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"Mary Had A Little Lamb" is a famous nursery rhyme; unlike many such ditties it is not particular ancient, nor does it have any sinister connotations - as for example "Ring A Ring A Roses" - and it has a very precise origin.
Although it is widely believed to be an English rhyme, "Mary Had A Little Lamb" was actually written by an American schoolteacher turned novelist and magazine editor. Sarah Josephina Hale (1788-1879) was born in New Hampshire, and published the nursery rhyme in May 1830, although it appears to have been written sometime before. It was inspired by a young girl named Mary Sawyer who took her pet lamb to school at the suggestion of her brother.
It is possible though not confirmed that part of the poem was written by John Roulstone, who visited the school at that time. Roulstone was studying for the ministry, and the purpose of his contribution - if any - may have been to add a spiritual or a moral dimension.
The music was added later by Lowel Mason. A statute representing the lamb was erected in Sterling Massachusetts, the home of Mary Sawyer.
In 1877, Thomas Edison recorded it with his phonograph device, the first time (it was believed) the human voice had ever been so captured, but in February 2008, a recording of "Au Claire De La Lune
" was discovered (and retrieved the following month) which dates to April 1860. It is an endearing comment on human nature that the two earliest recordings were both of nursery rhymes.
Unsurprisingly, "Mary Had A Little Lamb" has been both imitated and parodied, and not all of these parodies are suitable for children! One of the more palatable imitations is the Stevie Ray Vaughan version, which Sarah Hale would have recognised, and would not have been ashamed of. (thanks, Alexander Baron - London, England, for all above)
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