Back to index of "words and books and such" pages by Donald Sauter.
My Mother Goose pages:
    Mother Goose favorites - a personal selection.
    Mother Goose differences - a look at how the same rhyme can vary.
    Mother Goose modernized - a look at some rhymes touched up for kids of today.
    Mother Goose rarities - appearing for the first time on the world-wide web!
    Mother Goose and the Beatles - not to mention Bob Dylan and miscellaneous popsters.
    Mother Goose in classic literature - Edgar Allan Poe, Washington Irving, Winnie the Pooh, et al. (You are HERE.)
    Mother Goose glossary - compare your vocabulary with a three-year-old's.
    Mother Goose first lines - a huge index.


Mother Goose in Classic Literature -
Edgar Allen Poe, Washington Irving, Winnie the Pooh, et al

Here are some Mother Goose references of one sort or another that I stumbled on in my reading over the last few years (writing in 2010).

I doubt a table of contents with links would be much use to anyone, but here is a list of the writers represented.

I'll let you scroll around or search within page if you're not inclined to read the whole page. (Shame on you!)



Story: The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq.
By: Edgar Allan Poe

When I read Edgar Allan Poe's complete works in high school, it was not with Mother Goose in mind. Sorry. Lately, I reread the hilarious The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq. and enjoyed a few appearances by the old lady. I wonder if I'm the only living human being to have caught a couple. The full title of the story is

The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq.
Late Editor of the "Goosetherumfoodle." By himself.

Even the annotator of my edition didn't see "Mother Goose" lightly scrambled in there. By blocking it out like that, Poe works "rum" before "foodle" (fuddle), giving us a "rum intoxication."

Evidence that I'm not imagining things comes from other references to Mother Goose throughout the story. Poor Thingum Bob's first attempt at poetic composition, under the nom de guerre Oppodeldoc, received vicious notices in all four of the literary magazines he submitted it to. The editor of the Lollipop had this to say:

But why he should have conceived the idea that we (of all others, we!) would disgrace our pages with his ineffable nonsense is utterly beyond comprehension. Why, the absurd twattle is scarcely good enough for [rival literary magazines] the Hum-Drum, the Rowdy-Dow, the Goosetherumfoodle,--things that are in the practice of publishing "Mother Goose Melodies" as original lyrics. And "Oppodeldoc" (whoever he is) has even the assurance to demand pay for this drivel. Does "Oppodeldoc" (whoever he is) know--is he aware that we could not be paid to insert it?

There's a pretty obvious (to me) Mother Goose reference in the notice by the editor of the Hum-Drum:

"Oppodeldoc" (whoever he is) has sent us a long tirade concerning a Bedlamite whom he styles "Ugolino" [lifted by Thingum from Dante's Inferno], who had a great many children that should have been all whipped soundly and sent to bed without their suppers. [...] We neither insert nor purchase any stuff of the sort. There can be no doubt, however, that he would meet with a ready sale for all the balderdash he can scribble, at the office of either the the Rowdy-Dow, the Lollipop, or the Goosetherumfoodle.

Compare that with:

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe,
She had so many children she didn't know what to do;
She gave them some broth, without any bread,
She whipped them all soundly, and sent them to bed.

Thingum Bob's eventual dominance in the literary world turned on a bit of coercion, shall we say. He whipped up another article and submitted it to those four magazines. In each case it was pronounced twattle. In each case Thingum resubmitted it with the title "Hey-Diddle-Diddle", making it clear that the author was also the editor of the Snapping-Turtle. In the meanwhile, Thingum "analyzed and investigated the literary merits" of each magazine in his own Snapping-Turtle while waiting for their replies. In each case, amazingly, the other magazine discovered that it had somehow confounded Thingum's resplendent "Hey-Diddle-Diddle" with another stupid item composed by some unknown ignoramus, and promised to insert the genuine "Hey-Diddle-Diddle" in its very next number.

And there was no looking back for Thingum Bob, Esq.



Book: A History of New York, From the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty
By: "Diedrich Knickerbocker" (Washington Irving)
Year: 1809

If you're an American, and haven't read this book yet, stop everything you're doing and do so right now. As you can tell from the title alone, it is funny. Ok, he could have worked in a little more Mother Goose, but there's a couple, starting with this humorous paragraph in Book First, Chapter II:

And I cannot help noticing the kindness of providence, in creating comets for the great relief of bewildered philosophers. By their assistance more sudden evolutions and transitions are effected in the system of nature, than are wrought in a pantomimic exhibition, by the wonder-working sword of harlequin. Should one of our modern sages, in his theoretical flights among the stars, ever find himself lost in the clouds, and in danger of tumbling into the abyss of nonsense and absurdity, he has but to seize a comet by the beard, mount astride of its tail, and away he gallops in triumph, like an enchanter on his hippogriff, or a Connecticut witch on her broomstick, "to sweep the cobwebs out of the sky."

Reminds me of a few years back when every unusual weather pattern was simply explained by . . . El Nin~o!

The Mother Goose rhyme alluded to is:

There was an old woman tossed up in a basket,
    Seventeen times as high as the moon;
But where she was going, I couldn't but ask it,
    For under her arm she carried a broom.
"Old woman, old woman, old woman," said I,
    "Whither, oh whither, oh whither so high?"
"To sweep the cobwebs from the sky!"
    "Shall I go with you?" "Aye, by-and-by."

In Book Sixth, Chapter V of A History of New York, Irving describes the Dutch of New Amsterdam preparing to go off to do battle with the Swedes on the Delaware River. Methinks he embellishes a hair.

The entire population of the city, man, woman, and child, turned out to behold the chivalry of New-Amsterdam, as it paraded the streets previous to embarcation. Many a handkerchief was waved out of the windows; many a fair nose was blown in melodious sorrow, on the mournful occasion. The grief of the fair dames and beauteous damsels of Grenada could not have been more vociferous on the banishment of the gallant tribe of Abencerages, than was that of the kind-hearted fair ones of New-Amsterdam, on the departure of their intrepid warriors. Every love-sick maiden fondly crammed the pockets of her hero with gingerbread and dough-nuts--many a copper ring was exchanged, and crooked sixpence broken, in pledge of eternal constancy--and there remain extant to this day some love verses written on that occasion, sufficiently crabbed and incomprehensible to confound the whole universe.

