weeps, thy father stays at his threshold, fly from hell into heaven!" — The third is not so similar to our version. Another German one is given in Kuhn und Schwark, Norddeutsche Sagen, 1848, p.375:

Maikäferchen, fliege,
Dein Vater ist im Kriege,
Dien Mutter ist in Pommerland,
Pommerland ist abgebrannt!
Maikäferchen, fliege.

"May-bird, fly. Thy father is in the war, thy mother is in Pomerania, Pomerania is burnt! May-bird, fly." — See, also, Erk und Irmer, Die Deutschen Volkslieder, Berlin, 1839, iv. 7, Das Maikäferlied. For the two pretty Swedish songs which follow I am indebted to the MS. of Mr. Stephens. The first is common in the southern parts of that country, the other in the northern.

Guld-höna, guld-ko!
   Flyg öster, flyg vester,
Dit du flyger der bor din älskade!

"Gold-hen, gold-cow! fly east, fly west, you will fly where your sweetheart is."

Jungfru Marias Nyckelpiga!
Flyg öster, flyg vester,
Flyg dit der min käresta bor! [2]

"Fly, our holy Virgin's bower-maid! fly east, fly west, fly where my loved-one dwelleth." In Denmark they sing (Thiele, iii. 134):

Fly, fly, our Lord's own hen!
To-morrow the weather fair will be,
And eke the next day too. [3]

Accumulative tales are of very high antiquity. The original of "the House that Jack Built" is well known to be an old Hebrew hymn in Sepher Haggadah. It is also found in Danish, but in a somewhat shorter form; (See Thiele, Danske Folkesagn, II. iii. 146, Der har du det Huus som Jacob bygde ;) and the English version is probably very old, as may be inferred from the mention of "the priest all shaven and shorn." A version of the old woman and her sixpence occurs in the same collection, II. iv. 161, Konen och Grisen Fick, the old wife and her piggy Fick, — "There was once upon a time an old woman who had a little pig hight Fick, who would never go home late in the evening. So the old woman said to her stick:

'Stick, beat Fick I say!
Piggie will not go home to-day!' "

This chant-tale is also common in Sweden. One copy has been printed by N. Lilja in his Violen en Samling Jullekar, Barnsånger och Sagor, i. 20, Gossen och Geten Näppa, the boy and the goat Neppa, — "There was once a yeoman who had a goat called Neppa, but Neppa would never go home from the field. The yeoman was therefore forced to promise his daughter in marriage to whoever could get Neppa home. Many tried their fortune in vain, but at last a sharp boy offered to ward the goat. All the next day he followed Neppa, and when evening came, he said, 'Now will we homeward go?' but Neppa answered, 'Pluck me a tuft or so,' " &c. The story is conducted in an exactly similar manner in which the dénoûement is brought about in the English tale. [4]

The well-known song of "There was a lady lov'd a swine," is found in an unpublished play of the time of Charles I. in the Bodleian Library, MS. Bodl. 30:

There was a lady lov'd a hogge;
   Hony, quoth shee,
Woo't thou lie with me to-night?
   Ugh, quoth hee.

A similar song is current in Sweden, as we learn from Arwidsson, Svenska Fornsånger, iii. 482, who gives a version in which an old woman, who had no children, took a little foal, which she called Longshanks, and rocked and nursed it as if it had been her own child: [5]

Gumman ville vagga
   Och inga barn hade hon;
      Då tog hon in
      Fölungen sin,
   Och lade den i vaggan sin.
Vyssa, vyssa, långskånken min,
Långa ben har du;
Lefver du till sommaren,
Blir du lik far din.

Another paradoxical song-tale, respecting the old woman who went to market, and had her petticoats cut off at her knees "by a pedlar whose name was Stout," is found in some shape or other in most countries in Europe. A Norwegian version is given by Asbjörnsen og Moe, Norske Folkeeventyr, 1843, and, if I recollect rightly, it is also found in Grimm.

