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John Bellenden Ker

(1764—1842) botanist and man of fashion


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(1764–1842), commentator on nursery rhymes. A man about town renowned for his witty conversation, Ker was also a contributor to the Botanical Magazine, an editor of the Botanical Register, and author of an important study of the genus Iridaceae. His last work was the treatise An Essay on the Archaeology of Popular English Phrases and Nursery Rhymes (1834; 2d edition, 1840). Ker was interested in the decoding of nursery lore's hidden meanings rather than in its preservation, unlike James Halliwell-Phillipps, compiler of the popular anthology The Nursery Rhymes of England. Ker purported to restore rhymes to their original texts in an early form of Dutch (his own invention), then translate them back into English, which clearly proved (to his satisfaction) that they were anticlerical satires, directed principally at monks. One contemporary reviewer called the Essay “the clearest case of literary mania we can remember,” and it remains among the finest examples of this school of nursery rhyme interpretation.

From The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children's Literature in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Literature.


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