A third energetic writer attempted to prove that these songs were all of Jewish origin, having originated very shortly after the birth of Christ.
Fortunately, none of these dull theories have been conclusively proved, and we can still believe in our nursery songs.
It is sad to think that the story of " Jack and Jill," with the one accident of their unhappy venture, used to exist as a long poem It is certain that the single remaining verse left to us could only have been the final one. These daring children resemble very closely Hjuki and Bil, the two children of the moon, in Scandinavian mythology.
The quaintly elaborated story of " The House that Jack Built " is well known to be an adaptation of a Chaldee hymn introducing allegorical figures of the various enemies of the Hebrews, the victory of the chosen people and their entrance into the Promised Land. The similar one of ' Stick, stick, beat the dog," is very like the children's song which was included in the Jewish Book of Service for the Paschal Festival, so that the little ones could beguile the slow time by reading it.
"Playford's Dancing Master," published 1640, was a book of music containing a few of what we now know as our ' nursery rhymes." The delightfully nonsensical one
If all the world were paper,
What should we have to drink ?
There was a little man
And he had a little gun, And his bullets were made of lead - lead - lead,
And he went to a brook,
"Little Bo-peep " is a political ballad, meaningless nowadays, that refers to the time of monastic tyranny. The monks and friars in the days of degeneration for long ground down the . peasants for money, threatening the most terrible of all punishments to the mediaeval mind unless it were given, and speedily. But when the monks were turned out of their monasteries, "Bo-Peep" lost his sheep - that is, the collector of the " boo," or tax, could no longer find "sheep" willing to give money.
An early version of "Old King Cole" runs :
Old King Cole Sat in his hole.
This refers to the earthwork, probably a small amphitheatre, near Colchester, of which Roman castra, "Coel Godebog" - "Cole Goodfellow " - was the merry king. Though the rhyme does not date from the Roman occupation of Britain, it is certainly of great antiquity.
" Little Jack Horner," the priggish hero of the poem, was a real person, a king's messenger of no great honesty, who, when sent with some valuable title deeds, placed in a huge pie, from his masters, the monks of Glastonbury, to Henry VIII., extracted the documents and made himself owner of them. The suggestion of his "goodness" is probably meant sarcastically. The original poem was one of the chap-book kind, which ran into a hundred or more verses. Our one verse is an abridged edition of this, no doubt, long-winded discourse.
In 1699 a writer of the name of Thomas d'urfey compiled a book of very miscellan-eous verses, which he called ' Pills to Purge Melancholy." It contained, among a number of country songs, the very graceful one of "All on a Misty Morning," and ' The Wiltshire Wedding," now usually played as a game, consisting of fifteen six-lined stanzas.
The best-known part of this poem is the lilting chorus which fixes itself so firmly in the memory :
With how do you do And how do you do ? And how do you do again ?
"Sing a song of sixpence," which has had the wear of centuries to smooth it down to its present easily-running form, occurs in Beaumont and Fletcher's play "Bonduca," produced in 1647. There is no doubt, however, that it is considerably older than that period. The graphic love story of the frog who " would a-wooing go " was composed by a man named Litson, about two hundred years ago, to be sung at an opening performance of Covent Garden Theatre. He modelled it on a much earlier poem, " The Frog and the Mouse." "Where are you going to, my pretty maid ? " composed about the same time, was a popular street song, from which the present dainty version has been abbreviated and adapted to more modern day manners and morals.
Many of our nursery rhymes once had a historical meaning, of which now all the allusions are lost.
Hark, hark, the dogs do bark, The beggars are coming to town,
Some in jags, and some in rags, And some with golden crowns.
is thought to be a Jacobite rhyme in derision of the House of Hanover and all the many followers who came over with the Dutch prince. A rhyme little known to-day, but one which was extremely popular for some time:
What is the rhyme for porringer ? The King he had a daughter fair-and gave the Prince of Orange her.
One of the many of the " bold bad barons" of King John's reign, who was evidently not bad enough to keep his master's capricious favour, is believed to be the hero of "Humpty Dumpty."and" Old Daddy Long Legs " was a monk who thought more of worldly goods than of a pious life. Though usually only the one verse of " Old Mother Hubbard" is quoted, there is in existence quite a long poem on this tragic subject. The three first verses, of which our well-known one is the first, are the original old ones, dating possibly from before the sixteenth century. The rest are modern.
Fly away home; Your house is on fire,
And your children all burnt.
is not only the property of English-speaking children, but, with some variations, it is sung to the tiny black and scarlet beetle by the little ones of Germany, Denmark, and Sweden, But in Germany the insect is given its correct name, " The Virgin Mary's Chafer," and in Sweden it is known as the " Virgin Mary's Maid." The children of Norfolk never use the word " ladybird," their expression is "burny-bee."
A very old song, sung more in the north than in the south of England, is the delightfully nonsensical
A carrion crow sat on an oak-fol de riddle, lol de riddle, hey ding do!
Watching a tailor shape his coat;
Sing he, sing ho, the old carrion crow, Fol de riddle, lol de riddle, hey ding do!
These old rhymes are all charming, and it is very pleasant to know that the collecting of them is still going on. Edward Lear and Rudyard Kipling, among many other writers of modern times, have given us many verses which will soon be as well known to our children as the older ones were to us.