Did the house that Jack built come from Spain?

Cumulative songs (and monstrous nested stuffing recipes) in Quixote and Estebanillo González, with the grossest video you’ll see today.

Quijote and Estebanillo

One of my favourite English kids’ songs is “I know an old lady who swallowed a fly,” which I know from the Burl Ives version I heard as a child:

Current bedtime reading is La vida y hechos de Estebanillo González, the mid-C17th picaresque of a scoundrel’s adventures in the Thirty Years War. In Captain Stevens’ 1707 English translation, 1, a Spanish cumulative verse like “I know an old lady” is translated by reference to “The house that Jack built”:

My Master is such a Worthy Person, that he had rather see his Servants made much of, than please himself, and therefore he and his Friends never put their Landlords to any more Charge than a Dish of Imperial Stuff’d Meat with an Egg in it. He ask’d me, What that Stuff’d Meat was made of? And I bid him order me a new lay’d Egg, and a Squab Pidgeon, and two Loads of Coals, and to send for a Cobler, with his Nawl and Ends, and a Grave maker, with his Spade, and then he should know what else was wanting, that he might provide it, whilst we were at Work. The Landlord was amaz’d, and went away half beside himself, to get the Necessaries for the ordering of that Dish of Stuff’d Meat. A while after he return’d with all I had demanded, except the two Loads of Coals. I took the Egg and the Squab-Pidgeon, which I Gutted, and cutting it open enough with my Knife, for I had all my Tools about me, clapp’d the Egg into the Belly of it, and then said to him, Now, Sir, take Notice of this Stuff’d Meat, for it is just like the Tale the Children tell of, This is the Stick that beat the Dog, the Dog that bit the Cat, the Cat that kill’d the Mouse, the Mouse that eat the Malt, the Malt that lay in the House that Jack built; for this Egg is in the Pidgeon, the Pidgeon is to be put into a Partridge, the Partridge into a Pheasant, the Pheasant into a Pullet, the Pullet into a Capon, the Capon înto a Turkey, the Turkey into a Kid, the Kid into a Sheep, the Sheep into a Calf, and the Calf into a Cow, all these Creatures are to be Pull’d, Flea’d and Larded, except the Cow, which is to have her Hide on, and as they are thrüst one into another, like to a Nest of [English ]Boxes, the Cobler is to Sew every one up with an End, that they may not slip out; and when they are all fast Sew’d into the Cows Belly, the Grave Digger is to throw up a deep Trench, into which one Load of Coals is to be cast, and the Cow laid a top of it, and the other Load upon her, and the Fuel set on Fire, to Burn about four Hours, more or less; when the Meat being taken out, it is all Incorporated, and becomes such a delicious Dish, that formerly the Emperors us’d to Dine upon it on their Coronation Day, for which Reason, and because an Egg is the Foundation of all that curious Mess, it was call’d, The Imperial Egg Stuff’d Meat. 2

[
Before we look at Jack, some culinary credibility in this stuffing demonstration using real animals in Fernando Fernán Gómez’s 1974 Spanish Golden Age picaresque potpourri, El pícaro:

I hope that was gross enough. Back to Jack.
]
Stevens (1707) beats Wikipedia‘s first (1739) sighting of the house that Jack built by 32 years, so adepts may want to do a bit of gardening there. Cervantes in Quixote (1605), as well as an imperial relleno adobado like Estebanillo’s, 3 has a more extended version of Estebanillo’s Tom and Jerry cumulative song, which Shelton in 1612 translates more-or-less literally and without reference to Jack:

And so, as men say, the cat to the rat, the rat to the cord, the cord to the post; so the carrier struck Sancho, Sancho the wench, she returned him again his liberality with interest, and the inn-keeper laid load upon his maid also; and all of them did mince it with such expedition, as there was no leisure at all allowed to any one of them for breathing. 4

I think this is the same song of the starving grandparents found in Spanish oral tradition, whose accumulation is pretty much along the lines of the house that Jack built. A quick translation:

An old woman and an old man had nothing to eat but a cheese, and along came a (rhyming) rat and ate it.

Then along came the cat
And killed the rat
Which ate the cheese
Of grandma and grandpa.

Then along came the dog
And killed the cat
Which killed the rat
Which ate the cheese
Of grandma and grandpa.

Then along came the stick
And killed the dog
Which killed the cat
Which killed the rat
Which ate the cheese
Of grandma and grandpa.

Then along came the fire
And burnt the stick
Which killed the dog
Which killed the cat
Which killed the rat
Which ate the cheese
Of grandma and grandpa.

Then along came the water
And killed the fire
Which burnt the stick
Which killed the dog
Which killed the cat
Which killed the rat
Which ate the cheese
Of grandma and grandpa.

