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Popular Rhyming the reign of
of this kind of
Lore Society. Dr. Nicholson's book on the Folk - Lore of Children in Sutherland, still unpublished when I write, may also be consulted. One of the songs collected by Dr. Nicholson was copied down by a Danish traveller in London during the reign of Charles II. Robert Chambers’s “ Popular Rhymes of Scotland” is also a treasure of this kind of antiquities. It is probable that the Lowland rhymes have occasionally Gaelic counterparts, as the nursery tales certainly have, but I am unacquainted with any researches on this topic by Celtic scholars.
In Mr. Halliwell's Collection, from which this volume is abridged, no manuscript authority goes further back than the reign of Henry VIII., though King Arthur and Robin Hood are mentioned. The obscure Scottish taunt, levelled at Edward I. when besieging Berwick, is much in the manner of a nursery rhyme :
This, as Sir Herbert Maxwell says, “ seems deficient in salt,” but was felt to be irritating by the greatest of the Plantagenets. The jingles on the King of France, against the Scots in the time of James I., against the Tory, or Irish rapparee, and about the Gunpowder Plot, are of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The Great Rebellion supplies “ Hector Protector” and “ The Parliament soldiers are gone to the king ; ” “Over the water and over the sea” (or lee) is a parody of a Jacobite ditty of 1748, and refers genially to that love of ale and wine which Prince Charles displayed as early as he showed military
courage, at the age of fourteen, when he distinguished himself at the siege of Gaeta. His grandfather, James II., lives in “The rhyme for porringer ; ” his father in “ Jim and George were two great lords.” Tout finit par des chansons.
Of non-historical jingles, Mr. Halliwell found traces in MSS. as old as the fifteenth century. But it would be a very rare accident that led to their being written down when nobody dreamed of studying Folk-Lore with solemnity. “Thirty days hath September" occurs in the “ Return from Parnassus,” of Shakspeare's date, and a few snatches, like “When I was a little boy," occur in Shakspeare himself, just as a German version of “My Minnie me slew" comes in Goethe’s Faust. Indeed, the scraps of magical versified spells in Märchen are entirely of the character of nursery rhymes, and are of dateless antiquity. The rhyme of “ Dr. Faustus" may be nearly as old as the mediæval legend dramatised by Marlowe. The Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatists put nursery rhymes in the mouths of characters; a few jingles creep into the Miscellanies, such as “The Pills to purge Melancholy.” Among these (1919) is “Tom the piper's son,” who played “Over the hills and far away,” a song often adapted to Jacobite uses. In 1719, when the Spanish plan of aid to James III. collapsed, pipers must have been melancholy enough.
Melismata (1611) already knows the “Frog who lived in a well,” and in Deuteromelia (1609) occurs the “Three blind mice.” On the Riddles, or Devinettes, chapters might be, and have been written. They go back to Samson's time, at least, and are as widely distributed as proverbs, even among Wolufs and Fijians. The most recent discussion is in Mr. Max Müller's “Contributions to the Science of Mythology” (1897). For using "charms,” like
“Come, butter, come,” many an old woman was burned by the wisdom of our ancestors. Such versified charms, deducunt carmina lunam, are the karakias of the Maoris, and the mantras of Indian superstition. The magical papyri of ancient Egypt are full of them. In our own rhyme, “Hiccup,” regarded as a personal kind of fiend (“ Animism ”), is charmed away by a promise of a butter-cake There is a collection of such things in Reginald Scot's “ Discovery of Witchcraft.” Thus our old nursery rhymes are smooth stones from the brook of time, worn round by constant friction of tongues long silent. We cannot hope to make new nursery rhymes, any more than we can write new fairy tales.
A CARRION crow sat on an oak . .
Bah, bah, black sheep. .
. . .