In England, and, for the matter of that, on the Continent as well, since this century was born, some trifle has tickled the people, and has been reiterated, until every catch-word has become a nuisance. In the early part of the century, for instance, “Has your mother sold her mangle?” “Does your mother know you’re out?” and, “Before you could say Jack Robinson” (which has passed into a recognized saying), were in every one’s mouth. It is not often that these catch-words can be traced to their origin, but the latter seems to have arisen in the Ballad of
The perils and the dangers of the voyage past,
And the ship at Portsmouth arrived at last.
The sails all furled and the anchor cast,
The happiest of the crew was Jack Robinson.
For his Poll he had trinkets and gold galore,
Besides Prize Money quite a store,
And along with the crew, he went ashore,
As Coxwain to the boat, Jack Robinson.
He met with a man, and said, “I say,
Perhaps you may know one Polly Gray?
She lives somewhere hereabout:” the man said, “nay,
I do not indeed,” to Jack Robinson.
So says Jack to him, “I have left my ship,
And all my messmates, they gave me the slip.
Mayhap you’ll partake of a good can of flip?
For you’re a good sort of fellow,” says Jack Robinson.
In a public-house, then, they both sat down,
And talked of Admirals of high renown,
And drank as much grog as came to half a crown,
This here strange man and Jack Robinson.
Then Jack call’d out the reckoning to pay,
The landlady came in, in fine array,
“My eyes, and limbs, why here’s Polly Gray!
Who’d thought of meeting here?” says Jack Robinson.
The landlady staggered against the wall,
And said, at first, she didn’t know him at all,
“Shiver me,” says Jack, “why here’s a pretty squall,
Dn me, don’t you know me? I’m Jack Robinson!
Don’t you remember this handkerchief you giv’d me?
’Twas three years ago, before I went to sea,
Every day I’ve looked at it, and then I thought of thee,
Upon my soul, I have,” says Jack Robinson.
Says the lady, says she “I have changed my state.”
“Why! you don’t mean,” says Jack, “that you’ve got a mate?
You know you promised” Says she, “I could not wait,
For no tidings could I gain of you, Jack Robinson,
And somebody, one day, came up to me and said,
That somebody else, had somewhere read
In some newspaper, as how you were dead.”
“I’ve not been dead at all,” says Jack Robinson.
Then he turn’d his quid, and finish’d his glass,
Hitch’d up his trousers, “Alas! alas!
That ever I should live to be made such an ass!
To be bilked by a woman,” says Jack Robinson.
“But to fret and to stew about it’s all in vain,
I’ll get a ship and go to Holland, France and Spain,
No matter where, to Portsmouth I’ll ne’er come again.”
And he was off before you could say Jack Robinson.