Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book

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Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song-Book is the first anthology of English nursery rhymes, published in London in 1744. It contains the oldest printed texts of many well-known and popular rhymes, as well as several that eventually dropped out of the canon of rhymes for children. A copy is held in the British Library. In 2013 a facsimile edition with an introduction by Andrea Immel and Brian Alderson was published by the Cotsen Occasional Press.

Nursery rhyme traditional song or poem for children

A nursery rhyme is a traditional poem or song for children in Britain and many other countries, but usage of the term only dates from the late 18th/early 19th century. The term Mother Goose rhymes is interchangeable with nursery rhymes.

This article presents a list of the literary events and publications in 1744.

British Library National library of the United Kingdom

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and the largest national library in the world by number of items catalogued. It is estimated to contain 170–200 million+ items from many countries. As a legal deposit library, the British Library receives copies of all books produced in the United Kingdom and Ireland, including a significant proportion of overseas titles distributed in the UK. The Library is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.



With the full title of Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book Voll. [sic] II, this was a sequel to the now lost Tommy Thumb's Song Book , published in London by Mary Cooper in 1744. [1] [2] [3] For many years, it was thought that there was only a single copy in existence, now in the British Library, [4] but in 2001 another copy appeared and was sold for £45,000. [5] Henry Carey's 1725 satire on Ambrose Philips, Namby Pamby, quotes or alludes to some half-dozen or so nursery rhymes. As a result, this is the oldest printed collection of English nursery rhymes that is available. [6] The rhymes and illustrations were printed from copper plates, the text being stamped with punches into the plates, a technique borrowed from map and music printing. It is 3×134 inches and it is printed in alternate openings in red and black ink. [6]

<i>Tommy Thumbs Song Book</i> book by Nurse Lovechild

Tommy Thumb's Song Book is the earliest known collection of British nursery rhymes printed in 1744. No original copy has survived, but its content has been recovered from later reprints. It contained many rhymes that are still well known.

Mary Cooper was a London-based publisher and bookseller who flourished between 1743 and 1761. With Thomas Boreman, she is the earliest publisher of children's books in English, predating John Newbery.

Henry Carey (writer) English composer and playwright

Henry Carey was an English poet, dramatist and song-writer. He is remembered as an anti-Walpolean satirist and also as a patriot. Several of his melodies continue to be sung today, and he was widely praised in the generation after his death. Because he worked in anonymity, selling his own compositions to others to pass off as their own, contemporary scholarship can only be certain of some of his poetry, and a great deal of the music he composed was written for theatrical incidental music. However, under his own name and hand, he was a prolific song writer and balladeer, and he wrote the lyrics for almost all of these songs. Further, he wrote numerous operas and plays. His life is illustrative of the professional author in the early 18th century. Without inheritance or title or governmental position, he wrote for all of the remunerative venues, and yet he also kept his own political point of view and was able to score significant points against the ministry of the day. Further, he was one of the leading lights of the new "Patriotic" movement in drama.


The book contains forty nursery rhymes, many of which are still popular, including;

'Girls and Boys Come Out to Play' or 'Boys and Girls Come Out to Play' is a nursery rhyme that has existed since at least 1708. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 5452.

Hickory Dickory Dock folk song

"Hickory Dickory Dock" or "Hickety Dickety Dock" is a popular English nursery rhyme. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 6489.

"Ladybird! Ladybird!" is the first line of an English-language nursery rhyme that also has German analogues. It is included in the Roud Folk Song Index as number of 16215.

There are also a number of less familiar rhymes, some of which were probably unsuitable for later sensibilities, including:

Piss a Bed,
Piss a Bed,
Barley Butt,
Your Bum is so heavy,
You can't get up.

Some nursery rhymes turn up in disguise:

The Moon shines Bright,
The Stars give a light,
And you may kiss
A pretty girl
At ten a clock at night.

This is an earlier version of:

When I was a little boy
My mammy kept me in,
Now I am a great boy,
I'm fit to serve the king.
I can handle a musket,
And I can smoke a pipe.
And I can kiss a pretty girl
At twelve o'clock at night. [7]

Related Research Articles

Little Boy Blue nursery rhime

"Little Boy Blue" is a popular English-language nursery rhyme, often used in popular culture. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 11318.

Oranges and Lemons folk song

"Oranges and Lemons" is a traditional English nursery rhyme, folksong, and singing game which refers to the bells of several churches, all within or close to the City of London. It is listed in the Roud Folk Song Index as No 13190.

Jack and Jill (nursery rhyme) nursery rhyme

"Jack and Jill" is a traditional English nursery rhyme. The Roud Folk Song Index classifies this tune and its variations as number 10266. The rhyme dates back at least to the 18th century and exists with different numbers of verses each with a number of variations.

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary popular English nursery rhyme

"Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary" is a popular English nursery rhyme. The rhyme has been seen as having religious and historical significance, but its origins and meaning are disputed. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 19626.

Baa, Baa, Black Sheep childrens folk song

"Baa, Baa, Black Sheep" is an English nursery rhyme, the earliest surviving version of which dates from 1731. The words have not changed very much in two-and-a-half centuries. It is sung to a variant of the 1761 French melody Ah! vous dirai-je, maman. Uncorroborated theories have advanced to explain the meaning of the rhyme, such as that it is a complaint against taxes levied on the Medieval English wool trade. In the twentieth century it was a subject of controversies in debates about political correctness. It has been used in literature and popular culture as a metaphor and allusion. The Roud Folk Song Index classifies the lyrics and their variations as number 4439.

Sing a Song of Sixpence folk song

"Sing a Song of Sixpence" is a well-known English nursery rhyme, perhaps originating in the 18th century. It is listed in the Roud Folk Song Index as number 13191.

Childrens song song intended for children

A children's song may be a nursery rhyme set to music, a song that children invent and share among themselves or a modern creation intended for entertainment, use in the home or education. Although children’s songs have been recorded and studied in some cultures more than others, they appear to be universal in human society.

Cock Robin English nursery rhyme

"Who Killed Cock Robin" is an English nursery rhyme, which has been much used as a murder archetype in world culture. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 494.

Little Tommy Tucker nursery rhyme

"Little Tommy Tucker" is an English language nursery rhyme. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 19618.

"Taffy was a Welshman" is an English language nursery rhyme which was popular between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 19237.

"There was an old woman lived under a hill" is a nursery rhyme which dates back to at least its first known printing in 1714. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 797.

Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross English nursery rhyme

"Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross" is an English language nursery rhyme connected with the English town Banbury. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 21143.

Little Robin Redbreast traditional song

‘Little Robin Redbreast’ is an English language nursery rhyme, chiefly notable as evidence of the way traditional rhymes are changed and edited. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 20612.


  1. Wolf, Shelby; Coats, Karen; Enciso, Patricia A.; Jenkins, Christine (2010). Handbook of Research on Children's and Young Adult Literature. Routledge. p. 188. ISBN   9780203843543.
  2. "Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book". British Library.
  3. Lynch, Jack. The Oxford Handbook of British Poetry, 1660-1800. Oxford University Press. p. 90.
  4. British Library, "Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song-Book". retrieved 14 November 2009.
  5. "Rhyme book fetches £45,500". 13 December 2001,, Retrieved 14 November 09.
  6. 1 2 H. Carpenter and M. Prichard, The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature (Oxford University Press, 1984), pp. 533–4.
  7. William S. Baring-Gould and Ceil Baring-Gould, The Annotated Mother Goose, pp. 24–43.

See also