Dr Foster's Piddle-Puddle

This month, as I drove through the floods of Cumbria, I was reminded of poor old Dr Foster:

Doctor Foster went to Gloucester

In a shower of rain

He stepped in a puddle

Right up to his middle

And never went there again!

Who was this fellow? The rhyme was first published in Victorian times, but middle better rhymes with piddle than puddle, which was a pre-Victorian rendering of the word, suggesting the ditty predates the nineteenth-century. Another version from 1810 reads

Old Dr. Foster went to Gloster,

To preach the work of God.

When he came there, he sat in his chair,

And gave all the people a nod.

This Foster may have been an episcopal visitor sent by Archbishop William Laude, to re-catholicise the city’s churches before the civil wars. Another theory proposes that ‘Dr Fauster’ is from Marlow’s play Doctor Faustus, who conjured a horse from straw which soaks its rider upon crossing a stream.

So was the doctor a wicked anti-puritan, or a fictional character who sold his soul to the devil? Was it just a children’s ditty, or the memory of the local physician who went out in a flood? Whatever its origins, floods in the Bible are used by God to judge the wicked, but from them His own people are preserved. Noah’s flood swept away the wicked and Pharaoh’s army was washed away as the Red Sea flooded back into its territory. By the flood, the fool’s house is swept away, but the wiseman’s home stands fast. Great Jordan parted for Israel, that they might pass into Canaan.

When thou passest through the waters, says the Lord through Isaiah, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee.

Image by MICHOFF from Pixabay