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SECTION II. MOTHER GOOSE JINGLES AND NURSERY RHYMES
A flawless literature. The one literature that is supremely adapted to its purpose is the collection of rhymes associated with Mother Goose. To every child it comes with an irresistible appeal. It has a power so natural and fundamental that it defies explanation. The child takes it for granted just as he does his parents. It has a perfection of rhythm and structure not attainable by modern imitators. It has been perfected through the generations by the surest of all tests, that of constant popular use. Much of it is common to many different nations. It is an international literature of childhood. While much of it is known to children long before they enter school, these jingles, like all folk literature, never lose their charm through repetition. The schools have long since learned the value of the familiar in teaching. The process of learning to read is usually based on some of the better known rhymes. Teachers of literature in more advanced classes think they can generally detect the students who have been especially “learned” in “Mother Goose her ways” by their quick responsiveness to the facts of verbal rhythm and rhythmical structure in more sophisticated products. “If we have no love for poetry to-day, it may not impossibly be due to the fact that we have ceased to prize the old, old tales which have been the delight of the child and the child-man since the foundations of the world. If you want your child to love Homer, do not withold Mother Goose.”
Who was Mother Goose? The answer to this, as to other questions suggested below, may be of no direct or special interest to the children themselves. But teachers should know some of the main conclusions arrived at by folklorists and others in their investigations of the traditional materials used for basic work in literature. All the evidence shows that Mother Goose as the name of the familiar old lady of the nursery came to us from France. Andrew Lang discovered a reference to her in a French poem of 1650, where she figures as a teller of stories. In 1697 Perrault's famous fairy tales were published with a frontispiece representing an old woman spinning, and telling tales to a man, a girl, a little boy, and a cat. On this frontispiece was the legend, Tales of Our Mother Goose. (See note to No. 161.)
As a teller of prose tales, Mother Goose came to England with the translation of Perrault about 1730. We do not find her name connected with verse until after the middle of the eighteenth century. About the year 1760 a little book called Mother Goose's Melody was issued by John Newbery, a London publisher and a most important figure in the history of the production of books for children. It is a pleasant and not improbable theory that this first collection of nursery rhymes, upon which later ones were built, was the work of Oliver Goldsmith, who was for some years in Newbery's employ. However that may be, it is certain that from this date the name of Mother Goose has been almost exclusively associated with nursery rhymes,
Newbery's. Motker. Goose's Melody was soon reprinted by Isaiah Thomas, of Worcester, Massachusetts, and thus came into the hands of American children early in our national life. A long-since exploded theory was advanced about 1870 that Mother Goose was a real woman of Boston in the early eighteenth century, whose rhymes were published by her son-in-law, Thomas Fleet, in 1719. But no one has identified any such publication and there is no evidence whatever that this old lady in cap and spectacles is other than purely mythical.
Whence came the jingles themselves? It is certain that many nursery rhymes are both widespread geographically in distribution and of great antiquity. Halliwell and others have found references to some of them in old books which prove that many of the English rhymes go back several centuries. They are of popular origin; that is, they took root anonymously among the folk and were passed on by word of mouth. When a rhyme can be traced to any known authority we generally find that the folk have extracted what pleased, have forgotten or modified any original historical or other application the rhymes may have possessed, and in general have shaped the rhyme to popular taste. “Thus our old nursery rhymes," says Andrew Lang, “are smooth stones from the book of time, worn round by constant friction of tongues long silent. We cannot hope to make new nursery rhymes, any more than we can write new fairy tales.”
Here are a few illustrations of what scholars have been able to tell us of the sources of the rhymes: “Jack and Jill" preserves the Icelandic myth of two children caught up into the moon, where they can still be seen carrying a bucket on a pole between them. “Three Blind Mice” is traced to an old book called Deuteromalia (1609). "Little Jack Horner" is all that is left of an extended chapbook story, The Pleasant History of Jack Horner, Containing His Witty Tricks, etc. “Poor Old Robinson Crusoe" is a fragment from a song by the character Jerry Sneak in Foote's Mayor of Garratt (1763). “Simple Simon” gives all that the nursery has preserved of a long chapbook verse story. “A Swarm of Bees in May” was found by Halliwell quoted in Miege's Great French Dictionary (1687). These and numerous like facts serve only to impress us with the long and honorable history of the nursery rhyme.
