(Note: Persistently, and without acknowledgment, I steal blog ideas from anything that’s out there. This piece is a bit different, inspired by the wonderful Book Art collection in the Bainbridge Island (Wash.) Museum of Art (BIMA), specifically one item — “contemporary” written observations on nursery rhyme characters (e.g. a school report card on Mary and her Little Lamb). I have stolen only the idea, not the content. Responsibility for the outcome is mine alone.)
Recent research into the origins of our favorite nursery rhymes has unearthed a treasure-trove of information about the real-life figures who were their inspiration. Here are a few insights their contemporaries offer:
Letter from the Glastonbury (England) Mental Health Council to Mr. & Mrs. Horner:
From our meetings with your son, Jack, we have formed a clear picture of a very self-absorbed young man. His persistent, self-congratulatory utterance — “What a good boy am I” — for what is a very simple act of removing a plum from a Christmas pie, and his obliviousness of the contributions of others to his enjoyment (the pie-maker, most notably) suggest an unhealthy narcissistic tendency.
May we suggest, however, that the problem may not be entirely of his own making. Sitting in the corner arbitrarily cuts him off from healthy interaction with others that might divert him from his self-absorption. Having him join you at the dining room table might also expand his limited vocabulary by forcing him to converse with others and not just himself.
Establishing clear standards of table manners, especially the use of a fork and/or a spoon, would help him adapt to the common norms of etiquette.
Finally, may we suggest the inclusion of other ingredients besides plums in his Christmas pie. The fact that he pulls out only plums when he inserts his thumb limits him to a very narrow context of cause-and-effect. If he were occasionally to extract something different, even surprising — a raisin or a fig — he might be better-prepared to deal with the unpredictable elements of real life.
Letter from the New York City Schools’ Department of Nutrition to Mr. & Mrs. Teapot:
While we are gratified that your daughter, Ima Little, has found after-school work as a server in a neighborhood tea shop, we are concerned about the potentially negative effects on her health. She is, as she acknowledges proudly, “short and stout.” Indeed, in themselves, neither condition is shameful or harmful. However, we are concerned that, already overweight and possibly susceptible to the attractions of the many sugar-and-carbohydrate-rich offerings at her place of employment, even moderate weight-gain might compromise her health.
Hoping you share our concern, we are ready to assist with any dietary and/or exercise program you might wish to consider.
Notice from the Nottinghamshire County Labour Council to the owners of Baa Baa Black Sheep:
We understand that you are the owners of Ms. Baa Baa Black Sheep. As owners, you are also employers, and therefore subject to the County’s fair-wages laws.
We have received a report that, when asked whether she had any wool, Ms. Black Sheep replied that she did, indeed, have “three bags full,” but that each had already been consigned: one for her master; one for her dame; and one for the little boy (otherwise unidentified) who lives down the lane.
If her account is accurate and if our calculations are correct, the entire product of her labour, along with the remuneration therefrom, would appear to have accrued to others than herself. (We should note that your provision of pasturage to Ms. Black Sheep can not be defined as remuneration.)
Further, we wish to advise you that, if you are also employing any White Sheep for the same tasks Ms. Black Sheep is performing, and if you are paying them regular wages, you might, in addition, be in violation of the County’s anti-discrimination laws.
Please contact us at once so that we may clarify these issues.
Letter to the Editor of Le Journal de Paris:
I was deeply disturbed at the recent article, “Sleeping Beauty,” in your August 14, 1787 edition, which poked fun at Frere Jacques for sleeping through his Friary’s morning bells. Did it ever occur to you that he might have been suffering from some sleep disorder or hearing loss, or both? And your insistence on interviewing him in his clearly groggy and confused state was cruelty, pure and simple.
Save your scorn for the stupid pronouncements that issue daily from Versailles and the unhinged moron who utters them. Do not heap it upon a humble, possibly sleep-deprived, perhaps even deaf, servant of the Lord!