This guy is funny! America couldn't have bought itself a better first real writer. The crooked sixpence is an allusion to "There was a crooked man", of course.



Story: The Skeleton in the Closet
By: Edward Everett Hale
First published: in the Galaxy, 1866.
Reprinted: The Wit and Humor of America, Vol. 7

The argument of this very humorous story is that lady's hoop-skirts ("skeletons") were almost directly responsible for the defeat of the Confederacy. In the first segment of the story, the narrator trips on a piece of hoop-skirt wire "up in the cedar closet." He breaks a leg and wakes up hours later in the hospital.

When I came to myself I was in the blue chamber; I had vinegar and brown paper on my forehead [...]

Hey! That's the same treatment Jack got after he fell down and broke his crown! And since I had only known Hale for his very serious "A Man Without A Country", I thought it must really have been a cure for bad bumps on the head back then! But a bit of web research turned up no such thing, and I realized little by little that Hale "got" me on that one.

Here's the second verse of "Jack and Jill".

Then up Jack got and home did trot,
As fast as he could caper.
He went to bed and plastered his head
[or; To old Dame Dob, who patched his nob]
With vinegar and brown paper.

Anyhow, because he was out for those five hours, our southern hero could not get his despatch to Wilmington in time to pass it off to the navy agent. And there went the Confederate government's "chance at eighty-three thousand two hundred and eleven muskets, which, as it was, never left Belgium."



Book: The Red Badge of Courage
By: Stephen Crane
Year: 1895

In Chapter 8, the story's hero comes upon a procession of wounded soldiers. One of them parodies "Sing a song of sixpence" as he makes his way:

One was marching with an air imitative of some sublime drum major. Upon his features was an unholy mixture of merriment and agony. As he marched he sang a bit of doggerel in a high and quavering voice:

"Sing a song 'a vic'try,
    A pocketful 'a bullets,
Five an' twenty dead men
    Baked in a--pie."

Parts of the procession limped and staggered to this tune.



Book: The Complete Works of O. Henry, 1926

I would have loved to report on a few Mother Goose finds in the stories of my favorite writer, O. Henry. If I found any when reading his complete works, I made no note of the fact. But there are some essays at the back, including one on O. Henry's attempt to collaborate on a musical: "The Misadventures in Musical Comedy of O. Henry and Franklin P. Adams". You can gather from the title that things did not go smoothly.

At one point the "infallible manager"...

...engaged another man to rewrite the book. This was done. The manager approved the new man's outline. But his dialogue was rejected wholly, and [O. Henry and Franklin] had more rewriting to do. O. Henry never worked harder or more conscientiously on anything in his life. He lost weight. He worried. Day and night they worked on the comedy. Again they sent on the completed script, this being the third or fourth "rewrite." As they mailed it, O. Henry recited in a singular minor key:

"Dramatization is vexation;
    Revision is as bad;
This comedy perplexes me
    And managers drive me mad!"

This is a spoof on the Mother Goose rhyme:

Multiplication is vexation,
    Division is as bad;
The Rule of Three doth puzzle me,
    And Practice drives me mad.

The article includes the songs written for the musical. One of them starts with a well-known rhyme, "Little drops of water", that has been added to a few Mother Goose collections.

  Girl-- Little drops of water, little grains of sand,
         Make the mighty ocean and the pleasant land.  
  Boy--  Little drops of seltzer, little drops of rye, 
         Make the pleasant highball, when a man is dry.  

I'd always thought there has to be a better adjective than "pleasant" for the land, something like "spreading" or sprawling", to make the point. But O. Henry sure made good use of "pleasant" in his comic song.

Continuing the theme of O. Henry and borderline Mother Goose . . .

Everybody knows Gillett Burgess' "Purple Cow". (Of course, this is a wild and reckless claim. Consider that, now, in 2010, I am working with an intelligent 11th-grader who has never even heard of Mother Goose; never heard of Little Bopeep nor Little Boy Blue. But who am I to say that anybody should give a hoot about human thought and traditions that went into the big stew pot making us what we are today?) The purple cow has mosied into a few Mother Goose collections. It goes like this:

I never saw a purple cow,
    I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you, anyhow,
    I'd rather see than be one.

An incalculable number of parodies were made on the rhyme, and Burgess was disgusted with the attention that one work of his got. He wrote his own parody:

Ah, yes! I wrote the "Purple Cow"--
I'm Sorry now I Wrote it!
But I can Tell you Anyhow,
I'll kill you if you Quote it!

There's a funny follow-up recounted in the Washington Post article, "Strange Personality of O. Henry, Prince of Short Story Writers" (June 12 1910):

One of [O. Henry's] few intimates was Will Irwin. One evening he went with Will Irwin and Gillett Burgess to a chafing-dish supper in an artist's studio. [...]

"You remember," said Mr. Irwin, in telling the story 'Burgess' Lines to a Purple Cow', [...] "Burgess got to hate those lines, and I only saw him laugh once at any reference to them. It happened on the evening of which I am telling you.

"O. Henry had been put to work beating eggs. For ten minutes he beat patiently, silently. Then he began:

I never beat a rotten egg,
I never hope to beat one;
But I can tell you anyhow,
I'd rather beat than eat one.

The Washington Post article also tells of O. Henry being asked the question, "What do you think about the hereafter?" O. Henry replied in a Mother Goose-esque vein:

I had a little dog,
    And his name was Rover.
And when he died
    He died all over.

I'm not sure if that is based specifically on one or two Mother Goose rhymes, or simply has a very strong Mother Goose feel. It starts out like "I had a little dog and his name was Blue Bell". But I feel like the last two lines may come from some other rhyme - "And when he/she/it (something)ed, he/she/it (something)ed all over" sounds so familiar. I'll let you know if I find it.

