Manual Traditional Irish Nursery Rhymes

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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. 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. And Mr.

European Nursery Rhymes | Europe Is Not Dead!

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

An infant of the nineteenth century recalling our recollection to Jack Straw and his "blazey-boys! We have distinct evidence that the well-known rhyme, [7]. The following one belongs to the seventeenth century:. 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. We may select the following example, of course put into the mouth of that sovereign, preserved in MS. Douce , f. 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. To this class of rhymes I may add the following on Dr. Sacheverel, which was obtained from oral tradition:. 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.

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The following has been traced to the time of Henry VI. Our own reminiscences of such matters, and those of Shakespeare, may thus have been identical! Sloane , of the time of Charles I. And so on of others, fragments of old catches and popular songs being constantly traced in the apparently unmeaning rhymes of the nursery.

Celebrating nursery rhymes at the Ulster Museum

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, , which would be partially inexplicable without such assistance:. 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. The same volume p.

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 acquainted with one reference to the former, "Pillicock sat on Pillicock hill," which is quoted by Edgar in King Lear, iii. 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. 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. 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. 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. This sport in other parts is called Dancing the Candle Rush. 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:.

Nursery Rhymes

Here we have an important discovery! Who before suspected that the nursery-rhyme was written by Jack Horner himself? Such, however, is the fact, and when Howell published his collection of Proverbs in , p. 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! 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:.

The earliest copy of the saying, "A man of words and not of deeds," I have hitherto met with, occurs in MS. Another version, written towards the close of the seventeenth century, but unfitted for publication, is preserved on the last leaf of MS. 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.

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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. 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. During the latter portion of the seventeenth century numerous songs and games were introduced which were long remembered in the English nursery.

One boy would enact king, and the subjects would give burlesque answers, e. A clever writer in the Gentleman's Magazine for , 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.

The most favorite one, however, was 'Puss in the corner. The following nursery-rhyme is quoted in Parkin's Reply to Dr. 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. 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. Ives," occurs in MS.


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

A very curious ballad, written about the year , 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. This 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,.

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.