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“When I went a courting, a courting, a courting, When I went a courting, and this way went I.”
[Pantomime : walking arm in arm in pairs.] “When I had a baby, a baby, a baby, When I had a baby, and this way went I.”
[Pantomime : doubling up apron and dandling it.] “When my baby died, baby died, baby died, When my baby died, how I did cry."
[Pantomime : crying.] “When my father beat me, father beat me, father beat me, When my father beat me, and this way went he.”
[Pantomime : hitting one another on backs.] “When my father died, father died, father died, When my father died, how I did laugh."
[Pantomime: laughing.] Mr. Newell' says that this game is closely paralleled in France and Italy, and even on the extreme limits of European Russia; but wherever there are children, they will imitate the doings of their elders, and while in some games we may lay stress upon their geographical distribution, in others this probably is of no moment.
Probably an analogous singing pantomime is the following, which was given to me by a German girl. The children form a ring, and as they sing they make appropriate gestures.
“Would you know how the peasant,
Sows his oats ?
“Look ! like this the peasant,
i Loc. cit., p. 88.
The double rhymes are repeated for: “Reaping oats," “Threshing oats,” and “Winnowing oats.”
At first sight this game appears to be similar to a common English rhyming game known as “ Oats, Beans, and Bar. ley”; but a further study of the latter rather leads one to the supposition that it had originally a magical significance.
I have seen the following game played by the children of Girton, a village near Cambridge, and I would like to take this opportunity of thanking Mrs. Lawrence, of the Rectory, for the help she has given me in collecting the games of that village.
The girls who played it walked round in a circle, and they made appropriate gestures while singing the second verse in illustration of the words of the song. After all had given one stamp of the feet and a clap of the hands, and had turned round, they formed a ring during the singing of the third verse; two enter this and kiss one another kneeling, while the encircling chorus sing the last verse.
“Oats and beans and barley grow,
“First the farmer sows his seed,
Stands awhile and takes his heed (or ease],"
“Waiting for a partner,
Open the ring,
i This verse evidently means that no one knows how the corn grows. 9 The one rhymes and the other does not, but the children incline to "ease."
“Now you 're married you must obey,
You must be true to all you say,
And help your wife to chop the wood."
“In the early part of the century," he informs us, “the essential stanza went thus in New Hampshire :
"• Thus my father sows his seed,
Stands erect, and takes his ease,
“The Swedish quatrain is nearly the same :
“ I had a father, he sowed this way,
And when he had done, he stood this way;
“The French rhyme, by its exact correspondence, proves the great antiquity of the formula: .
“ Qui veut ouir, qui veut savoir,
Comment on sème l'aveine ?
Aveine, aveine, aveine,
Que le Bon Dieu t'amène !'” Fauriel, in his history of Provençal literature, alludes to this song, and considers it to be derived from, and to repre. sent, choral dances of the Greek rustics of Massil (Mar. seilles). He says (I again quote from Newell, p. 83):
“The words of the song described an action, a succession of different situations, which the dancers reproduced by their ges
tures. The song was divided into many stanzas, and terminated by a refrain alike for all. The dancers acted or gesticulated only to imitate the action or situation described in each stanza ; at the refrain they took each other by the hand and danced a round, with a movement more or less lively. There are everywhere popular dances derived from these, which more or less resemble them. ... I remember to have seen in Provence some of these dances, of which the theme seems to be very ancient-one, among the rest, imitating successively the habitual actions of a poor labourer, working in his field, sowing his wheat or oats, mowing, and so on to the end. Each of the numerous couplets of the song was sung with a slow and dragging motion, as if to imitate the fatigue and the sullen air of the poor labourer; and the refrain was of a very lively movement, the dancers then giving way to all their gaiety."
The French, Italian, and Spanish versions of this game also represent a series of actions, sowing, reaping, etc., of which our rhyme has retained only one stanza.
We must always keep apart in our minds games which have filtered down from adults to children, and those which the latter may be supposed to have invented themselves. At first sight one would have imagined that “ Oats, pease, beans, and barley grows," as played on English village greens or by children in the United States, was merely an imitative game, analogous to “ keeping house," playing with dolls, playing at soldiers, and the like; but we find “it is properly a dance rather of young people than of children.” We know it was an ancient dance, as“ it was played by Froissart (born 1337) and by Rabelais (born 1483); while the general resemblance of the song in the countries of Sweden, Germany, British Islands, France, Spain, Italy, and Sicily proves that in the five centuries through which we thus trace it, even the words have undergone little change.”
It is not impossible that it was merely a game of playing at work indulged in by young people, but another explanation has been suggested by Newell' which has much to recommend it. He says: “ The lines of the French refrain,
• Oats, oals, oats,
May the good God prosper you !' and the general form of the dance suggest that the song may probably have had a religious symbolic meaning, and formed part of rustic festivities designed to promote the fertility of the fields, an object which undoubtedly formed the original purpose of the May festival. ... That such a song, danced in sowing time, and representing the progress and abundance of the crop, should be supposed to bring a blessing on the labours of the year, is quite in conformity with what we know of popular belief, ancient and modern."
Another game, called “ Threading the Needle,” affords us, according to Newell, a further illustration of this belief.
It is played in America and England by a chain of child. ren passing under the arch formed by the uplifted joined hands of two other children, till one of the chain is caught by the dropping of the arms. The child then makes a choice of some alternative, which decides to which of the two children who make the arch she is to attach herself. When all are caught there is a “ tug-of-war."
Mr. Newell informs us that the name “ Threading the Needle" is still applied, in a district of Central France, to a dance in which many hundred persons take part, in which from time to time the pair who form the head of the row raise their arms to allow the line to pass through, coiling and winding like a great serpent. When a French savant asked the peasants of La Châtre why they performed this dance, the answer was, “ To make the hemp grow.”
Loc. cit., p. 81.