The “Plays” of 17th-Century Boys Recorded in Francis Willughby’s Book of Games

Francis Willughby (1635-1672), the gentleman naturalist and member of the Royal Society, left a manuscript about games, sports, and pastimes among his papers when he died at age 36 (University of Nottingham NUL Mi LM 14).  The unfinished work was intended for his fellow scientists rather than gamblers, even though much of the contents were devoted to games of chance.   Possibly the first taxonomy of its kind, the Book of Games lay largely neglected until the modern edition prepared by David Cram, Jeffrey L. Forgeng and Dorothy Johnston was published by Ashgate in 2003.

The section on “Children’s Plays” shows what a comprehensive view of the subject Willughby had at a time when children’s culture and folklore was beneath the contempt of a man of science.  The description of the game “Hide & Seeke” preserves a wonderful verse for  “it” to yell before rushing out to discover his playmates’ hiding places.  It is an improvement over the more prosaic modern formula, “Ready or not, here I come,” which doesn’t even rhyme.

One stands at a gaole or barre, hoodwinked [i.e. eyes covered by a piece of cloth] & is to count aloud so manie, as 100, 40 &c., all the while the rest hide themselves.  When he has done counting he saies:

                A Dish Full of Pins to Prick my Shins,

                A Loafe of Bread to Breake my Head,

                Bo Peep I come.

If they get all to the barre, he winkes againe, but if he catch one, he that is catched must wink.

This is the “running-home” variation of the game, described on page 154 of the Opies’ Lore and Language of Schoolchildren (1959) in which hiders can try dashing back to the starting place without being caught.  Neither Willughby or the Opies specify that if the successful hider makes it home, he should yell a rhyme telling the rest of the hiders that they can show themselves and signaling another round of the game.   Americans from different regions of the country are accustomed to calling out “Olly, olly, oxen, free, free, free.”

“Drolery or for the Exercising the Wit & Making Sport” is a selection of word games, which were a more important category of amusements than now.   Beyond an agile brain, they require no equipment or dedicated ground.  They are ideal for passing the time hanging out wherever.    A relatively easy game called “Riming” takes two people, who take turns calling out a word which the other must match with another that rhymes.

A: Able.  B: Stable. A: Fable. B: Cable, &c.

Apparently a rhyming couplet could be supplied, as in this example where A tries to stump B with a polysyllabic word, “porringer” or a dish for holding porridge.

Mr Booker was put to rime to Porringer, who presently answered

                The King had a Daughter & hee Gave the Prince of Orange her.

The subjects were Mary II and William III of England. An excellent example of a groaner from the 1600s that has been preserved in a modern nursery rhyme site

 

An unnamed juvenile informant, who wrote out five pages in the manuscript, recording the rules of this game of one-upmanship

“Selling of Bargaines” is when one askes the other a question who answers him simply and pertinently, thinking hee meant honestly.  The first replys againe & catching hold of his answer Sels him a Bargaine.  A wishes he had as manie dogs as there are stares.  B asks what hee would doe with them.  A replys, Hold up their Teales while you Kiss their Arses….

When B can sel A another bargaine, A saies, A Bargaine Bought &^ a Bargain Sold, A Turd in your Mouthe a Twelmonth old.,

When B prevents A & gets his bargaine before him, A saies, You say my Word, you may Eat a Dogs Turd,

They strive to sel one another most bargaines as they doe in aping verses who shall capt his antagonist.

A askes B if he can say, A Long Pole over a Gutter.  If B repeat the words, A saies,  A short Turd to your Supper….

A bids B repeat Oxe Ball so manie times in a breath.  B. repeating fast saies, Ballox.

The juvenile informant comments at the end that “All bargaines are either obscene or nastie.”

A good example of the “self-incrimination trap,” in which one person asks another a trick question that sets up a smutty retort, “Selling of Bargains” seems a logical addition to the chapter on “Guile” in the Opies’ Lore and Language –or somewhere else in their corpus on children’s culture and games.   The Opies may have decided that it was not an authentic children’s game because “selling bargains” was a synonym for low prurient humor in the early eighteenth century.  In Peri Bathos (1735) co-authors Dr. Arbuthnot, Jonathan Swift, and Alexander Pope averred that elegant ladies were not ashamed to sell bargains (i.e. talk dirty) in polite drawing rooms or in court.   The juvenile informant and Willughby clearly thought otherwise.

While not exactly innocent, these few survivals are precious in their way.  Willughby deserves wider credit for being ahead of his time as a collector of children’s oral culture—nearly forty years ahead of John Aubrey, whose unfinished manuscript The Remains of Gentilism and Judaism (British Museum Landsdowne MSS 231) is among the most important early antiquarian sources for beliefs, customs, and stories of the common people.

Curator’s Choice: Songs for the Nursery Illustrated by William Marshall Craig

The third plate illustrating one of the less familiar rhymes in Songs for the Nursery (1808).

Peter and Iona Opie considered the Songs for the Nursery (London: Benjamin Tabart, 1805) the fourth of the foundational nursery rhyme anthologies published between 1744 and 1805.  By 1817, Songs was something of a classic.  The anonymous compiler of the Juvenile Review was quite disappointed that such a “foolish” book  should be so popular  when the combined power of rhyme and rhythm had been subverted to fill “the infant mind with false ideas” and encouraged credulity when obviously dishes could not run away with spoons or old women fly as high as the moon.  Her disapproval did not move the publisher to drop it however.  After Tabart closed down in 1820, Songs was kept in print by the Darton firm in Holborn Hill, then its successors Darton & Clark until the mid-1860s.  Its longevity surely recommended it as a source to James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps when he was working on Nursery Rhymes of England (1839), the first scholarly study of the traditional oral verse of childhood.

