Old-Fashioned Fairy Book, The


To my Young Readers.
Children Dear:

NOT long ago two little boys, who shall be nameless here, came to their mother's side at that pleasant hour of the twenty-four called by the English "blind-man's holiday," and by the French, "between dog and wolf." The lamps had not been lighted, and the room was full of shadows; but a strip of western sky, seen through the bay window, hung like a pink veil behind which a few pale stars were beginning to show[xiv] above the dark line of hills. All that bright summer's day long, four little busy feet had been in motion. Directly after breakfast they had raced down the meadow-path, pursued by Colin Clout, their faithful Scotch collie, between grass and daisies so tall that little could be seen of the dog and his younger master, beyond a brown back and white-tipped tail curveting around a scarlet fez that bobbed up and down like a buoy upon the water. Soon the three companions had reappeared for a moment under a low arch of fringy boughs at the entrance to the grove, and then had descended a bank to the edge of a babbling brook, where, on the grassy margin, the children played every day for hours, inventing a hundred devices of boats and dams and waterfalls, whilst Colin lay at ease among the ferns, and from time to time emitted a bark of pure good fellowship. For them this shallow streamlet has a charm hardly to be resisted, even for a summons to drive "over the hills and far away" through the lovely country-side, or to assist in the delights of the season when their pretty meadow grasses are laid low, tossed into fragrant piles, and carted away by merry haying-folk—though sometimes these water-elves pause to forage the neighboring woods for "hocky" sticks and sling-shot crotches, to "shin up" the tall forest trees, or pluck wild strawberries from the sunny slopes beyond their favorite haunt.

On the especial evening of which I write, the faithful comrades had returned, tired, and scratched by the briers[xv] of this work-a-day world, from a tramp of some miles in search of live bait for a fishing excursion projected with their father at Lily Pond upon the morrow. The doomed little fishes had been put into a bath-tub full of water, where they were expected to suppose themselves still in their native pool. The boys had been washed and fed—an astonishing supper, even for those cormorants!—and now had elected to seek rest and refreshment at the maternal knee. Colin, observing that everybody else was satisfactorily adjusted in affectionate attitudes, had retired under the fringe of a table-cover close at hand, and lay where only his loving eyes and open mouth could be seen, breathing in short quick pants, or, as the boys called it, "ha-ha-ha-ing at the company."

"And now, mamma, until your tea is ready, we know what you must do," said the children, in a breath. "Tell us a story—a 'real, truly' fairy tale, about a giant and a dwarf, lots and lots of fairies, a prince and a beautiful princess with hair to her very feet, a champion with a magic sword, a dragon-chariot, a witch dressed in snake-skin—and, if you can, an ogre. Don't punish anybody but the witch and the ogre; and please don't have any moral, only let everybody 'live in peace and die in a pot of grease,' at the end of it."

"To be sure, we know most of mamma's stories by heart," said the sage elder of nine. "If she could only make up some new ones that aren't in any of our books! Or[xvi] else, mamma, tell us something you heard a little bit of, long, long ago, from your nurse, and then make up the rest. But whatever one you tell, we'll be sure to like it anyhow."

The stories told, the mother fell to musing, and the result is the little book here presented to the judgment of children other than her own—a few new fairy tales, on the old, old pattern!

In every country of the habitable globe are found the same myths, variously dressed and styled. Let the ethnologist frame what theory he will upon this subject, my own private belief is that once upon a time a good fairy who loved mankind put on the wings of a stormy petrel and flew over many lands, carrying in her hand a sieve full of tiny seeds, and shaking it upon those spots where there appeared to be most children. The seeds, falling to earth after this fashion, sprang up and bore many-colored fairy tales, to rejoice all hearts for evermore. Since then, the fables you and I love have been told from father to son among nations living remote from each other and isolated. The Hindoo toiling under the tropic sun, and the Lapp in his smoky hut banked in snow; the English cottar resting in his ivy-covered porch, and the Russian peasant stretched at length upon the stove which forms his bed; the Persian stroking his gray beard beneath the archways of Ispahan, and the Norwegian carving bits of wood under his rafters of illuminated pine—all know and repeat versions of our[xvii] favorite tales. In France, in Spain, in Germany—mother of myths—in Italy, where they drop red from the wine-press of Boccaccio—are these stories to be heard. The North American Indian weaves them with his beads and wampum; our southern negro croons them over the corn-cake baking in the spider upon his cabin hearth; the poetical Chinese envelops them in the language of flowers; and the distant dweller by the Amazon embalms them in his legendary lore. So much for the fairy with the sieve!

