April 22, 2020

S is for Simple Simon

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

Simple Simon met a pieman,
Going to the fair;
Says Simple Simon to the pieman,
“Let me taste your ware.”

Says the pieman to Simple Simon,
“Show me first your penny;”
Says Simple Simon to the pieman,
“Indeed I have not any.”

Simple Simon went a-fishing,
For to catch a whale;
All the water he had got
Was in his mother’s pail.

     Simple Simon went to look
     If plums grew on a thistle;
     He pricked his fingers very much,
     Which made poor Simon whistle.

He went for water in a sieve
But soon it all fell through;
And now poor Simple Simon
Bids you all adieu.

        But we still don’t technically know whether he found any plums, or caught a whale.
        This is one of those nursery rhymes with lots of verses, which appear in various number and combination in various versions of the rhyme.  It is the nature of these things that people add and subtract as the spirit moves.  The verses are intended to illustrate Simon’s foolishness as he attempts all manner of activities that range from merely silly to physically impossible.  I find it interesting, however, that the tone of the rhyme tends to be fairly sympathetic to Simon.    No, he’s not too smart, but we seem to view him fondly anyway.
        I’ve chosen an illustration for each of the episodes included above.  First is Simon’s conversation with the pieman.  Maybe it’s foolish to expect to be given a pie - after all, the pieman has to make a living - but really, it never hurts to ask.  The only indication we have in this illustration that Simon is simple is that he’s holding a twig, something properly wise and sophisticated adults don’t seem to do very often.  This print is made with a separate block for each color of ink, and it looks like that makes 6 blocks.  Additional colors can be built up where blocks overlap.
        Next up, Simon is fishing in his mother’s pail.  The color here is watercolor applied after the book was printed.  This comes from an 8-page pamphlet, which was an extremely common and popular format for all sorts of books, but especially books for children in the nineteenth century.  They were often available either colored or uncolored, priced accordingly.  (This is a far nicer production than yesterday's.)  I like Simon’s eagerness in this illustration.  He’s leaning forward, eyes wide with anticipation.  He’s also dressed to the nines.
        The illustrations for the last two verses both come from another short chapbook.  Once again Simon looks quite eager, with a little smile as he reaches for the thistle.  One gets the impression that he’s very cheerful and doesn’t let his constant disappointments get him down.  I especially like the way this anonymous artist has carved the texture of the thistle and the water falling from the sieve.  It proves that simple doesn’t have to be ineffective in art, even if it is in Simon.
        True confessions: what’s one of the more amusingly foolish things you’ve ever done?
        A final note for impressionable children:  Don’t go fishing for whales in any body of 
water; they’re severely endangered and should be left in peace.

[Pictures: Color wood engraving by Philip Reed from Mother Goose and Nursery Rhymes, 1963;
Hand-colored wood block print from The History of Simple Simon, early 19th century (Image from Hathi Trust);
Wood block prints from The History of Simple Simon printed by J. Kendrew, c 1820 (Images from Internet Archive).]


Kathe W. said...

Poor Simple Simon! and again these illustrations are so intricate and different....I have some old nursery rhyme books tucked away- I'll have to take a look at them. Cheers and have a good day!

Lisa said...

I was only familiar with the first part, with the pie man. Thank you for introducing me to so many more verses and variations of nursery rhymes!

Jade Li said...

I love the comments you make here today. I'm too embarrassed to say any of the foolish things I've done. I look back on them and just shake my head!

A Tarkabarka Hölgy said...

This is a new one for me. I kinda like it :)

The Multicolored Diary

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Kathe, let me know if you find anything particularly appealing in your old books!

Lisa, there are actually lots more verses, too. I just picked some of the more common ones - and ones that I liked best.

Jade, there are some embarrassing things I've done that still make me want to melt into the floor, but there are others that give me a good a laugh.

Zalka, this clearly comes from the same tradition as all sorts of folktales about foolish people, like "Hans in Luck."

Deborah Weber said...

I was happy to read additional stanzas, as I could only recall the first. I like your point that Simon is portrayed with fondness and not meanness - that's an important teaching right there delights me.

I'll confess to one of the most simple and foolish things of my childhood. We weren't allowed to have a pet, but my brother and I found a fabulous fat caterpillar and named him Herman. I took him around the neighborhood and introduced him to all our neighbors. I blush thinking about it now, while at the same time feel such tenderness for that little simple me.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Deborah, no cause for blushing, that's a sweet story! =)

Ronel Janse van Vuuren said...

Interesting illustrations!

An A-Z of Faerie: Sirens