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Pickle Me This

August 25, 2010

Notables: The Little Mother Goose

Though I collect books, I am by no means a Book Collector, because most of my books are battered paperbacks that Penguin put out in the ’70s. I do, however, have some notable exceptions in my library, which are by no means valuable or rare, but they still possess a certain kind of charm. And so these books will be the subject of a new Pickle Me This feature, which I have just entitled Notables.

The first notable is The Little Mother Goose by Jessie Wilcox Smith, and the first cool thing about this book is that it’s available in its entirety as a Project Gutenbergy eBook, whose pictures are sharper than those in my book, which is points for digitization. My book doesn’t have hyperlinks either.

My book, however, unlike the digital version, is almost ninety years old, and is inscribed (in ink that hasn’t even faded), “To Helen on her fifth birthday. from Mama.” Helen is my late-grandmother, and her mother died when she was eight years old. My mother, who is Helen’s daughter, had the book rebound, and gave it to me for Christmas two years ago when I was pregnant with Harriet.

(The power of book as object [or I suppose the power of object in general, of relic] is underlined by what I find in my great-grandmother’s letters, which I have a collection of. On a whim, I just opened it to April 16, 1923, and found this: “My dear Susie, This is Helen’s birthday and she had quite a glorious time. She started kindergarten last week but I didn’t let her go today as she had quite a cold and I thoguht maybe she was developing measles…/ Your brass jardinier came long ago. She is very fond of it and spent about a half hour polishing it today. Other gifts she received were- A pair of gloves from Daddy/ A Child’s Garden of Verses by Stevenson from Clara…/ Skipping rope from James/ The Little Mother Goose illustrated by Jessie Wilcox Smith from Mama and a hankie from little Hazel Keenan who was here for tea. I made a lovely angel cake and of course it had candles, Mother brought ice cream for a treat too. So the child had quite an exciting day altogether.”

Indeed, as Tom Stoppard wrote in Arcadia, “We shed as we pick up, like travellers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind…” Though I wonder what happened to the hankie or the jardinier. I imagine the cake was devoured…)

Anyway, I’m way off track. In addition to its beautiful illustrations, this book is full of nursery rhymes you’ve never ever heard of, and the proportional few that you have.

Like, “Pickeleem, pickleem, pummis-stone! What is the news, my beautiful one? My pet doll-baby, Frances Maria, Suddenly fainted and fell in the fire; The clock on the mantle gave the alarm,/ But all we could save was one china arm.” And that little-known second verse to Jack and Jill: “Up Jack got and home did trot, As fast as he could caper; Dame Jill had the job to plaster his knob, With vinegar and brown paper.” Um, yes.

A few rhymes referencing something called “Chop a nose day.”

And many riddles, including “A riddle, a riddle, I suppose. A hundred eyes and never a nose.” (Answer: a cinder-sifter). I probably wouldn’t have got that one.

4 thoughts on “Notables: The Little Mother Goose”

  1. Nathalie says:

    Wonderful post. Wonderful gift. (The love of cake-baking must be genetic.)

  2. Nathalie says:

    Perhaps one reason we don’t know the Pickeleem rhyme so well is that the rhyme does not translate to North American English: Ma-rye-ah and fire.

  3. Sabrina says:

    I have an original copy. Or at least the last date printed is 1918. Would anyone be interested in the copy, not sure about old prints. If you have any input I would appreciate it. Thank you and have a good day.

  4. Lovely post! Book as object indeed. I think yours “The Little Mother Goose” must have been printed subsequently to mine which is “The Jessie Wilcox Smith MOther Goose”– 1912 I think… The illustrations are so gorgeous, romantic, sentimental, sumptuous. I too love the random and non sensical rhymes– plus the bizarre “morals” .

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