Hey, what's this? Stop the press! I just stumbled on a purebred Mother Goose mention in O. Henry's "Memoirs of a Yellow Dog":

The first thing I can recollect, an old woman had me in a basket at Broadway and Twenty-third trying to sell me to a fat lady. Old Mother Hubbard was boosting me to beat the band as a genuine Pomeranian-Hambletonian-Red-Irish-Cochin-China-Stoke-Pogis fox terrier. The fat lady chased a V around the samples of gros grain flannelette in her shopping bag till she cornered it, and gave up. From that moment I was a pet--a mamma's own wootsey squidlums.

Got it? That's the dog himself speaking.



Story: The Private Theatricals
By: Mrs. A. D. T. Whitney
From: "A Summer in Leslie Goldthwaite's Life"
Year: 1866
Reprinted: Junior Classics (The Young Folks Shelf of Books), Vol. VI, "Old Fashioned Tales" (1912, 1918)

"The Private Theatricals" turns out to be chapter 16, "Why didn't you tell us?", from Mrs. Whitney's novel, "A Summer in Leslie Goldthwaite's Life" (1866). Somebody ought to look into this; based on this chapter, I think the book might be a lost American classic.

The story opens with a description of preparations for the "private theatrical". Since you missed the previous 15 chapters, you'll find yourself struggling to figure out who the named characters are and how they relate, and, with names like Dakie, Leslie, and Sin, even the sex of each. On top of this confusion there's an anonymous "third party" involved in the theatrical. Two of the young people clap and stamp wildly in the seats to see if this "debutante" will remain cool in a real performance. We find out he has a name, Sir Charles.

But it clears up little by little, and we reach the evening of the performance. Among the various skits, dances, patriotic poems, and "living tableaux", comes the segment starring Sir Charles:

So then came "Mother Hubbard and her dog"--the slow old lady and the knowing beast that was always getting one step ahead of her. The possibility had occurred to Leslie Goldthwaite as she and Dakie Thayne amused themselves one day with Captain Green's sagacious Sir Charles Grandison, a handsome black spaniel, whose trained accomplishment was to hold himself patiently in any posture in which he might be placed, until the word of release was given. You might stand him on his hind legs, with paws folded on his breast; you might extend him on his back, with helpless legs in air; you might put him in any attitude possible to be maintained, and maintain it he would, faithfully, until the signal was made. From this prompting came the Illustration of Mother Hubbard.

Also, Leslie Goldthwaite had seized the hidden suggestion of application, and hinted it in certain touches of costume and order of performance. Nobody would think [...] that the striped scarlet and white petticoat under the tucked-up train, or the common print apron of dark blue [...] meant anything beyond the ordinary adjuncts of a traditional old woman's dress; but when, in the second scene, the bonnet went on [... and] above all, when the dog himself appeared, "dressed in his clothes" (a cane, an all-round white collar and a natty little tie, a pair of three-dollar tasselled kid-gloves dangling from his left paw, and a small monitor hat with a big spread-eagle stuck above the brim) [... and] when he stood "reading the news" from a huge bulletin--"LATEST BY CABLE FROM EUROPE"--nobody could mistake the personification of Old and Young America.

It had cost much pains and many dainty morsels, to drill Sir Charles, with all the aid of his excellent fundamental education; and the great fear had been that he might fail them at the last. But the scenes were rapid, in consideration of canine infirmity. If the cupboard was empty, Mother Hubbard's basket behind was not; he got his morsels duly; and the audience was "requested to refrain from applause until the end."

Refrain from laughter they could not, as the idea dawned upon them and developed; but Sir Charles was used to that in the execution of his ordinary tricks; he could hardly have done without it better than any other old actor. A dog knows when he is having his day [...]

Mother Hubbard's mingled consternation and pride at each successive achievement of her astonishing puppy were inimitable. Each separate illustration made its point. Patriotism, especially, came in when the undertaker, bearing the pall with red-lettered border--Rebellion--finds the dog, with upturned, knowing eye, and parted jaws, suggestive as much of a good grip as of laughter, half risen upon fore-paws, as far from "dead" as ever, mounting guard over the old bone "Constitution."

The curtain fell at last, amid peals of applause and calls for the actors.

Dakie Thayne had accompanied with the reading of the ballad, slightly transposed and adapted. As Leslie led Sir Charles before the curtain, in response to the continued demand, he added the concluding stanza--

"The dame made a courtesy,
    The dog made a bow;
The dame said, 'Your servant,'
    The dog said 'Bow-wow.'"

Which, with a suppressed "Speak, sir!" from Frank Scherman, was brought properly to pass. Done with cleverness and quickness from beginning to end, and taking the audience utterly by surprise, Leslie's little combination of wit and sagacity had been throughout a signal success.

The actors crowded round her. "We'd no idea of it it!" "Capital!" "A great hit!" they exclaimed. "Mother Hubbard is the star of the evening," said Leonard Brookhouse. "No, indeed," returned Leslie, patting Sir Charles's head--"this is the dog-star." "Rather a Sirius reflection upon the rest of us," rejoined Brookhouse, shrugging his shoulders, as he walked off to take his place in ["Taking the Oath"], and Leslie disappeared to make ready for "Barbara Frietchie."

About Sir Charles in the undertaker passage: in the second verse of "Old Mother Hubbard", she came home from the baker's to find the poor Dog dead. Then, in the next verse:

She went to the undertaker's
    To buy him a coffin,
But when she came back
    The poor dog was laughing.

(In Shakespeare's days, "loffing" made a much better rhyme. Also note the interesting 19th century spelling, "courtesy", later modernized to "curtsey" and "curtsy".)

Some other verses specifically referenced are:

She went to the hosier's
    To buy him some hose,
But when she came back
    He was dressed in his clothes.


She went to the cobbler's
    To buy him some shoes,
But when she came back
    He was reading the news.

(Did you catch Sir Charles's stance on the Civil War?)



Book: Winnie-the-Pooh
By: A. A. Milne
Year: 1926

Chapter four of Winnie-the-Pooh is called "Eeyore Loses a Tail and Pooh Finds One". In this chapter [WARNING: SPOILER!] Eeyore loses a tail and Pooh finds one. It was hanging as a bell rope at Owl's house. Christopher Robin reattached the tail to Eeyore, and an hour later Pooh was still feeling so proud that he sang,

Who found the Tail?
    "I," said Pooh,
"At a quarter to two
    (Only it was quarter to eleven really),
I found the Tail!"

