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A History of Nursery Rhymes by Percy B. Green

The longer thou livest more fool thou art


"Quoth John to Joan, Wilt thou have me? I prithee, now wilt? and I'se marry with thee My cow, my calf, my house, my rents, And all my land and tenements-- Oh, say, my Joan, will that not do? I cannot come each day to woo. I've corn and hay in the barn hard by, And three fat hogs pent up in a sty; I have a mare, and she's coal black; I ride on her tail to save her back. I have cheese upon the shelf, And I cannot eat it all myself. I've three good marks that lie in a rag In the nook of the chimney instead of a bag."

The London surgeon-barber's boy pleased his master's patrons with a whole host of similar extravagances, but he was not alone in the habit, for so usual was it for the poorest of the poor to indulge in mirth, that literary men of the day wrote against the practice.

In a black-letter book--a copy of which is in the British Museum, date 1560--and entitled, "The longer thou livest more fool thou art," W. Wager, the author, says in the prologue--

"Good parents in good manners do instruct their child, Correcting him when he beginneth to grow wild."

The subject matter of this book also gives a fair view of the customs and habits of the boys of that age. In the character of Moros, a youth enters the stage, "counterfeiting a vain gesture and foolish countenance, singing the 'foote'

or burden of many songs, as fools are wont."

Amongst the many rhymes enumerated by Moros, which he claims were taught to him by his mother, occur: "Broome on the hill," "Robin lend me thy bow," "There was a maid came out of Kent," "Dainty love, dainty love," "Come o'er the bourne, Bessie," and

"Tom a Lin, and his wife and his wife's mother, They all went over the bridge together; The bridge was broken and they fell in, 'The devil go with all,' quoth Tom a Lin."

Another version, more particularly the Irish one, runs--

"Bryan O'Lynn, and his wife and wife's mother, All went over the bridge together; The bridge was loose, they all fell in, 'What a precious concern,' cried Bryan O'Lynn.

"Bryan O'Lynn had no breeches to wear, So he got a sheep's skin to make him a pair."

This rhyme is evidently much older than the Tudor age, and one is reminded of the time when cloth and woollen goods were not much used by the lower classes. The Tzigane of Hungary to-day wears his sheep-skin breeches, and hands them down to posterity, with a plentiful supply of quick-silver and grease to keep them soft and clean. "Bye baby bunting" and the little "hare skin" is the other nursery rhyme having a reference to skins of animals being used for clothing. But "Baby bunting" has no purpose to point to, unless indeed the habits of the Esquimaux are taken in account. In the list of nursery songs sung by children in Elizabeth's reign, the following extract from "The longer thou livest the more foole thou art" gives four:--

"I have twentie mo songs yet, A fond woman to my mother; As I war wont in her lappe to sit, She taught me these and many other.


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