Jody Baker: Sherlockian Nursery Rhymes And TAMG

Wednesday, January 09, 2013 - by Jody Baker

During the Christmas season followers of Sherlock Holmes give special attention to The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle. 

Recently, on the Hounds of the Internet (the premier List-serve for Sherlockians), Ron Lies  posted a Sherlockian nursery rhyme built around the Blue Carbuncle story. In the posting,  Mr. Ries pays tribute to the Mother Goose Rhyme “Goosy, Goosey, Gander.” Mr. Ries posted this:

“Goosey, goosey, gander
Where do you wander?
From Brixton Road to Market
And to Peterson's' chambers
They found it held a shiny stone
As blue as it could be;
So the commissionaire rushed it over
To Two Twenty-one B.” 


Most Sherlockians are familiar with William S. Baring-Gould’s “Annotated Sherlock Holmes.” Others may not be familiar with Baring-Gould’s  “The Annotated Mother Goose”  (Privately published 1955, copyright and published 1962) co-authored with his wife Ceil Baring-Gould. It is to this monumental exercise in research and writing that we turn our attention. 

In doing so, we explore the underlying meanings and references in “The Annotated Mother Goose” (herein TAMG). The flap of the dust jacket gives us a hint of what we are about to enjoy.  From TAMG’s  dust jacket:  “The copious and erudite notes not only point out the meaning of the rhymes and words, but explain the many political allusions, jokes, later parodies, ….”   

Against this backdrop may we examine the familiar “Goosey, Goosey Gander” rhyme. TAMG tells us that it first appeared as:  

 “Goose-a-goose-a, gander
Where shall I wander?
Upstairs, downstairs,
In my lady’s chamber.
There you’ll find a cup of sac
And a race of ginger.” 


The annotators point out that “sac” is dry wine (vin sec) and that “race” means “root” a meaning now obsolete except when used, as here, with ginger.

Somewhere in the history of this rhyme it became merged with “Old Father Longlegs” (Rhyme 62 in TAMG). Thus, now appearing as: 

 “Goosey, goosey, gander
Whither shall I wander?
Upstairs and downstairs,
And in my lady’s chamber.
There I met an old man,
Who would not say his prayers.
I took him by the left leg
And threw him down the stairs.” 


Of the rhyme in this form, Sherlock Holmes would say, “Ineffable twaddle.” Mrs. Baynes might say, “Flapdoodle.” Not so, with the Baring-Goulds. They have pointed out the hidden meaning. In TAMG they tell us that an accepted interpretation is this:

The “old man” was Cardinal David Beaton (1494-1546). He was archbishop of St. Andrews and the last Cardinal of Scotland prior to the reformation. He refused to conform to the reformed doctrines of the Covenanters or comply with their requirements. His castle was attacked, and he was thrown down the stairs. Upon landing he was grabbed and stabbed to death. Then, his bloody body was hung from the ramparts of his Castle of St. Andrews. 

And you want us to teach this to the little ones?

Respectfully,  Inspector Baynes


(Jody Baker is a Chattanooga attorney, who specializes in Sherlock Holmes lore. He can be reached at josiahbaker@bkhcw.com.)



Send Your Opinions To Chattanoogan.com

We welcome your opinions at Chattanoogan.com. Email to news@chattanoogan.com . We require your real first and last name and contact information. There is no word limit, but if your article is too long you may lose your reader. Please focus more on issues than personal attacks. (click for more)

Let's Honor Luther

I would like to challenge the city.  There are two ways we could honor Luther.  Build a new facility for the Humane Society and name it after Luther.  Then we should create an academy for young people in the city to teach them how to be like Luther, learn to be of service to your fellow man. What about it Chattanooga?  Karen Dale Hixson (click for more)

Man Shot At Apartments On Tunnel Boulevard Wednesday Afternoon, Then 2 Juveniles Shot At Rec Center On Oakwood Drive With Suspects In Custody

Chattanooga police officers responded to the apartment buildings at 404 Tunnel Blvd. Wednesday at 1:21 p.m., where residents say they heard multiple shots fired.  Witnesses said they saw multiple suspects fleeing the scene on foot behind the complex.  The male victim was taken to a local hospital for life threatening gunshot wounds.  Later Wednesday, ... (click for more)

Several Arrested Outside Erlanger Hospital When Crowd Gathers After Woodlawn Shooting

Several people were arrested Monday night outside Erlanger Hospital after a crowd gathered and clashed with police. The crowd included family and friends of 20-year-old Apprentice Berry, who was shot multiple times and killed earlier Monday night at the Woodlawn Apartments on Wilson Street. Erlanger officials said the group gathered at the emergency room, but were later moved ... (click for more)

Signal Mountain Advances In State Volleyball

SMYRNA, Tenn. – It’s a good thing that Signal Mountain volleyball coach Jennifer Redman is a young lady because her heart might not be able to stand the pressure if she wasn’t. Redman’s Lady Eagles were thisclose to being sent to the loser’s bracket in the opening round of the State Volleyball Tournament here at Stewarts Creek High School Wednesday afternoon. Had it been ... (click for more)

Boyd-Buchanan Sweeps Loretto To Open Class A State Volleyball

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Playing what coach Alfie Dodd called a sub-par match, Boyd-Buchanan’s Lady Bucs were still good enough to sweep Loretto, 3-0, Wednesday morning in the opening match of the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association’s Class A state volleyball tournament at Blackman High School. Set scores were 25-19, 25-14, 25-20. “We advance and we know we can ... (click for more)