Christina Rossetti’s “Nursery Rhymes”

This week we’ve paid tribute to poets of the rude and rumbustious and the sly and snide  but we’ll mark the end of Children’s Book Week with the quiet, deceptively simple verse of Christina Rossetti.  Her Sing-Song is perhaps the greatest tribute any writer has paid to the English nursery rhyme.  Almost every type of traditional children’s verse Iona and Peter Opie catalogued in the Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes has its counterpart in Sing-Song, but delicately transformed into something entirely original, accompanied by Arthur Hughs’ tender, sharply observed illustrations.

She makes rhymes for mothers to love their little ones:

My baby has a mottled fist;

My baby has a neck in creases;

My baby kisses and is kissed

For he’s the very thing for kisses.

She gives a mother words when cuddles are not in order– for a little while:

Seldom “can’t,”

Seldom “don’t;”

Never “shan’t,”

Never ‘won’t.”

She introduces the rigorous mysteries  of nonsense:

A city plum is not a plum;

A dumb-bell is no bell, though dumb;

A statesman’s rat is not a rat;

A sailor’s cat is not a cat;

A soldier’s frog is not a frog;

A captain’s log is not a log.

She reminds little rough hands to be gentle:

Hurt no living thing,

Ladybird, nor butterfly,

Nor moth with dusty wing,

Nor cricket chirping cheerily,

Nor grasshopper so light of leap,

Nor dancing gnat, nor beetle fat,

Nor harmless worms that creep.

Hear what the poem sounds like read aloud.

She glories in the colors:

What is pink? a rose is pink

By the fountain’s brink.

What is red? a poppy’s red

In its barley bed.

What is blue? the sky is blue

Where the clouds float thro’.

What is white? a swan is white

Sailing in the light.

What is yellow? pears are yellow,

Rich and ripe and mellow.

Wnat is green? the grass is green,

With small flowers between.

What is violet? clouds are violet

In the summer twilight.

What is orange? why an orange,

Just an orange!

And closing with the poem  set to music and sung.

Make Your Paper Dolls Parisian Easter Bonnets

La recreation des demoiselles. Paris: H. Jannin for H. Rousseau, ca. 1852. Cotsen Toys unprocessed 6186008.

Is there anything as stylish as a French doll?  Cotsen has a very elegant kit from mid-nineteenth-century Paris for making paper dolls and wardrobes of undergarments, dresses, hats, and coats.  Above is the box lid and the designer of the pictorial title label has, of course, shown Maman and her two daughters absorbed in the activity of making paper dolls from this very object.     Here is the inside of the box.

The large center compartment holds different kinds of colored papers.  Finished hats are in the upper right hand corner and bits of tinseled ribbon in the upper left.  Dolls are in the rectangular compartments on the sides.  Because of all the evidence that the kit was used, it is probably missing original materials that the publisher included.  Perhaps new colored papers were supplied as the little girls consumed the nicest ones dressing the dolls.




Simple patterns were printed on this sheet above the lithographed text.  The  only skills required were cutting along the outlines, including the circle for the doll’s neck, and folding in half at the shoulders.



Not so!   This sheet shows that the little girls were expected to transfer the outline of the pattern onto the fabric with pin pricks, which is much more economical than cutting them out and throwing them away.  This way patterns can be used over and over again.

Three dolls modelling white dresses, perhaps underclothes.The shift for the youngest girl (number 3) is completely without any decoration, while the knee-length one (number 2) has trim on the hem of the sleeves and the neckline.  The garment with the elbow flounces hovering just above the tops of number 3’s boots might be a dress.

Wrong again!  The doll in the lower right hand corner is clearly wearing number 3  with all the lace trim under her blue skirt and white jacket with something that looks like a peplum.  the jacket is number 3 on the sheet of pricked patterns. The doll above her has garments created from textured papers in pink and green.  The doll to the left is dressed in active wear, suitable for rolling her hoop.

Some unfinished finery underneath the paper samples in the central compartment.

Big brother inspects the ladies’ handiwork and seems to find the results attractive. His approval of their good taste selecting silhouettes, combinations of colors, and “fabrics” is probably critical, as they are playing at living, learning how to make themselves attractive to future suitors!

This kit is another example of the fine lithography of the H. Jannin firm, which has been highlighted in a post on Noah’s ark toys and a jigsaw puzzle  of fashionable fruits and vegetables in Cotsen.  Jannin also made fans and panoramas, and, of course, illustrated books of all kinds for children.