The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Old Christmas Carol Sung By The Children At Beckington, Somerset

Source: Notes and Queries, 4th Series, Vol. II, Dec. 26, 1868, pp. 599-600.

The enclosed curious carol has been recently brought under my notice, and seems to be quite in season for the readers of "N. & Q." The friend who gave it me heard it sung in the streets the year before last. The only one like it that has appeared in "N. & Q." is in 1st S. iv. 325. The numerals, however, in that are differently appropriated, and some of them are, with our present light, perfectly unintelligible—e. g.: —

"Nine is nine so bright to shine . . .
Eight is the gable angels . . .
Six is the six bold traiters . . ,
Five is the flamboys under the bough . .
Three of them is thrivers."

The only special difficulty in the carol before us is the reference to "our Lady's hen." Can this have any connection with the proverb "As nice as a nun's hen"? and if any, what?

J. Payne.
Kildare Gardens.

"Sing! sing! what shall us sing?
Sing all over one.
One! what is one?
One they do call 1 the righteous man.
Save poor souls to rest, Amen.

"Sing! sing! what shall us sing?
Sing all over two.
Two ! what is two? Two is the Jewry.
One {is God} the righteous man.
One {they do call} the righteous man
Save poor souls to rest, Amen.

"Sing! sing! what shall us sing?
Sing all over three.
Three! what is three?
Three is the Trinity.
        Chorus.—Two is the Jewry.
        One they do call, &c.

"Sing! sing! what shall us sing?
Sing all over four.
Four! what is four?
Four is the open door.
        Chorus.—Three is the Trinity, &c.

"Sing! sing! what shall us sing?
Sing all over five.
Five! what is five?
Five is the man alive.
        Chorus.—Four is the open door, &c.

"Sing! sing! what shall us sing?
Sing all over six.
Six! what is six?
Six is the crucifix.
        Chorus.—Five is the man alive, &c.

"Sing! sing! what shall us sing?
Sing all over seven.
Seven! what is seven?
Seven is the ' bread of leaven.' 2
        Chorus.—Six is the crucifix, &c.

"Sing! sing! what shall us sing?
Sing all over eight.
Eight! what is eight?
Eight is the crooked straight.
        Chorus.—Seven is the bread, &c.

"Sing! sing! what shall us sing?
Sing all over nine.
Nine! what is nine?
Nine is the' water wine.'
        Chorus.—Eight is, &c.

"Sing! sing! what shall us sing?
Sing all over ten.
Ten! what is ten?
Ten is 'Our Lady's hen.'
        Chorus.—Nine is, &c.

"Sing! sing! what shall us sing?
Sing all over eleven.
Eleven! what is eleven?
Eleven is the gate of heaven.
        Chorus.—Ten is, &c.

"Sing! sing! what shall us sing?
Sing all over twelve.
Twelve! what is twelve?
Twelve is the ' ring of bells.'
        Chorus.—   Eleven is the gate of heaven.
                        Ten is Our Lady's hen,
                        Nine is the water wine,
                        Eight is the crooked straight.
                        Seven is the bread of leaven,
                        Six is the crucifix.
                        Five is the man alive,
                        Four is the open door,
                        Three is the Trinity,
                        Two is the Jewry,
                        One they do call
                        The Righteous Man.
                        Save poor souls
                        To rest, Amen."

Footnotes:

1, Var.     (1) One is God, the righteous Man.
                (2) One is a godly righteous man. Return

2. Query, heaven?

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"One Is One And All Alone" (4lh S. ii. 324.)—

I remember as a boy hearing the following :— "One is one," &c, sung as "What shall we sing O? We will sing the ones O ? One is one," &c. Then "What shall we sing O? We will sing the twos O." Two, &c. "What shall we sing O? We will sing the threes O," and so on to twelve—always repeating the numbers all back to one. The end was —

"What shall we sing O?
We will sing the twelves O.

Twelve twelve apostles,
Eleven arch-angels,
Ten ten commandments,
Nine bright shiners (?)
Eight gabriel angels.
Seven were the stars of heaven.
Six broad waters.
Five tumblers on a board,
And four gospel writers.
Three three divers (?)
Two two lily white boys,
And they were clothed in green O.
One is one and all alone,
And ever more shall be so."

It was sung in a monotone. It was the repetition that, as a child, pleased me—like the "The House That Jack Built."

H. H.

Ë Ë Ë

Old Latin Religious Song (4th S. ii. 557.)—

The following similar hymn is said in Hebrew by the Rabbinical Jews on the first two nights of Passover Hagadah (Echod me yode'ah), generally x who knows? x I know; x is, &c.:—

"x=       1 is our God in heaven and earth.
            2 are the tables of the covenant (Decalogue).
            3 are the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob).
            4 are the matriarchs (Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah).
            5 are the books of the Pentateuch.
            6 are the sections of the Mishnah.
            7 are the days of the week.
            8 are the days before circumcision.
            9 are the months of pregnancy.
            10 are the commandments.
            11 are the stars (Joseph's dream).
            12 are the tribes (of Israel).
            13 are the attributes of God (Exod. xxxiv. 6, 7)."

This hymn is followed by an Aramean one of the purchase of a kid—eaten by the cat, who was bitten by the dog, &c, in the style of "The House That Jack Built." The said hymn was supposed to be an allegory on Joseph's and Israel's tribulation in Egypt, and their subsequent redemption; borrowed from a German prototype (Delitzsch, Judisch Poesie, sect. 17, published in the seventeenth century). A Mr. Green of Kensington has allegorised "The House That Jack Built" as the conflict between the Anglican Church and the Papacy.

S. M. Drach.

[The subject of these communications is closely connected. They all obviously refer to some legend or story common, we believe, to the folk lore of every country, which circumstance points to some common origin. Is it the Rabbinical hymn ?—Ed. "N. & Q."]

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Editor's Note:

See:

See also: The Twelve Apostles - Version 2.

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