The Old Woman
who was
Sketched & Etched

Large panorama
Back cover

NOTE: I have scanned the book from a reprint published by Optical Toys in 1999. The book, along with many other paper wonders, is available for order from their site. Or you can contact Andy directly.


There was an old woman tossed up in a basket
      Nineteen times as high as the moon.
And where she was going I couldn't but ask it
      For in her hand she carried a broom.

'Old woman! old woman!! old woman!!!' quoth I.
      'Oh whither Oh whither Oh whither, so high.'
'To sweep the cobwebs off the sky.'
      'And I'll be with you again by and bye.'

The seven feet vertical "unfolding panorama" was published by D. Bogue , 86 Fleet Street, London, in 1844, and attributed to Aliquis. Perhaps it provided the inspiration for George Cruikshank's 1849 horizontal panorama, The Toothache . It is the only book I know of that is to be read from the bottom up; so, if you choose to examine the large panorama, please be patient and wait until all the images are loaded.

The history of the Old Woman with a broom tossed up into the sky is as old as that of recorded nursery rhymes: it appears, with no particular reason except for the editor's evident pleasure, in the preface to the earliest antology, Mother Goose's Melody; or Sonnets for the Cradle (compiled about 1765, published 1780, first surviving edition Isaiah Thomas, 1786, facsimile of a later edition with no Preface ), with an elaborate mock interpretation connecting it to Henry V's French campaigns. The tune it was sung to, "Lilliburlero" Encyclopedia Entry (for the score and music you will need the free Scorch plugin, or just listen to the tune ), accounts for its association with a second king, since the famous melody "danced James II out of three kingdoms."

When first observed, the Old Woman was being tossed up in a blanket (and our conscientious artist provides this too), seventeen times as high as the moon (and then variously ten, fifty, seventy and ninety-nine); earth's lonely satellite was not her destination, which is understandable as it must have been a very boring place , already occupied by a perfectly shakespearian Man in the Moon . Only her mission is clearly stated, she is is going "to sweep the cobwebs off the sky", and that it needed some cleaning is obvious from Betty Bundle's behaviour in another early nursery rhyme (Anon., Original Ditties for the Nursery , 1805, 1807 3 , pp. 17-8):


The sun, and Moon, and Stars, came down
      To scold at Betty Bundle;
They said she sprinkled all the sky,
      When she her mop did trundle.


Then Betty Bundle at them threw
      Her pail of dirty water;
And said her mop she'd trundle still,
      As her old Grannam taught her.

(Betty's Grannam must have been a very different, more traditional type of woman with a broom .)

Much to our relief, the Old Woman's prompt action has the desired effect (Ibid., pp. 27-8):


          High diddledy doon,
           We have got a new moon;
With a smart pair of horns, I declare!
           Like silver so fine,
           See how she does shine,
I should like her to stick in my hair


          High diddledy doon,
           Now we've got a new moon,
Where's the old one we had before?
           Oh! without doubt,
           They've in stars cut her out;
There was plenty to make us a score.





Pray tell me how the man in the moon
           Contrives his time to kill , Sir?
For, since he lives there quite alone,
           It must require some skill, Sir.


Oh! though his pastimes are but scarce,
           He's at no loss for fun, Sir;
He plays at marbles with the stars,
           And at trap-ball with the sun, Sir.

The Man in the Moon appearing in our story, while not practising the activities here described, does not seem to be interested in the Old Woman's company. [back]



There was an old woman, who rode on a broom,
           With a high gee ho! gee humble;
And she took her Tom Cat behind for a groom
      With a bimble, bamble, bumble.

They travelled along till they came to the sky,
           With a high gee ho! gee humble;
But the journey so long made them very hungry,
      With a bimble, bamble, bumble.

Says Tom, 'I can find nothing here to eat,
           With a high gee ho! gee humble;
So let us go back again, I entreat,
      With a bimble, bamble, bumble.'

The old woman would not go back so soon,
           With a high gee ho! gee humble;
For she wanted to visit the man in the moon,
      With a bimble, bamble, bumble.

Says Tom, 'I'll go back by myself to our house,
           With a high gee ho! gee humble;
For there I can catch a good rat or a mouse,
      With a bimble, bamble, bumble.'

'But,' says the old woman, 'how will you go?
           With a high gee ho! gee humble.'
You shan't have my nag, I protest and vow,
      With a bimble, bamble, bumble.'

'No, no,' says old Tom, 'I've a plan of my own,
           With a high gee ho! gee humble;
So he slid down the rainbow, and left her alone,
      With a bimble, bamble, bumble.

So now if you happen to visit the sky,
           With a high gee ho! gee humble;
And want to come back, you Tom's method may try,
      With a bimble, bamble, bumble.

Although this old woman may appear more adventurous in willingly starting such a perilous journey, her aim is clearly more limited: she just wants to visit that old bore, the Man in the Moon, perhaps to ask for a favour, or to help him kill his time.

Dame Dearlove's Ditties for the Nursery, London, John Harris and Son, 1819 ; from Iona and Peter Opie, eds., A Nursery Companion, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1980, pp. 64-5. [back]