The True Story of the Cat and the Fiddle

Sometimes George MacDonald expressed humor through light-hearted poetical nonsense.  In the excerpt below, from At the Back of the North Wind, Little Diamond, a young sickly child, has just returned from driving his father’s cab all day to make money for the family while his father was ill.  Diamond is so happy at the end of the day that, after giving the day’s earnings to his mother, he goes to his baby brother, picks him up, and begins to sing a nonsense poem to him. 

But to see her face as he poured the shillings and sixpences and pence into her lap! She burst out crying a second time, and ran with the money to her husband.

And how pleased he was! It did him no end of good. But while he was counting the coins, Diamond turned to baby, who was lying awake in his cradle, sucking his precious thumb, and took him up, saying:

"Baby, baby! I haven't seen you for a whole year."

And then he began to sing to him as usual. And what he sang was this, for he was too happy either to make a song of his own or to sing sense. It was one out of Mr. Raymond's book.


               Hey, diddle, diddle!
               The cat and the fiddle!
            He played such a merry tune,
               That the cow went mad
               With the pleasure she had,
            And jumped right over the moon.
               But then, don't you see?
               Before that could be,            
            The moon had come down and listened.
               The little dog hearkened,
               So loud that he barkened,
            "There's nothing like it, there isn't."

               Hey, diddle, diddle!
               Went the cat and the fiddle,
            Hey diddle, diddle, dee, dee!
               The dog laughed at the sport
               Till his cough cut him short,
            It was hey diddle, diddle, oh me!
               And back came the cow
               With a merry, merry low,
            For she'd humbled the man in the moon.
               The dish got excited,
               The spoon was delighted,
            And the dish waltzed away with the spoon.

               But the man in the moon,
               Coming back too soon
            From the famous town of Norwich,
               Caught up the dish,
               Said, "It's just what I wish
            To hold my cold plum-porridge!"            
               Gave the cow a rat-tat,
               Flung water on the cat,
            And sent him away like a rocket.
               Said, "O Moon there you are!"
               Got into her car,
            And went off with the spoon in his pocket

               Hey ho!  diddle, diddle!
               The wet cat and wet fiddle,
            They made such a caterwauling,
               That the cow in a fright
               Stood bolt upright
            Bellowing now, and bawling;
               And the dog on his tail,
               Stretched his neck with a wail.
            But "Ho! ho!" said the man in the moon—
               "No more in the South
               Shall I burn my mouth,
            For I've found a dish and a spoon."

"THERE, baby!" said Diamond; "I'm so happy that I can only sing nonsense. Oh, father, think if you had been a poor man, and hadn't had a cab and old Diamond! What should I have done?"

Diamond goes on to say,

“I wonder what the angels do—when they're extra happy, you know—when they've been driving cabs all day and taking home the money to their mothers. Do you think they ever sing nonsense, mother?...Nonsense is a very good thing, ain't it, mother?—a little of it now and then; more of it for baby, and not so much for grown people like cabmen and their mothers? It's like the pepper and salt that goes in the soup—that's it—isn't it, mother? There's baby fast asleep! Oh, what a nonsense baby it is—to sleep so much! Shall I put him down, mother?"

Diamond chattered away. What rose in his happy little heart ran out of his mouth, and did his father and mother good. When he went to bed, which he did early, being more tired, as you may suppose, than usual, he was still thinking what the nonsense could be like which the angels sang when they were too happy to sing sense. But before coming to any conclusion he fell fast asleep. And no wonder, for it must be acknowledged a difficult question.