The riddle-rhyme of "Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall" is, in one form or other, a favorite throughout Europe. A curious Danish version is given by Thiele, iii. 148:

Lille Trille
Laae paa Hylde;
Lille Trille
Faldt ned af Hylde.
Ingen Mand
I hele Land
Lille Trille curere kan.

Which may be thus translated:

Little Trille
Lay on a shelf:
Thence pitch'd himself:
Not all the men
In our land, I ken,
Can put Little Trille right again.

And Mr. Stephens has preserved two copies in his MS. Swedish collections. The first is from the province of Upland:

Thille Lille
   Satt på take';
Thille Lille
   Trilla' ner;
Ingen läkare i hela verlden
Thille Lille laga kan.

Thille Lille
   On the roof-tree sat;
Thille Lille
   Down fell flat;
Never a leech the world can show
That Thille Lille can heal, I trow.

Another from the province of Småland:

Lille Bulle
Trilla' ner å skulle;
Ingen man i detta lan'
Lille Bulle laga kan.

Down on the shed
Lille Bulle rolled;
Never a man in all this land
Lille Bulle helpen can.

It will now only be necessary to refer to the similarities pointed out in other parts of this work, to convince the reader that, at all events, a very fair case is made out for the truth of the positions we have contended for, if, indeed, sufficient evidence of their absolute truth is not adduced. They who are accustomed to researches of this kind, are too well aware of the facility with which the most plausible theories are frequently nullified by subsequent discovery; but there appears in the present case to be numerous conditions insoluble by any other supposition than that of a common origin, and we are therefore fully justified in adopting it as proved.

Turning to the nursery rhymes of our own country, it will tend materially to strengthen the results to which we have arrived, if we succeed in proving their antiquity in this island. We shall be enabled to do so satisfactorily, and to show that they are not the modern nonsense some folks may pronounce them to be. They illustrate the history and manners of the people for centuries. Here, for instance, is a relic in the form of a nursery rhyme, but in reality part of a political song, referring to the rebellious times of Richard the Second. [6]

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! wommy lo! wob, wob, wob!

An infant of the nineteenth century recalling our recollection to Jack Straw and his "blazey-boys!" Far better this than teaching history with notes "suited to the capacity of the youngest." Another refers to Joanna of Castile, who visited the court of Henry the Seventh in 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.

We have distinct evidence that the well-known rhyme, [7]

The King of France went up the hill,
   With twenty thousand men:
The King of France came down the hill,
   And ne'er went up again —

was composed before 1588. It occurs in an old tract called Pigges Corantoe, 1642, where it is entitled "Old Tarlton's Song," referring to Tarlton the jester, who died in 1588. The following one belongs to the seventeenth century:

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!

Political nursery-rhymes, or rather political rhymes of a jingling character, which, losing their original application, are preserved only in the nursery, were probably common in the seventeenth century. The two just quoted have evidently an historical application. The manuscript miscellanies of the time of James I. and Charles I. contain several copies of literal rhymes not very unlike "A, B, C, tumble-down D." In the reign of Charles II. political pasquinades constantly partook of the genuine nursery character. We may select the following example, of course put into the mouth of that sovereign, preserved in MS. Douce 357, f. 124, in the Bodleian Library:

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?

"What is the rhyme for porringer?" was written on occasion of the marriage of Mary, the daughter of James Duke of York, afterwards James II., with the young Prince of Orange: and the following alludes to Willliam III. 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.

Another nursery song on King William is not yet obsolete, but its application is not generally known My authority is the title of it in MS. Harl. 7316:

As I walk'd by myself,
And talked to myself,
   Myself said unto me,
Look to thyself,
Take care of thyself,
   For nobody cares for thee.

I answer'd myself,
And said to myself
   In the self-same repartee,
Look to thyself,
Or not look to thyself,
   The self-same thing will be.

