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Mother Goose

Mother Goose Rhymes belong to folk-lore, however recent they may seem to us. They are not antique, but they are old. Most of them have existed already two hundred years. A collection was published in Boston in 1719, and one in London in 1760. The author, or compiler, was a Boston woman who called herself "Mother Goose," taking the name then current in England and France for a teller of childrenís stories. (See Charles Perrault.) The rhymes have evidently undergone the folk literature process. They are today true English-American folk nursery material. Though they vary slightly at each oral recitation, yet they remain essentially always the same.

As the rhymes are a part of every American childís thinking, so are they likewise of the very folds and convolutions of American grown-up brains. For little foreign-born children attending the public schools and for the children of foreign-born parents nothing could be better as an instrument of Americanization. Our great problem is not so much to teach our language to immigrants—though that is part of our problem—as to lead our immigrants to think American-wise. Out of such bits as these rhymes, which are truly national, is made that large, good-humored, bold, yet conservative, practical, yet high-minded, scintillating, to some persons mystifying, to all persons (just at present, at least) vastly consequential and important thing, American thought.

In other words, one cannot suddenly  think as a real American. One must have time to develop. Mere change of place does not give the power. From this fact come our anarchists, in and about New York; few if any of them are real Americans. The rougher sort are recent comers to our shores, and are drunk on the strong raw concoction of unexpected American license and old world politics. These unfortunates know nothing of the mental food of the nation as a whole. It is the true American food, however—the milk of kindliness and liberty, spiced with native humor—that indigenous Americans have grown up on. Indeed, such food is the nationís only hope of future existence. When the greater number of persons in this country cease to think as Americans, then there will be no America; for America, after all, is really not a place, but a state of mind.

And here at last is the wherefore of this digression. Since a state of mind is made up of previous states of mind, if we care that a national state of mind should be perpetuated we, as educators, must see to it that the essential antecedents of that state of mind are perpetuated. Now, literature and deliberate teaching are the best means we have for a continuation of the best part of the past—its spirit.

The saving grace of humor. All this patriotic talk may for the moment seem far away from any connection with Mother Goose. Not so. Here is the relationship: One who has not  been brought up on Mother Goose  can hardly understand the Declaration of Independence; surely such a person cannot understand the humor of that document, which was meant above everything else to be practically true, not philosophically or literally true. Anyone who has been brought up on Mother Goose  can understand it. He does not take things too literally—his own importance, for instance. It is the appreciation of the sense-of-nonsense and of the non-sense-of-pompous-sense that has made and preserved us as a nation. Mother Goose  induces an appreciation of both. The greatest tyranny that has threatened modern times has grown up because the leaders of the countries primarily expressing it could not smile at themselves. An Americanís sense of humor saves him and makes him wise, because it always includes himself. Perhaps Americans are sane and tolerant in so far as they have been brought up on such searching rhymes as Simple Simon  and If All the World were Apple-Pie.  It undoubtedly would have been a blessing to Europe, if Uncle Sam as a pedagogue, before the present war began, could have marched the chief militarists into the primary school and held them there until they learned by rote, with full appreciation, the last two stanzas of Simple Simon:

Simple Simon went a-fishing,

For to catch a whale;

All the water that he had

Was in his motherís pail.

He went to catch a dicky-bird,

And thought he could not fail,

Because heíd got a little salt

To put upon its tail.

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