Rhyme Over Time

As a result of jingles being passed down orally without any standard format, they have understandably been altered many times from their original state.  But how far removed from the “original” can a poem be before it no longer qualifies as a Mother Goose rhyme?  There are some scholars who believe a rhyme must consist of only four lines to fall under that category.  Others have added on numerous stanzas to the originals for their own purposes.  Either way, because of how far removed modern audiences are from the original, oral traditions that were passed down, there is no way of knowing which versions are closes to the original.

Below are examples of different versions of some popular nursery rhymes.

Kate Greenaway, ills., Mother Goose (New York and London: Frederick Warne, 188?), accessed at J. Murrey Atkins Library, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
    Henry L. Stephens and Gaston Fay, ills., Mother Goose's Melodies, or Songs for the Nursery (New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1869), accessed at J. Murrey Atkins Library, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Henry L. Stephens and Gaston Fay, ills., Mother Goose's Melodies, or Songs for the Nursery (New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1869), accessed at J. Murrey Atkins Library, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Henry L. Stephens and Gaston Fay, ills., Mother Goose's Melodies, or Songs for the Nursery (New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1869), accessed at J. Murrey Atkins Library, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Mother Goose's Rhymes (New York: McLoughlin Bros, 1890?), accessed at J. Murrey Atkins Library, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Mother Goose's Rhymes (New York: McLoughlin Bros, 1890?), accessed at J. Murrey Atkins Library, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

In most cases, the length of the rhymes increased the more.  This is likely due to individuals contributing their own verses in order to complete the story being told in the rhyme.  In these three versions of “Little Bo Peep,”  a new piece to the story is added every time.  This is also the case with the following editions of “Jack and Jill.”
mothergoose_jackandjill
jack-and-jill
mothergoosesmelody_jackandgill
Similarly, in some editions of books containing Mother Gooses’s rhymes, publishers add their own touches to the works.  In this version of “Jack and Jill,” not only has Jill been converted to Gill, but Oliver Goldsmith added a maxim, or words of wisdom.
Henry L. Stephens and Gaston Fay, ills., Mother Goose's Melodies, or Songs for the Nursery (New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1869), accessed at J. Murrey Atkins Library, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Henry L. Stephens and Gaston Fay, ills., Mother Goose's Melodies, or Songs for the Nursery (New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1869), accessed at J. Murrey Atkins Library, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

 Mother Goose (New York: McLoughlin Bros, 1877?), accessed at J. Murrey Atkins Library, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Mother Goose (New York: McLoughlin Bros, 1877?), accessed at J. Murrey Atkins Library, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

 In other cases, like with these two versions of “Humpty Dumpty,”  and the four versions of “Little Boy Blue” found below, the core message in the rhyme remains the same, despite subtle variations in the text.

boyblue1

mothergoose_boyblue

boyblue2

theoriginal_boyblue

 The multiple variations in the text of the rhymes reinforces the notion that the original versions may never be known. 

  

Source:

Robert Darnton, The Great Cat Massacre: And Other Episodes in French Cultural History (New York: Basic Books Inc., 1984), 16-42.

 

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