The ox to the fold
My story’s told
That couple so old
No cheese did behold. 5

But the verse is undated, and so while it might be older than Cervantes, so might it equally be a variant of some version of “The house that Jack built” taught to a Spanish girl by some Napoleon-fighting Brit during the Peninsular War, or some such curiosity, and so we will ignore it.

Spanish origins, or a universal technique?

So was the Jack architecture copied from the Spanish? Estebanillo is shorter in Spanish than English, which might suggest that Jack and other Aarne-Thompson 2035-type (food) chain songs were quite new in English in 1707 but already well-established in Spanish when the novel was published around 1650:

Original

Repare vuesa merced en este relleno, porque es lo mismo que el juego del gato al rato
Literal translation

Your Grace, note this stuff’d meat, for it is just like the game of the cat with the mouse
Stevens’ gloss

Now, Sir, take Notice of this Stuff’d Meat, for it is just like the Tale the Children tell of, This is the Stick that beat the Dog, the Dog that bit the Cat, the Cat that kill’d the Mouse, the Mouse that eat the Malt, the Malt that lay in the House that Jack built

OK, then there’s the literality of the Cervantes translation, but the casual reference to the cat who killed the mouse (or, for you rhymers, the cat who the rat did splat) Canarian polylinguist Bartolomé Cairasco de Figueroa in Tragedia y martirio de Santa Catalina de Alejandría (ca. 1580) and the lack of any known source in English again might suggest that the device was deeply ingrained in Spain but not in England:

Éste es el gato
que mató al rato

On the other hand, perhaps this kind of thing was going on everywhere in the 16th century. I should be able to think of Dutch examples, and early German counting tales, Zählgeschichten, but can’t. Can you suggest anything in another language in early modern Europe?

Or perhaps it’s actually universal – of all places and times, a spinoff from the use in oral cultures of cumulative techniques for the rote-learning (particularly by children) of genealogies and itineraries. Let us imagine a visit to some early descendants of Shem in an Arabian desert:

Abraham begat Isaac;
Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob;
Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren;

… or some of Japheth’s spawn, shivering amid painted savages in a British marsh:

Venta Silurum, 9,000 paces
Venta Silurum, 9,000 paces; Abone, 14,000 paces;
Venta Silurum, 9,000 paces; Abone, 14,000 paces; Traiectus, 9,000 paces;

Afterword: cumulative song striptease?

What game did you play as a child with the house that Jack built? I can’t remember, but a book of dances and games (Bailes y juegos: diversiones varias para entretenimiento y recreo de las tertulias y sociedades… por un aficionado (1903)) describes what may be a rather unusual way of accompanying “La llave del jardín del rey,” the key of the garden of the king:

The game director takes a key with a cord tied to it and gives it to the player to his right, saying, “This is the key to the garden of the king.” The recipient passes it to the player to his right, saying the same thing, and thus the key travels from hand to hand until it returns to the director. He again hands it to the player to his right, saying, “This is the cord which holds the key which gives access to the garden of the king.” The recipient hands it to the following player, saying the same thing, and so on and so forth until the key comes once more into the hands of the director, who continues by saying, “This is the mouse which ate the cord which holds the key which gives access to the garden of the king,” which everyone else repeats. Then, when the key has been returned to the director, he continues, “This is the cat which ate the mouse which ate the cord which holds the key which gives access to the garden of the king.” Then he adds, “This is the lion which ate the cat which ate the mouse which ate the cord which holds the key which gives access to the garden of the king.” Finally, he adds, “This is the hunter who killed the lion which ate the cat which ate the mouse which ate the cord which holds the key which gives access to the garden of the king.” Thus the list increases, the director being empowered to vary the words as he wishes in order to cause more errors and the payment of more items of clothing. 6

Prenda is of course actually forfeit here, rather than an item of clothing, as in Dickens:

‘This,’ said Mr. Pickwick, looking round him, ‘this is, indeed, comfort.’ ‘Our invariable custom,’ replied Mr. Wardle. ‘Everybody sits down with us on Christmas Eve, as you see them now — servants and all; and here we wait, until the clock strikes twelve, to usher Christmas in, and beguile the time with forfeits and old stories. Trundle, my boy, rake up the fire.’

But search engines seek sensation. As did Pepys:

[A]fter dinner the Comptroller begun some sports, among others the naming of people round and afterwards demanding questions of them that they are forced to answer their names to, which do make very good sport. And here I took pleasure to take the forfeits of the ladies who would not do their duty by kissing of them; among others a pretty lady, who I found afterwards to be wife to Sir W. Batten’s son. Home, and then with my wife to see Sir W. Batten…

What a back-and-forth and to-and-fro of customs! And the Russians (or Fabergé at least) even prefer their nestled stuffings topsy-turvy, with the egg on the outside and the emperor inside! Where will it ever end!

Stuff

  1. The printer was in Bearbinder Lane – check this splendid map of early modern London.
  2. Mi amo es tan gran caballero que más quiere tener contentos a sus criados que no a su persona; y así él y sus camaradas no hacen de gasto al día a ningún patrón si no es un relleno imperial aovado.

