Little Jack Horner is a nursery rhyme from the 18th century. It has many interpretations and has been rewritten to present a different theme over the years. The rhyme is short and fun to sing. It has been widely used to symbolize political scenarios in different eras.
In fact, even the original appears to be a take on the then-rulers. Moralists also used the rhyme to preach a moral ground. They even created extended versions of the rhyme to portray the importance of good deeds.
There’s more, of course. Continue reading to find out who the original poem referred to and what it meant.
Little Jack Horner
Sat in the corner,
Eating a Christmas pie;
He put in his thumb,
And pulled out a plum,
And said ‘What a good boy am I.
“Now he sings of Jacky Horner
Sitting in the Chimney-corner
Eating of a Christmas pie,
Putting in his thumb, Oh Fie
Putting in, Oh Fie! his Thumb
Pulling out, Oh Strange! a Plum.”
Download the printable PDF file with lyrics of the original and modern version of the rhyme.
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Origins and History
James William Elliott, nursery rhyme collector and composer created a melody for the rhyme and published it in his National Nursery Rhymes and Nursery Songs in 1870. However, the rhyme was already published in Mother Goose's Melody in 1765.
The first reference to the poem appears in 1725 when Henry Carey, an English dramatist, poet, and songwriter, wrote a satirical poem Namby Pamby. He italicized the words he took from the original and added a few of his own. This shows that the rhyme is an older folksong. Some researchers say it belongs to the Tudor period (1485-1603), and Jack Horner represents Thomas Horner. Henry Carey’s version refers to Ambrose Philips, his fellow writer. The rhyme represented opportunism ever since.
Henry Fielding used the rhyme in his play The Grub Street Opera in 1731. It was a satirical take on Robert Walpole, the first Prime Minister of Britain. Thomas Love Peacock did a similar thing in 1817 to expose fraudulent tradesmen.
In the early 19th century, moralists said that Jack Horner’s love for food was greediness. They rewrote it, where Jack gives his pie to a poor woman and gets rewarded with a new pie at the end of the rhyme. The first rewritten version was published in The Renowned History of Little Jack Horner in 1820. This version was republished multiple times and entered the US.
However, the original continued to symbolize political opportunism, greed, scandals, etc. The poem traveled around the world, from the US to Canada to Russia to Australia.
Yes, it is. The nursery rhyme is listed at 13027.
Thomas Horner was Richard Whiting’s steward. Whiting was an English Catholic priest and the last Abbot of Glastonbury. It’s said that Horner took out the property deeds hidden in the pie, which were supposed to be a gift to convince King Henry VIII against the dissolution of monasteries.