Bo-peep

★ Bo-peep Story  :

The children’s game of bo-peep is as old as the hills, hiding from each other, and saying,–

Bo-Peep, Little Bo-Peep: Now’s the time for hide and seek.

But in ancient times the amusement appears to have been even of a simpler character, and adopted by nurses before children are capable of seeking recreation for themselves. Sherwood describes bo-peep as a child’s game, in which the nurse conceals the head of the infant for an instant, and then removes the covering quickly.

The Italians say far bau bau, or baco, baco, which Douce thinks is sufficient to show a connexion between the nurse’s boggle or buggy-bo, and the present expression. Shakespeare has condescended to notice the game, unless, indeed, we suppose the term to have passed into a proverb. The reader will recollect what Butler says of Sir Edward Kelly, the celebrated conjuror,–

Kelly did all his feats upon The devil’s looking-glass, a stone: Where, playing with him at bo-peep, He solv’d all problems ne’er so deep.

The term bo-peep appears to have been connected at a very early period with sheep. Thus in an old ballad of the time of Queen Elizabeth, in a MS. in the library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge,–

Halfe Englande ys nowght now but shepe, In everye corner they playe boe-pepe; Lorde, them confownde by twentye and ten, And fyll their places with Cristen men.

And every one is acquainted with the nursery rhyme which details the adventures of ‘Little Bo-peep,’–

Little Bo-peep has lost her sheep, And can’t tell where to find them: Leave them alone, and they’ll come home, And bring their tails behind them.

Little Bo-peep fell fast asleep, And dreamt she heard them bleating: But when she awoke, she found it a joke, For they were still all fleeting.

Minsheu gives us a funny derivation of the word, which he says is no other than the noise which chickens make when they come out of the shell! I regret I have nothing better, certainly nothing so ingenious, to offer to my philological readers. Letting that pass, I take the opportunity of giving an anecdote respecting Ben Jonson and Randolph, which affords another illustration of the analogy above mentioned. It is taken from a manuscript of the seventeenth century, in the possession of Mr. Stephens of Stockholm, who considers the volume to have been transcribed before the year 1650.

“Randolph havinge not soe much as ferry money, sought out Ben Johnson, and comminge to a place in London where he and three more were drinkinge, peeps in att the chamber doore. Ben Johnson espyinge him, said, ‘Come in, Jack Bo-peepe.’ Randolph, beinge very thirsty, it beeing then summer, and willinge to quench his thirst, willingly obeyed his command. The company dranke untill it came to five shillings: every man drawinge his money, Randolph made this motion, viz. that he that made the first coppy of verses upon the reckoninge should goe scot-free. Ben and all the rest, beeinge poetts, readily consented. Randolph, surpassinge them in acutenesse, utter’d forthwith these followinge,–

I, Jack Bo-peep, And you foure sheep, Lett every one yeeld his fleece: Here’s five shillinge, If you are willinge, That will be fifteene pence a-peece. Et sic impune evasit inops.”

We conclude in the words of Shakespeare,–

They then for sudden joy did weep, And I for sorrow sung, That such a king should play bo-peep, And go the fools among.

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