The Owl

: Popular Rhymes And Nursery Tales


Cold toe--toe!

expresses the hooting of the owl. This bird, according to old ballads

and legends, was of exalted parentage. A rural ballad, cited in

Waterton's Essays on Natural History, 1838, p. 8, says:

Once I was a monarch's daughter,

And sat on a lady's knee;

But am now a nightly rover,

Banished to the ivy tree

Crying hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo,

Hoo, hoo, hoo, my feet are cold.

Pity me, for here you see me

Persecuted, poor, and old.

An anonymous writer, in the Gentleman's Magazine, vol. lxxiv. p. 1003,

mentions an old fairy tale respecting the owl, which, he says, is well

known to the nurses of Herefordshire. A certain fairy, disguised as an

old distressed woman, went to a baker's shop, and begged some dough of

his daughter, of whom she obtained a very small piece. This she farther

requested leave to bake in the oven, where it swelling to the size of a

large loaf, the baker's daughter refused to let her have it. She,

however, gave the pretended beggar another piece of dough, but still

smaller than the first; this swelled in the oven even more than the

other, and was in like manner retained. A third and still smaller piece

of dough came out of the oven the largest of all, and shared the same

fate. The disguised fairy, convinced of the woman's covetousness by

these repeated experiments, no longer restrained her indignation. She

resumed her proper form, and struck the culprit with her wand, who

immediately flew out of the window in the shape of an owl. This story

may be a version of the legend alluded to by Ophelia in Hamlet, iv. 5:

"They say the owl was a baker's daughter. Lord, we know what we are, but

know not what we may be."