Navigation Menu+

Mother Goose

Mother Goose. The pretended writer or compiler of the collection of ancient nursery rhymes known as “Mother’s Goose’s Melodies.” This “Mother Goose” is not an imaginary personage, as is commonly supposed. She belonged to a wealthy family in Boston, Mass., where she was born, and resided for many years. Her eldest daughter, Elizabeth Goose, was married by the celebrated Cotton Mather, on the 8th of June, 1715, to an enterprising and industrious printer by the name of Thomas Fleet, and, in due time, gave birth to a son. Mother Goose, like all good grandmothers, was in ecstasies at the event; her joy was unbounded; she spent her whole time in the nursery, and in wandering about the house, pouring forth, in not the most melodious strains, the songs and ditties which she had learned in her younger days, greatly to the annoyance of the whole neighborhood; – to Fleet in particular, who was a man fond of quiet. It was in vain he exhausted his shafts of wit and ridicule, and every expedient he could devise. It was of no use; the old lady was not thus to be put down; so, like others similarly situated, he was obliged to submit. His shrewdness, however, did not forsake him; he conceived the idea of collecting the songs and ditties as they came from his good mother-in-law, and such as he could gather from other sources, and publishing them for the benefit of the world—not forgetting himself. This he did, and soon brought out a book, the earliest known edition of which bears the following title: “Songs for the Nursery; or, Mother’s Goose’s Melodies for Children.” Printed by T. Fleet, and his Printing-house, Pudding Lane (now Devon-shire Street), 1719. Price, two coppers.” The adoption of this title was in derision of his mother-in-law, and was perfectly characteristic of the man, as he was never known to spare his nearest friends in his raillery, or when he could excite laughter at their expense. — Webster, 1882

[Laura] had not known there were such wonderful books and she forgot all about the party as she looked and looked at them. – manuscript for On the Banks of Plum Creek

In On the Banks of Plum Creek, at Nellie’s “Town Party” (Chapter 22), Mrs. Oleson gives Laura two books to look at. One is a Mother Goose book, and Laura Ingalls Wilder describes the cover picture as being of “an old woman wearing a peaked cap and riding on a broom across a huge yellow moon.”

You wouldn’t believe the information out there about Mother Goose! Books and books and books… What I discovered was that there aren’t that many Little House era cover illustrations of Mother Goose with her riding on a broom. Sometimes she’s riding on a goose and holding a broom, though, and the illustration above is about the closest I could find to what I think Laura is describing, especially since it has a large moon in the picture, too. There are old illustrations of Mother Goose riding a goose and holding a staff or cane; it’s possible that Laura mistook this for a broom as a child, and continued to think of it as such.

There is a common illustration for one of the Mother Goose rhymes, though, that does show an old woman with a peaked hat and a broom (no goose) above a large moon. It’s the illustration for “Old Woman, Old Woman,” but in the drawing, the old woman isn’t riding the broom. The verse goes:

There was an old woman tossed in a basket,
Seventeen times as high as the moon;
But where she was going no mortal could tell,
For under her arm she carried a broom.

‘Old woman, old woman, old woman,’ said I
‘Whither, oh whither, oh whither so high?’
‘To sweep the cobwebs from the sky;
And I’ll be with you by-and-by.’

Was Laura looking at a particular copy of Mother Goose when she wrote her manuscript for On the Banks of Plum Creek? She doesn’t mention the cover at all in the manuscript, only that Mrs. Oleson gave her “Mother Goose, just full of pictures and funny rhymes. Some of them Laura could read.”

The manuscript also mentions a book about Aladdin’s Lamp, “telling about a man with a wonderful lamp that would cause whatever he wished for to come true.” It also mentions “a magazine for little folks.” I’m not quite sure what this magazine could have been, because there were a lot of possibilities. A fellow researcher has just about convinced me that it was a copy of “St. Nicholas.”

One has to wonder, too, if young-Laura knew that it was a magazine she was given, or was author-Laura merely putting those words in her mouth because she, of course, knew what one was? Laura would have had to have seen actual magazines prior to the one Mrs. Oleson showed her in order to name them correctly, right?

CLICK HERE to read an 1831 copy of The Only True Mother Goose Melodies. CLICK HERE to read an 1869 copy of Mother Goose’s Melodies. Another early edition can be found HERE.

Mother Goose (BPC 22; TLW 32)