Page:Primitive Culture Vol 1.djvu/105

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.

was written to convey a mystic meaning. If so, then it follows that our familiar nursery tale of the old woman who couldn't get her kid (or pig) over the stile, and wouldn't get home till midnight, must be considered a broken-down adaptation of this old Jewish poem. The other composition is a counting-poem, and begins thus:

'Who knoweth one? I (saith Israel) know One: One is God, who is over heaven and earth. Who knoweth two? I (saith Israel) know two: Two tables of the covenant ; but One is our God who is over the heavens and the earth.'

(And so forth, accumulating up to the last verse, which is —)

'Who knoweth thirteen? I (saith Israel) know thirteen: Thirteen divine attributes, twelve tribes, eleven stars, ten com- mandments, nine months preceding childbirth, eight days pre- ceding circumcision, seven days of the week, six books of the Mishnah, five books of the Law, four matrons, three patriarchs, two tables of the covenant; but One is our God who is over the heavens and the earth.'

This is is one of a family of counting-poems, apparently held in much favour in mediæval Christian times, for they are not yet quite forgotten in country places. An old Latin version runs: 'Unus est Deus,' &c., and one of the still-surviving English forms begins, 'One's One all alone, and evermore shall be so,' thence reckoning on as far as 'Twelve the twelve apostles.' Here both the Jewish and Christian forms are or have been serious, so it is possible that the Jew may have imitated the Christian, but the nobler form of the Hebrew poem here again gives it a claim to be thought the earlier.[1]

The old proverbs brought down by long inheritance into our modern talk are far from being insignificant in themselves, for their wit is often as fresh, and their wisdom as

1 Mendes, 'Service for the First Nights of Passover,' London, 1862 (in Jewish interpretation the word shunra, — 'cat,' is compared with shinâr). Halliwell, 'Nursery Rhymes,' p. 288; 'Popular Rhymes,' p. 6.

  1. 1