« VorigeDoorgaan »
every incident became the order of the day. And trivial enough were the incidents as well as the morals pointed for the long-suffering and well-brought-up little children who read them. Retribution is swift in these stories, as well as severe. The thoughtless boy forgets to tie his shoe, and he instantly falls down stairs and breaks his leg, while his father stands moralizing over him on the sin of carelessness instead of fetching a doctor. Bad boys are all hanged on gibbets, and the good ones become smug Lord Mayors and ride in gilt coaches; and all the parents lack humor, humanity, and a sense of proportion. Truly the theory of the discipline of consequences ran smoothly in these stories, where the wicked ceased to flourish as a green bay tree.
The merit of this didactic literature differed considerably. Miss Edgeworth's and Mrs. Barbauld's work commands our respect. There is often a dignified simplicity and stately seriousness about it which we must admire. But we cannot love the stories of these ladies, any more than we can love the prim little Harrys and Lucys in them, with their proper behavior and correct sentiments. "Belief in the efficacy of preaching is the bane of educational systems," as Moreley says; and this truly was an era of preaching without end. Along with this eternal preaching came shoals of intolerably dull little books on general information. All things under heaven were taught to little children in improving dialogues with priggish parents or omniscient maiden aunts. The fairy world of childhood was very far away from the pedantic little people in Sandford and Merton and Scientific Dialogues, and Charles Lamb mourns over it. In a letter to Coleridge he writes, "Knowledge must now come to the child in the shape of Knowledge, instead of that beautiful interest
in wild tales which make the child a man, while all the time he suspects himself to be a child. . . . Think of what you would have been now, if, instead of being fed with tales and old wives' fables in childhood, you had been crammed with Geography and Natural History."
It is a relief to come upon Charles Lamb's Story of Ulysses and Mrs. Leicester's School amid all the utilitarian literature of the time. In the former he has given a romantic touch and a literary form to one of the finest tales in the world for children. And Mrs. Leicester's School has a charm of its own with its dainty descriptions, natural incidents, and sweet humor. One reads it again and again with something like longing to be an imaginative person of eight, in order fully to enter into it. "Wisest, virtuousest, discreetest, best," is the verdict of Sir Thomas Talfourd on the work of Charles and Mary Lamb for children. Their books truly shine like gleams of sunlight in a gray didactic age. Even Dr. Johnson has a word to say in favor of the fairies: "Babies do not like to hear stories of babies like themselves," he says; "they require to have their imagination raised by tales of giants and fairies, castles and enchantments." This rouses a protest from Miss Edgeworth, who soberly argues that children are not to be given the things they like. "Why should their minds be filled with fantastic visions instead of useful knowledge?" she asks severely. "It is to be hoped," she continues, "that the magic of Dr. Johnson's name will not have power to restore the reign of fairies." She is an ardent Rousseauist, and she claims to have refrained from all poetical allusions which appeal to a child's imagination in her Parents' Assistant. But even Rousseau and his disciples were not strong enough to suppress the fairy lore of England which served to
nourish our Lambs, Coleridges, Wordsworths, and also our Shakespeares, Spensers and Herricks; for the folk lore of England has found its way into her literature and has become immortal.
The crown and glory of the English fairy world is the Midsummer Night's Dream, which is dear to us still, as it was to our forefathers.
Deep in the heart of primitive races, children, poets, and simple folk, lies a craving for fairy tales and romances, and so treasures have been preserved for us, as old as the Pyramids, which have endured through the ages, preserved by peasants, poets and children; for the wise and the worldly have been too much occupied with higher matters to think about these things. And these treasures have been handed down orally, or stored up in little blue and scarlet books, with a gold pattern running all over them, and these books have been sold at fairs, along with gilt gingerbreads, to simple folk, who wanted sentiment along with their literature, for the same reason as they wanted gilt on their gingerbread; and so they wept over the sorrows of Rosamond in her bower and the Babes in the Wood, as they told the stories again and again to their children and their children's children. A book was a book in those days, and a story was a story, and there were fairies and romances too in our land.
And a surprising number and variety of fairies there were, and one wonders sorrowfully where they have all gone to. It may be that the amazing multiplication of text-books and schools which weighs us down in these days has killed them all; for it is well known that text-books, and the wisdom of the schools, are fatal to the fairies. At any rate, there were in England, in the old days, Saxon fairies, Celtic fairies, and Scandina
vian fairies. The oldest and bestloved were the elves, pixies and trolls dear to the Danes and Saxons; for do we not know from Sir Walter Scott that "Jack, commonly called the Giant-killer, and Thomas Thumb landed in England from the very same keels and warships which conveyed Hengist and Horsa and Ebba the Saxon ?"
