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Tom Thumb’s Alphabet / A Was an Archer

[ Roud 20563 ; Ballad Index OO2002 ; MusTrad MT230 ; trad.]

Thomas White’s illustrated chapbook A Little Book for Little Children, London: 1702, explained The Alphabet.

Tom Thumb’s Picture Alphabet is a nursery rhyme explaining the alphabet in pictures and rhyme. It is printed in Iona and Peter Opie: Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, Oxford University Press, 1951.

Mike Yates noted on Johnny Doughty’s 1976 recording of The Sailor’s Alphabet:

Alphabet songs similar to this one exist among many communities. Soldiers, bargemen, lumberjacks, and sheepherders, among others, have their own versions of this mnemonic device which may originally have been influenced by such nursery rhymes as: A was an apple-pie / B bit it / C cut it / D dealt it / E eat it etc. which was well-known during the reign of Charles II (1660-1685). One interesting version, known as Tom Thumb’s Alphabet, dates from at least the beginning of the 18th century and could have well provided the basic idea behind Johnny’s song:

A was an archer, who shot at a frog,
B was a butcher, and had a great dog,
C was a captain, all covered with lace,
D was a drunkard, and had a red face, [etc.]


The Alphabet

A was an Archer, and ſhot at a Frog;
B was a Blind-man, and led by a Dog;
C was a Cutpurſe, and liv’d in diſgrace;
D was a Drunkard, and had a red Face;
E was an Eater, a Glutton was he;
F was a Fighter, and fought with a Flea;
G was a Gyant, and pul’d down a Houſe;
H was a Hunter, and hunted a Mouſe;
I was an ill Man, and hated by all;
K was a Knave, and he rob’d great and ſmall;
L was a Liar, and told many Lies;
M was a Madman, and beat out his Eyes;
N was a Nobleman, nobly born;
O was an Oſtler, and ſtole Horſes Corn;
P was a Pedlar, and ſold many Pins;
Q was a Quarreller, and broke both his Shins;
R was a Rogue, and run about Town;.
S was a Sailor, a man of Renown;
T was a Taylor, and Knaviſhly bent;
U was a Uſurer, took Ten per cent;
W was a Writer, and Money he earn’d;
X was one Xenophon, prudent and learn’d;
Y was a Yeoman, and work’d for his Bread;
Z was one Zeno the Great, but he’s dead.

Tom Thumb’s Alphabet

A was an archer, who shot at a frog;
B was a butcher, and had a great dog.
C was a captain, all covered with lace;
D was a drunkard, and had a red face,
E was an esquire, with pride on his brow;
F was a farmer, and followed the plough.
G was a gamester, who had but ill-luck;
H was a hunter, and hunted a buck.
I was an innkeeper, who loved to carouse;
J was a joiner, and built up a house.
K was King William, once governed this land;
L was a lady, who had a white hand.
M was a miser, and hoarded up gold;
N was a nobleman, gallant and bold.
O was an oyster girl, and went about town;
P was a parson, and wore a black gown.
Q was a queen, who wore a silk slip;
R was a robber, and wanted a whip.
S was a sailor, and spent all he got;
T was a tinker, and mended a pot.
U was a usurer, a miserable elf;
V was a vintner, who drank all himself.
W was a watchman, and guarded the door;
X was expensive, and so became poor.
Y was a youth, that did not love school;
Z was a zany, a poor harmless fool.