Tuesday, July 12, 2022



Yesterday I posted some items about Mary and her lamb, in the context of cloning.  It gave the story of the first animal cloned from adult cells, Dolly the sheep.

It reminded me that some years ago I had posted more about Mary and Lamb, which is worth re-posting . . .


Friday, May 25, 2012

Mary and Her Lamb

(Risque content)

In 1820, 14 year old Mary Sawyer of Sterling, Massachusetts took pity on a lamb that had been rejected by its mother. She looked after it and, as is common with animals had fed and reared by humans from birth, the lamb fixated on her. It followed her wherever she went. At the urging of her brother, she let the lamb follow her to school, the Redstone School, which had been built in 1798. When it was Mary’s turn to recite something at the front of the class, her lamb followed her as she made her way forward. This caused mirth and commotion with the other students. Sound familiar?

Years later Mary recalled the incident:
Visiting school that morning was a young man by the name of John Roulstone, a nephew of the Reverend Lemuel Capen, who was then settled in Sterling. It was the custom then for students to prepare for college with ministers, and for this purpose Mr. Roulstone was studying with his uncle. The young man was very much pleased with the incident of the lamb; and the next day he rode across the fields on horseback to the little old schoolhouse and handed me a slip of paper which had written upon it the three original stanzas of the poem...
Those stanzas were as follows:

Mary had a little lamb,
Its fleece was white as snow,
And everywhere that Mary went
The lamb was sure to go;
He followed her to school one day
That was against the rule,
It made the children laugh and play,
To see a lamb at school.

And so the Teacher turned him out,
But still he lingered near,
And waited patiently about,
Till Mary did appear;
And then he ran to her, and laid
His head upon her arm,
As if he said ' I 'm not afraid
You '11 keep me from all harm.'

'What makes the lamb love Mary so?'
The eager children cry,
‘Mary loves the lamb, you know,'
The Teacher did reply;
‘And you each gentle animal
In confidence may bind,
And make them follow at your call,
If you are always kind.’


Sarah Josepha Hale

Although John Roulstone presented Mary with the poem, he wrote only the first four lines at most. The next 12 lines, which are more moralistic and less childlike than the first four, were composed by Sarah Josepha Hale. Many believe that Sarah Josepha Hale was responsible for writing the entire poem, based on what John Roulstone told her from his observation of the incident.

The poem was published as an original poem by Sarah Hale in 1830.

Mary Sawyer married in 1835 but never had children. She died in Somerville in 1889.

Mary Sawyer's house, located in Sterling, known as the “Mary Had a Little Lamb House”, was destroyed by arson in 2007.

A statue representing Mary's Little Lamb stands in the town centre.

The Redstone School

The Redstone School was purchased by Henry Ford and relocated to a churchyard on the property of Longfellows Wayside Inn in Sudbury, Massachusetts.

William Wallace Denslow’s lllustrations for Mary had a little lamb, from a 1901 edition of Mother Goose

There have been many parodies of the first verse of the nursery rhyme, many too bawdy to print here.

Some parodies of this song have been going around since at least 1886, when the following was published in a magazine:

Mary had a little lamb
with coat as black as soot
and into Mary's cup of milk
it put its dirty foot

Now Mary, a straightforward girl
hated any sham
rapped out a naughty little word
that rhymed with Mary's lamb!

(For those not inclined to work out the meaning of the above, Mary said “Damn!”)

Some others. . .

Mary had a little lamb.
She tied it to a pylon.
10,000 volts went up its arse,
And turned its wool to nylon.

Mary had a little lamb
She also had a bear.
I've often seen her little lamb
but never seen her bare

Mary had a little lamb
you've heard this tale before
did you know she passed the plate
and had a little more?

Mary had a little lamb
She also had a duck
She put them on the windowsill
To see if they would fall off.

Mary had a little sheep
And with this sheep did Mary sleep.
The sheep turned out to be a ram
And Mary had a little lamb.

Mary had a little lamb
Her father shot it dead
Now Mary takes that lamb to school
Between two hunks of bread

Mary had a little skirt
That was slit in half
And every step that Mary took
The boys could see her calf.

Mary had another skirt
That was slit in front
And every step the Mary took

Some people say all fleas are black
But I know it isn't so
'Coz Mary had a little lamb
And its fleas was white as snow.

Mary had a little watch,
She swallowed it one day.
And so she took some castor oil
To pass the time away.
But even with the castor oil
The time refused to pass
So if you want to know the time
Just look up Mary's arse!

A disease blight in England also saw a number of parodies:

Mary had a little lamb
She called it baby Abby
They burned it in a great big pit
Cos its mouth and feet were scabby

Mary had a little lamb,
She called him Little Ralph,
But now he's burning in a field
Because of foot and mouth.

Mary's pigs had foot and mouth
This crisis', cried she, 'Needs tackling."
Now all she's got is one black field
And fourteen tons of crackling...

Mary had a little lamb,
She called him little Ed,
Now he's lying in a field,
With a pick axe through his head!

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