[lit-ideas] Re: for sparinge of a litel cost

  • From: David Ritchie <ritchierd@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Mon, 21 Jun 2004 09:39:11 -0700

on 6/17/04 5:46 PM, JulieReneB@xxxxxxx at JulieReneB@xxxxxxx wrote:

> I woke up with the for-want-of-a-nail ditty in my head and set about
> wondering where and when it originated.  Googled for histories of nursery
> rhymes.  You 
> can find as many conflicting and believable and absurd alleged origins of
> nursery rhymes out there as hairs on your head.  Someone in this milieu must
> know 
> some good solid reference.  It's not that it really matters.  Just that
> suddenly ring around a rosey and humpty dumpty need a reason.  Or rather ...
> there 
> are all these adorable darling little sweet-sounding things we sing to our
> children which seem to have arisen out of grisly circumstances and it seems a
> metaphor for something or symbolic of some societal phenomenon and I'm not
> sure 
> what I'm looking for.
> Julie Krueger
"The full-grown version of this rhyme...appears to be comparatively recent.
The first three lines, however, may be seen in the seventeenth century, and
"The Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs' compares them with a sentiment
in John Gower's Confessio Amantis (c.1300)

For sparinge of a litel cost
Ful ofte time a man hath lost
The large cote for the hod.

Thomas Adams, in one of his Sermons (collected 1629), said 'The Fenchmen
have a military proverb: 'The loss of a nail, the loss of an army'..."


Full text available in Iona and Peter Opie (ed), "The Oxford Dictionary of
Nursery Rhymes." (O.U.P., new ed 1997), an excellent work, well worth a
litel cost.

David Ritchie
Portland, Oregon

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