Little Jack Horner
DESCRIPTION: "Little Jack Horner Sat in a corner Eating of Christmas pie. He put in his thumb And pulled out a plum, And said, What a good boy am I."
EARLIEST DATE: 1725 (Carey's Namby Pamby, according to Opie/Opie-OxfordDictionaryOfNurseryRhymes)
FOUND IN: Britain(Scotland(Aber)) US(MW)
REFERENCES (7 citations):
Greig/Duncan8 1682, "Little Jack Horner" (1 text, 1 tune)
McIntosh-FolkSongsAndSingingGamesofIllinoisOzarks, pp. 106-107, "(Little Jack Horner)" (1 short text, quite different from the common one)
Opie/Opie-OxfordDictionaryOfNurseryRhymes 262, "Little Jack Horner" (1 text plus several perhaps-related fragments; also the cover of a chapbook print on a plate facing p. 234)
Baring-Gould-AnnotatedMotherGoose #50, p. 61, "(Little Jack Horner)"
Jack-PopGoesTheWeasel, p. 106, "Little Jack Horner" (1 text)
Dolby-OrangesAndLemons, p. 76, "Little Jack Horner" (1 text)
cf. DT, MERRYLND
cf. "Get Hold of This (When There Isn't a Girl About)" (lyrics)
NOTES [376 words]: This is probably only a nursery *rhyme*, and not a nursery *song*, and so properly does not belong in the Index. But Tony and Irene Saletan recorded it as part of their version of "Hail to Britannia" (which includes many nursery rhymes), so it does have a musical tradition of sorts. I also seem to recall a second tune for the second part of the verse. I include it, very tentatively, on that basis.
If one believes that all nursery rhymes have political contexts, this obviously has to do with political or ecclesiastical corruption. The quasi-official version of the story, according to the Baring-Goulds, is that the real Jack Horner was Thomas Horner of Glastonbury, who at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries managed to sneak several deeds to Henry VIII (allegedly in a piecrust), and managed to extract one for himself.
The Opies, for once, do not reject this out of hand, but give it detailed analysis (which I would boil down to, "We can't prove it wrong, but there is no real reason to think it true either"). They do admit that the story did not become attached to the poem until the nineteenth century.
There is a good bit of detail on this on pp. 49-56 of Thomas -- one of the few instances of her citing something reasonable. (Note, however, that the statement that Henry VIII became head of his own church in 1594 is blatantly wrong -- Henry was 47 years dead by then! The Act of Supremacy was passed in 1534.) The Opies also have substantial details.
Carey's Namby Pamby, the source cited by the Opies, has itself some interesting references; according to Partridge, "Namby Pamby" was a name used by Carey, Swift, and Pope for the poetaster Ambrose Philips. According to Benet (entry on Ambrose Philips), it was Carey who first bestowed the name on Phillps (a friend of Addison and of Steele, who died 1749) due to Phillips's "eminence in infantile style."
As with his earlier near-contemporary John Fell (of "I do not love you, Doctor Fell" fame), Philips seems to be remembered only for the quip at his expense. In the case of Fell, that was unfair; he did genuinely useful work. But Philips's most popular poem seems to have been "To Miss Charlotte Pulteney in Her Mother's Arms," which is probably a clue to his work.... - RBW
Last updated in version 6.2
- Benet: William Rose Benet, editor, The Reader's Encyclopdedia, first edition, 1948 (I use the four-volume Crowell edition but usually check it against the single volume fourth edition edited by Bruce Murphy and published 1996 by Harper-Collins)
- Partridge: Eric Partridge, A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (combined fifth edition with dictionary and supplement), Macmillan, 1961
- Thomas: Katherine Elwes Thomas, The Real Personages of Mother Goose, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co., 1930
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