Round and round the garden
This rhyme is ostensibly very simple and nowadays takes the form, “round and round the garden/ went a teddy bear/ one step, two step/ tickle you under there”. The rhyme is accompanied by some actions which involve taking the baby or toddler’s palm and walk on it with in circles with your middle and index fingers. When you get to the phrase “one step”, you move to the inside of the infant’s wrist and at “two steps” on to the inside of the elbow. The final line is accompanied by the adult tickling junior under the armpit. It never fails to amuse them, I’m told.
The clue to dating the rhyme would seem to be the reference to a teddy bear, the cuddly toys that are popular with the little ones. Teddy bears are a relatively recent phenomenon. In November 1902 the US President, Theodore Roosevelt, known as Teddy, was invited to go on a bear hunting trip in Mississippi. Roosevelt’s party cornered, clubbed and tied an American Black Bear to tree after having chased it with a pack of hounds. In deference to his position Roosevelt was offered the opportunity to shoot the poor creature but he declined, stating that it would be unsporting. However, he did suggest the bear be killed to put it out of its misery.
The incident spawned a cartoon by Clifford Berryman published in the Washington Post on November 16th 1902 which in turn prompted Morris Michtom to develop a stuffed toy bear which he sent to the President. Roosevelt allowed Michtom to use his name and so he went into production, putting his bear creation in his shop window with a sign round its neck saying Teddy’s bear. Sales were so good that in 1907 he formed the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company.
Coincidentally, at around the same time the Steiff firm in Germany had produced a stuffed bear, although it is unlikely, at least at first, that either manufacturer knew what the other was up to. Early teddy bears were made to look like real bears whereas the modern versions have larger eyes and foreheads and smaller noses to make them more friendly and winsome.
So a 20th century origin seems a slam dunk, particularly as it did not appear in print until the late 1940s. But.. and there is a big but. There are at least two other variants. One features a hare: “round about there/ sat a little hare/ the bow-wows came and chased him/ right up there”. And in Ireland we find a slight variant, “round and round the racecourse/ catch a little hare/ one step, two steps/ thickly under there!”
Although these cannot be dated with any precision, it seems to me unquestionable that they are variations on the same theme and that while the popular teddy bear version cannot be other than a 20th century version, there is no reason to believe that the basic rhyme format is of older vintage. After all, tickling, playing with and trying to amuse a baby has been part and parcel of parenthood since the year dot.