To this class of rhymes I may add the following on Dr. Sacheverel, which was obtained from oral tradition:

Doctor Sacheverel
Did very well,
But Jacky Dawbin
Gave him a warning.

When there are no allusions to guide us, it is only by accident that we can hope to test the history and antiquity of these kind of scraps, but we have no doubt whatever that many of them are centuries old. The following has been traced to the time of Henry VI., a singular doggerel, the joke of which consists in saying it so quickly that it cannot be told whether it is English or gibberish:

In fir tar is,
In oak none is,
In mud eel is,
In clay none is,
Goat eat ivy,
Mare eat oats.

"Multiplication is vexation," a painful reality to schoolboys, was found a few years ago in a manuscript dated 1570; and the memorial lines, "Thirty days hath September," occur in the Return from Parnassus, an old play printed in 1606. Our own reminiscences of such matters, and those of Shakespeare, may thus have been identical! "To market, to market, to buy a plum-bun," is partially quoted in Florio's New World of Words, 1611, in v. 'Abómba.' The old song of the "Carrion Crow sat on an Oak," was discovered by me in MS. Sloane 1489, of the time of Charles I., but under a different form:

Hic, hoc, the carrion crow,
For I have shot something too low:
I have quite missed my mark,
And shot the poor sow to the heart;
Wife, bring treacle in a spoon,
Or else the poor sow's heart will down.

"Sing a song of sixpence" is quoted by Beaumont and Fletcher. "Buz, quoth the blue fly," which is printed in the nursery halfpenny books, belongs to Ben Jonson's Masque of Oberon; the old ditty of "Three Blind Mice" is found in the curious music book entitled Deuteromelia, or the Second Part of Musicke's Melodie, 1609; and the song, "When I was a little girl, I wash'd my mammy's dishes," is given by Aubrey in MS. Lansd. 231. "A swarm of bees in May," is quoted by Miege, 1687. And so on of others, fragments of old catches and popular songs being constantly traced in the apparently unmeaning rhymes of the nursery.

Most of us have heard in time past the school address to a story-teller:

Liar, liar, lick dish,
Turn about the candlestick.

Not very important lines, one would imagine, but they explain a passage in Chettle's play of the Tragedy of Hoffman, or a Revenge for a Father, 4to. Lond. 1631, which would be partially inexplicable without such assistance:


By heaven! it seemes hee did, but all was vaine;
The flinty rockes had cut his tender scull,
And the rough water wash't away his braine.


Lyer, lyer, licke dish!

The intention of the last speaker is sufficiently intelligible, but a future editor, anxious to investigate his author minutely, might search in vain for an explanation of licke dish. Another instance [8] of the antiquity of children's rhymes I met with lately at Stratford-on-Avon, in a MS. of the seventeenth century, in the collection of the late CaptainJames Saunders, where, amongst common-place memoranda on more serious subjects, written about the year 1630, occurred a version of one of our most favorite nursery songs:

I had a little bonny nagg,
   His name was Dapple Gray;
And he would bring me to an ale-house
   A mile out of my way.

 "Three children sliding on the ice" is founded on a metrical tale published at the end of a translation of Ovid de Arte Amandi, 1662. [9] The lines,

There was an old woman
   Liv'd under a hill,
And if she ben't gone,
   She lives there still —

form part of an old catch, printed in the Academy of Complements, ed. 1714, p. 108. The same volume (p. 140) contains the original words to another catch, which has been corrupted in its passage to the nursery:

There was an old man had three sons,
Had three sons, had three sons;
There was an old man had three sons,
   Jeffery , James, and Jack.
Jeffery was hang'd and James was drown'd,
And Jack was lost, that he could not be found,
And the old man fell into a swoon,
   For want of a cup of sack!