Then, centuries later, when the Puritan influence began to decline, we took to our hearts and homes those delightful fairies which became so popular in France in the eighteenth century; for France was weary of long-winded allegorical romances, and pined for something short, amusing and strictly proper and the fairy tales met alt these, as well as all other reasonable and unreasonable requirements, and they very properly became the rage. Perrault the philosopher, and Madame d'Aulnoy, introduced them to our shores, and so we became possessed of the fascinating, though somewhat gruesome Bluebeard, and the romantic, and never-to-be-forgotten history of the White Cat. And the German fairies came our way too. These were less spiritual, perhaps, and certainly more mysterious and schauderhaft than their French neighbors. They were recommended to us by a learned philologist named Grimm, to whom all German fairy lore was revealed. Then, too, the wonders and richness of the glowing East came to us, with enchantments, potentates, and powerful genli or Djinns imprisoned in jars, rings and lamps.
Certainly no country has had a richer heritage in fairies, and perhaps none has made less use of such a heritage in the schoolroom.
In defending the use of fairy tales in the schoolroom, one would urge first that they are a powerful aid in the training of the imagination; and imagination is strong in the little
child, and needs wise and generous training, because in it the higher aspirations are rooted; moreover, imagination is a powerful force in developing will power. Much of the selfishness and inhumanity which exist in the world is due to deficient imagination, rather than to badness of heart; and rightly directed imagination tends to bring out the nobler side of human nature, and give a charm to existence, the like of which nothing else can give; for imagination is a heavenly, if somewhat dangerous, gift, bestowed chiefly on women and children and some men whom we call poets. It is the old fairy tales which appeal more strongly than anything else to childhood's imagination; then let us take them as the true mental food of infancy, and be thankful.
These stories, again, awaken sympathy in the child, and extend his knowledge of humanity. He enters
into the feelings of the despised Cinderella sitting among her ashes, he thrills with joy when she marries the handsome prince, and he trembles with apprehension when the clock strikes twelve and her rags return to her. He goes forth courageously with Jack to kill his giants, and he glories when the good and the true triumph, as they are bound to do in all wholesome and honest fairy tales. He learns, in short, to enter into the joy, the woes and the difficulties of others, which is a worthy lesson, for, as Wordsworth says of fairy tales:
The child whose love is here at least doth reap One precious gain-that he forgets himself.1
Then, fairy tales arouse aspiration in the child and give him ideals. Crude and material enough are these childish ideals, it is true, as in the desire
1 "The Prelude," Book V.
of a certain class of little ones to be good, and go, like Goldmary, through the golden gate and receive the shower of gold and roses, for the gold remained on her hair forever, and the roses never faded from her cheeks; besides, she was always rich. "Did you ever go through the golden gate?" one infant asked me as I pictured these glories; and when I sorrowfully replied "No," the babe remarked sententiously, "you should have been good then, like Goldmary." But the little one who can "take the wishes out of its heart and project them on a screen of fancy" gains faith and an idealizing tendency which remain after it has outgrown the fairy tales; for, as Colonel Parker says," "Fairy stories are to the child like the parables of the Master: they contain the seeds of truth, that will germinate and fructify in the child's mind far better than truth grown to its full stature and embodied in maxims and precepts."
Unconsciously, too, for the most part, the power of example is brought to bear upon the child in these old tales; for the command of the Master, "Go thou and do likewise," need not be spoken to children. As Charles Dickens says in speaking of fairy tales, Forbearance, courtesy, consideration of the poor and aged, abhorrence of tyranny and brute force-many such good things have been nourished in the child's heart by this powerful aid."
The true power of example does not lie in holding up trivial actions to be slavishly copied, for we all know that "imitation is suicide," in small things as in great. This is one reason why the realistic children's stories of the goody-goody type so often fail in their purpose, and only succeed in making children pose, if indeed they succeed in reaching them at all, like the little
"Talks on Teaching."
girl of seven who prayed that her mother might become a drunkard in -order that she might reclaim her, as did the pious little Jenny of the story. The same little girl used to try to go to sleep on the sofa, with her finger on her favorite text in her Bible when she heard people coming, because Jenny had a trick of going to sleep in this attitude, and her little world used always to come in and admire her. Generations of the good little Georges and Jennies have given up their artJess little ghosts, and ceased mending their own clothes and prattling piously about it for the edification of other little boys and girls, and, alas! they -are all forgotten; but Red Riding Hood, Jack the Giant Killer, and the Sleeping Beauty will never die. They belong to an imperishable golden age, and they go on forever, spurring on wondering babes to worthy effort.
The babes cannot, it is true, hope to imitate the doings of the immortal Jack, any more than we may hope to imitate the doings of Brutus or Portia, for times and circumstances have altered; but though the actions of our heroes cannot be repeated, yet they awaken within us that vigor of feeling upon which the actions are based.