Can nursery rhymes be helpfully classified? This question seems of more consequence to the teacher than the previous ones because it deals with the practical organization of his material. The most superficial observer can see that Nos. 3, 36, 46, 59, 62, and 113, on the following pages, are riddles; that Nos. 22 and 30 are counting-out rhymes; that Nos. 37, 38, 39, 40, and 41 are replies that might be made to one who indulged unduly in suppositions; that No. 27 is a face game, No. 75 a hand game, and No. 108 a toe game; that Nos. 42, 81, 82, 107, and 111 are riding songs; that Nos. 7, 10, 23, 67, and 137 are proverbial sayings; that Nos. 64 and 89 are charms; and so one might continue with groupings based on the immediate use made of the rhyme, not forgetting the great number that lend themselves to the purposes of the crooned lullaby or soothing song.
Halliwell made the first attempt at any complete classification in his Nursery Rhymes of England (1842), using eighteen headings: (1) Historical, (2) Literal, (3) Tales, (4) Proverbs, (5) Scholastic, (6) Songs, (7) Riddles, (8) Charms, (o) Gaffers and Gammers, (10) Games, (11) Paradoxes, (12) Lullabies, (13) Jingles, (14) Love
and Matrimony, (15) Natural History, (16) Accumulative Stories, (17) Local, (18) Relics. Andrew Lang follows Halliwell, but reduces the classes to fourteen by combining (2) and (5), (7) and (11), (8) and (12), and by omitting (17). These classifications are made from the standpoint of the folklore scholar, and are based on the sources from which the rhymes originally sprang. Professor Saintsbury scouts the value of any such arrangement, since all belong equally in the one class, "jingles," and he also rightly points out that “all genuine nursery rhymes ...
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."
Without denying the great significance of popular rhymes to the student of folklore, we must look elsewhere for any practical suggestion for the teacher in the matter of arrangement. Such a suggestion will be found in the late Charles Welsh's Book of Nursery Rhymes, a little volume that every teacher interested in children's literature must make use of. The rhymes are grouped into three main divisions: (1) Mother Play, (2) Mother Stories, and (3) Child Play, with subordinate groupings under each. About 250 rhymes are included in Welsh's collection, and the arrangement suggests the best order for using them practically, without dropping into any ironclad system.
It may be argued that any attempt at classification of material so freely and variously used as the Mother Goose rhymes is sure to stiffen the work of the class and render it less enjoyable. Spontaneity is more vital here than at any other stage of one's literary education.
What is the secret of the nursery rhyme's appeal to children? Here at least we are face to face with what may be called a final fact, that these jingles do make an appeal so universal and remarkable that any attempt to explain it seems always to fall far short of completeness. Perhaps the best start may be made with Mr. Welsh's suggestion that this appeal is threefold: first, that which comes from the rhyming jingle, as in “Higgledy, piggledy, my fat hen"; second, that which comes from the nonsense surprises, as in "Hey diddle diddle," "Three wise men of Gotham," and "I'll tell you a story"; third, that which comes from the dramatic action, as in “Little Miss Muffet," and "Little Jack Horner." This summary does not differ much from Mr. Walter Taylor Field's conclusions: “The child takes little thought as to what any of these verses mean. There are perhaps four elements in them that appeal to him,-first, the jingle, and with it that peculiar cadence which modern writers of children's poetry strive in vain to imitate; second, the nonsense, — with just enough of sense in it to connect the nonsense with the child's thinkable world; third, the action,- for the stories are quite dramatic in their way; and fourth, the quaintness.” Mr. Field also emphasizes the probable charm of mystery in the face of the unknown facts beyond the child's horizon, which appear in many of the rhymes.
Other commentators do little beyond expanding some of these suggestions. All of them agree in stressing the appeal made by rhythm, the jingle, the emphatic meter. This seems a fundamental thing in all literature, though readers are mainly conscious of it in poetry. Just how fundamental it is in human life has not been better hinted than in a sentence by Mrs. MacClintock: “One who is trying to write a sober treatise in a matter-of-fact way dares not, lest he be set down as the veriest mystic, say all the things that might be said about the function of rhythm, especially in its more pronounced form of meter, among a community of children, no matter what the size of the group-how rhythmic motion, or the flow of measured and beautiful sounds, harmonizes their differences, tunes them up to their tasks, disciplines their conduct, comforts their hurts, quiets their nerves; all this apart from the facts more or less important from the point of view of literature, that it cultivates their ear, improves their taste, and provides them a genuinely artistic pleasure."