It is not improbable that Shakespeare, who has alluded so much and so intricately to the vernacular rural literature of his day, has more notices of nursery-rhymes and tales than research has hitherto elicited. "I am only sat on Pillicock hill," which is quoted by Edgar in King Lear, iii. 4, and is found in Gammar Gurton's Garland, and in most modern collections of English nursery-rhymes. The secret meaning is not very delicate, nor is it necessary to enter into any explanation on the subject. It may, however, be worthy of remark, that the term pillicock is found in a manuscript (Harl. 913) in the British Museum of the thirteenth century.

English children accompanied their amusements with trivial verses from a very early period, but as it is only by accident that any allusions to them have been made, it is difficult to sustain the fact by many examples. The Nomenclator or Remembrancer of Adrianus Junius, translated by Higins, and edited by Fleming, 8vo. 1585, contains a few notices of this kind; p.298, "basilinda", the playe called one penie, one penie, come after me; cutrinda, the play called selling of peares, or how many plums for a penie; p. 299, coinofilinda, a kinde of playe called

Clowt, clowt,
To beare about,

or my hen hath layd; ipostrakismos, a kind of sport or play with an oister shell or a stone throwne into the water, and making circles yer it sinke, &c.,; it is called,

A ducke and a drake,
And a halfe penie cake."

This last notice is particularly curious, for similar verses are used by boys at the present day at the game of water-skimming. The amusement itself is very ancient, and a description of it may be seen in Minucius Felix, Lugd. Bat. 1652, p. 3. There cannot be a doubt but that many of the inexplicable nonsense-rhymes of our nursery belonged to antique recreations, but it is very seldom their original application can be recovered. The well-known doggerel respecting the tailor of Bicester may be mentioned as a remarkable instance of this, for it is one of the most common nursery-rhymes of the present day, and Aubrey, MS. Lansd. 231, writing in the latter part of the seventeenth century, preserved it as part of the formula of a game called leap-candle. "The young girls in and about Oxford have a sport called Leap-Candle, for which they set a candle in the middle of the room in a candlestick, and then draw up their coats into the form of breaches, and dance over the candle back and forth, with these words:

The tailor of Biciter,
   He has but one eye,
He cannot cut a pair of green galagaskins,
   If he were to die.

This sport in other parts is called Dancing the Candle Rush." It may be necessary to observe that galagaskins were wide loose trousers.

The rhyme of Jack Horner has been stated to be a satire on the Puritanical aversion to Christmas pies and suchlike abominations. It forms part of a metrical chap-book history, founded on the same story as the Friar and the Boy, entitled, "The Pleasant History of Jack Horner, containing his witty tricks, and pleasant pranks, which he played from his youth to his riper years: right pleasant and delightful for winter and summer's recreation," embellished with frightful woodcuts, which have not much connexion with the tale. The pleasant history commences as follows:

Jack Horner was a pretty lad,
   Near London he did dwell,
His father's heart he made full glad,
   His mother lov'd him well.
While little Jack was sweet and young,
   If he by chance should cry,
His mother pretty sonnets sung,
   With a lul-la-ba-by,
With such a dainty curious tone,
   As Jack sat on her knee,
So that, e'er he could go alone,
   He sung as well as she.
A pretty boy of curious wit,
   All people spoke his praise,
And in the corner would he sit,
   In Christmas holydays.
When friends they did together meet,
   To pass away the time—
Why, little Jack, he sure would eat
   His Christmas pie in rhyme.
And said, Jack Horner, in the corner,
   Eats good Christmas pie,
And with his thumbs pulls out the plumbs,
   And said, Good boy am I!

Here we have an important discovery! Who before suspected that the nursery-rhyme was written by Jack Horner himself?

Few children's rhymes are more common than those relating to Jack Sprat and his wife, "Jack Sprat could eat no fat," &c.; but it is little thought they have been current for two centuries. Such, however, is the fact, and when Howell published his collection of Proverbs in 1659, p. 20, the story related to no less exalted a personage than an archdeacon:

Archdeacon Pratt would eat no fatt,
   His wife would eat no lean;
'Twixt Archdeacon Pratt and Joan his wife,
   The meat was eat up clean.

