[Illustration: INTRODUCTION]

It is a good many years since Peacock, in one of those curiously
ill-tempered and not particularly happy attacks on the Lake poets, with
which he chose to diversify his earlier novels, conceived, as an
ornament of "Mainchance Villa," a grand ...
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[Illustration: INTRODUCTION]

It is a good many years since Peacock, in one of those curiously
ill-tempered and not particularly happy attacks on the Lake poets, with
which he chose to diversify his earlier novels, conceived, as an
ornament of "Mainchance Villa," a grand allegorical picture, depicting
the most famous characters of English Nursery Tales, Rhymes,
&c.--Margery Daw, Jack and Jill, the other Jack who built the House, the
chief figures of "that sublime strain of immortal genius" called
_Dickory Dock_, and the third Jack, Horner, eating a symbolic Christmas
pie. At the date of _Melincourt_, in which this occurs, its even then
admirable author was apt to shoot his arrows rather at a venture; and it
may be hoped, without too much rashness, that he did not mean to speak
disrespectfully of the "sublime strain of immortal genius" itself, but
only of what he thought Wordsworth's corrupt following of that and
similar things.

Nevertheless, if he had lived a little longer, or if (for he lived quite
long enough) he had been in the mind for such game, he might have found
fresh varieties of it in certain more modern handlings of the same
subject. Since the Brothers Grimm founded modern folklore, it has
required considerable courage to approach nursery songs and nursery
tales in any but a spirit of the severest "scientism," which I presume
to be the proper form for the method of those who call themselves
"scientists." We have not only had investigations--some of them by no
means unfruitful or uninteresting investigations--into certain things
which are, or may be, the originals of these artless compositions in
history or in popular manners. We have not only had some of their queer
verbal jingles twisted back again into what may have been an articulate
and authentic meaning. I do not know that many of them have been made
out to be sun-myths; but that yesterday popular, to-day rather
discredited, system of exposition is very evidently as applicable to
them as to anything else. The older variety of mystical and moral
interpretation having gone out of fashion before they had emerged from
the contempt of the learned, it has not been much applied to them,
though the temptation is great, for, as King Charles observes in
"Woodstock," most things in the world remind one of the tales of Mother

But the most special attentions that nursery rhymes have received have,
perhaps, taken the form of the elaborate and ingenious divisions
attempted by Halliwell and others. Indeed, something of the kind has
been so common that the absence here of anything similar may excite some
surprise, and look like disrespect to a scientific age. The omission,
however, is designed, and a reason or two may be rendered for it.
Halliwell (to take the most generally known instance) has no less than
seventeen compartments in which he stows remorselessly these "things
that are old and pretty," to apply to them a phrase that Lamb loved.
There are, it seems, historical nursery rhymes, literal nursery rhymes;
nursery rhymes narrative, proverbial, scholastic, lyrical, riddlesome;
rhymes dealing with charms, with gaffers and gammers, with games, with
paradoxes, with lullabies, with jingles, with love and matrimony, with
natural (I wish he had called it unnatural) history, with accumulative
stories, with localities, with relics. It may be permitted to cry "Mercy
on us," when one thinks of the poor little wildings, so full of nature
and, if not ignorant of art, of an art so cunningly concealed, being
subjected to the trimmings and torturings of the _Ars Topiaria_ after
this fashion. The division is clearly arbitrary and non-natural; it is
often what logicians very properly object to as a "cross"-division; it
leads to the inclusion of many things which are not properly nursery
rhymes at all; and it necessitates, or at least gives occasion to, a
vast amount of idle talk. For instance, take King Arthur, this way, that
way, which way you please: as a hero of history, as a great central
figure of romance, or even (I grieve to say a learned friend of mine is
wont to speak of him so) as a "West-Welsh thief." Are we called upon in
the very slightest degree to connect any of these Arthurs with the
artist of the bag-pudding? to discuss what was the material that Queen
Guinevere preferred for frying, and to select the most probable
"noblemen" from the Table Round? Does anybody, except as a rather
ponderous joke, care to discuss whether King Cole was really father of
Constantine's mother, and had anything to do with Colchester?
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Product Details

  • BN ID: 2940013618183
  • Publisher: SAP
  • Publication date: 7/21/2011
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • File size: 75 KB

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