But great as is the enjoyment had in perusing the fairy tales of different nations, to the child of Anglo-Saxon descent can come no such pleasure so deep as that to be derived from the old romances of our mother country. To me this delight was first revealed by a little fat book that used to be found in our nurseries—the one containing Cinderella, immortal maid—unprincipled Puss in Boots—and Jack, the splendid champion!

Of late years, fairy tales seem to have suffered from their increase of dignity at the hands of grave scholars, who have so dressed them in fine language, and hedged them with innumerable notes and references, that the child shuns the fruit for fear of thorns about it. For my own part, I prefer the older specimens of ancient fairy literature known as chap-books. These were odd little yellow pamphlets, sprinkled with abundant capital letters throughout the text, and "Illustrated with many diverting cutts!" They were carried around the country-side in[xviii] England by peddlers, who sold them (with such other catch-penny wares as ribbons, lace, and trinkets) indifferently at castle gate or cottage lattice; and if you wish to see the sort of fairies your great-grandmothers believed in, look at the three pictures that accompany this preface, copied from a famous chap-book.

There, quaintly depicted, first, appeared Jack in a funny full-bottomed coat, diligently climbing a bean-stalk, where the ogre's castle was perched atop like a bird's nest; lucky Ali-Baba, too; Bluebeard—mighty and pitiless—with Fatima and sister Anne, their back hair down, pleading to him on dislocated knees, their brothers, with drawn swords, galloping to the rescue; and the husband in The Three Wishes, standing agape before his fireside, while his wife danced a jig of rage in her efforts to rid her nose of a pudding little smaller than a feather-bed! There,[xix] also, was displayed that pushing suitor, the Yellow Dwarf, who insisted on attaching to his lady-love's finger a ring made of a single red hair, so fastened that she could not get it off. There was the Desert Fairy, guarded by two lions which the wandering queen endeavored to appease with "a cake made of millet, sugar-candy, and crocodile's eggs." (How we children yearned to taste that cake!) And there were the fascinating White Cat, seated side by side with her enamored prince in a fine calash of blue embossed with gold, the Sleeping Beauty, the Babes in the Wood—hapless cherubs—the Girl who dropped pearls and diamonds when she spoke, dear Graciosa and ready Percinet, gallant Riquet-with-the-Tuft, and Goody Two Shoes—the latter a little of a prig, I fear—clever Hop o' my Thumb, Beauty and the Beast, Little Red Riding-hood—the long procession of charmers to whom even now my heart bows in salutation as I write their familiar names!

Chap-books of ancient date have been recently reproduced in England; from one of them, I have taken the substance of a story I never chanced to see elsewhere, and under the title of "Juliet; or, the Little White Mouse" have given it to you in language of my own.

After the chap-books came other cheap fairy publications, notably those of Mr. Newberry, a good old gentleman who, in the last century, sent out numberless sixpenny booklets, many of them reaching America to give pleasure to the infants of the colonies. Washington Irving goes so far as[xx] to say that if George Washington had not read Newberry's publications in his youth, especially "Whittington and his Cat," he would not have been the first and greatest President of the United States! The grave Benjamin Franklin, while a printer in Philadelphia, emulated Newberry in publishing nursery tales, and no doubt devoured them himself with relish.

Many a pen of the great in history or literature has found a theme in these favorites of ours. Of Cinderella, the famous Canning, premier of England, wrote in glowing rhyme:

"Six bobtailed mice transport her to bhe ball,
And liveried lizards wait upon her call."

And Thackeray has thrown around fairy lore the rays of his noble genius, not only in the lines already here quoted, but in a Christmas story so enchanting that, if you are unfortunate enough not already to have made acquaintance with Valoroso and Gruffanuff, Bulbo and Angelica, I urge you to try at once the magician's art and coax "The Rose and the Ring" out of the pocket of your nearest relative. By the giant Thackeray, when entangled in the meshes of Fairydom, one is reminded of Gulliver under bonds to the Lilliputians, yet wearing his bonds so easily![xxi]

And now, I leave my new-old Fairy Book to you, my little critics. I am sure you will accord a generous welcome to the pictures. What would our benighted great-grandmothers have said to Miss Emmet's charming illustrations?

C. C. H.


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