Search This Blog

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Nursery rhyme

 A nursery rhyme is a traditional poem for young children.

"Ding dong bell (pussy’s in the well)" may be the oldest English nursery rhyme. References to it date back to at least 1580.


The first anthology of English language nursery rhymes, Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song-Book, was published in London in 1744 by Mrs. Mary Cooper. It contained the oldest printed texts of many famous rhymes, including "Baa Baa Black Sheep," "Hickory Dickory Dock" and "Sing a Song of Sixpence". That book also included "London Bridge Is Falling Down," with the word “broken” instead of “fallen”.

The first page of "London Bridge is Falling Down" from an 1815 edition

The publication of John Newbery's compilation of English rhymes, Mother Goose's Melody, or, Sonnets for the Cradle in 1784 is the first record we have of many classic rhymes, still in use today. The name "Mother Goose" has been associated in the English-speaking world with children's poetry ever since.

They were not called “nursery rhymes” until 1806 when Ann and Jane Taylor published their Rhymes For The Nursery. That collection included Jane Taylor’s five-verse poem The Star of which the first verse was the now common "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" rhyme.


The black sheep admits to having three bags of wool, and the explanation of how they shall be divided is traditionally believed in the wool trade to date back to a new wool tax imposed in 1275 (the little boy presumably being the taxman):
One for the master, 
And one for the dame, 
And one for the little boy 
Who lives down the lane

"Baa, Baa, Black Sheep", from a 1901 illustration by William Wallace Denslow

In 1951 "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep" became the first song to be digitally saved and played on a computer.


This is a nursery rhyme which is said to have been sung in support of Robert Shafto, an election candidate in 1761. But the verse was also sung with other names, and it seems more likely to be an older song which became well known after being adapted for that occasion. Its appeal lies in the romantic first verse which surely carries few electoral promises:
Bobby Shafto's gone to sea, 
Silver buckles at his knee; 
He'll come back and marry me, 
Bonny Bobby Shafto!
The rhyme is said to relate the story of how he broke the heart of Bridget Belasyse of Brancepeth Castle, County Durham, when he married Anne Duncombe of Duncombe Park in Yorkshire


The earliest known version of Humpty Dumpty is in a manuscript addition to a copy of Mother Goose's Melody published in 1803. No where in the nursery rhyme does it specify that Humpty Dumpty is an egg. The original Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme was a riddle--the listener was supposed to guess that Humpty Dumpty was an egg.

In the 17th century Humpty Dumpty was a drink of brandy boiled with ale. In the 18th it was slang for a short and clumsy person.


This refers to the Dissolution of the Monasteries, a set of administrative and legal processes between 1536 and 1541 by which Henry VIII disbanded Catholic monasteries, priories, convents and friaries in England, Wales and Ireland.

The rhyme may have been adapted to satirize the abbot of Glastonbury, who was trying to bribe the king with the gift of some lands as he was concerned that Henry VIII was going to pull down the abbey. The abbot ordered a massive plum pie to be baked and in it he put the deeds to twelve of the manors of Glastonbury. He sent off to the king with the pie his chief steward, Jack Horner, but the king could only find eleven deeds inside. Jack Horner had picked out for himself a nice "plum."

A favorite Twelfth Night joke was a surprise pie. A very large amount of pastry was prepared and baked as an empty pie case. Holes were cut in the bottom and live birds and frogs were put inside the pie. Then, as the nursery rhyme goes, "When the pie was opened, the birds began to sing."


The Nursery Rhyme "Mary Had a Little Lamb," written by the influential US editor, novelist and campaigner Sarah Josepha Hale was first published on May 24, 1830. It was based on a true story of a girl called Mary Sawyer taking a pet sheep to school.

Mary Had A Little Lamb was Thomas Edison’s first recording on his phonograph in 1878.

William Wallace Denslow's illustrations for the rhyme from a 1901 edition of Mother Goose


This was a satirical rhyme circulating around Protestant households mocking Mary Queen of Scots' tragic life.
Mary, Mary, quite contrary
How does your garden grow?
With Silver belts (silver belts are used in Mass)
And cockle shells (A cockle shell is the badge of compostela worn by pilgrims)
And Pretty Maids all in a row. (This is referring to the famous four Marys who attended the Queen of Scots)


In 1804 the 13 year old Sarah Martin wrote the nursery rhyme "Old Mother Hubbard." By 1812 Sarah Martin had become a renowned prison visitor, preaching at Yarmouth gaol and workhouse and other prisons.


"Three Blind Mice" is thought to refer to a trio of Protestant bishops Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Radley, and The Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, who were all burnt at the stake during Bloody Mary’s reign. Critics suggest that the blindness in the title refers to their religious beliefs.  The rhyme was first published in London on October 12, 1609.


"Jack" is the most common name in nursery rhymes.

"Hickory, dickory, dock" came out top of a poll of the UK’s favorite nursery rhymes in 2009.

Shakespeare mentions Jack and Jill in Love’s Labour’s Lost and in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The nursery rhyme about gathering nuts in May has nothing to do with nuts. It referred to gathering 'knots', which were posies of flowers.

Daily Express, Food For Thought by Ed Pearce

No comments:

Post a Comment