“ALTHOUGH, for the last half a century, nursery rhymes have been collected in all civilised countries, the comparative method has not yet entered that branch of folklore. That stories – fairy-tales, legends, ballads – should be international property is almost universally admitted, but the kingdom of custom, popular belief, nursery rhyme, proverb, is still regarded as national in a very high degree, and he who proves by historical facts that one nation frequently borrowed such things from another still hurts the feelings of thousands. Sentimental folklorists who did not wish to lose any bit of the treasure of national tradition have taken refuge in the “anthropological theory,” according to which similar results are produced by similar conditions, and thus the same nursery rhyme may originate at a thousand different places independently. If the Scotsman, dandling his baby on his knees, sings, “This is the way the ladies ride, the ladies ride; this is the way the gentlemen ride, the gentlemen ride,” and the German father, under similar circumstances, says, So fahr’n, so fahr’n, die Dämechen, so reiten, so reiten die Herrchen; so schackert der Bauer, so schackert der Bauer* – pardutz, there is wonderful evidence of coincidence in the manifestations of human nature in different parts of the world. Was the Scottish nursery rhyme earlier than the German or vice versa? Perhaps some learned reader of SCOTS LORE is able to give information on that subject.
In the instance given above the matter is of no great importance, and although such inquiries are rather difficult, owing to the utter absence of literary material in former centuries, the question might be settled without any animosity. But how is it in the following case? A few days ago I became acquainted, through oral repetition, with a Scottish nursery rhyme, widely used as an accompaniment in playing with baby’s fingers. While pronouncing the respective numbers contained in it the person playing takes the baby’s fingers one by one. The little rhyme as a whole – and four lines especially – shows an undeniable likeness to the Hexeneinmaleins in Goethe’s Faust. I print the two along side of each other:-
One and two: Du musst verstehn! You have to understand!
Aus eins mach zehn, One becomes ten,
Buckle my shoe. Und zwei lass gehn, And two let go,
Three and four: Und drei mach gleich : And three into the same:
Shut the door. So bist du reich. So you are rich.
Five and six: Verlier die vier! Lose the four!
Gather sticks. Aus fünf und sechs, From five and six,
So sagt die Hex, So says the Witch,
Seven and eight: Mach sieben und acht! Make seven and eight!
Lay them straight. So ists vollbracht. So it’s accomplished.
Nine and ten: Und neun ist eins, And nine is one,
Und zehn ist keins And ten is none.
A good fat hen. Das ist das Hexeneinmaleins! That is the Witch’s Multiplication-Table!
The Witch’s Multiplication-Table has the same metre as the verses of the Animals of the Witches Kitchen, and is very similar to them besides. A year ago I proved1 that the source of the verses of the Animals is a poem from a little German Magic Book: Alchimistisch Sieben-Gestirn, Frankfurt a. M. 1756, which was known to Goethe beyond doubt; and from the same source is taken the idea for the two lines, Und drei mach gleich – So bist du reich. But that source contains nothing by which the idea of the Multiplication-Table could have been suggested, and thus an independent source must be assumed for that. I have no doubt that that idea was given to Goethe by a German nursery rhyme very much like the Scottish one, and that he transformed it in his own way, probably adding such metaphysics of his own as Neun ist eins, Und zehn ist keins. Probably the supposed German folk-rhyme ran instead: Und NULL ist keins. It was to folklore, however, that the genius owed the idea. The Scottish nursery rhyme, with its far greater simplicity and proportion, is certainly not derived from Goethe’s Faust, and Goethe certainly did not know the Scottish nursery rhyme either. But in all probability there was a German nursery rhyme corresponding to the Scottish as closely as the differences of the languages, i.e., the different rhymes called forth by the different endings of the German numbers, would allow. Lines 5-8 of the Scottish text and lines 7-10 of the Witch’s Multiplication-Table are too similar for the likeness to be explainable by chance. If such a German nursery rhyme has been overlooked by the collectors of folksongs in Germany, this is probably due to the very likeness of it to the Hexeneinmaleins, for that seemed to make it rather probable that the popular rhyme was derived from Faust. The problem of the age and the origin of both the Scottish and the German rhyme remains still to be solved. Which is the original? I should be very grateful for any help towards solving that question.