ELIZABETH GOOSE no longer exists in a gross, corporeal sense; but if it be true that our immortality consists in the place which we hold in the memory of posterity, who lives more truly than this genial lady?
Elizabeth Foster was born in Charlestown in 1665. In 1692, she became the second wife of Isaac Goose. Goose, at that time, possessed ten children. His second wife bore him six, and, in view of this accumulated progeny, it has been supposed that "The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe" grew out of its author's experience. Such dim hints form our chief knowledge of the life of Mother Goose, as, indeed, often happens in the case of writers who are absorbed in their work.
Among the grim influences of Puritan Boston, our benevolent Goose cherished her golden eggs of fancy. "The Swan of Avon is not the only bird that has made melody for all time." If we do not fear to make this comparison, we certainly shall not shrink from placing our author beside her contemporaries in that chill time, the grave Judge Sewall, and Governor Bradstreet's uncanny sister, who is remembered unpleasantly even at this day. Beside the utterances of the Judge, which breathe the spirit of the time, the spirit of funerals and of work, the cheerful rhymes of Mother Goose seem merrier than they really are.
Her poems have the widest range of subjects. In many of them, Nature is handled lovingly. "Daffy Down Dilly" is filled with the very essence of spring. "One misty, moisty morning" might prove a model of vividness and brevity to the many "word-painters" of the present day. Others have sought and found many hidden meanings in the rhymes of this Charlestown singer. According to some of these, "Solomon Grundy" is an epitome of Shakspere's seven ages of man. Another has found a foreshadowing of homoeopathy in the story of the man who sought in brambles a cure for wounds received from brambles. But I prefer to take what the lively bird gives us in its simplicity. What a large class of our fellow-beings is represented by "Tommy Tittlemouse," who "caught fishes in other men's ditches"! Many of us go even further, and, not content with the ditch of another, we seize his hand, make it a cat's paw, and supplement our fish with chestnuts.
Romance is not wanting in these poems. In
"Thomas a Didymus had a black beard,
Kissed Nancy Fidget, and made her afeard,"
the Corsair makes his first appearance in American poetry. "Hannah Bantry in the pantry," who employed her solitude in gnawing a mutton-bone, is the prototype of the "Marchioness." Hannah, to be sure, seems, in this instance, to have solaced her loneliness in a more sordid manner than the curious creature in Dickens's novel, but if Mother Goose had given us further glimpses of her heroine's character, we should, no doubt, find her more winsome.
Bits of worldly wisdom, flashes of wit, and shrewd estimates of human nature, go to make up the charming volume - too small, alas! - which bears the name of "Mother Goose's Melodies." And yet, with all her sense and all her wit, she had a fine ear for rhythm, and in "Four and Twenty Blackbirds" has given us the only pure Saturnian line in the language.
But why strive to magnify the sagacious Goose with this feeble, academic pen? Only a quill from her own wing would be equal to the task. It were better to give over the attempt, and try only to heed her counsels,
"That come as warnings even to the wise;
As when, of old, the martial city slept,
Unconscious of the wily foe that crept
Under the midnight, till the alarm was heard
Out from the mouth of Rome's plebeian bird."