Little Jack Horner
|"Little Jack Horner"
Little Jack Horner, illustration by William Wallace Denslow
|Music by||Michael Diack|
Lyrics and melody 
The most common modern lyrics are:
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!'
Origins and meaning 
In the chapbook The History of Jack Horner, Containing the Witty Pranks he play'd, from his Youth to his Riper Years, Being pleasant for Winter Evenings (1764), there is a mangled version of the nursery rhyme. However, it has been observed that the story is based on the much earlier tale of The Fryer and the Boy, and that this insertion is merely to justify the use of Jack Horner's name.
The earliest reference to the well-known verse is in Namby Pamby, a ballad by Henry Carey published in 1725, in which he himself italicised the original:
- 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.
This has been taken to suggest that the rhyme was well known by the early eighteenth century. Carey's poem is a satire on fellow writer Ambrose Philips, who had written infantile poems for the young children of his aristocratic patrons. Although several other nursery rhymes are mentioned there, the one about Little Jack Horner has been associated with acts of opportunism ever since. Just six years later it figured in another satirical work, Henry Fielding's The Grub Street Opera (1731). This had the prime minister Robert Walpole as its target and ends with all the characters processing off the stage 'to the music of Little Jack Horner'.
In the nineteenth century the story began to gain currency that the rhyme is actually about Thomas Horner, who was steward to Richard Whiting, the last abbot of Glastonbury before the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII of England. The story is reported that, prior to the abbey's destruction, the abbot sent Horner to London with a huge Christmas pie which had the deeds to a dozen manors hidden within it and that during the journey Horner opened the pie and extracted the deeds of the manor of Mells in Somerset. It is further suggested that, since the manor properties included lead mines in the Mendip Hills, the plum is a pun on the Latin plumbum, for lead. While records do indicate that Thomas Horner became the owner of the manor, paying for the title, both his descendants and subsequent owners of Mells Manor have asserted that the legend is untrue.
Cultural references 
- In his satirical novel Melincourt (1817), Thomas Love Peacock has five go-getting characters contribute to a song in which they describe how they misuse their trades to fleece the public. It begins with the recitative
- Jack Horner's CHRISTMAS PIE my learned nurse
- Interpreted to mean the public purse.
- From thence a plum he drew. O happy Horner!
- Who would not be ensconced in thy snug corner?
Each character then describes the nature of his sharp practice in a stanza followed by the general chorus
- And we'll all have a finger, a finger, a finger,
- We'll all have a finger in the CHRISTMAS PIE.
- Lord Byron mentions Jack in his Don Juan (Canto the Eleventh, stanza LXIX, 1823). It is the ancestor of many allusions since then, remembering him for little more than sitting in a corner.
- Sir James Fitzjames Stephen, in "A Tale of Two Cities," originally published in the Saturday Review (Vol.VIII, No.216, December 17, 1859), sarcastically compares Charles Dickens with Jack Horner, so as to show that Dickens is a hypocrite:
"The grandfathers of the present generation were, according to him, a sort of savages, or very little better. They were cruel, bigoted, unjust, ill-governed, oppressed, and neglected in every possible way. The childish delight with which Mr. Dickens acts Jack Horner, and says What a good boy am I, in comparison with my benighted ancestors, is thoroughly contemptible."
- The character of Jack Horner appears in the Fables comic book by Bill Willingham, where it is revealed that he is also most of the other Jacks featured in fairy tales, nursery rhymes, etc. The now-grown Jack is a chancer, amiable for the most part, but not overly competent, as a rule; as such, most of his get-rich-quick schemes are doomed to failure.
In popular music
- In the 20th century there are references to Jack Horner in songs by such musicians as Fats Waller and Bob Dylan but most refer to little more than the fact that he sat in a corner.
- There is a reinterpretation of the rhyme in a Chumbawamba lyric from their album The Unfairy Tale (1985). "Jack Horner" is put in the corner for resisting the racist and self-regarding interpretation of history given by his teacher. Eventually the children rise up to defend him:
- But when the head walked in the children made such a din.
- They said, 'Jack get up, you got to get out, don't let them push you about, you know they'll keep you in that corner till you're dead. Jack get out, don't sell out, don't compromise with christmas pies. Keep shouting back, you tell 'em Jack, don't swallow none of their crap. Calling Jack Horners everywhere, don't bend to authority which doesn't care, you know they'll keep you in that corner 'till you're dead.'
- Jane got up, she helped Jack out, she said, 'Teachers, don't mess us about, we won't listen to your dirty lies. It's you who've got your fingers in the pie. People die, you don't question why, we won't study your lies, we won't eat your christmas pie, we won't eat dead animal pie, we won't eat nukiller pie, we won't eat your pie r squared, and if you really cared, neither would you.'
- The 1990 album Pornograffitti by the American rock band Extreme, contained a song called "Lil' Jack Horny" that contained references to this nursery rhyme among others.
- The 1980 album Get Down Attack by the American funk band General Caine, contained a song called "Shake" that contains a risque reference to this nursery rhyme.
Appears in the episode The Five Short Graybles of Cartoon Network's Adventure Time.
- I. Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd edn., 1997), pp. 234-7.
- J. J. Fuld, The Book of World-Famous Music: Classical, Popular, and Folk (Courier Dover Publications, 5th edn., 2000), ISBN 0486414752, p. 502.
- Verse in English from Eighteenth Century Ireland - Google Books. Books.google.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-11-26.
- "Little Jack Horner - Mama Lisa's House of English Nursery Rhymes". Mamalisa.com. 2007-07-04. Retrieved 2012-11-26.
- Notes and queries - Google Boeken. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2012-11-26.
- C. Roberts, Heavy words lightly thrown: the reason behind the rhyme (Granta, 2004), p. 3.
- "Poems from "Melincourt"". Thomaslovepeacock.net. Retrieved 2012-11-26.
- Young, Molly. "Don Juan: Canto 11 by Lord Byron (George Gordon)". The Poetry Foundation. Retrieved 2012-11-26.
- "Louisa Mandarino". Webcache.googleusercontent.com. 2006-02-11. Retrieved 2012-11-26.
- "Jack Horner Lyrics - Chumbawamba". Sing365.com. Retrieved 2012-11-26.
- "Li'L Jack Horny Lyrics - Extreme". Lyricsg.com. Retrieved 2012-11-26.
- "Lil' Jack Horny". YouTube.com. Retrieved 2012-11-26.
- "General Caine - Shake (1980)". YouTube.com. Retrieved 2013-02-22.
- "General Caine - Get Down Attack (1980)". Retrieved 2013-02-22.
- William S. Baring-Gould and C. Baring-Gould, The Annotated Mother Goose: Nursery Rhymes Old and New, Arranged and Explained, New York: Bramhall House Publishing, 1962