Letter: Double entendres in the nursery

Sir: In introducing the narwhal into what he calls 'the French rendering of one of our best- known nursery rhymes', the Rev Christopher Oxley (letter, 21 June) seems to be giving currency to a corruption of the epigrammatic poem in the d'Antin manuscript, of which the first lines, Un petit d'un petit / S'etonne aux Halles, are paraphrased by the editor, Luis d'Antin van Rooten, as 'The inevitable result of a child marriage is amazed by the famous old Parisian market'.

The revised edition of his ancestor's manuscript, published by Angus & Robertson in 1977 as Mots d'Heures: Gousses, Rames, contains many supposedly ancient poems and fragments curiously echoing our English nursery rhymes, though themselves on other subjects: for example, Reine, reine, gueux eveille / Gomme a gaine, en horreur, taie. (Roughly translated as 'Queen, queen, arouse the rabble / Who use their girdles, horrors, as pillow cases'.)

Mr Oxley may be professionally interested, among others, in the fragment (number 10 in the book) of moral precept addressed to a young girl:

Lit-elle messe, moffette,

Satan ne te fete. . .l

Narwhals, on the other hand, are as unknown to Mots d'Heures: Gousses as to Mother Goose.

Yours sincerely,

PETER LEWIS

Wenhaston, Suffolk

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