Pooh composed his little song in the mold of "The Death and Burial of Poor Cock Robin", a Mother Goose epic with as many as 13 or 14 verses. Here are the first and the last two verses. Note the minor coincidence of a bell rope in the two stories.

Who killed Cock Robin?
    "I," said the Sparrow,
    "With my bow and arrow,
I killed Cock Robin.


Who'll toll the bell?
    "I," said the bull,
    "Because I can pull,
I'll toll the bell."

All the birds of the air
    Fell a-sighing and a-sobbing,
When they heard the bell toll
    For poor Cock Robin.



Book: Through the Looking-Glass
By: Lewis Carroll

Through the Looking Glass makes use of four Mother Goose rhymes (that I noticed):

In the Queen Alice chapter, the Red Queen tells Alice to sing the drowsy White Queen a "soothing lullaby." Alice says she doesn't know any.

"I must do it myself, then," said the Red Queen, and she began:

"Hush-a-by lady, in Alice's lap!
Till the feast's ready, we've time for a nap:
When the feast's over, we'll go to the ball--
Red Queen, and White Queen, and Alice, and all!"

You might not have known that the nursery rhyme was consistently given as "Hush-a-bye, baby, on the tree top" in older editions. It looks like "rock-a-bye, baby" started to take over in the 1940s.



Poem: Darby and Joan
By: St. John Honeywood
Reprinted: The Wit and Humor of America, Vol. I

In this humorous poem the hero, Darby, offers to switch work roles with his wife to stop her endless belly-aching about a woman's work never being done. Of course, Darby botches everything, almost burning down the cottage, even. As he's failing miserably to bake bread, the sow comes in and knocks over the butter churn.

As Darby turned, the sow to beat,
The slippery cream betrayed his feet;
He caught the bread trough in his fall,
And down came Darby, trough, and all.

Ok, so you don't have to be a Mother Goose genius to catch "Hush-a-bye, baby" ("Rock-a-bye, baby") in there.

Also note that there's a Mother Goose rhyme called "Darby and Joan":

Darby and Joan were dressed in black,
Sword and buckle behind their back;
Foot for foot, and knee for knee,
Turn about, Darby's company!

Aha, so the two go to battle against each other, and Darby is vanquished? I hadn't read it like that before!



Story: 'Tis Only My Husband
By: Joseph C. Neal (d. 1847)
From: Charcoal Sketches (I presume)
Reprinted: Mark Twain's Library of Humor

The husband in question belongs to Mrs. Pumpilion.

Mrs. Pumpilion had been triumphant in acting upon the advice of a friend, the widow, who, [...] combining experience with theory, understood the art of breaking husbands a merveille [marvelously well].

"My good madam," said Mrs. Margery Daw, "you have plenty of spirit; but spirit is nothing without steadiness and perseverance. In the establishment of authority and in the assertion of one's rights, any intermission before success is complete requires us to begin again. If your talent leads you to the weeping method of softening your husband's heart, you will find that if you give him a shower now and a shower then, he will harden in the intervals between the rain; while a good sullen cry of twenty-four hours' length may prevent any necessity for another. If, on the contrary, you have genius for the tempestuous, continued thunder an lightning for the same length of time is irresistible. Gentlemen are great swaggerers, if not impressively dealt with and early taught to know their places. [...]

Hmmm, this sheds new light, for me, on the Mother Goose rhyme:

See-saw, Margery Daw,
Jacky shall have a new master;
He shall have but a penny a day,
Because he can't work any faster.

It had never occurred to me that Jacky's new master was Miss Margery, herself!

Or, was the author alluding to another Margery Daw in Mother Goosedom?

See-saw, Margery Daw,
Sold her bed and lay upon straw.

I guess I just wasn't cut out for this literary analysis business...



Essay: Lectures on Astronomy
By: "John Phoenix" (George H. Derby, d. 1861)
Reprinted: Mark Twain's Library of Humor
Reprinted: The Wit and Humor of America, Vol. 5

In his lecture, "The Moon", Phoenix educates us:

The existence of the celebrated "Man in the Moon" has been frequently questioned by modern philosophers. The whole subject is involved in doubt and obscurity. The only authority we have for believing that such an individual exists, and has been seen and spoken with, is a fragment of an old poem composed by an ancient Astronomer of the name of Goose, which has been handed down to us as follows:

"The man in the Moon came down too soon
    To inquire the way to Norwich;
The man in the South, he burned his mouth,
    Eating cold, hot porridge."

The evidence conveyed in this distich is, however, rejected by by the skeptical, among modern Astronomers, who consider the passage an allegory. "The man in the South," being supposed typical of the late John C. Calhoun, and the "cold, hot porridge," alluded to the project of nullification.

Of the 14 appearances of this rhyme in my collection, only two introduce this "man in the South". In all the others, the Man in the Moon himself "goes by the south", and usually burns his mouth with eating (or supping) cold pease (or plum) porridge.



Poem: The Man in the Moon
By: James Whitcomb Riley
From: The Best Loved Poems and Ballads of James Whitcomb Riley
Poems copyrighted: 1887-1906

Now, forget all that dry and scholarly research about the man in the moon; James Whitcomb Riley's Raggedy Man has actually "be'n up to see him", and "calls on him frequent and intimuttly." Here's a verse that sounds like the Raggedy Man got some of his information back in the nursery (see just above):

And the Man in the Moon has a rheumatic knee--
            What a pity that is!
And his toes have worked round where his heels ought to be.--
So whenever he wants to go north he goes South,
And comes back with porridge-crumbs all round his mouth,
And he brushes them off with a Japanese fan,
            What a marvelous man!
    What a very remarkably marvellous man!



