Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Nursery Rhymes About Child Labor And Servitude

Reading an old book of nursery rhymes with my young daughter yesterday, it struck me how many center on Dickensian child labor and/or indentured servitude.  Is this really appropriate, I worried to myself, as I gamely read on to my uncomprehending daughter. For example, here are the lyrics to "Seesaw Marjorie Daw":

"Seesaw Marjorie Daw
Jennie shall have a new master
What shall he pay her
A penny a day
because she can't work any faster"

Ah, for the simpler times when soot-faced waifs cheerfully sang songs while doing piece work in dingy factories. Or how about these lyrics to "Cock-A-Doodle-Doo":

My dame has lost her shoe;
My master's lost his fiddle stick,
And knows not what to do."

"Cock a doodle doo,
My dame will dance with you,
While master fiddles his fiddling stick,
For dame and doodle doo."

1 comment:

  1. See-saw Margery Daw was a priveledged child's teasing of another child of less fortune. A way of saying that Johnny or Jenny will 'never amount to anything'. Although it is indicative of the horrendous child labor laws of the era, it was more of a jibe relating to class identification and separation.