None of us,
whether children or adults, needs an introduction to
Mother Goose. Those things which are earliest impressed upon our
minds cling to them most tenaciously The snatches sung in the nursery
are never forgotten, nor are they ever recalled without bringing back
with them myriads of slumbering feelings and half-forgotten images.
We hear the sweet, low voice of the mother, singing
soft lullabies to
her darling, and see the kindly, wrinkled face of the grandmother
she croons the old ditties to quiet our restless spirits. One
generation is linked to another by the everlasting spirit of song;
ballads of the nursery follow us from childhood to old age, and
are readily brought from memory's recesses at any time to amuse
children or our grandchildren.
The collection of jingles we know and love as the
"Melodies of Mother
Goose" are evidently drawn from a variety of sources. While
taken altogether, a happy union of rhyme, wit, pathos, satire
sentiment, the research after the author of each individual verse
would indeed be hopeless. It would be folly to suppose them all
composition of uneducated old nurses, for many of them contain
reflection, wit and melody. It is said that Shelley wrote "Pussy-Cat
Mew," and Dean Swift "Little Bo-Peep," and these
assertions are as
difficult to disprove as to prove. Some of the older verses, however,
are doubtless offshoots from ancient Folk Lore Songs, and have
descended to us through many centuries.
The connection of Mother Goose with the rhymes which
bear her name is
difficult to determine, and, in fact, three countries claim her
their own: France, England and America.
About the year 1650 there appeared in circulation
in London a small
book, named "Rhymes of the Nursery; or Lulla-Byes for Children,"
contained many of the identical pieces that have been handed down
us; but the name of Mother Goose was evidently not then known.
edition were the rhymes of "Little Jack Homer," "Old
"Mistress Mary," "Sing a Song o' Sixpence,"
and "Little Boy Blue."
In 1697 Charles Perrault published in France a book
tales entitled "Contes de ma Mere Oye," and this is
really the first
time we find authentic record of the use of the name of Mother
although Perrault's tales differ materially from those we now
under this title. They comprised "The Sleeping Beauty,"
"Little Red Riding Hood," "Blue Beard," "Puss
in Boots" "Riquet with
the Tuft," "Cinderella," and "Little Thumb";
eight stories in all. On
the cover of the book was depicted an old lady holding in her
distaff and surrounded by a group of children listening eagerly.
Andrew Lang has edited a beautiful English edition of this work
America bases her claim to Mother Goose upon the
made by the late John Fleet Eliot, a descendant of Thomas Fleet,
At the beginning of the eighteenth century there
lived in Boston a
lady named Eliza Goose (written also Vergoose and Vertigoose)
belonged to a wealthy family. Her eldest daughter, Elizabeth Goose
Vertigoose), was married by Rev. Cotton Mather in 1715 to an
enterprising and industrious printer named Thomas Fleet, and in
time gave birth to a son. Like most mothers-in-law in our day,
importance of Mrs. Goose increased with the appearance of her
grandchild, and poor Mr. Fleet, half distracted with her endless
nursery ditties, finding all other means fail, tried what ridicule
could effect, and actually printed a book under the title "Songs
the Nursery; or, Mother Goose's Melodies for Children." On
page was the picture of a goose with a very long neck and a mouth
open, and below this, "Printed by T. Fleet, at his Printing
Pudding Lane, 1719. Price, two coppers."
Mr. Wm. A. Wheeler, the editor of Hurd & Houghton's
of Mother Goose, (1870), reiterated this assertion, and a writer
the Boston Transcript of June 17, 1864, says: "Fleet's book
a reprint of an English collection of songs (Barclay's), and the
title was doubtless a compliment by the printer to his mother-in-law
Goose for her contributions. She was the mother of sixteen children
and a typical 'Old Woman who lived in a Shoe.'"
We may take it to be true that Fleet's wife was
of the Vergoose
family, and that the name was often contracted to Goose. But the
of the story is unsupported by any evidence whatever. In fact,
that Mr. Eliot knew of it was the statement of the late Edward
Crowninshield, of Boston, that he had seen Fleet's edition in
library of the American Antiquarian Society. Repeated researches
Worcester having failed to bring to light this supposed copy,
record of it appearing on any catalogue there, we may dismiss
entire story with the supposition that Mr. Eliot misunderstood
remarks made to him. Indeed, as Mr. William H. Whitmore points
his clever monograph upon Mother Goose (Albany, 1889), it is very
doubtful whether in 1719 a Boston printer would have been allowed
publish such "trivial" rhymes. "Boston children
at that date," says
Mr. Whitmore, "were fed upon Gospel food, and it seems extremely
improbable that an edition could have been sold."
Singularly enough, England's claim to the venerable
old lady is of
about the same date as Boston's. There lived in a town in Sussex,
about the year 1704, an old woman named Martha Gooch. She was
capital nurse, and in great demand to care for newly-born babies;
therefore, through long years of service as nurse, she came to
called Mother Gooch. This good woman had one peculiarity: she
accustomed to croon queer rhymes and jingles over the cradles
charges, and these rhymes "seemed so senseless and silly
to the people
who overheard them" that they began to call her "Mother
derision, the term being derived from Queen Goosefoot, the mother
Charlemagne. The old nurse paid no attention to her critics, but
continued to sing her rhymes as before; for, however much grown
might laugh at her, the children seemed to enjoy them very much,
not one of them was too peevish to be quieted and soothed by her
verses. At one time Mistress Gooch was nursing a child of Mr.
Barclay, a physician residing in the town, and he noticed the
she sang and became interested in them. In time he wrote them
and made a book of them, which it is said was printed by John
Worthington & Son in the Strand, London, in 1712, under the
"Ye Melodious Rhymes of Mother Goose." But even this
story of Martha
Gooch is based upon very meager and unsatisfactory evidence.
The earliest English edition of Mother Goose's Melodies
absolutely authentic was issued by John Newbury of London about
year 1760, and the first authentic American edition was a reprint
Newbury's made by Isaiah Thomas of Worcester, Mass., in 1785.
None of the earlier editions, however, contained
all the rhymes so
well known at the present day, since every decade has added its
to the mass of jingles attributed to "Mother Goose."
Some of the
earlier verses have become entirely obsolete, and it is well they
have, for many were crude and silly and others were coarse. It
simply a result of the greater refinement of modern civilization
they have been relegated to oblivion, while the real gems of the
collection will doubtless live and grow in popular favor for many
While I have taken some pains to record the various
claims to the
origin of Mother Goose, it does not matter in the least whether
was in reality a myth, or a living Eliza Goose, Martha Gooch or
"Mere Oye" of Perrault. The songs that cluster around
her name are
what we love, and each individual verse appeals more to the childish
mind than does Mother Goose herself.
Many of these nursery rhymes are complete tales
in themselves, telling
their story tersely but completely; there are others which are
bare suggestions, leaving the imagination to weave in the details
the story. Perhaps therein may lie part of their charm, but however
that may be I have thought the children might like the stories
greater length, that they may dwell the longer upon their favorite
heroes and heroines.
For that reason I have written this book.
In making the stories I have followed mainly the
suggestions of the
rhymes, and my hope is that the little ones will like them, and
find that they interfere with the fanciful creations of their
L Frank Baum
Chicago, Illinois, September, 1897.