Some of the allusions in the lines are pretty well evident, and in a version that used to be sung at Oxford suppers more than thirty years ago, and may sometimes still be heard in London, some of the more mystic allusions are said to be referable to Talmudic legends.
(See editorial note to Mr. Boase’s reference.)
Another version beginning “Sing all over” is given in Somerset and Dorset Notes and Queries (I. v. 213), the allusions in which are evidently intended to describe events in the life of our Lord, and vary considerably from those given above.
It is to be noted that these illustrations of forfeit rhymes or jingles are very similar in their cumulative or backward repetition or refrain to the widely known The House that Jack built, a system of games or rhymes to which we may fairly attach considerable antiquity, if we believe that the original of our old friend (in the style of the well-known Old Woman and her Pig) is to be found in the Chaldean language, and that another of the same is in existence in a Hebrew MS.
Chief amongst the dramatic games of Dorset lads was the spirited play in which the “mummers” or “guisers” indulged at Christmastide. The performance, however, was not merely confined to lads as such. Only a few years ago I witnessed and welcomed in my own hall at Symondsbury in West Dorset three distinct classes of performances of mummers at one Christmas season by (i.) quite small boys of the village, (ii.) by full-grown lads of the neighbourhood, and (iii.) by a more highly-organised party from Bridport and its vicinity, which contained several grown-up men. If I remember rightly, the play in each case contained some interesting variations.
Generally, however, the party would consist of a set of youths who
- Conf. various readings given in Western Antiquary, vol. vii. pp. 214-215, 239-240, and 267, where the above references in Notes and Queries are noticed.
- Conf. a variant in Halliwell’s Nursery Rhymes, No. ccxl. See also notes to No. cccxcix. (ed. 1846), where the interpretation of the symbols of the various animals introduced is given.