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Tom Thumb

from Popular Rhymes And Nursery Tales - NURSERY GAMES





[Thumb stories are common in German and Danish, and the English tale
comprises much that is found in the Northern versions. A writer in the
Quarterly Review, xxi. 100, enters into some speculations respecting the
mythological origin of Tom Thumb, and records his persuasion, in which
we agree, that several of our common nursery tales are remnants of
ancient {~GREEK SMALL LETTER MU~}{~GREEK SMALL LETTER UPSILON~}{~GREEK SMALL LETTER THETA~}
{~GREEK SMALL LETTER OMICRON~}{~GREEK SMALL LETTER IOTA~}. Sir W. Scott mentions the Danish popular
history of Svend Tomling, analysed by Nierup, "a man no bigger than a
thumb, who would be married to a woman three ells and three quarters
long." This personage is probably commemorated in the nursery rhyme,

I had a little husband
No bigger than my thumb:
I put him in a pint-pot,
And there I bid him drum.

According to popular tradition, Tom Thumb died at Lincoln, and a little
blue flagstone in the pavement of the cathedral used to be pointed out
as his monument.

"It was my good fortune," says Dr. Wagstaffe, "some time ago, to have
the library of a schoolboy committed to my charge, where, among other
undiscovered valuable authors, I pitched upon Tom Thumb and Tom
Hickathrift, authors indeed more proper to adorn the shelves of Bodley
or the Vatican, than to be confined to the retirement and obscurity of a
private study. I have perused the first of these with an infinite
pleasure, and a more than ordinary application, and have made some
observations on it, which may not, I hope, prove unacceptable to the
public, and however it may have been ridiculed and looked upon as an
entertainment only for children and those of younger years, may be found
perhaps a performance not unworthy the perusal of the judicious, and the
model superior to either of those incomparable poems of Chevy Chase or
the Children in the Wood. The design was undoubtedly to recommend
virtue, and to show that however any one may labour under the
disadvantages of stature and deformity, or the meanness of parentage,
yet if his mind and actions are above the ordinary level, those very
disadvantages that seem to depress him add a lustre to his
character."--A Comment upon the History of Tom Thumb, 1711, p. 4.]

In the merry days of good King Arthur, there lived in one of the
counties of England a ploughman and his wife. They were poor, but as the
husband was a strong workman, and his partner an able assistant in all
matters pertaining to the farmhouse, the dairy, and poultry, they
managed to make a very good living, and would have been contented and
happy, had Nature blessed them with any offspring. But although they had
been married several years, no olive branch had yet appeared, and the
worthy couple sadly lamented their hard lot.

There lived at this period, at the court of Arthur, a celebrated
conjuror and magician, whose name was Merlin, the astonishment of the
whole world, for he knew the past, present, and future, and nothing
appeared impossible to him. Persons of all classes solicited his
assistance and advice, and he was perfectly accessible to the humblest
applicant. Aware of this, the ploughman, after a long consultation with
his "better half," determined to consult him, and, for this purpose,
travelled to the court, and, with tears in his eyes, beseeched Merlin
that he might have a child, "even though it should be no bigger than his
thumb."

Now Merlin had a strange knack of taking people exactly at their words,
and without waiting for any more explicit declaration of the ploughman's
wishes, at once granted his request. What was the poor countryman's
astonishment to find, when he reached home, that his wife had given
birth to a gentleman so diminutive, that it required a strong exercise
of the vision to see him. His growth was equally wonderful, for--

In four minutes he grew so fast,
That he became as tall
As was the ploughman's thumb in length,
And so she did him call.

The christening of this little fellow was a matter of much ceremony, for
the fairy queen, attended by all her company of elves, was present at
the rite, and he formally received the name of Tom Thumb. Her majesty
and attendants attired him with their choicest weeds, and his costume is
worth a brief notice. His hat was made of a beautiful oak leaf; his
shirt was composed of a fine spider's web, and his hose and doublet of
thistle-down. His stockings were made with the rind of a delicate green
apple, and the garters were two of the finest little hairs one can
imagine, plucked from his mother's eyebrows. Shoes made of the skin of a
little mouse, "and tanned most curiously," completed his fairy-like
accoutrement.

It may easily be imagined that Tom was an object of astonishment and
ridicule amongst the other children of the village, but they soon
discovered that, notwithstanding his diminutive size, he was more than a
match for them. It was a matter of very little consequence to Tom
whether he lost or won, for if he found his stock of counters or
cherrystones run low, he soon crept into the pockets of his companions,
and replenished his store. It happened, on one occasion, that he was
detected, and the aggrieved party punished Tom by shutting him up in a
pin-box. The fairy boy was sadly annoyed at his imprisonment, but the
next day he amply revenged himself; for hanging a row of glasses on a
sunbeam, his companions thought they would follow his example, and, not
possessing Tom's fairy gifts, broke the glasses, and were severely
whipped, whilst the little imp was overjoyed at their misfortune,
standing by, and laughing till the tears run down his face.