Poem: The Lisper
By: James Whitcomb Riley
From: The Best Loved Poems and Ballads of James Whitcomb Riley
Poems copyrighted: 1887-1906

The young narrator (Bud?) has a little neighbor friend, Elsie Mingus, who has a lisp. Well, it's easier to quote than try to summarize, and more fun for you, so here are three verses from the middle:

My! she's purty, though!--An' when
She lisps, w'y, she's purty nen!
    When she telled me, wunst, her doll
Wuz so "thweet," an' I p'ten'
    I lisp, too,--she laugh'--'at 's all!--

She don't never git mad none--
'Cause she know I'm ist in fun.--
    Elsie she ain't one bit sp'iled.--
Of all childerns--ever' one--
    She's the ladylikest child!--

My Ma say she is! One time
Elsie start to say the rhyme,
    "Thing a thong o' thixpenth"--Whee!
I ist yell! An' Ma say I'm
    Unpolite as I can be!

To help with web searches, I'd better spell that out without the lisp: "Sing a song of sixpence..."

And here's some translation help:
    nen = then
    ist = just
    'at 's all! = that was all!



Story: Living in the Country
By: Frederick S. Cozzens (d. 1868)
Reprinted: The Library of Wit and Humor, Vol. II, American

The narrator and his wife "escape the prison-walls of the metropolis" and move to the country. Nothing goes quite right. (Otherwise, there'd be precious little humor, you see.) First, they have to get used to getting up early. He quotes Mother Goose...

Richard and Robin were two pretty men,
They laid in bed till the clock struck ten;
Up jumped Richard and looked at the sky;
O, Brother Robin, the sun's
very high! make the point, "Early rising in the country is not an instinct; it is a sentiment, and must be cultivated." (All 12 versions in my collection start "Robin and Richard..." And they all say "lay" instead of "laid".)

Then, after an account of how many ways the seed potatoes got cooked, the wife tells her husband he should hear her young chicks crow early in the morning.

"Crow," said I, faintly, "our hens crowing!" Then by 'the cock that crowed in the morn, to wake the priest all shaven and shorn," we might as well give up all hopes of having any eggs," said I; "for as sure as you live, Mrs. S., our hens are all roosters!"

Mr. Sparrowgrass quotes from "The house that Jack built" there, of course.



Story: Brace of Boys
By: Fitz Hugh Ludlow (d. 1870)
Reprinted: The Library of Wit and Humor, Vol. III, American (1917)

"Well, Billy Boy Blue, come blow your horn; what haystack have you been under till this time of day? [...] Have you had your breakfast and taken care of Crab?"

"Yes, sir; but I didn't feel like getting up this morning."

"Are you sick?"

"No-o-o--it isn't that; but you'll laugh at me if I tell you."

"Indeed I won't, Billy!"

That was Uncle Teddy talking to Billy. Billy confesses he had a dream about her - Miss Pilgrim. All I'm saying is that Billy is eleven years old, and his forwardness is as bold and brazen as his twenty-two-year-old, eligible bachelor brother Daniel's shyness is debilitating.

In the end, it was a game of "doorkeeper" that broke the ice between Daniel and Miss Pilgrim. Billy got the game started using a couple of Mother Goose counting out rhymes:

To Billy [...] was committed the duty of counting out the first person to be sent into the hall. There were so many of us that "Aina maina mona mike" would not go quite round; but, with that promptness of expedient which belongs to genius, Billy instantly added on , "Intery-mintery-cutery-corn," and the last word of that cabalistic formula fell upon me--Edward Balbus [Uncle Teddy].

Then it was a practical joke of Billy's that sent Daniel out to Miss Pilgrim - and he lived to regret that, you can believe.

"Aina maina mona mike" busts my Mother Goose collection, although it's a clear relative to the familiar "Eena, meena, mina, mo". The full version of the other is:

Intery, mintery, cutery, corn,
Apple seed and apple thorn;
Wire, briar, limber-lock,
Five geese in a flock,
Sit and sing by a spring,
O-U-T, and in again.

Brace of Boys is also famous (to me) for this stop-you-in-your-tracks quote, partial though it may be:

With that merciful blindness which alone prevents all our lives from becoming a horror of nerveless self-reproach...



Story: Gibberish
By: William L. Alden (b. 1837)
Reprinted: The Library of Wit and Humor, Vol. III, American (1917)

Now, lo and behold, the very first paragraph in the very next story (by a very different writer) in the very same book brings up the long-lost "Aina maina mona mike" again!

It is estimated that there are at this moment seven million small boys in this country. Of this number--if we except those who are deaf, dumb, blind, and idiotic--there is not one who is not familiar with that mystic formula known as "Aina maina mona mike," and who does not habitually use it as a means of divining who shall be "it" in various games incident to boyhood. How each successive generation of small boys comes into possession of this formula is one of the most profound and difficult questions of the age.

It's that last sentence of the first paragraph that gives the topic of this interesting and humorous essay. To give you a taste, here's the beginning of paragraph 2:

The superficial thinker fancies that the solution of this problem is a very simple one. He hastily assumes that one generation teaches "Aina maina" to its successors, and that the knowledge of the formula is thus handed down from father to son. But is there a single instance on record in which a father has deliberately imparted this knowledge to his son?

Years ago I had a coworker friend who independently discovered and wondered at this mystery. (Hi, Laura!) It would never have occurred to my brain that something truly strange is at work here.



Poem: The Romance of the Carpet
By: Robert Jones Burdette (b. 1844)
Reprinted: The Library of Wit and Humor, Vol. IV, American (1917)

One fine May day, a man begins his chore, with gusto, of beating the carpet. His wife will tell him when to stop. But... she's never quite satisfied and the pounding goes on and on - into late autumn! Finally, the poor guy runs away. Decades later, he steals back, and - no, it can't be! - the carpet is still hanging there! He can't resist . . .

He found him a stick in the old woodpile,
And he gathered it up with a sad, grim smile.

A flush passed over his face forlorn
As he gazed at the carpet, tattered and torn.

And out of the window a white face leaned,
And a palsied hand the pale face screened.

She knew his face; she gasped, and sighed,
"A little more on the other side."

He throws his stick down, and runs away again - this time forever.

