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.)



Great Work, City Auditor

As a voter, I was skeptical about having an independent city auditor’s office. This office was created by referendum of the voters. The public wanted third party oversight of city government, for good cause.  I will be the first to admit I was wrong.  A primary problem was the auditor being hired and fired by the mayor’s office, who could also set the auditors operating ... (click for more)

Commissioner Mackey Asks All to Support Football Mocs

The moment that many of us have been waiting for six months is upon us---it is football time in Tennessee.  If you live within the greater Chattanooga area I am asking you to join me in looking upon the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga as being our hometown football team.  And it is an exciting team that we can be proud of.    The Chattanooga Mocs will ... (click for more)

Plan Revived For 5-Story Boutique Hotel Next To The Walnut Street Bridge

Plans have been revived for a five-story boutique hotel next to the Walnut Street Bridge. Vision Hospitality Group said the yet-to-be named hotel will provide 90 rooms featuring high-end amenities and exemplary service in the city's art district. Plans for a similar hotel were announced in 2012, but the proposal was later withdrawn. The hotel is slated for 102 Walnut ... (click for more)

Grand Jury Says County Needs To Start "Immediately" On Funding A New County Jail

Members of the Hamilton County Grand Jury said in a final report that the county needs to start "immediately" on funding a replacement for the Hamilton County Jail. The report, read by Foreman Robert Smith, says, "The Jail is near and/or over capacity and understaffed!  Hard-working corrections officers are in constant danger.  Being responsible for 80-100 inmates per ... (click for more)

Orr In On Four Touchdowns, Irish Defeat Pioneers, 34-20

Notre Dame’s Kareem Orr, one of the area’s top college prospects, showed his versatility Friday night while leading the Fighting Irish to a 34-20 non-district football victory over East Ridge at Raymond James Field. Orr caught three touchdown passes, threw for one and had 121 yards of offense as the Irish leveled their 2014 record at 1-1. The Irish play at Chattanooga Christian ... (click for more)

Baylor Comeback Swamps Webb, 34-7

Baylor lost a fumble on the third play of the game and the visiting Webb Spartans scored five plays later, but the Red Raiders came storming back to win their second-straight game, 34-7, over the D-II, Class A two-time defending state champions. Quarterback Nick Tiano, who has already committed to Mississippi State, hurled two touchdown passes and scored a third on a sneak from ... (click for more)