Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book

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Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song-Book is the first anthology of English-language nursery rhymes, published in London in 1744. It contains the oldest printed texts of many well-known and popular rhymes, as well as several that eventually dropped out of the canon of rhymes for children. In 2013 a facsimile edition with an introduction by Andrea Immel and Brian Alderson was published by the Cotsen Occasional Press.


With the full title: Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book Voll. [sic] II, this was a sequel to the now lost Tommy Thumb's Song Book, published in London by Mary Cooper in 1744.[1] For many years, it was thought that there was only a single copy in existence, now in the British Library,[2] but in 2001 another copy appeared and was sold for £45,000.[3] An earlier collection, Songs for the Nursery, or Mother Goose's Melodies, was supposedly published in Boston in 1719, but the location has been disputed,[4] and no record of any such work exists. Henry Carey's 1725 satire on Ambrose Philips, Namby Pamby, quotes or alludes to some half-dozen or so nursery rhymes. As a result, this is the oldest printed collection of English nursery rhymes that is available.[5] The rhymes and illustrations were printed from copper plates, the text being stamped with punches into the lates, a technique borrowed from map and music printing. It is 3x134 inches and it is printed in alternate openings in red and black ink.[5]


The book contains forty nursery rhymes, many of which are still popular, including;

There are also a number of less familiar rhymes, some of which were probably unsuitable for later sensibilities, including:

Piss a Bed,
Piss a Bed,
Barley Butt,
Your Bum is so heavy,
You can't get up.

Some nursery rhymes turn up in disguise:

The Moon shines Bright,
The Stars give a light,
And you may kiss
A pretty girl
At ten a clock at night.

This is an earlier version of:

When I was a little boy
My mammy kept me in,
Now I am a great boy,
I'm fit to serve the king.
I can handle a musket,
And I can smoke a pipe.
And I can kiss a pretty girl
At twelve o'clock at night.[6]


  1. ^ Wolf, Shelby; Coats, Karen; Enciso, Patricia A.; Jenkins, Christine (2010). Handbook of Research on Children's and Young Adult Literature. Routledge. p. 188. ISBN 9780203843543. 
  2. ^ British Library,, retrieved 14 November 2009.
  3. ^ "News in Brief", 13 December 2001,,, retrieved 14 November 09.
  4. ^ "MOTHER GOOSE.; Longevity of the Boston Myth – The Facts of History in this Matter", New York Times,, retrieved 14 November 2009.
  5. ^ a b H. Carpenter and M. Prichard, The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature (Oxford University Press, 1984), pp. 533–4.
  6. ^ William S. Baring-Gould and Ceil Baring-Gould, The Annotated Mother Goose, pp. 24–43.

See also[edit]