    Preguntóme que de qué se hacía el tal relleno. Respondíle que me mandase traer un huevo y un pichón recién nacido y dos carros de carbón, y mandase llamar a un zapatero de viejo, con alesna y cabos, y un sepolturero con su azada, y que sabría todo lo que había de buscar para empezar a trabajar en hacerlo.

    El patrón, medio atónito y atemorizado, salió en busca de lo necesario al tal relleno, y a el cabo de poco espacio me trujo todo lo que le había pedido, excepto los dos carros de carbón. Toméle el huevo y el pequeño pichón, y abriéndolo con un cuchillo de mi sazonada herramienta, y metiéndole el huevo, después de haberle sacado las tripas, le dije desta forma:

    -Repare vuesa merced en este relleno, porque es lo mismo que el juego del gato al rato: este huevo está dentro deste pichón, el pichón ha de estar dentro de una perdiz, la perdiz dentro de una polla, la polla dentro de un capón, el capón dentro de un faisán, el faisán dentro de un pavo, el pavo dentro de un cabrito, el cabrito dentro de un carnero, el carnero dentro de una ternera, y la ternera dentro de una vaca. Todo esto ha de ir lavado, pelado, desollado y lardeado, fuera de la vaca, que ha de quedar con su pellejo; y cuando se vayan metiendo unos en otros, como cajas de Inglaterra, por que ninguno se salga de su asiento los ha de ir el zapatero cosiendo a dos cabos, y en estando zurcidos en el pellejo y panza de la vaca, ha de hacer el sepolturero una profunda fosa, y echar en el suelo della un carro de carbón, y luego la dicha vaca, y ponerle encima el otro carro, y darle fuego cuatro horas, poco más o menos; y después, sacándola, queda todo hecho una sustancia y un manjar tan sabroso y regalado que antiguamente [lo] comían los emperadores el día de su coronación; por cuya causa, y por ser el huevo la piedra fundamental de aquel guisado, le daban por nombre relleno imperial aovado.

  3. Cervantes 1615/Shelton 1620
  4. Y así como suele decirse “el gato al rato, el rato a la cuerda, la cuerda al palo”, daba el arriero a Sancho, Sancho a la moza, la moza a él, el ventero a la moza, y todos menudeaban con tanta priesa, que no se daban punto de reposo
  5. Una vieja y un viejo no tenían para comer más que un queso, y vino un ratón y comióselo.

    Entonces vino el gato
    y mató al rato,
    porque comió el queso
    de la vieja y el viejo.

    Vino el perro y mató al gato,
    porque mató al rato
    porque comió el queso
    de la vieja y el viejo.

    Vino el palo
    y mató al perro,
    porque mató al gato
    porque mató al rato
    porque comió el queso
    de la vieja y el viejo.

    Vino el fuego
    y quemó el palo,
    porque mató al perro
    porque mató al gato
    porque mató al rato
    porque comió el queso
    de la vieja y el viejo.

    Vino el agua
    y mató al fuego,
    porque quemó el palo
    porque mató al perro
    porque mató al gato
    porque mató al rato
    porque comió el queso
    de la vieja y el viejo.

    El buey ya durmió
    el cuento acabó
    la vieja y el viejo
    sin queso quedó.

  6. El director del juego sacará una llave que tenga atado un cordón, y se la dará al jugador de su derecha, diciendo: «Esta es la llave del jardín del rey.» El que recibe la llave, la entregará al de su derecha, diciéndole lo mismo, y así irá la llave de mano en mano hasta que vuelva al director. Este volverá á entregar la llave al de su derecha, diciendo: «Este es el cordón que sostiene la llave que da entrada al jardín del rey.» El que la reciba, la dará al siguiente, diciéndole lo mismo, y así sucesivamente hasta su vuelta á manos del director, quien seguirá diciendo: «Este es el ratón que se comió el cordón que sostiene la llave que da entrada al jardín del rey», volviendo á repetirlo todos los demás. Luego el director continuará cuando vuelva á entregar la llave: «Este es el gato que se comió el ratón que se comió el cordón que sostiene la llave que da entrada al jardín del rey.» Después añadirá: «Este es el león que se comió el gato que se comió el ratón que se comió el cordón que sostiene la llave que da entrada al jardín del rey.» Por último, añadirá: «Y este es el cazador que mató el león que se comió el gato que se comió el ratón que se comió el cordón que sostiene la llave que da entrada al jardín del rey.» Así se irá aumentando la relación, teniendo facultad el director de variar las palabras que quiera, á fin de que resulten más equivocaciones y de que se paguen más prendas.

Cuentos, Canta, borrachos, y demás noticias

Palabras que pierden el camino

De los granadinos de Barcelona y las mozuelas de Logroño y otros lugares.