« AnteriorContinuar »
ABOUT the year 1856, a gentleman of Boston, a member of the Massachusetts Historical Society, while examining a file of old newspapers in the Library of the American Antiquarian Society, at Worcester, came across a dilapidated copy of the original edition of “ Mother Goose's Melodies." Not more than twelve or fifteen pages were left, but, as the price was only “two coppers,” it is not probable that there were many more. Being in search of other matter, he merely took note of the title and general condition and character of the work, intending to make a further examination of it at another time. Whether he ever did so is not known. His health being impaired, he soon after went to Europe, where he remained for many months.
It was not until some time after his death, which occurred in 1859, that these and certain other facts became known to the editor, who at once determined to find the book, if possible, and reprint it as a literary curiosity, with notes and a sketch of the venerable lady whose name is part and parcel of its world-wide fame. At his instance, the Assistant Librarian of the Antiquarian Society very kindly made a protracted search for the book itself, or
any notice of it in the newspapers of the time, but without success. Whether it has been lost, or stolen, or overlooked, is uncer. tain ; but of the fact that the gentleman referred to discovered an imperfect copy of the veritable editio princeps there can be no doubt.
Failing to recover this copy, the editor still thought it desirable to publish an annotated compilation of traditional nursery melodies, together with an account of Mother Goose and her family. In doing so, he has taken as the basis of his work Halliwell's wellknown and excellent collection of the “ Nursery Rhymes of England;" but he has omitted not a few of the pieces contained in that collection, chiefly such as have become obsolete, or are dialectical, or of merely local currency. On the other hand, he has added from various sources a number which are familiar to American children, and are doubtless, equally with the others, relics that have come down to us from a former age.
Of the notes, some are historical, others explanatory, and others again merely illustrative. Most of the former are taken from Halliwell's book, already named, or from his “ Popular Rhymes and Nursery Tales,” which forms a pendant or sequel to it; and his language has been retained or modified as seemed desirable in each instance. The facts related in them rest primarily on his authority, although his statements have been verified wherever it was possible to do so.
The introductory account of “The Goose or Vergoose Family” — which contains a notice of “Mother Goose,” the putative author of the “ Melodies," and of Thomas Fleet, the compiler and publisher of them — has mainly been prepared from materials collected by
a lineal descendant of both those worthies, and by him kindly placed at the disposal of the editor.
Not only is the name of Mother Goose a household word throughout America, but wherever the Yankee has gone — and he has penetrated to the uttermost parts of the earth — Mother Goose has gone with him.
In England, however, she has never become thoroughly naturalized, or rather she seems to have lost her identity, and been transmogrified into the old woman who in modern times has been made the mother of the boy who has taken the place of the man who, in Æsop's fable, owned the goose that laid golden eggs! (See pages 87, 181.) In this character she has acquired a degree of celebrity that is largely owing to a very popular pantomime by Thomas Dibdin, called “Mother Goose, or the Golden Egg," which was brought out at Covent Garden in 1806, and had a run of ninety-two nights. As poetess laureate to the nursery she is less known there. Halliwell has nothing whatever to say about her, and no English bibliographical work contains her name. At least, it is not mentioned, as far as the writer knows, in any catalogue of chap-books, garlands, and popular histories, or of old or rare books, or the like.
It is a singular fact, that, in 1697, — twenty-two years before the Melodies were given to the world by Fleet, Charles Perrault should have published (under the name of his infant son, Perrault d'Armancourt) a collection of fairy tales, under the title of “ Contes de ma Mère l'Oye,” that is, Tales of my Mother Goose.
. But the coincidence, though very curious, seems to have been purely accidental. Perrault's reason for adopting this title is thus explained by Collin de Plancy:
King Robert II. of France took to wife his relative Bertha, but was commanded
by Pope Gregory V. to relinquish her, and to perform a seven years' penance for marrying within the forbidden degrees of consanguinity. Being excommunicated for disobeying the command, and his kingdom laid under an interdict, everybody forsook him except two servants. Not long after, his wife having been confined, a lusus naturæ, somewhat resembling a deformed duck, or, as some say, a goose, was shown him, and declared to be the offspring to which she had given birth. The king, struck with horror, repudiated Bertha, and subsequently married Constance (a daughter of Guillaume Taillefer, Count of Toulouse]. It was further asserted that Bertha had one foot shaped like that of a goose, and the credulous populace – remembering how the wife of Pepin the Short was named 'Bertha with the great foot,' because one foot was larger than the other - called the divorced wife of their unhappy king, ‘Goose-footed Bertha' and 'Queen Goose.' The French have a proverbial saying that any incredible tale belongs to the time when Queen Bertha spun,' and they call such a tale 'one of Queen Goose's, or Mother Goose's stories.' Now, in all the vignettes which accompany the old editions of Perrault's 'Contes de ma Mère l'Oye,' 'Mother Goose' is represented as using a distaff, and as surrounded with a group of children, whom she holds entranced by her wondrous tales.”
Fiom this account it will be seen that there is no connection between the name of the imaginary relater of Perrault's fairy tales and that of the old lady whose verses ravished our infancy. Indeed
well be doubted whether our Mother Goose or her publisher ever heard of their French contemporary.
In sending out this little anthology of “ unconsidered trifles,” the editor is aware that Mr. Gradgrind will censure him for his in difference to the realities and facts and calculations which are the proper pabulum of the infant mind, and will accuse him of aspiring
“ To suckle fools and chronicle small beer; ”. but he is content to submit the book to the verdict of the nursery and of those “ children of a larger growth ” for whom the associations connected with the nursery have not lost all their charm.