A comment in Charles Lamb’s June 2 1804 letter to Dorothy Wordsworth offers evidence that Songs was compiled by Eliza Fenwick, a aspiring novelist in the 1790s, who by the 1800s was struggling to support her family by writing children’s books and taking on  literary piece work.  Lissa Paul has suggested that Fenwick solicited examples from her literary friends and Dorothy Wordsworth obliged by sending “Arthur O’Brower” and some other “scraps.”  (There are  a handful of rhymes in Songs that did not make it into the Opies’ Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes,  but that’s a question for another time.)  It’s also very likely that the work’s subtitle “Collected from the Works of the most Renowned Poets” was a specious elevation of the old nurses who sang them, a joke that the editors of the Songs’ predecessors Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song-book (1744) and Mother Goose’s Melodies (1772) had indulged in.

Bewick’s cut for “Bah, bah, black sheep.”

Abandoning a mock-serious attitude towards the verses, which denigrated rather than validating them, may have been one reason for the Songs’ success.   The care Tabart took with the illustrations was another indication that the verse was being taken more seriously than ever before. He gave the customer the option of purchasing the 64-page pamphlet with no pictures for a shilling or with twenty-four full-page engraved illustrations for two. It was quite sumptuous pamphlet compared to Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song-book (London: George Bickham, junior, 1744) with Bickham junior’s teeny engravings printed in red and black or Mother Goose’s Melody (London: T. Carnan, 1772) adorned with the young Thomas Bewick’s small wood- engraved headpieces.

As was usual during this period, the illustrator was not identified on the title page.   Marjorie Moon, the collector/bibliographer of Tabart, did not venture to guess who might have created the charming designs.   It turns out to have been a well-known, versatile, and well-connected artist, William Marshall Craig (d.1827). The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography states that Craig was considered one of the most distinguished designers of woodblocks from 1800 until his death.  Of his style as a book illustrator, Houfe’s Dictionary of 19th Century Illustrators judged it “charming but not individual.”  Luckily, this was not always the case, as we will see.  No other reference sources mention that Craig produced children’s book illustrations, perhaps because it seemed  an unlikely way for the drawing master for Princess Charlotte, daughter of the Prince of Wales, miniature painter to the Duke and Duchess of York, and painter in watercolors to Queen Charlotte to supplement his income.

Detail from the engraved frontispiece of The Juvenile Preceptor (1800). Cotsen 5011,

Nevertheless, that is exactly what Craig did for a time.  Some of his work 1800-1806 features a highly recognizable type of child.  This detail from Craig’s  frontispiece design (signed in the lower left)  from The Juvenile Preceptor (Ludlow: George Nicholson, 1800) has an earliest example I have found. The boy in the fashionable skeleton suit reading to his mother is sturdy and chubby lad with a round face and a cap of wavy hair.

This drawing book by Craig, which I had the pleasure of seeing in the fabulous collection of Rosie and David Temperley is filled with pictures of boys who bear a family resemblance to the one in The Juvenile Preceptor.   .

From Craig’s Complete Instructor in Drawing Figures. Collection of Rosie and David Temperley, Edinburgh.

With thanks to the Hockcliffe Collection for this image.

We know that Tabart employed Craig because Marjorie Moon discovered  advertisements for Tabart’s sixpenny series, “Tales for the Nursery”,  that credited the artist with the designs for the illustrations.  Some of the plates in the early editions as well as the ones recycled in  Tabart’s Collection of Popular Stories for the Nursery, were signed with Craig’s name as the “inventor.”  In the detail of the frontispiece for the Dick Whittington  to the right, the hero holding the stripy tomcat may be wearing  a cloak and tights instead of a skeleton suit, but he has the  tell-tale bowl hair cut.

Some years ago Mr. Cotsen acquired an original pen and ink drawing for the plate of “Little Boy Blue” in Songs.    The dealer attributed by the dealer to William Marshall Craig, I was never sure if it were wishful thinking because there wasn’t a citation to a reference book or scholarly monograph on Craig.  After lining up all these other little boys in other works whose attributions to Craig are secure, there can’t be much doubt that he did Songs for the Nursery as well.  The plate for Little Jack Horner follows, for those who aren’t entirely convinced.. On the strength of this evidence, I feel pretty confident that a handful of other Tabart classics also were illustrated by Craig: Fenwick’s Life of Carlo (1804); Mince Pies for Christmas (1805); The Book of Games (1805), and  M. Pelham’s Jingles; or Original Rhymes for Children (1806), which is pictured below.  In a review of The Book of Games, Mrs. Trimmer, herself the daughter of an engraver, noted that while the quality of the engraving was not always good, it did not obscure the excellence of the designs.   Last but not least, an extra dollop of frosting on the cake.  While working on this post, I discovered that my colleague Julie Mellby, the curator of Graphic Arts, has a second drawing from Songs pasted into an album of Marshall Craig drawings she described in a 2010 post.   It’s the fifth illustration she reproduced and it is for “Cushy cow bonny.”   Could one or two more of the drawings for Songs be among the unidentfied Craig drawings in the Victoria & Albert archive?