On the same page of this collection we find the commencement of the rigmarole, "A man of words and not of deeds," which in the next century was converted into a burlesque song on the battle of Culloden! [10]

Double Dee Double Day,
Set a garden full of seeds;
When the seeds began to grow,
It's like a garden full of snow.
When the snow began to melt,
Like a ship without a belt.
When the ship began to sail,
Like a bird without a tail.
When the bird began to fly,
Like an eagle in the sky.
When the sky began to roar,
Like a lion at the door.
When the door began to crack,
Like a stick laid o'er my back.
When my back began to smart,
Like a penknife in my heart.
When my heart began to bleed,
Like a needleful of thread.
When the thread began to rot,
Like a turnip in the pot.
When the pot began to boil,
Like a bottle full of oil.
When the oil began to settle,
Like our Geordies bloody battle.

The earliest copy of the saying, "A man of words and not of deeds," I have hitherto met with, occurs in MS. Harl. 1927, of the time of James I. Another version, written towards the close of the seventeenth century, but unfitted for publication, is preserved on the last leaf of MS. Harl. 6580.
Many of the metrical nonsense-riddles of the nursery are of considerable antiquity. A collection of conundrums formed early in the seventeenth century by Randle Holmes, the Chester antiquary, and now preserved in MS. Harl. 1962, contains several which have been traditionally remembered up to the present day. Thus we find versions of "Little Nancy Etticoat in a white petticoat," "Two legs sat upon three legs," "As round as an apple," and others. [11]

During the latter portion of the seventeenth century numerous songs and games were introduced which were long remembered in the English nursery. "Questions and Commands" was a common game, played under various systems of representation. One boy would enact king, and the subjects would give burlesque answers, e.g.:


King I am!
I am your man.
What service will you do?
The best and worst, and all I can!

A clever writer in the Gentleman's Magazine for 1738, says this was played during the Commonwealth in ridicule of sovereignty! He humorously adds, continually quoting games then current: "During all Oliver's time, the chief diversion was, 'The parson hath lost his fuddling-cap,' which needs no explanation. At the Restoration succeeded love-games, as 'I love my love with an A,' a 'Flower and a lady,' and 'I am a lusty wooer;' changed in the latter end of this reign, as well as all King James II.'s, to 'I am come to torment you.' At the Revolution, when all people recovered their liberty, the children played promiscuously at what game they liked best. The most favorite one, however, was 'Puss in the corner.'" The same writer also mentions the game of "I am a Spanish merchant."

The following nursery-rhyme is quoted in Parkin's Reply to Dr. Stukeley's second number of the Origines Roystonianae, 4to. 1748, p. 6, but I am not aware that it is still current:—

Peter White will ne'er go right,
   And would you know the reason why?
He follow his nose where'er he goes,
   And that stands all awry.

The tale of "Old Mother Hubbard" is undoubtedly of some antiquity, were we merely to judge of the rhyme of laughing to coffin in the third verse. [12]  

"There was an old woman toss'd up in a blanket" is supposed to be the original song of "Lilliburlero, or Old Woman, whither so high?" the tune to which was published in 1678. [13]

"Come, drink old ale with me," a nursery catch, with an improper meaning now lost, is found in MS. Harl. 7332, of the seventeenth century. "Round about, round about, magotty-pie," is probably as old magot-pie being an obsolete term for a magpie. For a similar reason, the antiquity of "Here am I, little Jumping Joan," may be inferred. Jumping Joan was the cant term for a lady of little reputation. [14]
The well-known riddle, "As I was going to St. Ives," occurs in MS. Harl. 7316, of the early part of the last century; and the following extract from Poor Robin's Almanack for 1693, may furnish us with the original of the celebrated ballad on Tom of Islington, though the latter buried his troublesome wife on Sunday: "How one saw a lady on the Saturday, married her on the Sunday, she was brought to bed on the Monday, the child christned on the Tuesday, it died on the Wednesday, was buried on the Thursday, the bride's portion was paid on the Friday, and the bridegroom ran clear away on the Saturday!"