I'm pretty sure there are echoes of "The House that Jack Built" in the second quoted verse above. "Tattered and torn"? - ungh, maybe that could be a coincidence. But rhymed with "forlorn"? That clinches it.

This is the man all tattered and torn,
That kissed the maiden all forlorn...



Book: The Story of King Arthur and his Knights
By: Howard Pyle
Year: 1903

Behold Part III, Chapter Second: How King Arthur Became Lost in the Forest, and How He Fell Into a Very Singular Adventure in a Castle Unto Which He Came.

The very singular adventure was a challenge issued by the knight of the castle. Arthur had first crack at chopping the knight's head off. If the knight survived, he could have a go at Arthur's head.

Swish! went Excalibur; Off! went the knight's head. But he calmly walked over, picked it up, and put it back on again. Instead of dispatching Arthur then and there, he gave him a year and a day to live in the miserable knowledge of his impending death. He also gave Arthur a chance to saveth his bacon. He would be spared if he could answer the riddle: What is it that a woman desires most of all in the world?

The year passes, and Arthur sets off for the castle without having found a satisfactory answer to the riddle. But he stumbles on the hut of a hideous old beldame who gives him the answer (in return for a promise that she can choose any knight of his court to marry, which is a great story, too, but goes beyond our purposes here.)

Then she said unto the king, "This is the answer to that riddle: That which a lady most desires is to have her will."

That's the ticket. Arthur arrives at the castle, stuns the knight with the correct answer, and then dispatches him for good. (The beldame had also told Arthur the secret of where that "magician of a very evil sort" carriethed his life.)

All of that, which I hope wasn't so bad, to say that the knight's riddle brought one Mother Goose rhyme very strongly to my mind:

The hart he loves the high wood,
The hare she loves the hill;
The knight he loves his bright sword,
The Lady--loves her will.

I draw your attention to line 4, but line 3 is an apropos freebie: Arthur certainly loved his shining Excalibur.



Poem: A Verse With A Moral But No Name
From: Pepper and Salt, or Seasoning for Young Folk
By: Howard Pyle
Year: 1885

In this poem, a wise man of Haarlem goes around asking everyone he meets,

If all the world was paper.
    And if all the sea was ink,
And if the trees were bread and cheese,
    What would we do for ink?

That's a complete and well-known Mother Goose rhyme; see my favorites page. To convey this wise man's dedication to his mission, Howard Pyle gives the full rhyme at two places in the poem. The mental strain wears away at the wise man, and he grows thinner and thinner until, one day - he blows away!

And if you doubt anyone could be so foolish, be assured there are other "wise-wise" men who spend their lives asking questions no one can answer.



Story: Jack and the Beanstalk
From: English Fairy Tales
Collected by: Joseph Jacobs
Year: 1898

In Joseph Jacobs' important collection of English fairy tales, he tells the story of "Jack and the Beanstalk" as he heard it in 1860. In the final scene:

Then Jack gave another chop with the axe, and the beanstalk was cut in two and began to topple over. Then the ogre fell down and broke his crown and the beanstalk came toppling after.

He had some fun working in a bit of "Jack and Jill" there, of course.



Story: The King of Colchester's Daughter
From an old chapbook: The History of the Four Kings, Their Queens and Daughters (1764)
Reprinted: The Classic Fairy Tales
Edited by: Iona & Peter Opie

This is another story of a mistreated stepdaughter. She's forced to leave home, and comes to a fountain with three heads bobbing in it. Being the good stepdaughter, she does what they ask of her, and is wonderfully rewarded.

...then coming to the well, she had not sooner sat down but a Golden Head came up with a singing note, Wash me, comb me, lay me down softly. Yes, said the young lady, then putting forth her hand with a silver comb, performed the office, placing it upon a primrose bank.

I'll let the editors of the modern edition identify the Mother Goose rhyme for you. It seems they object slightly to a popular version of the story in which the teller incorporated the whole rhyme.

James Orchard Halliwell, in Popular Rhymes and Nursery Tales, 1849, gives a text of "The Three Heads of the Well" [...] The one significant difference in it to the text that follows [see above] is that when the princess sits beside the well the first golden head sings:

Wash me and comb me,
And lay me down softly,
And lay me on a bank to dry,
That I may look pretty,
When somebody comes by.

This is a rhyme that appeared in a collection of traditional verses, Songs for the Nursery, published in 1805, a book which Halliwell is known to have been familiar; and it is to be suspected he succumbed, as have other scholars before and since, to the temptation of making his source contain what he felt it ought to contain rather than what it did contain.

Whew, I would have thought Halliwell's little touch would fall so securely within the bounds of a storyteller's license that no one would even notice, much less raise an eyebrow. Isn't this what storytellers do? Not to mention, my nonexpert mind might even wonder if the complete rhyme were extant before the the original chapbook was written, and if the chapbook writer left the rest of the rhyme out due to laziness or space considerations.

Anyhow, I think this is one of the loveliest Mother Goose rhymes. I included a version on my page of favorites. It replaces the second "lay" with "set", and uses "some one" instead of "somebody".



Story: The Swineherd
By: Hans Christian Andersen
Translated by: Charles Boner in "A Danish Story-Book", 1846
Reprinted: The Classic Fairy Tales
Edited by: Iona & Peter Opie

This is the story of a vain princess who rejects worthy presents from a good prince, but accepts cheap "toys" from a dirty swineherd - and even kisses him to get the presents. The king sees what's going on and banishes them both. The prince and the swineherd are one in the same, of course, and after showing himself to be the prince, he gives the princess a stern comeuppance.

So saying he left her, and returned to his principality: now well might she sing -

'O dear, what can the matter be?
O dear, what shall I do?'

The rhyme appeared several times in the story. The swineherd/prince had made a "nice little pipkin" (cooking pot) with tinkling bells that played the old air -

'O dear, what can the matter be?
O dear, what shall I do?'

That caught the princess's attention since she knew the tune; in fact: "It was the only piece she knew, but she played it with ONE finger."

"Oh, dear, what can the matter be" has long been included in Mother Goose collections. It's not clear whether the rhyme or song version came first.



