Friday, February 2, 2018

Who Was Mother Goose?

The original Mother Goose was often pictured wearing the Welsh national costume.
"No, no, my melodies will never die,
While nurses sing and babies cry."

      When the visitor goes to Boston, besides the Bunker Hill monument, Paul Revere's church, Faneuil Hall, the old State House, and Copp's Hill cemetery, there is the old Granary Burying-ground to be visited, where the bodies of some of the most noted residents of old colonial Boston are buried. Not least among these is the one especially pointed out by the caretaker, which lies under a modest limestone slab of about four feet high, surrounded and supported by a wooden frame to prevent it from crumbling entirely away, the grave of the namesake and friend for all times of every little child, the happy songstress of happy songstresses, the much beloved and discussed Mother Goose.
       According to old records now extant both in Suffolk County, England, as well as in Boston, the family original name was not Goose but Vergoose or Vertigoose. In those early days before the beginning of the eighteenth century, people were very careless both about keeping records and about the spelling of their names. Many did not know how to spell, while those who did know, generally did not care; as long as the spelling indicated the right person that was all that was necessary. So we find the family name spelled Vergoose, as from the Anglo-Saxon, or Vertigoose, from the Norman French, which means green goose, a goose under four months old.
       Also on both sides of the ocean, we find from the records as early as the first half of the seventeenth century, that the family was well-to-do, and lived on Newbury Street in Boston. In 1690, the wife of Isaac Vergoose died and left him with ten children. Within two years he was married again to Elizabeth Foster, who, some writers tell us, was the future Mother Goose.
       Later Elizabeth Foster became the mother of six more children. Some authors aver that it was because of this fact that we are indebted for the rhyme of

"There was an old woman who lived in a shoe,
Who had so many children she didn't know what to do."

