Mother Goose - Identity

Identity

Mother Goose is the name given to an archetypal country woman. English readers were familiar with Mother Hubbard, already a stock figure when Edmund Spenser published his satire "Mother Hubbard's tale", 1590; with the superstitious advice on getting a husband or a wife of "Mother Bunch", who was credited with the fairy stories of Madame d'Aulnoy when they first appeared in English. Mother Goose is credited with the Mother Goose stories and rhymes; yet no specific writer has ever been identified with such a name. An early mention appears in an aside in a versified chronicle of weekly happenings that appeared regularly for several years, Jean Loret's La Muse Historique, collected in 1650. His remark, ...comme un conte de la Mère Oye ("...like a Mother Goose story") shows that the term was already familiar.

Other references to "mère l'oye" or "mère oye" occur in earlier French writings. A compilation of satires published in 1626 mentions "un conte d'Urgande et de ma mère l'Oye," (Les satyres de Saint-Regnier) Guy de la Brosse, in his 1628 work "De la nature, vertu et utilite de plantes", mentions "contes de la mère oye." And in Pieces Curieuses en suite de celles du Sieur de St. Germain, a piece written in 1638 reads "... tout ce que je fais imprimer dans mes Gazettes passe desormais pour des contes de ma mère l'oye, et des fables du moisne Bourry pour amuser le peuple... ." A side note reads: "Dont l'on fait peur aux petits enfans a Paris."

In spite of evidence to the contrary, there are doubtful reports, familiar to tourists to Boston, Massachusetts that the original Mother Goose was a Bostonian wife of an Isaac Goose, either named Elizabeth Foster Goose (1665–1758) or Mary Goose (d. 1690, age 42) who is interred at the Granary Burying Ground on Tremont Street. According to Eleanor Early, a Boston travel and history writer of the 1930s and '40s, the original Mother Goose was a real person who lived in Boston in the 1660s. She was reportedly the second wife of Isaac Goose (alternatively named Vergoose or Vertigoose), who brought to the marriage six children of her own to add to Isaac's ten. After Isaac died, Elizabeth went to live with her eldest daughter, who had married Thomas Fleet, a publisher who lived on Pudding Lane (now Devonshire Street). According to Early, "Mother Goose" used to sing songs and ditties to her grandchildren all day, and other children swarmed to hear them. Finally, her son-in-law gathered her jingles together and printed them.

In The Real Personages of Mother Goose (1930), Katherine Elwes Thomas submits that the image and name "Mother Goose", or "Mère l'Oye", may be based upon ancient legends of the wife of King Robert II of France, Berthe la fileuse (" Bertha the Spinner") or Berthe pied d'oie ("Goose-Foot Bertha" ), called in the Midi the reine Pedauque who, according to Thomas, is often referred in French legends as spinning incredible tales that enraptured children. The authority on the Mother Goose tradition, Iona Opie, does not give any credence to either the Elwes Thomas or the Boston suppositions.

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