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Tom Thumb
Considering the Oral Tradition of the Britannic Slave Class
“When I was a little boy
My mammy kept me in,
Now I am a great boy,
I'm fit to serve the king.
I can handle a musket,
And I can smoke a pipe.
And I can kiss a pretty girl
At twelve o'clock at night.”
-Tom Thumb’s Pretty Song Book, 1744
In the rhyme above the word boy, which entered the English language alongside “girl” as a term for slave at the beginning of the Plantation Era [citation from Cracker-Boy] has not been forgotten. Indeed, the term “boy” is to this day, considered a “racist” slur among African Americans, who despite believing in the false notion that they were the only folk ever enslaved, have the wisdom of the non-Aryan mind, being that inability to lie to one’s self about one’s own nature. As late as 1934, when FDR was recorded on news reel sitting down with at lunch with a table of New Deal civic laborers, he, without apparent malice intended or sensed, referred to the gathering of men as “boys,” an indication of their laboring status, the wage laborer of the industrial era having inherited the low social station of the agricultural slave of the early Modern Era.
Below, from the same anthology, is a tale of civic responsibility, which has had the graphic hanging of the sparrow omitted.
The earliest record of the rhyme is in Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book, published c. 1744, which noted only the first four verses. The extended version given below was not printed until c. 1770.[1]
Who killed Cock Robin?
I, said the Sparrow,
with my bow and arrow,
I killed Cock Robin.
Who saw him die?
I, said the Fly,
with my little eye,
I saw him die.
Who caught his blood?
I, said the Fish,
with my little dish,
I caught his blood.
Who'll make the shroud?
I, said the Beetle,
with my thread and needle,
I'll make the shroud.
Who'll dig his grave?
I, said the Owl,
with my little trowel,
I'll dig his grave.
Who'll be the parson?
I, said the Rook,
with my little book,
I'll be the parson.
Who'll be the clerk?
I, said the Lark,
if it's not in the dark,
I'll be the clerk.
Who'll carry the link?
I, said the Linnet,
I'll fetch it in a minute,
I'll carry the link.
Who'll be chief mourner?
I, said the Dove,
I mourn for my love,
I'll be chief mourner.
Who'll carry the coffin?
I, said the Kite,
if it's not through the night,
I'll carry the coffin.
Who'll bear the pall?
We, said the Wren,
both the cock and the hen,
We'll bear the pall.
Who'll sing a psalm?
I, said the Thrush,
as she sat on a bush,
I'll sing a psalm.
Who'll toll the bell?
I, said the Bull,
because I can pull,
I'll toll the bell.
All the birds of the air
fell a-sighing and a-sobbing,
when they heard the bell toll
for poor Cock Robin.
The rhyme has often been reprinted with illustrations, as suitable reading material for small children. The rhyme also has an alternative ending, in which the sparrow who killed cock robin is hanged for his crime. Several early versions picture a stocky, strong-billed bullfinch tolling the bell, which may have been the original intention of the rhyme.
Naughty Boys to Blackbirds
Here we have, in two versions of the same rhyme, the plight of the poor expressed, with the maid [maid being a term for female slave to a woman of stature] with a whisper of third-party cannibalism assigned to the fate of the maid, with an earlier reference about the pie packed with “naughty boys” referring to direct cannibalism. Although there is a rich history of cannibalism in England from times of famine, and there was clear eating of one another among the adventurers and slaves of early Jamestown, it is this reader’s sense that these rhymes reflect the fact that the ease of the rich and their radically different diet from that of the poor, was facilitated by the toilsome suffering and death of the poor.
“Sing a song of sixpence a pocket full of rye,
Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened the birds began to sing,
Oh wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the king?
The king was in his counting house counting out his money,
The queen was in the parlour eating bread and honey
The maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes,
When down came a blackbird and pecked off her nose!”
…the first verse had already appeared in print in Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book, published in London around 1744, in the form:
“Sing a Song of Sixpence,
A bag full of Rye,
Four and twenty Naughty Boys,
Baked in a Pye.”
Who was a naughty boy if not a disobedient slave?
The term naughty comes from naught, meaning valueless, and essentially has the same meaning as “trash” “rubbish men” “waste men” and “white trash.”
My favorite from this collection, is the most succinctly class-conscious of the lot. Let us keep in mind, that with no social safety net as we know it, a Christian Prosperity attitude that equated economic failure with sin and the deserved damnation of the life and afterlife, that all wealthy and middling folk, knew that they were one misstep, one debt, away from slavery. This is the entire point of Candide, Voltaire’s brilliantly understated satire, published within a decade of Tom Thumb’s Pretty Song Book. Rather than elicit compassion for the poor and unfree, this realization that the Early Modern System of debt slavery and broad-based assignment and application of capital punishment [with most crimes, even simple theft of an apple or chicken, punishable by death] was entirely predatory, made of nearly every man and woman of means a savage predator, simply for the sake of remaining out of the clutches of dire poverty and enslavement forever beckoning the unwary.
“My mill grinds
Pepper, and Spice
Your mill grinds
Rats, and Mice.”
-Tom Thumb’s Pretty Song Book, 1744
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