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Jack Sprat

Nursery Rhyme Collection 1 Nursery Rhyme Collection 2

Historical Nursery Rhymes

There is a truly historical dimension behind the songs in this category going back many centuries. Here you will find lyrics, sound samples and historical articles about the origin of all songs included in the category. For more information about the history of traditional nursery rhymes please see the category Rock The Kings dealing with nursery rhymes which are related to English Kings and Queens.




Jack Sprat

Audio Sample:
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Jack Sprat could eat no fat
His wife could eat no lean
And so betwixt the two of them
They licked the platter clean.

Words & Music: Traditional
Arrangement: Ian J Watts

History, origin and meaning of Jack Sprat

Back in the 16th century the name Jack Sprat was used as a synonym for dwarf. In those days this rhyme was a popular English proverb and it appeared twice in John Clarke's collection of sayings:

Jack will eat not fat, and Jull doth love no leane.
Yet betwixt them both they lick the dishes cleane.

The saying became a popular English nursery rhyme when it was printed in Mother Goose's Melody around 1765. There are different theories that the rhyme might be even older and already existed in the 12th century. However, there isn't any proof for any of the theories, but let's take a look at the full version first:

Jack Sprat could eat no fat
His wife could eat no lean
And so betwixt the two of them
They licked the platter clean

Jack ate all the lean,
Joan ate all the fat.
The bone they picked it clean,
Then gave it to the cat

Jack Sprat was wheeling,
His wife by the ditch.
The barrow turned over,
And in she did pitch.

Says Jack, "She'll be drowned!"
But Joan did reply,
"I don't think I shall,
For the ditch is quite dry."

Historical Interpretation according to The Big Over Easy Project: Fforde's Box:

One theory is that Jack Sprat is actually referring to King Charles I. According to this theory, King Charles I was "left lean" when Parliament failed to fund to declare war on Spain. This resulted in King Charles I to defy Parliament and set up an illegal taxation to "get some fat." Another theory is that this nursery rhyme is based upon the incidents that occurred with Richard I and his younger brother, King John. King John's wife, Joan, was considered to be the avid daughter of Earl of Gloucester. Duke Leopold took Richard for ransom and with the combination of Joan's "hunger" and John's "desperation", they "licked the platter clean." Jack Sprat could eat no fat His wife could eat no lean And so betwixt the two of them They licked the platter clean Jack ate all the lean, Joan ate all the fat. The bone they picked it clean, Then gave it to the cat Jack Sprat was wheeling, His wife by the ditch. The barrow turned over, And in she did pitch. Says Jack, "She'll be drowned!" But Joan did reply, "I don't think I shall, For the ditch is quite dry."

 





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