Professor Saintsbury, as usual, adds a fascinating turn to the discussion when, after agreeing that we may see in the rhymes, “to a great extent, the poetical appeal of sound as opposed to that of meaning in its simplest and most unmistakable terms,' he continues: "And we shall find something else, which I venture to call the attraction of the inarticulate. . ... In moments of more intense and genuine feeling : (man) does not as a rule use or at least confine himself to articulate speech. . All children. fall naturally, long after they are able to express themselves as it is called rationally, into a sort of pleasant gibberish when they are alone and pleased or even displeased.
It must be a not infrequent experience of most people that one frequently falls into pure jingle and nonsense verse of the nursery kind. ... 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. . . : . 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 utilizing of alliteration and rhyme and assonance." Those who have noticed the tendency of children to find vocal pleasure even of a physical or muscular sort in nonsense combinations of sounds, and who also realize their own tendency in this direction, will feel that Professor Saintsbury has hit upon a suggestive term in his claim for “the attraction of the inarticulate” as a partial explanation of the Mother Goose appeal.
Through song, game, memorization, and dramatization, traditional or original, the rhymes may be made to contribute to the child's satisfaction in all of the directions pointed out.
SUGGESTIONS FOR READING
(Books referred to by authors' names are listed in preceding bibliography.)
For orientation read Chauncey B. Tinker, “In Praise of Nursery Lore," Unpopular Review, Vol. VI, p. 338 (Oct.-Dec., 1916). For a most satisfactory presentation of the whole subject read chap. x, “Mother Goose," in Field. For the origin of Mother Goose as a character consult Lang's introduction to his edition of Perrault's Popular Tales. For the theory of her American nativity see Wheeler and Whitmore. For the origins of the rhymes themselves the authorities are Halliwell and Eckenstein. For pedagogical suggestions see Welsh, also his article "Nursery Rhymes," Cyclopedia of Education (ed. Monroe). For many interesting facts and suggestions on rhythm in nursery rhymes consult Charles H. Sears, "Studies in Rhythm,” Pedagogical Seminary, Vol. VIII, p. 3. For the whole subject of folk songs look into Martinengo-Cesaresco, The Study of Folk Songs. Books and periodicals dealing with primary education often contain brief discussions of value on the use of rhymes. Many Mother Goose records have been prepared by the educational departments of the various talking-machine companies, and may be used to advantage in the work in rhythm.
The shorter rhymes (Nos. 1-115) are arranged
in alphabetical order. There are many slight variations in the form of the text as found in printed versions and in the oral versions used by children in different communities. While Halliwell has been used as the basis for rhymes given in his collection, the following versions try to reproduce the forms of expression that seem generally most pleasing to children.
5 As I went to Bonner,
I met a pig
Without a wig, Upon my word of honor.
6 As Tommy Snooks and Bessie Brooks
Were walking out one Sunday, Says Tommy Snooks to Bessie Brooks,
"To-morrow will be Monday."
A cat came fiddling out of a barn,
A diller, a dollar.
A ten o'clock scholar, What makes you come so soon? You used to come at ten o'clock, And now you come at noon.
7 A swarm of bees in May Is worth a load of hay; A swarm of bees in June Is worth a silver spoon; A swarm of bees in July Is not worth a fly.
8 Baa, baa, black sheep,
Have you any wool? Yes, marry, have I,
Three bags full; One for my master,
And one for my dame, And one for the little boy
Who lives in the lane.
Kits, cats, sacks, and wives,
9 Barber, barber, shave a pig, How many hairs will make a wig? “Four and twenty, that's enough. Give the barber a pinch of snuff.
4 As I was going up Pippen Hill, -
Pippen Hill was dirty,There I met a pretty miss,
And she dropped me a curtsy.
Birds of a feather flock together,
And so will pigs and swine; Rats and mice will have their choice,
And so will I have mine.
Little miss, pretty miss,
Blessings light upon you; If I had half-a-crown a day,
I'd spend it all upon you.
Bless you, bless you, burnie bee;