P R E F A C E.|
THE first edition of this work was printed at the close of the year 1841, with a view only to a limited circulation among the members of the PERCY SOCIETY ; but a demand for it, somewhat unusual when it is considered that its appearance was never advertised to the public, has occasioned the present edition, in which it is believed considerable improvements as well as additions will be found.
It has been the Editor's principal object to form as genuine a collection of the old vernacular rhymes of the English nursery as he possibly could, without admitting any very modern compositions, at least none belonging to the present century. It may, perhaps, be difficult to prove the antiquity of all of them—in fact / p.viii / very few can be traced back even as far as the sixteenth century; but there is a peculiar style in most of the ancient ones that could not very well be imitated without detection by a practised ear.
Many of the most popular nursery rhymes are merely fragments of old ballads, and some of my readers will probably detect more plagiarisms of this kind than I have yet been enabled to discover. The subject is a truly curious one, and it would perhaps occasion some difficulty to the most ingenious theorist to form a conjecture, that would account for the universal dissemination of these strange scraps, and their tradition through several centuries.
An ingenious writer has lately endeavoured to find the "originals" of our nursery rhymes in the ancient German language, and if the odd similarities produced by him in aid of his theory had been discovered instead of invented, it would have formed an interesting subject for antiquarian investigation. But as it is, I am afraid Mr. Ker will rarely receive thanks for treating so barbarously our dear old nænia ; certainly not from the humble Editor, and those who with him regard with no very favorable eyes the attempts that have been made / p.ix / by Mrs. Child, and other American writers, to substitute popular science in that place in the education of infants, which these truly English compositions have so long occupied. I cannot help thinking that harmless and euphonious nonsense may reasonably be considered a more useful instrument in the hands of children than that overstraining of the intellect in very early age, which must unavoidably be the result of a more refined system.
If the indulgence of the public should be so far extended to my efforts in this very humble walk of literature, as to enable me at some future period to attempt a more complete collection, I shall hope to render the classification less open to criticism than it is at present. The difficulties of doing so in many cases must be my apology; and it is evident that the correct nomenclature cannot always be obtained.
Should my readers remember any nursery rhymes not inserted in this volume, or any different versions of those here printed, and confer the great favour of communicating them to me,*
* Directed to me, care of Mr. J. R. Smith, 4, Old Compton Street, Soho Square, London.
they will be duly and thankfully / p.x / acknowledged. On a former occasion I had to acknowledge my obligations to Sir E. F. BROMHEAD, Bart., and WILLIAM HENRY BLACK, Esq. I have now to add my best thanks to R. S. SHARPE, Esq., WILLIAM CHAPPELL, Esq., and E. F. RIMBAULT, Esq., for a few interesting contributions.
J. O. HALLIWELL
I., O.; Oct. 31st, 1842.