The Snail

: Popular Rhymes And Nursery Tales

In Yorkshire, in evenings when the dew falls heavily, the boys hunt the

large black snails, and sing:

Snail, snail! put out your horn,

Or I'll kill your father and mother i' th' morn.

Another version runs thus:

Snail, snail, put out your horns,

I'll give you bread and barleycorns.

And sometimes the following song
s shouted on this occasion:

Sneel, snaul,

Robbers are coming to pull down your wall.

Sneel, snaul,

Put out your horn,

Robbers are coming to steal your corn,

Coming at four o'clock in the morn.

The version generally heard in the southern counties differs very

considerably from the above, and the original use and meaning are very

seldom practised or understood:

Snail, snail, come out of your hole,

Or else I'll beat you as black as a coal.

Mr. Chambers, p. 171, gives some very interesting observations on these

lines. "In England," he says, "the snail scoops out hollows, little

rotund chambers, in limestone, for its residence. This habit of the

animal is so important in its effects, as to have attracted the

attention of geologists; one of the most distinguished of whom (Dr.

Buckland) alluded to it at the meeting of the British Association at

Plymouth, in 1841." The above rhyme is a boy's invocation to the snail

to come out of such holes or any other places of retreat resorted to by

it. Mr. Chambers also informs us that, in some districts of Scotland, it

is supposed that it is an indication of good weather if the snail obeys

the injunction of putting out its horn:

Snailie, snailie, shoot out your horn,

And tell us if it will be a bonnie day the morn.

It appears from Gay's Shepherd's Week, ed. 1742, p. 34, that snails were

formerly used in rural love-divinations. It was the custom[44] to place

the little animal on the soft ashes, and to form an opinion respecting

the initial of the name of a future lover by the fancied letter made by

the crawling of the snail on the ashes:

Last May-day fair I search'd to find a snail,

That might my secret lover's name reveal;

Upon a gooseberry bush a snail I found,

For always snails near sweetest fruit abound.

I seiz'd the vermin, home I quickly sped,

And on the hearth the milk-white embers spread.

Slow crawl'd the snail, and if I right can spell,

In the soft ashes mark'd a curious L;

Oh, may this wondrous omen lucky prove,

For L is found in Lubberkin and Love!

[Footnote 44: A similar practice is common in

Ireland. See Croker's Fairy Legends, i. 215.]

Verses on the snail, similar to those given above, are current over many

parts of Europe. In Denmark, the children say (Thiele, iii. 138)--

Snegl! snegl! kom herud!

Her er en Mand, som vil kjoebe dit Huus,

For en Skjaeppe Penge!

Snail! snail! come out here!

Here is a man thy house will buy,

For a measure of white money.

A similar idea is preserved in Germany, the children saying (Des Knaben

Wunderhorn, iii. 81)--

Klosterfrau im Schneckenhaeussle,

Sie meint, sie sey verborgen.

Kommt der Pater Guardian,

Wuenscht ihr guten Morgen!

Cloister-dame, in house of shell,

Ye think ye are hidden well.

Father Guardian will come,

And wish you good morning.

The following lines are given by M. Kuhn, Gebraeuche und Aberglauben,

398, as current in Stendal:

Schneckhus, peckhus,

Staek du din ver hoerner rut,

Suest schmit ick di in'n graven,

Da freten di de raven.