The antiquity of a rhyme is not unfrequently determined by the use of an obsolete expression. Thus it may be safely concluded that the common nursery address to the white moth is no modern composition, from the use of the term dustipoll, a very old nickname for a miller, which has long fallen into disuse:

Millery, millery, dustipoll,
How many sacks have you stole?
Four and twenty and a peck :
Hang the miller up by his neck!

The expression is used by Robin Goodfellow in the old play of Grim, the Collier of Croydon, first printed in 1662, but written considerably before that period:

Now, miller, miller, dustipole,
I'll clapper-claw your jobberhole! [15]

A very curious ballad, written about the year 1720, in the possession of Mr. Crofton Croker, establishes the antiquity of the rhymes of "Jack-a-Dandy," "Boys and girls come out to play," "Tom Tidler's on the Friar's ground," "London bridge is broken down," "Who comes here, a grenadier," and "See, saw, sacradown," besides mentioning others we have before alluded to. The ballad is entitled, "Namby Pamby, or a Panegyric on the New Versification, addressed to A. F., Esq."

Nanty Panty, Jack-a-Dandy,
Stole a piece of sugar-candy,
From the grocer's shoppy shop,
And away did hoppy hop.

In the course of the ballad, the writer thus introduces the titles of the nursery rhymes,—

Namby Pamby's double mild,
Once a man, and twice a child;
To his hanging sleeves restor'd,
Now he fools it like a lord;
Now he pumps his little wits
All by little tiny bits.
Now, methinks, I hear him say,
Boys and girls, come out to play,
Moon do's shine as bright as day:
Now my Namby Pamby's [16] found
Sitting on the Friar's ground,
Picking silver, picking gold,—
Namby Pamby's never old:
Bally-cally they begin,
Namby Pamby still keeps in.
Namby Pamby is no clown—
London Bridge is broken down;
Now he courts the gay ladee,
Dancing o'er the Lady Lee:
Now he sings of Lickspit Liar,
Burning in the brimstone fire;
Lyar, lyar, Lickspit, lick,
Turn about the candlestick.
Now he sings of Jacky Horner,
Sitting in the chimney corner,
Eating of a Christmas pie,
Putting in his thumb, oh! fie!
Putting in, oh! fie, his thumb,
Pulling out, oh! strange, a plumb!
Now he acts the grenadier,
Calling for a pot of beer:
Where's his money? He's forgot—
Get him gone, a drunken sot!
Now on cock-horse does he ride,
And anon on timber stride,
Se and saw, and sack'ry down,
London is a gallant town!

The ballad is a very important illustration of the history of these puerile rhymes, for it establishes the fact that some we might aptly consider modern are at least more than a century old; and who would have thought such nonsense as,

Who comes here?
A grenadier!
What do you want?
A pot of beer!
Where's your money?
I've forgot!
Get you gone,
You drunken sot!

could have descended in all its purity for several generations, even although it really may have a deep meaning and an unexceptionable moral?

Having thus, I trust, shown that the nursery has an archaeology, the study of which may eventually lead to important results, the jingles and songs of our childhood are defended from the imputation of exclusive frivolity. We may hope that, henceforth, those who have the opportunity will not consider it a derogatory task to add to these memorials. But they must hasten to the rescue. The antiquities of the people are rapidly disappearing before the spread of education; and before many years have elapsed, they will be lost, or recorded only in the collections of the antiquary, perhaps requiring evidence that they ever existed. This is the latest period at which there is a chance of our arresting their disappearance. If, unfortunately, the most valuable relics of this kind are wholly lost, many, doubtlessly, remain in the remote districts sufficiently curious to reward the collector; and it is to be hoped they will not be allowed to share the fate of Wade and his boat Guingelot.


