“Little Jack Horner”


"Little Jack Horner Sat in a corner Eating of Christmas pie. He put in his thumb And pulled out a plum, And said, What a good boy am I."


This is probably only a nursery *rhyme*, and not a nursery *song*, and so properly does not belong in the Index. But Tony and Irene Saletan recorded it as part of their version of "Hail to Britannia" (which includes many nursery rhymes), so it does have a musical tradition of sorts. I also seem to recall a second tune for the second part of the verse. I include it, very tentatively, on that basis.

If one believes that all nursery rhymes have political contexts, this obviously has to do with political or ecclesiastical corruption. The quasi-official version of the story, according to the Baring-Goulds, is that the real Jack Horner was Thomas Horner of Glastonbury, who at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries managed to sneak several deeds to Henry VIII (allegedly in a piecrust), and managed to extract one for himself.

Carey's Namby Pamby, the source cited by the Opies, has itself some interesting references; according to Partridge's "A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English_, "Namby Pamby" was a name used by Carey, Swift, and Pope for the poetaster Ambrose Philips. According to Benet's _Reader's Encyclopedia_, it was Carey who first bestowed the name on Phillps (a friend of Addison and of Steele, who died 1749) due to Phillips's "eminence in infantile style."

As with his earlier near-contemporary John Fell (of "I do not love you, Doctor Fell" fame), Philips seems to be remembered only for the quip at his expense. In the case of Fell, that was unfair; he did genuinely useful work. But Philips's most popular poem seems to have been "To Miss Charlotte Pulteney in Her Mother's Arms," which is probably a clue to his work.... - RBW


  1. Opie-Oxford2 262, "Little Jack Horner" (1 text)
  2. Baring-Gould-MotherGoose #50, p. 61, "(Little Jack Horner)"
  3. cf. DT, MERRYLND
  4. BI, BGMG050


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1725 (Carey's Namby Pamby, according to Opie-Oxford2)
Keywords: food