Book: Nursery Rhymes of London Town (complete edition)
By: Eleanor Farjeon
Year: 1916, 1917

Writer Eleanor Farjeon was an English national treasure. Here she takes various sections of London and constructs clever and delightful "nursery" rhymes for them, generally by deconstructing the name and taking the words literally. For example, the rhyme for Kilburn starts:

    Kill, kill, kill!
Cries the Black Plague of London.
    Burn, burn, burn!
Cries the great fire of London.

The rhyme for Battersea starts:

Little boy, little boy, what is the matter?--
Madam, the sea has been turned into batter!

The rhyme for Newington Butts starts as follows. (A butt is a large barrel.)

The bung is lost from Newington Butts!
The beer is running in all the ruts,

Got it? They're neat! - even for an American like me who probably misses half the references. A few of them have a Mother Goosey feel, but only one that I noticed was actually based on a particular Mother Goose rhyme:


Said This Fool to That Fool when April did fall,
"How many leaves, Fool, to build a green wall?"
Said that Fool to This in the sun and the rain,
"As many as bricks, Fool, to plant a brick lane."

Without researching it, I'll hazard a guess that there's a section of London called Green Wall or Greenwall. Like I said, these rhymes are clever. (In this case, it's a bit of a shame there isn't a good synonym for "bricks" so as to avoid its repeated use in the last line. If the rhyme were divorced from London geography, it might end, "to plant a paved lane.") Anyhow, this rhyme is modeled on one of my Mother Goose favorites:

The man in the wilderness asked me
How many strawberries grow in the sea.
I answered him, as I thought good,
As many as red herrings as grow in the wood.



Book: The New Book of Days
By: Eleanor Farjeon
Year: 1941

In Eleanor Farjeon's delightful New Book of Days, you can find a small handful of references to Mother Goose and her rhymes. On January 11 there's the man in the moon who came down to Norwich. On March 14 there are "eight poor children whose mother's larders were like Mother Hubbard's."

On April 11 Farjeon discusses the historical basis for a few of the rhymes - and makes up a new one herself. For January 24 she wrote a poem, "Skate and Sled", in which Mother Goose appears at the end: "Every child in winter who owns a plank or sled owes/Thanks again to Mother Goose for answering his hopes." (Hmmm, is snow identified with goose down in England?)

But December 17 provides the richest Mother Goose connection. Farjeon tells about Covent Garden Theatre being rebuilt in 1809 after a fire. The ticket prices had to be raised to cover the cost of the "superb new building" and theater-goers raised a ruckus. The newspapers described the "O. P. Riots" ("O. P." for Old Prices!) in a parody of "The House That Jack Built". Here's the final verse containing all of the material:

This is the Manager full of scorn
Who raised the Price to the People forlorn,
And directed the Thief-taker shaven and shorn
To take up John Bull with his Bugle-horn
Who hissed the Cat engaged to squall
To the Poor in the Pigeonholes
    Over the Boxes,
        Let to the Great
Who visit the House that Jack built!

"Jack" would be Mr. John Kemble, the famous actor. "The Cat" is Madame Catalani, the famous singer. John Bull is the typical Englishman. Based on Farjeon's account, I think the "Thief-taker" was Dutch Sam the prizefighter, hired by Mr. Kemble to duke it out with trouble-makers in the pit. Anyhow, you get the picture.

To recite the rhyme, you would start in the middle of each line, working upwards, adding "This is" or "These are":

This is the House that Jack built!

These are the Great
Who visit the House that Jack built!

These are the Boxes
Let to the Great
Who visit the House that Jack built!

These are the Poor in the Pigeonholes
Over the Boxes
Let to the Great
Who visit the House that Jack built!

This is the Cat engaged to squall
to the Poor in the Pigeonholes



Story: The Wise Starling
From: The Fourth Reader (E. H. Butler & Co., 1883)
Editor: Samuel Mecutchen

Bob, the starling, is a house pet. Here's the final paragraph of this two-pager:

Bob loved company. [...] He would perch on my father's chair, listening to the conversation and the music with the greatest attention. Then my father only had to say, "Now, Bob, give us the 'Miller of Dee;'" and the bird would add his mite to the general amusement by singing his mellow song in the finest style.

The "Miller of Dee" is both a folk song and a Mother Goose rhyme; I'm not sure in which form it started life. Beethoven made an arrangement of the folk song. Here's the complete rhyme - the first verse, that is - since the next two entries are also based on it.

There was a jolly miller once,
    Lived on the river Dee;
He worked and sang from morn till night,
    No lark more blithe than he.
And this the burden of his song
    Forever used to be,
I care for nobody, no! not I,
    If nobody cares for me.



Story: The Miller of the Dee
From: Fifty Famous Stories Retold (1896)
By: James Baldwin

Here we have a fleshed out retelling of the jolly miller's story in prose. The king went to see what made the miller so happy.

As soon as he stepped inside of the mill, he heard the miller singing: --

"I envy no-body -- no, not I! --
For I am as happy as can be;
And nobody envies me."

The king envies the miller's happiness and tells him, "Your dusty cap is worth more than my golden crown."

Note that Baldwin avoids quoting the familiar rhyme precisely, which is a good touch for a story, I think.



Poem: The Jolly Miller
Book: Riley Child-Rhymes (1890, 1896, 1898, and 1905)
By: James Whitcomb Riley

In Riley's "restored romaunt" (romance in verse), the miller starts out jolly enough:

It was a Jolly Miller lived on the River Dee;
He looked upon his piller, and there he found a flea:
    "O Mr. Flea! you have bit' me,
        And you shall sorely die!"
    So he scrunched his bones against the stones--
        And there he let him lie!

But in the true spirit of "the Gobble-uns'll git you Ef you Don't Watch Out!", the flea came back that night, "bigger than a man," and carried the miller off:

"Ho! ho! my Jolly Miller," (fer 'twas the Flea, fer shore!)
"I'll reckon you'll not rack my bones ner scrunch 'em any more!"

    And then the Ghost he grabbed him clos't,
        With many a ghastly smile,
    And from the doorstep stooped and hopped
        About four hundred mile!