1: In Norfolk the lady-bird is called burny-bee, and the following lines are current:

Burnie bee, burnie bee,
Tell me when your wedding be.
If it be to-morrow day,
Take your wings and fly away.

2: This is a very remarkable coincidence with an English rhyme:

Fly, lady-bird, fly!
   North, south, east, or west;
Fly to the pretty girl
   That I love best.

3: The lady-bird, observes Mr. Chambers, is always connected with fine weather in Germany and the north.

4: Two other variations occur in Arwidsson, Svenska Fornsånger, 1842, iii. 387-8, and Mr. Stephens tells me he has a MS. Swedish copy entitled the Schoolboy and the Birch. It is also well known in Alsace, and is printed in that dialect in Stöber's Elsassisches Volksbüchlein, 1842, pp. 93-5. Compare, also, Kuhn und Schwark, Norddeutsche Sagen, Märchen und Gebräuche, 1848, p.358, "Die frâ, dos hippel un dos hindel."

5: It is still more similar to a pretty little song in Chambers, p.188, commencing, "There was a miller's dochter."

6: I am here, and in a few other cases, quoting from myself. It may be necessary to say so, for my former collections on this subject have been appropriated — "convey, the wise it call" — in a work by a learned Doctor, the preface to which is an amusing instance of plagiarism.

7: An early variation occurs in MS. Sloane 1489:

The king of France, and four thousand men,
They drew their swords, and put them up again.

8: A dance called Hey, diddle, diddle, is mentioned in the play of King Cambises, written about 1561, and the several rhymes commencing with those words may have been original adaptations to that dance-tune.

9: See the whole poem in my Nursery Rhymes of England, ed. 1842, p.19.

10: The following nursery game, played by two girls, one personating the mistress and the other a servant was obtained from Yorkshire, and may be interpreted as a dialogue between a lady and her Jacobite maid:


Jenny, come here! So I hear you have been to see that man.


What man, madam?


Why, the handsome man.


Why, madam, as I was a-passing by,
Thinking no harm, no not in the least, not I,
I did go in,
But had no ill intention in the thing,
For, as folks say, a cat may look at a king.


A king do you call him? You rebellious slut!


I did not call him so, dear lady, but—


But me none of your buttings, for not another day
Shall any rebel in my service stay;
I owe you twenty shillings—there's a guinea!
Go, pack your clothes, and get about your business, Jenny.

11: A vast number of these kind of rhymes have become obsolete, and old manuscripts contain many not very intelligible. Take the following as a specimen:

Ruste duste tarbotell,
Bagpipelorum hybattell.—MS. Harl. 7332, xvij. cent.

12: The first three verses are all the original. The rest is modern, and was added when Mother Hubbard was the first of a series of eighteen-penny books published by Harris.

13: Chappell's National Airs, p.89.

14: Beaumont and Fletcher, ed. Dyce, viii. 176. The tune of Jumping Joan is mentioned in MS. Harl. 7316, p. 67.

15: "Oh, madam, I will give you the keys of Canterbury," must be a very ancient song, as it mentions chopines, or high cork shoes, and appears, from another passage, to have been written before the invention of bell-pulls. The obsolete term delve, to dig, exhibits the antiquity of the rhyme "One, two, buckle my shoe." Minikin occurs in a rhyme printed in the Nursery Rhymes of England, p.145; coif, ibid, p. 150; snaps, small fragments, ibid. p. 190; moppet, a little pet, ibid. p. 193, &c.

16: Namby Pamby is said to have been a nickname for Ambrose Phillips. Another ballad, written about the same time as the above, alludes to the rhymes of "Goosy Goosy, Gander."

Halliwell, James Orchard. Popular Rhymes and Nursery Tales. London: John Russell Smith, 1849.

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