April 11, 2020

M is for Mouse

        (My theme for this year’s A to Z Blog Challenge is traditional English language nursery rhymes, and their block printed illustrations.)

Pussy-Cat, Pussy-Cat, where have you been?
     “I’ve been to London to visit the Queen.”
Pussy-Cat, Pussy-Cat, what did you there?
     “I frightened a little mouse under her chair.”

        My illustration is actually a two-fer.  It also encompasses another mouse nursery rhyme:

Hickory dickory dock.
The mouse ran up the clock.
The clock struck one,
The mouse ran down.
Hickory dickory dock.

        The mouse was having an awfully hard day, and the queen felt sorry for him.
        Mice are quite ubiquitous in nursery rhymes, which just goes to show how ubiquitous they were in people’s daily lives.  I decided to sneak mice into some of my other nursery rhyme illustrations, as well, so keep your eyes open.  In this piece I wanted to show the queen being sympathetic rather than squeamishly afraid of the mouse.  I admit that I wouldn’t fancy having a little mouse under my chair, but the poor mouse doesn’t know I don’t want it in the house.
        Hickory Dickory Dock is one of the earlier recorded rhymes, and may be inspired by the clock at Exeter Cathedral, which had a cat-door added in the early 17th century to allow the bishop’s cat to get through and hunt the mice that were attracted to the fat that was used as lubricant for the clockwork.
        Pussy-cat Pussy-cat is first recorded in 1805, and the queen of England at the time was Charlotte, wife of George III, but there’s no reason to suppose the rhyme intends any specific reference.  My queen is vaguely medieval in style, as is consistent with most of my other nursery rhyme illustrations.
        I’ve included one more illustration of each rhyme, and I really like the fine details in both of these, although one is pretty recent (by Gwenda Morgan from 1970), and the other pretty old (an 1833 woodcut copy of an engraving from 1805).  In the former the queen seems completely oblivious to the whole pussy-cat-mouse episode.  (Some illustrations show the speaker in the Pussy-Cat rhyme interrogating the cat after the fact, but I figure it’s always best to show the real action.)
        Pussy-Cat: obnoxious bully or defender of civility?  You decide.
        A final note for impressionable children: Don’t leave fat spread around the house as lubricant, lest it attract unwanted visitors.
[Pictures: Pussy-Cat, Pussy-Cat, rubber block print by AEGN 2001 (Image from my book);
Detail from Nursery Rhymes, wood engraving by Gwenda Morgan, 1970 (Image from Kevis House);
Wood engraving from Mother Goose’s Melodies, published by C.S. Francis and Company, 1833 (Image from International Children’s Digital Library).]

11 comments:

Kathe W. said...

I think the pussy cat was just doing her job! Fun theme- I am enjoying your posts! Stay well and safe!

Kristin said...

That second mouse with the oblivious queen, looks like a rat.

Shari Elder said...

Great post and fabulous A to Z theme. What a pleasure and I love the illustrations.

Trisha Faye said...

Boy, you ARE ahead! I'd planned to work ahead this weekend - but that didn't happen LOL
Happy A to Zing.

The Dream Girl said...

These two are absolute classics!
The illustrations 😍😍😍

A Tarkabarka Hölgy said...

I didn't know about the origin of Hickory Dickory! How fun! :D

The Multicolored Diary

Sue Bursztynski said...

A nice lot of illustrations, Anne, thoughtfully done. Have you considered using them in a book? Those bits of history you mention are fascinating too. I hadn’t heard of them, though the history of nursery rhymes does interest me.

Frédérique said...

Lovely illustrations, and fun rhymes!
M is for Modern Quilts

Jade Li said...

All 3 nice prints and I like your two-fer.

Deborah Weber said...

I've never heard the first rhyme, but I do like your illustration. I confess I'm kind of creeped out about the idea of a clock so full of mice that a cat door had to be devised. Clever, but still, I'd be so using sun dials instead.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Kristin, it certainly is rather large for a mouse. But don't worry, I think the cat frightened it away.

Sue, I have done a book of illustrated nursery rhymes (Hey Diddle, Diddle! and Other Rhymes ), but not something including all these other illustrations and commentary in my blog posts. (I could never get permissions to use all of these, either.)

Deborah, I suspect there were enough mice to creep me out in most of the seventeenth century! But I like your solution of using a sundial. Apparently mineral oils weren't used until the nineteenth century.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by and commented!