       In the historic town hall of Boston are many of the old city registers. In one of these is to be found the record of the wedding, performed by the celebrated Cotton Mather, of "Thomas Fleet of Shopshire, a suburb of London, now residing in Pudding Lane of this city" and Elizabeth Goose, daughter of Elizabeth Vergoose --widow of the deceased Isaac Vertigoose. The writer before referred to goes on to tell us that because of the constant chanting of rhymes to her grandchildren, the bustling old lady became very irritating to Thomas Fleet, who was a "man fond of quiet. " At first he endeavored to laugh her down, quizzing the melodies in order to put a quietus on the pester. As this had no effect, like others of our thrifty ancestors, the pensive man decided to coin money from a resource so near at hand, so he took down these verses as they were recited and in 1719 published a book called Songs for the Nursery, or Mother Goose. The songs were sold from the Pudding Lane shop for two coppers apiece.
       In 1833 "Reliable life of the Goose family, never before published" printed in Boston, reiterated that the first edition of Mother Goose's Melodies was published in 1719, by Thomas Fleet in Pudding Lane, Boston ; that the title was an ebullition of spite against his mother-in-law. This story was again renewed in i860 by Fleet's great-grandson, when he affirmed that a friend, Edward L. Crown in shield, had seen mutilated pieces of a copy of the 1719 edition in the Boston Library.
       A thorough search for this book has been made time and time again by the Boston Historical Society and by interested individuals, not only in all the Boston libraries, but in many other private collections; they have failed to bring to light this supposed copy and no record of it appears on any catalogue. Upon searching the reprints made in 1890, of the Prefaces, Proverbs, and Poems as contained in Poor Richard's Almanac by Benjamin Franklin, we find nothing that suggests a single one of these melodies nor any of the characters therein. Yet surely Franklin would have had a copy if any one did, had the book been in print. Bibliomaniacs have explored every clue and have failed to find trace of even the mutilated copy. It is very doubtful whether in 1719 a book of trivial rhymes would have been allowed to be published. At that date the little children were given the Bible to read.
       What we do find on authentic authority is that in 1697, in Paris, Charles Perrault published Conies du Terns' Passe, on the frontispiece of which is an old woman spinning and telling tales to a man, a girl, a boy, and a cat. On a placard near by is written "Contes de ma Mere l'Oye."
       Later in 1729, in London, a man by the name of Robert Sambers edited a translation of this book issued by J. Rivington. In 1795 the seventh edition of it was printed by J. Rivington, bookseller and stationer, No. 56 Pearl Street. The English version was printed on one side and the French on the opposite page. Copies of both of these books are in London Libraries to-day. This same Robert Sambers is recorded in Allibone as having translated a work of the same sort from the French in 17 19, but no copy of this volume exists. It may be, however, that this idea of the Fleet edition sprang from one of these copies, or still more likely from an edition of Daniel Henchman, the well known publisher and bookseller, which is now among the Hancock papers in the Library of the New England Historic Geneological Society. Among other items will be found "July 13, 1719, Thomas Fleet credited by printing one hundred primers--£250."
       In 1 719 Henchman issued a pamphlet or sheet called Verses for Children. Fleet was engaged in printing the primer for Henchman. Some of these copies are extant. If Fleet had printed any copies for himself it is probable that they would still exist also, but none have been found. In fact, there is evidence that Fleet did not live on Pudding Street until 1731.
       The French edition of 1697 was dedicated to Comtesse de Murat and the English of 1729 to the Right Honorable, the Lady Mary Montagu, daughter of John, Duke of Montagu. The tales such as Little Red Riding-Hood, The Fairy (the sisters who dropped diamonds and toads from their mouths), Blue Beard, the Sleeping Beauty, Puss-in-Boots, Cinderella, Requet with the Tuft, and Little Thumb; eight in all--were in the 1697 edition.
"When the pie was opened, the birds began to sing."
       As to the Melodies, John Newberry, the famous publisher of St. Paul's Church Yard in London, whose life has been most interestingly told by Charles Welsh in London, 1885, was the first English printer to preface story books for children. We find that in 1 765 he published Little-Goody-Two-Shoes, a story generally ascribed to Oliver Goldsmith, who was a constant writer for Newbery.
       In Welsh's Life of Goldsmith, volume II, pp. 71. he writes that "Miss Hawkins says, 'I little thought that I should have to boast that Mr. Goldsmith taught me Jack and Jill by two bits of paper on his fingers.' " If one reads on a bit further in the same volume, he will find that on January 29, 1768, after the production of the Good Natured Man, Mr. Goldsmith went to dine with a friend. "To impress them more forcibly of his magnanimity, he sang lustily for them his favorite song about an old woman tossed in a blanket seventeen times as high as the moon, and was altogether very loud and noisy."
       In 1842, James O'Halliwell, the great Shakespearian authority, made a careful study of the nursery rhymes of England, collected principally from oral tradition. He writes that, "these traditional nonsense scraps have come down in England to us in such numbers that in the short space of three years, he had collected considerably more than a thousand. "
       Now then, if Thomas Fleet did not collect and publish these rhymes in 1719, how did they come to America? Soon after the Revolution, in 1787, Isaiah Thomas who had married one of the granddaughters of Fleet, took up the business of publishing children's books and copied many of the Newbery prints, as well as the Nursery Rhymes. A very beautiful copy is to be found in the Boston Library to-day. It is dated, Worcester, Massachusetts, 1787. This book is page for page a duplication from the Newbery edition. The cuts are reproduced, but are a good imitation of the original. Toward the end of the book they vary slightly as if the copier was tired of his work and wished to finish in the quickest manner possible. If there had been in existence a 1719 edition at that time, undoubtedly Thomas would have copied his grandfather's book, or at least mentioned it, rather than the one from England, against which land such a strong feeling still existed. Upon comparing the two volumes, we find that Thomas slightly altered the publisher's notes also.
       So until more is known of the bibliography of the "1719 edition," I fear that we must accept the following as the facts: that Mother Goose originated in France between 1650 and 1697, was translated into English by Robert Sambers in 1729, and did not reach America until 1785 when Isaiah Thomas gave us a reproduction of Newberry. As the different editions of Newberry have been added to and changed, so has the Thomas edition. Until to-day we have many different versions of the same, including some very modern rhymes that have absolutely nothing to do with the original American volume of Isaiah Thomas, which must be acceded to be the first American publication of Mother Goose. Lawrence Elmendorf.  

No comments:

Post a Comment