Fairy tales, too, prepare the child for poetry. They form the beginnings of literature-indeed they are literature, being "part of the current coin of the world's intercourse." We cannot all hope to be classical scholars, but all may be steeped in folk-lore and heroic romance in childhood, when the imagination is fresh and keen, and so acquire a share of the old-world culture.
The old fairy tales too are full of the poetry of forest life and of unseen nature, and this satisfies the child's sense of mystery, wonder and awe. With his wonder book he penetrates into the heart of the mountain, where, in caves ribbed with bars of gold, the
dwarfs and the gnomes are gathering the treasures of the earth; and he dives into the depths of the sea, where the mermaids have reared their palaces. Then there are valleys of diamonds, enchanted gardens, where the apples are rubies and the plums topazes, kingdoms in the air where one sails on chariots through pink and pearly clouds, and beautiful meadows at the bottom of wells where the apple-trees speak to Goldmary and the flowers smile at her.
But, it is urged, fairy tales are improbable as indeed they are they teach the child nothing, that is, no solid facts.
If only a genius could arise, and make England believe that the schoolroom is a place for training the child's heart and mind rather than stuffing his head, we should probably hear less about the value of facts. Human development cannot take place on right lines without depth and cordiality of feeling; and to be effective, early education must get at, and cultivate, right, active, vital feeling. Education which is mainly formal and intellectual is positively harmful, and narrowness of sympathy and hardness of disposition result from the mind being stored only with facts.
To come back to our fairy tale. We shall find, if we look into it, at the heart of the real old fairy tale a great universal truth, and it is this truth which gives the fairy tale its grip on the generations.
Fairy tales are histories of human nature, which does not change, as much as would be expected, in a few thousand years. We are all persecuted princesses, stupid ogres, wicked dwarfs and handsome princes, if only we were able to get to the bottom of each others' disguises; and it is be cause fairy tales are so true that they go on satisfying the heart of childhood through the centuries.
What kind of fairy tales are to be used in the schoolroom? is often asked.
And the answer is, only those worthy of the name of literature. And these are: firstly, the fairy tale proper, or nursery tale, which is the German Märchen; secondly, those stories which powerful pens threw off in happy moments of fancy; and thirdly, Sagas. Children readily appreciate what is great, and in their hearts they despise the feeble little stories which are constantly written down to them under the name of Kindergarten literature and the like. It is a tolerably safe rule to refuse to admit into the schoolroom any fairy tales that might not be considered classic.
The fairy tales proper come to us from a time when the world was young, direct from the period to which the child belongs. These folk tales are the literature of simple people, to whom everything is a symbol; and every incident in the old round of joy, pain, birth, love and death has gathered meaning for centuries. There is a beautiful simplicity and directness of motive about these old tales which the child loves. Thus we find the queen in her parlor eating bread and honey, and the king with his golden crown on his head counting his bags of gold, and the maid of honor fetching a pail of water. These stories, too, all end happily, and this satisfies that craving for poetical justice so strong in little children.
The child's keen insight readily detects the ring of true gold, and those stories which endure in this world, apart from the folk stories, are those which originated in powerful brains.
Perrault, the mathematician, wrote Blue Beard; Southey, the Three Bears; Goldsmith, probably, wrote Goody TwoShoes; indeed, nobody else could have written it, so why should we qualify the statement? Then there was Bunyan, with his Pilgrim's Progress; De
foe, with his Robinson Crusoe; Swift, with his Gulliver's Travels; Thackeray, with his Rose and the Ring; and never, never must we forget Hans Andersen, that curious Danish genius, with the soul of a woman and the heart of a child. He, more than any other, has caught the spirit of the old world tales, and his whimsical simplicity appeals to all children and all whose hearts refuse to grow old. He understands the child's sympathy with the entire universe; for trees, insects, plants, nay, even the stars and the moon, are the child's comrades, and talk his language and listen to his confidences. The limited mind of the mature reader can hardly retain its sanity among Andersen's crowds of storks, slugs, apple-trees, cats, hens, swallows, green-peas, peg-tops, tin soldiers, and gingerbread cakes, all of which converse with an astonishing lucidity and an amazing individuality; and they all think the child's thoughts, talk his language, and see the world as he sees it. Andersen, too, never outrages the ethics of the fairy-world, as does the modern fairy tale, with its complex motives and fantastic imaginings. He is always quaint, graceful,. and true to the canons of poetical justice, as laid down in all good fairy tales. So let it be granted that all fairy stories written in strong, beautiful, and suitable language, by great writers may be safely put before children, and among these Andersen's stories are preeminent.
Then there are the Sagas. These are· stories of definite beings, usually having a definite locality assigned to them, who once really lived; for the Saga treads earthly ways more than the fairy tale, and often mingles real' historic fact with its romances. Dick Whittington, Lady Godiva, Robin Hood, and King Arthur are stories of this class as well as the stories of Ulysses and Siegfried.. Sagas form the connect