|Mother Goose: A Scholarly Exploration|
iconography of mother goose (1865-1900)
Mother Goose depicted in flowing habit, with tall, tapering, pointed cap and crutch. Her pointed nose and chin are carefully rendered not to appear unattractive, however characteristic of witches, and she appears to be smiling enigmatically. She sits comfortably on the broad back of a gander, whose busy wings are easily capable of transport. Despite her smile, Mother Goose seems pensive and preoccupied, her eye on the scene below. The gander's features, directed ahead, express vitality and animal force. Although the composition is simple, the tonalities in the modeling of the bird and the folds of Mother Goose's dress heighten the exhilaration of flight conveyed by the exuberant bird. The design contains an interesting ambiguity. Mother Goose's position on the gander's back allows that the webbed feet underneath the bird may belong either to him, or to her. They are figuratively joined at the feet (like poet and reader).
The serried lines behind the gander's body convey the darkness of the world that Mother Goose has left, yet keeps careful watch over. Flying at night, Mother Goose and gander thus may symbolize dreams or nightmare. The comparatively few lines shaping the clouds framed between the large V of the gander's wings may suggest a higher, more enlightened realm, perhaps the luminous truths of dreams (or childhood). Mother Goose's upward-pointing hat lifts the reader's eyes above the clouds and beyond the picture. If it was true, as Lewis Mumford says, that "American history is haunted by nightbirds in the nineteenth century" (Mumford, 99). this Mother Goose is a noticeably benign--even angelic--variety.
Chromatic color wood engraving
Probably a cover; book unidentified. Mother Goose's importance is conveyed by a number of elements in this illustration--by her disproportionate size, the grave seriousness of her expression and the elaborate calligraphy in which her name--the first part of the title--is rendered. In addition, at this time chromo-xylography--printing colors by means of multiple woodblocks--was very rare in America. The presentation of Mother Goose in black and red contributes to the sense of eminence surrounding Mother Goose in this illustration.
Monochromatic wood engraving
This anonymous artist (possibly Justin H. Howard) depicts Mother Goose as a grandmotherly, anthropomorpic, fowl, a conflation of Shubael Child's matron and a goose. Her cap and shawl imply a degree of sensitivity to suffering, and endurance, while her glasses and apron convey mundane, household, concerns. Perhaps these props imply that Mother Goose's rhymes serve pragmatic ends, teaching social values and helping to preserve order, which is exhibited by the well-behaved children gathered by her chair.
The most prominent figure among the group of children is a serious boy with his arm draped protectively around his sister's waist, demonstrating that the mere presence of Mother Goose is sufficient to promote constructive behavior--or to lead headstrong youth away from the brutalities of war. (The grinning face placed beneath the learned bird's left spectacle may suggest that this book is however not without its jollier moments.) While five children gather together on one side of the central figure, another child, seemingly younger than the others, sits apart, a book in her lap. This figure (her eyes gaze down upon the McLoughlin Bros. imprint), alludes unmistakably to the young children who may read the text.
The intention of the illustration, to emphasize a didactic, practical, side to nursery rhymes is further conveyed by the shading and subtle left-handed, three dimensional perspective of the engraved title.
Key block of a chromoxylograpic wood engraving
Illustrator and engraver unknown
For this small reprint of rhymes and engravings (some twenty years old), the illustrator has copied a familiar motif of the airborne witch riding a forceful gander through the clouds. This figure carries two crutches rather than the single crutch depicted in figure 1; the protruberance of her features and clenched hand suggest a greater assertiveness; her slender figure, perhaps wizened with age, contrasts agreeably with the fat goose/gander as well as the convex clouds behind her.
Colored wood engraving
An example of the ambiguous, vaguely sinister character of post-bellum Mother Goose is this depiction of her as a gaudily appareled, garrishly made up, old woman with a plump goose strutting along beside her. The McLoughlin Bros. equipped their shape-book Mother Goose with a pair of crutches, imparting an awkwardness and vulnerability to this otherwise overpowering figure. Her red and blue costume, which appears to be intended for purely commercial purposes to spruce up the illustration, recalls the early nineteenth century English concept of Mother Goose as a stage figure, while her level gaze recalls the frightening lunar vision of Alexander Anderson.
Colored wood engraving
An anthropomorphic fowl, probably by the same artist who drew the Mother Goose in Figure 3, with colorful shawl and bonnet. Here, the elaborate costume conveys the sense that Mother Goose is in disguise, or that Mother Goose is a bodiless spirit temporarily transforming the appearance of one's elderly piano teacher, or at least in the eyes of the discerning student.
Stampled front cover in gold and black
At the turn of the century, the McLoughlin Bros.
reissued 350 illustrations made during the 1860s. For the cover illustration
of Mother Goose, they adapted an image from the same rhyme Alexander Anderson
had illustrated in 1837, "There Was An Old Woman, Tossed Up In A Blanket."
Anderson's image possessed a compelling sinister energy, as well as a sense
of fleet movement through the chilled night air, while this image succeeds
in its voluptuous fullness and gaudy color treatment.
School of Communication, Information and Library Studies, Rutgers University
Principal Investigator: Kay E. Vandergrift, Professor Emerita