The boys were so irritated with the trick that had been played upon
them, that Tom's mother was afraid to trust him any longer in their
company. She accordingly kept him at home, and made him assist her in
any light work suitable for so small a child. One day, while she was
making a batter-pudding, Tom stood on the edge of the bowl, with a
lighted candle in his hand, so that she might see it was properly made.
Unfortunately, however, when her back was turned, Tom accidentally fell
in the bowl, and his mother not missing him, stirred him up in the
pudding "instead of minced fat," and put the pudding in the kettle with
Tom in it. The poor woman paid dearly for her mistake, for Tom had no
sooner felt the warm water, than he danced about like mad, and the
pudding jumped about till she was nearly frightened out of her wits, and
was glad to give it to a tinker who happened to be passing that way. He
was thankful for a present so acceptable, and anticipated the pleasure
of eating a better dinner than he had enjoyed for many a long day. But
his joy was of short duration, for as he was getting over a stile, he
happened to sneeze very hard, and Tom, who had hitherto remained silent,
cried out, "Hollo, Pickens!" which so terrified the tinker, that he
threw the pudding into the field, and scampered away as fast as ever he
could go. The pudding tumbled to pieces with the fall, and Tom, creeping
out, went home to his mother, who had been in great affliction on
account of his absence.

A few days after this adventure, Tom accompanied his mother when she
went into the fields to milk the cows, and for fear he should be blown
away by the wind, she tied him to a thistle with a small piece of
thread. While in this position, a cow came by, and swallowed him up:

But, being missed, his mother went,
Calling him everywhere:
Where art thou, Tom? where art thou, Tom?
Quoth he, Here, mother, here!

Within the red cow's stomach, here
Your son is swallowed up;
All which within her fearful heart
Much woful dolour put.

The cow, however, was soon tired of her subject, for Tom kicked and
scratched till the poor animal was nearly mad, and at length tumbled him
out of her mouth, when he was caught by his mother, and carried safely
home.

A succession of untoward accidents followed. One day, Tom's father took
him to the fields a-ploughing, and gave him "a whip made of a barley
straw" to drive the oxen with, but the dwarf was soon lost in a furrow.
While he was there, a great raven came and carried him an immense
distance to the top of a giant's castle. The giant soon swallowed him
up, but he made such a disturbance when he got inside, that the monster
was soon glad to get rid of him, and threw the mischievous little imp
full three miles into the sea. But he was not drowned, for he had
scarcely reached the water before he was swallowed by a huge fish, which
was shortly after captured, and sent to King Arthur by the fisherman for
a new-year's gift. Tom was now discovered, and at once adopted by the
king as his dwarf;

Long time he liv'd in jollity,
Belov'd of the court,
And none like Tom was so esteem'd
Amongst the better sort.

The queen was delighted with the little dwarf, and made him dance a
galliard on her left hand. His performance was so satisfactory, that
King Arthur gave him a ring which he wore about his middle like a
girdle; and he literally "crept up the royal sleeve," requesting leave
to visit his parents, and take them as much money as he could carry:

And so away goes lusty Tom
With threepence at his back,
A heavy burthen, which did make
His very bones to crack.

Tom remained three days with the old couple, and feasted upon a
hazel-nut so extravagantly that he grew ill. His indisposition was not
of long continuance, and Arthur was so anxious for the return of his
dwarf, that his mother took a birding-trunk, and blew him to the court.
He was received by the king with every demonstration of affection and
delight, and tournaments were immediately proclaimed:

Thus he at tilt and tournament
Was entertained so,
That all the rest of Arthur's knights
Did him much pleasure show.

And good Sir Launcelot du Lake,
Sir Tristram and Sir Guy,
Yet none compar'd to brave Tom Thumb
In acts of chivalry.

Tom, however, paid dearly for his victories, for the exertions he made
upon this celebrated occasion threw him into an illness which ultimately
occasioned his death. But the hero was carried away by his godmother,
the fairy queen, into the land of Faerie, and after the lapse of two
centuries, he was suffered to return to earth, and again amuse men by
his comical adventures. On one occasion, after his return from
fairy-land, he jumped down a miller's throat, and played all manner of
pranks on the poor fellow, telling him of all his misdeeds, for millers
in former days were the greatest rogues, as everybody knows, that ever
lived. A short time afterwards, Tom a second time is swallowed by a
fish, which is caught, and set for sale at the town of Rye, where a
steward haggles for it,--

Amongst the rest the steward came,
Who would the salmon buy,
And other fish that he did name,
But he would not comply.

The steward said, You are so stout,
If so, I'll not buy any.
So then bespoke Tom Thumb aloud,
"Sir, give the other penny!"

At this they began to stare,
To hear this sudden joke:
Nay, some were frighted to the heart,
And thought the dead fish spoke.

So the steward made no more ado,
But bid a penny more;
Because, he said, I never heard
A fish to speak before.

The remainder of the history, which details Tom's adventures with the
queen, his coach drawn by six beautiful white mice, his escaping on the
back of a butterfly, and his death in a spider's web, is undoubtedly a
later addition to the original, and may therefore be omitted in this
analysis. It is, in fact, a very poor imitation of the first part of the
tale.





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