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THE SINGING GAMES OF CHILDREN
country places, or even in our towns, groups of boys
and girls, or more frequently of girls only, may be seen dancing in a ring, walking in rows, or performing certain actions, and singing all the while. These singing games are now dying out, but in some places they are being replaced by other singing games of a purely artificial character, which are taught in school. The latter have no interest for us, but it will be found that many of the former illustrate curious phases in the history of man.
In the last chapter, when speaking of the ceremonies in which the bull-roarer was employed, I pointed out that dancing is an important element in all the ceremonies of savages. The dancing varies much in character; in no case does it resemble the modern“ round” or “fast” dances, but there is a close similarity between the old-fashioned
square" dances and the dances of savages. One may say without hesitancy that “Sir Roger de Coverley" and other country dances, as well as the essential figures of the quadrilles and lancers, are survivals of ancient dances, the two latter having been greatly modified by professional dancers.
In a lecture before the Cambridge Antiquarian Society, in March, 1897, Sir E. Clarke pointed out that it has been alleged in various quarters that our English country dance is derived from the French contredanse. John Wilson
Croker wrote: “Our country dances are a corruption in name and a simplification of figure of the French contredanse." De Quincey, in his Life and Manners, Dr. Busby, in his Dictionary of Music, and Archbishop Trench, in English : Past and Present, adopted the same view. On the other hand, Weaver wrote in his History of Dancing (1712): “ Country dances are a dancing the peculiar growth of this nation, tho' now transplanted into almost all the Courts of Europe." Feuillet, in a little book published in Paris in 1706, entitled Recueil de Contredanses, says: “Les Anglais en sont les premiers inventeurs." Nearly all the dances in the volume are English. For instance, the famous “ Green Sleeves” appears as Les Manches Vertes, and nearly all the versions correspond with those in John Playford's Dancing Master of 1686 (7th edition). Littré, in his classical Dictionnaire de la Langue Française, admits that the contredanse is a kind of old-fashioned English dance imported into France under the Regency between about 1723 and 1745.
"The contredanse was, in fact, first introduced to Paris in 1745, when it was given in a ballet entitled 'Des Fêtes de Polymnie,' by Rameau. Its success was so great that it was afterwards employed in all the future divertissements. It is clear, therefore, that the French borrowed the country dance from us. Eventually they turned it into the quadrille, which was imported into England about eighty years ago, and made a great sensation when first danced at · Almacks' by the famous Lady Jersey and her entourage in 1815."
The following extract from Heywood's A Woman Kild with Kindness (1607)' will illustrate the variety of the dances that were formerly indulged in:
1 Cf. also Mrs. Lilly Grove (Mrs. J. G. Frazer), Dancing, in The Badminton Library, 1895, p. 280.
Thomas Heywood's Dramatic Works, vol. ii., pp. 96-98. Ed. Pearson, 1874. (I have uniformly put all the names of the dances into italics.)
“Enter Nicke and IENKIN, IACKE SLIME, ROGER BRICKBAT,
with Countrey Wenches, and two or three Musitians. SLIME. Come, what shall it be? Rogero? IEN. Rogero, no; we will dance, The Beginning of the World. Sisly. I loue no dance so well as Fohn, come kisse mee now.
Nic. I that haue ere now deseru'd a cushion, call for the Cushion Dance.
ROGER. For my part I like nothing so wel as Tom Tyler.
Ien. So the dance will come cleanly off : come, for God's sake agree to something; if you like not that, put it to the Musitians, or let me speake for all, and wee'l haue Sellenger's Round.
ALL. That, that, that."
In the fine old song, Come, Lassies and Lads, we find the same love of dancing.
“You lassies and lads take leave of your dads,
And away to the May-pole hie,
And the minstrel's standing by :
"We'll lead up Packington's Pound”;
"We'll first have Sellenger's Round.'
“ Then after an hour they went to a bow'r,
And played for ale and cakes,
The lassies held the stakes.
And give them their own again.
"Now there they did stay the whole of the day,
And tired the fiddler quite
From morning until night.
Gave him, and went away."
“The spring clade all in gladness
"Fy, then, why are we musing,
It appears from Sir Philip Sidney's description in the Arcadia that the game was played by three couples, each of a youth and a maid, one couple standing at each end of the area and the third remaining in the centre. The oblong playing-ground was divided transversely into three plots, of which the central one was called “ hell.” The mating was
determined by lot, and the last pair mated were obliged to
“She went abroad, thereby,
Like some which seek to salue their blotted name
“There may you see, soone as the middle two
Doe coupled towards either couple make,
As periur'd cowards in aduersitie
Whatever may have been the origin of this now obsolete game, it was played in the seventeenth century for purely exhilarating amusement for both sexes, in the same way as lawn tennis was until very recently.
In looking through a large collection of the singing games of children, it will be obvious, as Mr. Newell, the well
Sir Philip Sidney, The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia (" now the sixt time pvblished"), London, 1623, lib. i., p. 87, “ Song of Lamon.”