Story: Bertram and the Lion
By: Paul T. Gilbert
Reprinted: The Children's Hour 4 - Caravan of Fun (The Spencer Press, 1953)

Here's a passage directly descended from "Jack Sprat":

Then the lion noticed that Bertram was picking at his meat. He was picking all the fat off and eating only the lean.

"See here, my little friend," said the lion. "That won't do at all. You eat the fat--every bit of it and lick the platter clean."

Later, the lion hauls up Mother Goose again:

But Bertram got lonesome without anybody but the lion to keep him company. "I want Julia Krause," he said. "I want her to tell me a story."

But the lion said, "I'll tell you a story. I'll tell you a story about Jack-a-Nory, and now--"

"But I don't want that story," said Bertram. "That's Mother Goose. I'm not a baby. I want one of Julia Krause's stories--the one about the Oyster Mayor or the Duchess."

"Oh, all right," said the lion. "I'll tell you another about his brother--"

"I don't want that one either," said Bertram.

For those of you not in the know, here's the whole Mother Goose rhyme:

    I'll tell you a story
    About Jack-a-Nory:
And now my story's begon.
    I'll tell you another
    About his brother:
And now my story is done.



Story: Uncle Jack's Story
By: Mrs. E. M. Field
Year: mid-1800s?
Reprinted: Junior Classics (The Young Folks Shelf of Books), Vol. VI, "Old Fashioned Tales" (1912, 1918)

Uncle Jack tells a story in which the king, who had no children and apparently resented his subjects who did, passed severe anti-childhood laws. One time, the almost impossible conditions came about allowing children one hour of playtime...

They ran and shouted, and played games and laughed, till suddenly one o'clock struck; and all the king's horses and all the king's men, came to drive them to their homes again.

Nobody can miss the Humpty Dumpty reference in there.

The children started a rebellion, but, in the end, both they and the grown-ups learn a lesson.



Story: Snap-Dragons--A Tale of Christmas Eve
By: Juliana Horatia Ewing
Year: mid-1800s?
Reprinted: Junior Classics (The Young Folks Shelf of Books), Vol. VI, "Old Fashioned Tales" (1912, 1918)

This is the story of a family that constantly squabbles. Here, the oldest children have a go:

"If you don't give it me back directly, I'll tell about your eating the two magnum-bonums in the kitchen garden on Sunday," said Master Harry, on one occason.

"'Telltale tit!
Your tongue shall be slit,
And every dog in town shall have a little bit.'"

quoted his sister.

"Ah! You've called me a telltale. Now I'll go and tell papa. You got into a fine scrape for calling me names the other day."

"Go, then! I don't care."

"Tell tale tit" appears only four times in my Mother Goose library. This seems a little odd to me considering its pedigree; it was included in "Mother Goose's Melody or Sonets for the Cradle" (1765, 1786), the first nursery rhyme booklet with Mother Goose in the title.

By the way the name of the family is Skratdj. You have to admit that's pretty darn good. Even better is the reference to the kids, "the little Skratdjs".



Poem: The Octopussycat
By: Kenyon Cox
From: "Mixed Beasts", copyright 1904 by Fox, Duffield & Co.
Reprinted: The Wit and Humor of America, Vol. 6

I love Octopussy, his arms are so long;
There's nothing in nature so sweet as his song.
'Tis true I'd not touch him--no, not for a farm!
If I keep at a distance he'll do me no harm.

This, of course, is a parody of "I love little pussy":

I love little Pussy, her coat is so warm,
And if I don't hurt her, she'll do me no harm.
I'll sit by the fire, and give her some food,
And Pussy will love me, because I am good.



Poem: Little Bopeep and Little Boy Blue
By: Samuel Minturn Peck
Reprinted: The Wit and Humor of America, Vol. 10

Little Boy Blue is "entranced by the picture" of Little Bopeep sleeping. He steals a little kiss; the "woolies" are shocked.



Poem: Little Boy Blue
By: Eugene Field (1850-1895)

This is not the Little Boy Blue of the Mother Goose rhyme. He's a child who had a toy dog and a toy soldier, and he would tell them to wait right where they were when he went to bed. One morning, Little Boy Blue doesn't wake up. The years go by, and the dog gets dusty and the soldier gets rusty, but they still wait faithfully for Little Boy Blue to come and play.



Story: Poor Richard to the "Courteous Reader"
By: "Poor Richard" (Benjamin Franklin) (1706-1790)
Reprinted: The Library of Wit and Humor, Vol. I, American

Here's an example of a Mother Goose quote before it became Mother Goose. (Poor Richard is quoting here a "clean old man" who quotes extensively from Poor Richard's Almanack while lecturing the public.)

And again, he [Poor Richard] adviseth to circumspection and care, even in the smallest matters; because sometimes, A little neglect may breed great mischief; adding, for want of a nail the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe, the horse was lost; and for want of a horse the rider was lost; being overtaken and slain by the enemy; all for want of a little care about a horseshoe nail!

Now I don't know if that's all we get from Franklin, or whether he's abridging a fuller version appearing elsewhere in his writings, but this is how it showed up in Mother Goose, starting in 1898:

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost;
For want of a shoe, the horse was lost;
For want of a horse, the rider was lost;
For want of a rider, the battle was lost;
For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost;
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

We all credit Ben Franklin for the old saying, "Early to bed, early to rise..." Sometimes that appears in Mother Goose collections by itself, but more often as the second half of the following rhyme. I don't know if Ben had anything to do with the first part.

Cocks crow in the morn
    To tell us to rise,
And he who lies late
    Will never be wise;
For early to bed
    And early to rise,
Is the way to be healthy
    And wealthy and wise.



Poem: The Land of Used-to-be
By: James Whitcomb Riley
From: The Best Loved Poems and Ballads of James Whitcomb Riley
Poems copyrighted: 1887-1906

No need to set the stage for the last verse:

For all the elves of earth and air are swarming here together--
    The prankish Puck, King Oberon, and Queen Titania too;
And dear old Mother Goose herself, as sunny as the weather,
    Comes dancing down the dewy walks to welcome me and you!


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