A Book of Nursery Rhymes/Preface
THE direct simplicity, dramatic imagination, and spontaneous humor of the rhymes and jingles of Mother Goose will probably never be excelled by any modern verse. They will for the most part doubtless remain for all time "the light literature of the infant scholar." Although some fragments of what has been written since the collection was first made may go to swell the volume of this inheritance from past ages, the selection of any permanent additions will be made finally by the mother and the child. The choice will be by no means a haphazard one, for it will be founded on psychological principles, on basal elements of human character, and it will, for the very same cause, be an absolutely autocratic choice.
Experience proved these old rhymes and jingles to be the best fitted for the awakening intelligence of the child. the "sound sense," to which many of them appeal, satisfies that instinctive feeling for rhythm which children, even before they learn to speak, manifest in their tendency to duplicate syllables, which is so marked in what may be described as the "goo-goo" and "ga-ga" stage of speech development.
Mother Goose has for generations furnished a rich storehouse from which mothers have gratified the baby sense for "time-sound," or rhythm. This, combined with the appeal to the imagination, evoking the sense of wonder all along the plane of the baby mind, accounts for the abiding place which these rhymes and jingles have in the literature of the nursery.
The present collection of the best known and most popular of these old-time favorites rests its claim for a place in the home and the school on the fact that here for the first time an attempt is made to group them in a natural and logical order. When they were originally collected by Newbery about 1765, they were not grouped at all, and it was not until Halliwell published his much larger collection in 1842 that any steps were taken towards arrangement. The classification of Halliwell, however, was made from the point of view of the student of folklore, and not from that of the needs of the child.
Now, however, that they have been promoted from the nursery to the school-room, some scheme of grouping them which may prove helpful alike to mother, nurse, kindergartner, and teacher would seem to be desirable. The French, justifying their proverb, "Ce qui n'est pas logique, n est pas français," have for many years arranged their collections of children's rhymes and games in a kind of psychological sequence, following to some extent the mental development of the child. The Germans, too, with their love of orderly classification and arrangement, have done the same thing with much more minuteness, in which they have been followed by the folk of Holland; but our popular editions of English Nursery rhymes have for the most part been thrown together without any attempt at orderly or intelligent classification. They have been presented in the form of an olla podrida, and the excellence of its ingredients has alone prevented it from being absolutely indigestible.
It will be seen from the present collection that not only do these rhymes and jingles fall naturally into the four great divisions of Mother Play, Mother Stories, Child Play, and Child Stories, but there is a logical order in which each section may be advantageously presented to the child,—an order which, by the way, the mother-instinct almost always finds out without any consciousness of following a law. The mother may generally be safely trusted to present these rhymes and jingles to the child in the natural order of the awakening of the child's interest and growing intelligence. She is not governed by the hardness of the words, the difficulty of the sentences, or any principle of grading which is attempted in school books or by school teachers. For there are certain of these rhymes and jingles which belong to certain periods of the child's progressing acquaintance with the world that lies about him from his infancy, just as certain foods and certain dress are necessary and suitable at different stages of his physical growth.
For example, the Mother-Play rhymes and jingles, which are generally accompanied by movements and gestures, and those which affect the child's own personality,—the parts of his body, etc.,—infants sensibly appreciate and enjoy before they can talk, and it is but natural that they are among the first things which they repeat as they learn to talk. And so "Pat-a-cake" and "This Little Pig went to Market" are acted, and lullabies are crooned at this stage. After this personal interest children may become occupied with animals and their doings, first in relation to themselves and then independently, and they will delight in "Ding Dong Bell," "Three Little Kittens," "I love Little Pussy," etc. Then, or at about the same time, they begin to take cognizance of the flight of time; and days and nights, months and years, sun, moon, and stars, the weather, etc., form appropriately the subject of the rhymes repeated to them. Other children and grown-up people in their relation to the child now begin to attract the awakening attention, and "Jack and Jill" and "Tom Tucker" will have a message for the little ones. Then plays, games, riddles, counting out rhymes, etc., come in natural order; and with his wider experience the child will appreciate the didactic rhymes, the rhyming alphabets, and the like, and will begin to store his memory with the proverbs, riddles, paradoxes, etc. Following out this idea, - proceeding from the simple to the complex, and keeping pace so far as may be with the order and progress of the mental development of the average child,- the rhymes and jingles have been classified and arranged in this volume, after considerable experiment and study, and conference with some of the foremost students of child psychology. The order may be found to vary sometimes according to the environment of particular children, but it is believed that it will be found to be, broadly speaking, the logical and natural order.
Such a book will, it is hoped, be welcomed in the nursery, in the kindergarten, and in the school room; for, without any attempt at a cast-iron grading,- which of course is impossible, -it relieves those who have the care of the little ones from the trouble of seeking for them the different kinds of material in the order in which they are ready for it. Some slight attempt has been made, however,— though this is not insisted upon, nor has it been carried very far,— to arrange the rhymes and jingles in each section so as to follow the child's growing intellectual powers by beginning each division with the more simple and concrete rhymes, jingles, and stories, and gradually advancing to those which contain more complex and abstract ideas.