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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XI. The Period of the French Revolution.

XVI. Children’s Books

§ 10. Nursery Rimes

So, the fairy tale attained print, and tradition became literature. About the same period, the other strain of traditional lore, also, was glorified into printed matter. Nursery rimes have all manner of origins, and may be detected in allusions long before they appear whole and unadorned. But, there was, apparently, no Corpus Poetarum Infantilium till, in 1744, Cooper published Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book, in two volumes. Here, for the first time, some unknown hand established a classic. Here was the nucleus upon which, in all probability, all later collections—and there was not much to be added to it—were founded. The rimes, in themselves, do not call for comment. Except for a few which would offend modern taste, they are the same—verbally, for all practical purposes—as nurses use to-day.

No earlier collection, if one was made, survives; and it is sixteen years before another is recorded—The Top Book of All; the date, 1760, is determined by a little wood-block at the end. This is not entirely a nursery rime book; it contains nine familiar rimes, Watts’s Sluggard, some riddles and three well-known short tales. To the same date—but not with any certainty—is ascribed the famous Gammer Gurton’s Garland, published at Stockport: it is described on the title-page as “a new edition, with additions.” In or about the same year—here, too, there is not any certainty, for not one copy of the first edition is known—was born the chief rival of the alleged Gurton as a rimer, mother Goose. Newbery’s surviving copyrights in 1780 included Mother Goose’s Melody. There is reason to believe the book had been in existence for some time before, though there is no evidence whatever for a statement sometimes made that the publisher Fleet first issued it in 1719.