The Ancient Prestige of Games - Their Origin and Early Purpose - Some Popular Games and Rhymes

In the "Memoirs of Mrs. Delany," a now forgotten book of the eighteenth century, we read that "King George III. danced all night and finished with ' Hemp Dressers,' that lasted two hours." "Hemp Dressers" is an old country game now only played by children in some parts of England; yet a king and his court once amused themselves with it for two hours! In Queen Elizabeth's time no frolic or dance Was complete without games, and some of the poets of that period have described Diana and her nymphs enjoying the game of " Barley Break," now better known as " How many miles to Babylon? "

The Antiquity of Children's Games

So it was not only children in past centuries who loved a game, but grown-ups too. And it is not an unheard-of thing now for those wanting some amusement to start a game of " Blindman's Buff," or " Musical Chairs."

Vet it is the children who have always had the prior right to games, and who are as eager and as ready to-day for a romp as were the little ones of five hundred years ago. The strange part is that most of the games played now were played five hundred and more years ago. When William the Norman landed on English ground, he probably saw a merry party of children enjoying a game of "Nuts in May." For these children's games are very old. So old are many of them that the date of their origin is lost in obscurity, and it is only by careful research and comparison that any of their history is known.

Their Origin

In the beginning it is believed these joyous, innocent games were savage rites and customs. Marriage by capture, sacrifices to the gods, the laying of ghosts and "Pharisees," all have their counterpart in the games our children play to-day. We all remember that mysterious process, infallibly believed in, which preceded such games as "Hide and Seek" or "I spy" - known as "counting out." "He" or "It" had to be chosen for the responsible part, and such rhymes with absolute fairness arranged the matter for us. One rhyme known to most of us:

One-ery, two-cry, ickery, Ann. Fillicy, fallacy, Nicholas, John, Queever, quaver, Irish, Mary Stinclum, stanclum, buck O-u-t, out goes he! is almost identical with the American one. and, except for difference of dialect, is the same as the Romany verse. It may sound gibberish to our ears now. So, too, would the incantation the savage shouts over his sick, or the famous incantation with which

"Faust," according to Marlowe, conjured up the god of the nether world. There is little doubt that this and many other rhymes of a similar kind are the remains of charms used for casting lots to find a victim for sacrifice.

Casting Lots

This process of "counting out" varies little in all the countries of the world, savage children and children of the European nations using very much the same words. In Greek and Roman times the sorcerers employed rhymes not very different from these of our children's games, some of which still retain Latin words that are relics of these people.

The dainty little rhyme:

One, two, buckle my shoe,

Three, four, knock at the door,

Five, six, pick up sticks,

Seven, eight, lay them straight,

Nine, ten, a big fat hen,

Eleven, twelve, who will delve?

Thirteen, fourteen, maids are courting,

Fifteen, sixteen, maids are kissing.

Seventeen, eighteen, maids are Waiting,

Nineteen, twenty, my plate's empty! though not nearly so old as the genuine " counting out " rhymes, has its counterpart in Turkey, Italy, Germany, and Madagascar.

"Oranges and Lemons"

" London Bridge " is the oldest form of the " Oranges and Lemons " type of game, a game in which two players hold up arms to make a bridge, and then sing a long rhyme as the rest of the players, holding coats and skirts, run in and out as fast as they can, each trying not to be the " prisoner," always the object of such games. This game is older even than the historic bridge it immortalises, and is as well-known in other countries as our own. In Italy it is known as "Open the gates," the two capturing players being called St. Peter and St. Paul.

The Apparently Nonsensical

Here we dance Looby Loo, Here we dance Looby Light Here We dance Looby Loo, All on a summer's morning, with its actions of " hands in " and " hands out," " feet in " and " feet out," is a relic of the wild antic dancing which preceded every sacrificial or religious celebration in barbarous times.

" I sent a letter to my love," and " I have a little dog, and he won't bite you," are the same games, though the words are different. Both tell of that time when man had to Win his bride by some prowess in the field or sport. When won, we can see how very effectually she was his by the retrain that comes in so many games.

Now you're married, you must obey; You must be true to all you say, You must be kind, you must be good, And help your husband chop the Wood.

"Blind Man's Buff" is known to the children of every European country, under different names. It is "Blind Thief" in Norway, "Blind Hen" in Spain, "Blind Cat " in Italy, and "Blind Cow" in Germany.

"The Jolly Miller"

"The Jolly Miller " is not so Well known as many other games, as it is played almost entirely by the children of the northern counties of England. As the words

There was a jolly miller,

And he lived by himself. When the wheel went round

He made his wealth. One hand in his pocket

And the other in his bag, As the wheel went round

He made his grab.

Are sung, boys and girls in pairs make a circle, turning as the circumference of the wheel turns to the axle, the "jolly miller" in the centre. At the word "grab" each boy drops his partner's arm, and seizes that of the girl in front. If he is not quick enough, the "miller" takes the girl's arm, and the other has to learn how to make his "grab."

Poor Mary sits a-weeping" is another courtship game, where "Mary" has un-blushingly to "choose the one that she loves best."

An action game (the kind children really love more than any other) is the one known in England as When I Was a young girl, a young girl, a young girl, When I was a young girl, how happy was I. And this way and that way, and this way and that way,

Oh, this way went 1.

The next verse tells what was done "when I had a sweetheart," then when "I was married," "had a baby," and "my husband died." All the actions are gone through and the song sung to each. In some forms of the game, when the husband has died, the refrain is still "how happy was I"!

Fives and "Hop Scotch"

But few games are the particular right and privilege of boys, though "Fives," mentioned in Aristophanes 2,000 years ago, is still played in every public school. In the museum at Naples a painted fresco represents a number of goddesses playing this game against a temple wall! "Hop Scotch," now played more in America than England, is known to all the children of Europe, and its religious origin is evident from the name given to the last stage of the game. In England it is "Home," in Italy it is "Paradiso," and in America " Heaven."

A sailing boat and a lightship, constructed from walnut shells, a Barcelona nut and matches

A sailing boat and a lightship, constructed from walnut-shells, a Barcelona nut and matches