The History of Nursery Rhymes Part Two

A step back in time

Part Two

The oldest songs for children, of which any records can be found, are lullabies. These are songs meant to help children sleep. They have been discovered in every culture on earth. The term “lullaby” in English is derived from a combination of three popular sounds Humpty Dumpty Nursery Rhymeused by nurses and mothers to calm their children: “lu”, “la”, and “bye”. Original lullabies were recorded in written sources incidentally. The oldest to ever be found in written text is the lullaby used by Roman nurses, which was recorded in a scholium on Persuis. It goes as follows: “lalla, lalla, lalla, aut dormi, aut lacta”.

If you examine medieval English lullabies, the text is often associated with the birth of Jesus. Contemporary lullabies have text such as “lullay, my liking, my dere son, my sweting”. Today, many of the lullabies used come from the 17th century. Songs such as “Rock-a-bye, baby on a tree top” is not found in written records until it was printed in 1765 by John Newbery.

In the 13th century, a French poem was recorded which taught the numbered days of the week to children. It was similar to the poem “thirty days hath September”. In the Middle Ages, some records were kept of short rhyming songs for children which were considered marginalia. During the middle of the 16th century, these poems and songs were recorded as plays in England. Many of the popular nursery rhymes we use today were not even written down until the end of the 18th century, when a mass movement of publishing children’s book grew. Of course, this is not to say that nursery rhymes did not exist before then, as there is some evidence that certain rhymes existed around the 16th century.

There were two English Collections published before 1744 which contained songs that were soon after referred to as “Tommy Thumb’s Songs”. The first book was titled “Tommy Thumb’s Song Book” and the sequel was published with the title “Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book”. It was in 1765 that John Newbery compiled English rhymes such as Sonnets for the Cradle or Mother Goose’s Melody. This book is the first written record of many of the traditional rhymes used today. The rhymes seem to originate from a myriad of sources including historical events, pagan rituals, ballads, proverbs, drinking songs, riddles, and Mummers’ plays. Nearly half of the rhymes which today are regarded as “traditional” English rhymes were not actually known until the middle of the 18th century.

By the 19th century, collections of these rhymes spread around the world, particularly to the United States. During this time, the origin of newer rhymes is well known. Some of the earliest folk cong collectors at the time also collected nursery rhymes. Since then many publications on the matter have made their way to press including The Nursery Rhymes of England which was publish in 1842, as well as Popular Rhymes and Tales which was published in 1849, and A Book of Nursery Songs which was published in 1895.


Enjoy Lavenders Blue Nursery Rhyme

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