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Of the many who must recollect the nursery jingles of their youth, how few in number are those who have ever suspected their immense age, or that they were ever more than unmeaning nonsense ; far less that their creation belongs to a period before that at which the authentic records of our history commence. Yet there is no exaggeration in such a statement. We find the same trifles which erewhile lulled or amused the English infant are current in slightly varied forms throughout the North of Europe; we know that they have been sung in the northern countries for centuries, and that there has been no modern outlet for their dissemination across the German Ocean. The most natural inference is to adopt the theory of Teutonic origin, and thus give to every genuine childrhyme found in England and Sweden an immense antiquity. There is nothing improbable in the supposition, for the preservation of the relics of primitive literature often bears an inverse ratio to their importance.
Having .. shown that the nursery has an archæology, the study of which may eventually lead to important results, the jingles and songs of our childhood are defended from the imputation of excessive frivolity.
About the year 1856, a gentleman of Boston, a member of the Massachusetts Historical Society, while examining a file of old newspapers in the Library of the American Antiquarian Society, at Worcester, came across a dilapidated copy of the original edition of “ Mother Goose's Melodies.” Not more than twelve or fifteen pages were left, but, as the price was only “two coppers,” it is not probable that there were many more. Being in search of other matter, he merely took note of the title and general condition and character of the work, intending to make a further examination of it at another time. Whether he ever did so is not known. His health being impaired, he soon after went to Europe, where he remained for many months.
It was not until some time after his death, which occurred in 1859, that these and certain other facts became known to the editor, who at once determined to find the book, if possible, and reprint it as a literary curiosity, with notes and a sketch of the venerable lady whose name is part and parcel of its world-wide fame. At his instance, the Assistant Librarian of the Antiquarian Society very kindly made a protracted search for the book itself, or for any notice of it in the newspapers of the time, but without suc
Whether it has been lost, or stolen, or overlooked, is uncertain ; but of the fact that the gentleman referred to discovered an
imperfect copy of the veritable editio princeps there can be no doubt.
Failing to recover this copy, the editor still thought it desirable to publish an annotated compilation of traditional nursery melodies, together with an account of Mother Goose and her family. In doing so, he has taken as the basis of his work Halliwell's wellknown and excellent collection of the “Nursery Rhymes of England;” but he has omitted not a few of the pieces contained in that collection, chiefly such as have become obsolete, or are dialectical, or of merely local currency. On the other hand, he has added from various sources a number which are familiar to American children, and are doubtless, equally with the others, relics that have come down to us from a former age.
Of the notes, some are historical, others explanatory, and others again merely illustrative. Most of the former are taken from Halliwell's book, already named, or from his “ Popular Rhymes and Nursery Tales,” which forms a pendant or sequel to it; and his language has been retained or modified as seemed desirable in each instance. The facts related in them rest primarily on his authority, although his statements have been verified wherever it was possible to do so.
The engravings on wood by Mr. Stephens and Mr. Fay need no commendation. They will be duly appreciated, both as to conception and execution, by those who have an eye for what is artistic or any sense of the humorous. The music by Mr. Moulton is an added feature of interest and value.
The arrangement of the pieces is very nearly alphabetical, though for several reasons it was found to be impracticable to make it strictly so in every case. The chief deviation has been caused by the larger illustrations, inserted at nearly equidistant intervals throughout the book. The rhymes which they illustrate, being given on the opposite page, are more or less out of their proper place; but as these are few in number, and are easily found by means of the accompanying engravings, it is thought that no great inconvenience will be caused by a departure from the general principle of arrangement.
The introductory account of “The Goose or Vergoose Family” – which contains a notice of “ Mother Goose,” the putative author of the “ Melodies, and of Thomas Fleet, the compiler and publisher of them — has mainly been prepared from materials collected by a lineal descendant of both those worthies, and by him kindly placed at the disposal of the editor.
Not only is the name of Mother Goose a household word throughout America, but wherever the Yankee has gone — and he has penetrated to the uttermost parts of the earth — Mother Goose has gone with him.
In England, however, she has never become thoroughly naturalized, or rather she seems to have lost her identity, and been transmogrified into the old woman who in modern times has been made the mother of the boy who has taken the place of the man who, in Æsop's fable, owned the goose that laid golden eggs! (See pages 87, 181.) In this character she has acquired a degree of celebrity that is largely owing to a very popular pantomime by Thomas Dibdin, called “Mother Goose, or the Golden Egg,' which was brought out at Covent Garden in 1806, and had a run of ninety-two nights. As poetess laureate to the nursery she is less known there. Halliwell has nothing whatever to say about her, and no English bibliographical work contains her name. At least, it is not mentioned, as far as the writer knows, in any catalogue of chap-books, garlands, and popular histories, or of old or rare books, or the like.
It is a singular fact, that, in 1697, — twenty-two years before the Melodies were given to the world by Fleet, - Charles Perrault should have published (under the name of his infant son, Perrault d'Armancourt) a collection of fairy tales, under the title of “ Contes de ma Mère l'Oye,” that is, Tales of my Mother Goose. But the coincidence, though very curious, seems to have been purely accidental. Perrault's reason for adopting this title is thus explained by Collin de Plancy:
“King Robert II. of France took to wife his relative Bertha, but was commanded by Pope Gregory V. to relinquish her, and to perform a seven years' penance for marrying within the forbidden degrees of consanguinity. Being excommunicated for disobeying the command, and his kingdom laid under an interdict, everybody forsook him except two servants. Not long after, his wife having been confined, a lusus naturæ, somewhat resembling a deformed duck, or, as some say, a goose, was shown him, and declared to be the offspring to which she had given birth. The king, struck with horror, repudiated Bertha, and subsequently married Constance [a daughter of Guillaume Taillefer, Count of Toulouse]. It was further asserted that Bertha had one foot shaped like that of a goose, and the credulous populace remembering how the wife of Pepin the Short was named “Bertha with the great foot,' because one foot was larger than the other — called the divorced wife of their unhappy king, Goose-footed Bertha' and Queen Goose.' The French have a proverbial saying that any incredible tale belongs to the time when Queen Bertha spun,' and they call such a tale 'one of Queen Goose's, or Mother Goose's stories.' Now, in all the vignettes which accompany the old editions of Perrault's ‘Contes de ma Mère l'Oye,' 'Mother Goose' is represented as using a distaff, and as surrounded with a group of children, whom she holds entranced by her wondrous tales.”
From this account it will be seen that there is no connection between the name of the imaginary relater of Perrault's fairy tales and that of the old lady whose verses ravished our infancy. Indeed,