Jody Baker: Sherlockian Nursery Rhymes And TAMG

Wednesday, January 9, 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

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