The Only True Mother Goose Melodies
by Anonymous - Introduction by Eward E. Hale

Introduction.

The editor of the new edition of Mother Goose's Melodies knows much more about the curious history of the Boston edition than I do. And the reader will not need, even in these lines of mine, any light on the curious question about Madam Vergoose, or her son-in-law Mr. Fleet, or the Contes de Ma Mere l'Oye, which are so carefully discussed in the preface. All this is admirably discussed also in Mr. William Whitmore's paper published in Albany in 1889, and reprinted in Boston in 1892. In that paper he reproduced in facsimile Isaiah Thomas's edition of Mother Goose published first in 1785.

What I want to tell, is of Mother Goose in the nineteenth Century--the Mother Goose on which the old Boston line was brought up--a line now nearly forgotten. But there were days, Gentle Reader, when an excellent body of people in this little Town of Boston grew up all together loving and loved, brought up their children here, loving and loved, and amused those children from babyhood in their own way. The centre of the baby life of this race was Mother Goose's Melodies in the dear little quarto edition, of which a precise copy is in the reader's hands.

It is this Mother Goose of which the New Englander, if his age be more than three score years and ten, speaks when he speaks of Mother Goose at all. The historical ear marks in it are rather curious. Perhaps the printing of this very edition may raise up some antiquary who can tell us how it came into existence. I wish I knew. I hope some reader of these lines may know. What I know is this, that when the nineteenth century began, in the years from 1800 to 1820, the impression of what we still called the "Mother Country" upon Boston was very strong. The old nurse who took care of me in my babyhood spoke of "weal" and "winegar," where my father and mother spoke of veal and vinegar, just as if she had been a London Cockney. Children played the games of English origin,

"Lady Queen Anne, she sits on her throne,"

though it were fifty years after the Declaration of Independence. I may say in passing, that within the last dozen years I stopped to hear some North End children sing the song Queen Anne, without the slightest idea, I suppose, of who Queen Anne was, or what was their business with her. Alas, and alas, I did not write down the words of that song on the moment!

The truth is that Boston was still a place of foreign commerce. Our ties with London, such as John Adams and other Revolutionaries spoke of so freely, still existed, and a Baby's Song Book like Mother Goose, might still recall, and I suppose repeat, the song of Cockney homes.

So in the nursery, whether one of the North End sailors' home, or of Beacon Street, or Park Street, or Pearl Street, the baby was sung to sleep with London ditties.

London Bridge is broken down,
Dance over, my Lady Lee,
London Bridge is broken down,
With a fair Ladye.
Will not some of the active literary clubs of St. Ethelburger's
Church in Bishopsgate, in East London, tell us what this means:


You owe me five shillings,
Say the bells of St. Helen's.
When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey.
When I grow rich,
Say the bells of Shoreditch.
Pokers and tongs,
Say the bells of St. John's.
Kettles and pans,
Say the bells of St. Ann's.
Half-pence and farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin's.


All this was sung to New England children, thank God without note or comment, and with no other explanation. But the American traveler who goes into Baring Brothers', Bishopsgate, with his credit, feels a thrill which the clerk who attends to him does not understand, if one speaks to him of St. Helen's or St. Ann's.

All this accounts for Mother Goose as Fleet reprinted her baby songs as early as the year 1700. But as the reader will see, somebody had the editing of the baby's text book who was not afraid of his own time. I think that the very latest verses which will be found here are those of Scott's Donald Dhu. Walter Scott wrote this for Campbell's Anthology in 1816. The presence of these verses fixes the latest date of any lines in the collection, except, as Mr. Whitmore has observed, the line "Boston Town" is changed into "Boston City," so that must have been written after 1822.

But it is interesting to see that no American line of comment seems to have slipped in. There was no lack of nationalism in the air, but I cannot find any reference to a cent[*], a dime, a governor, or a President. Now in the printed handkerchiefs, such as children used to buy on Election Day in the street, I remember the Ballad of John Gilpin ended,

Now, let us sing, "Long live the President
And Gilpin, Long live he."

But the wise editor of our Boston Mother Goose had no such fears for the republicanism of his baby hearers. Those were happy years in which the imagination of babies and their older brothers and sisters were permitted to run free.

I have asked and asked and have received no answer, as to the artist who made many of the admirable designs which are distinctive in this book. Abel Bowen's name is signed to one, and his initials appear on several. N.D. means Nathaniel Dearborn. One is signed "Chicket," but this does not account for the greater number of them. I was the son of a printer and type-founder, so we had a "type book" as a classic in our nursery. So I knew even as a little child, that there were pictures in Mother Goose which were put there merely because the block from which they were printed existed in the printer's office. But there were other designs made by some artist of genius; and who was he? He represented the man in the moon, hanging with one arm to the crescent of the moon. That man, whoever he was, is to be ranked among the original artists of the world. He gave to childhood his first and best images of the blackbirds who were baked in the pie.


This question I have asked again and again, and no man and no woman has answered it. But the chances seem to be that we owe them also to Abel Bowen, the first wood engraver recorded among the engravers in the period after the Revolution. We have specimens of his work more in pictures of landscape or of buildings than in drawings of men and women. But there can be but little doubt that most of the blocks from which the Mother Goose of our childhood were printed were engraved by him, and there seems to be good reason to believe that the designs were by him as well. The pity is that no old portfolio can be found with other designs from his pencil. But, alas, the chances are that they have gone where so many other manuscripts have gone, which would delight the antiquaries.

Thanks to the publisher and editor of this book, the designs, of whatever hand, are now preserved for another generation.

I have said that I am not learned in the interesting genealogical discussion of the subject, but I like to call attention to the fact that the English Norwich was the birthplace and home of Fleet, and that it is possible that in the annals of that city light may be gained as to the history of the man in the Moon.

I have always thought that the close connection of our maritime people with London had something to do with the names of our streets. The most striking instance is in the name of Cornhill, where this very Thomas Fleet had his book store, and where book stores have been an institution from that day to this. Our Cornhill in its relations to our water front occupies the same conditions which the London Cornhill had and has to the river front in London. The young reader should remember that Washington Street so far as it had one name was called the Main Street. Coming North from our Dover Street, the traveler passed through Orange Street, then through Newbury Street, next through Marlborough Street, which extended from Winter Street to School Street, and then through Cornhill northward to Dock Square. This is precisely as in passing east through what was the Main Street of London of those days, the traveler would have passed through the Cornhill of that thoroughfare. The London Cornhill retains its name. Ours was changed in 1824 to the all-conquering name of Washington, which is now applied to the whole of the "Main Street" and "the Neck" of the Fathers, as indeed, it is applied by local authorities many miles further.

But in familiar conversation, the old name Cornhill was retained for a generation, and indeed, would be understood to-day, if you were speaking to Boston people more than fifty years old. The name Cornhill is now applied to the Market Street of an earlier period.

Young readers should remember that Orange Street, Newbury street, and Marlborough Street were names given in honour of the Prince of Orange of the Puritan victory at Newbury, and of the Duke of Marlborough. All of them show what were the Whig and Puritan feelings of the people who gave them. All three of the names in our time have been transferred from the old localities.

We are all greatly obliged to Mrs. Harriet Blackstone C. Butler for the pains she has taken to rescue for popular use this interesting memorial of the education of the fathers and mothers of New England.

[signed] Edward E. Hale

 


Back

 


Home