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The Play-Party in Indiana. 95
This game in almost every other version begins with the lines,
"Oats, pease, beans and barley grows, How, you, nor I, nor nobody knows."
and is usually called by this first line.
The game gives many evidences of age.66 It is a favorite in France, Provence, Spain, Italy, Sicily, Germany, Sweden and Great Britain67 as well as in the United States.68 Mr. Newell is inclined to believe that it is of Romance origin. But since variants VII, VIII and IX69 contain the first four lines which distinguish the American game, and most of the other variants are very similar we should conclude that, like so many of our games, this too came to us from England.
His next conjecture seems well founded. He says (Games and Songs, p. 81) "The lines of the French refrain (Oats, oats, oats, May the Good God Prosper You) and the general form of the dance suggest that the song may probably have had (perhaps in remote classic time) a religious and symbolic meaning, and formed part of rustic festivities designed to promote the fertility of the fields, an object which undoubtedly formed the original purpose of the May festival." Mrs. Gomme is inclined to connect the line "Waiting for a partner" with the mating of the young people, which was so much a feature of harvest festivals.70
Mr. Newell says that this "is properly a dance rather of young people than of children."71 The statement was made in 1883. How different we find the game. The first two lines of the English game-song are dropped and are never used in the play-party game of Ripley County. Those lines were not dramatic, neither were they particularly suited to a dance. The four lines which met these conditions were retained with absolutely no change. The stanza
66 Mr. Newell (Games and Songs, pp. 33-6) quotes a poem of Froissart's in which he speaks of playing Oats (evidently the same as this). As he was born in 1337, the game is certainly nearly Ave hundred years old and is probably much more ancient than that.
67 Mrs. Gomme. Trad. Games, vol. ii.p. 10.
68 Newell. Games and Songs, p. 80.
60 Mrs. Gomme. Trad. Games, vol. ii, p. 10.
70 Ibid, p. 13.
71 Newell. Games and Songs, p. 81.