Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

increase from any commiseration for their bodily sufferings: they were ail in excellent plight.'—p. 316,31".

The volume concludes with an Appendix of various papers on subjects of natural history, chiefly plants of China; and the same official documents which have already been printed by Mr. Ellis. [Making due allowance for all the disadvantages against which Mr. Abel has had to contend, we cannot but think that he has produced a very respectable work; it is rather his misfortune than his fault, that his labours have been anticipated, and thus deprived of that charm of novelty which could alone recommend them to the general reader.

Art. V.'—Fairy Tales, or the Lilliputian Cabinet, containing
Twenty-four choice pieces of Fancy and Fiction, collected by
Benjamin Tabart. Tabart & Co. London. 1818.
C'INCE our boyish days the literature of the nursery has sustained
~ a mighty alteration: the tone of the reading public has infected
the taste of the spelling public. Mr. Benjamin Tabart's collection
is, as we understand, considered an acceptable present to the rising
generation; yet, though it is by no means devoid of merit, it recals
but faintly the pleasant homeliness of the narrations which used to
delight us in those happy times when we were still pinned to our
nursels apron-strings, and which are now thought too childish to de-
serve 3 place even in the tiny library of the baby. Even Nurse her-
self has become strangely fastidious in her taste, and the books
which please her are far different from those over which she used
to pore, when she put on her spectacles, and took such desperate
pains in leading us onwards from great A and little a, and bouncing
B, even down to Empesand and lzzard. Scarcely any of the chap
books which were formerly sold to the country people at fairs and
markets have been able to maintain their ancient popularity; and
we have almost witnessed the extinction of this branch of our na-
tional literature. Spruce modern novels, and degenerate modern
Gothic romances, romances only in name, have expelled the an-
cient ' histories' even from their last retreats. The kitchen wench,
who thumbs the Mysteries of Udolpho, or the Rose of Raby, won't
grieve at all for the death of Fair Rosamond: and the tale of Troy,
which, in the days of good Queen Bess,

Would mollify the hearts of barb'rous people,
And make Tom Butcher weep,

has lost every jot of its pathos. Local traditions, indeed, cause the works which refer to them to retain their currency. Whilst the effigy of Sir Bevis guards the Bar-gate at Southampton, his achievements may be recollected there. And Guy Earl of Warwick may

-thank thank his punch-bowl for keeping him alive in the memory of hi* townsmen. But most of the other ancient heroes of chivalry, who defended their posts so long and so sturdily, have been fairly fibbed out of the ring by modern upstarts and pretenders. Gulley, the Champion of England, has supplanted St. George; and since Molineux and Dutch Sam and Scroggins have shewn fight, there is not a shepherd's boy who cares a straw for the prowess of the Nine Grim Worthies of the World, whether Gentile, Jew or Christian. Politics and sectarianism complete the change which has taken place in the contents of the budget of the flying stationer. The old broadside-ballads have given way to the red stamp of the newspaper; and pedlers burn their ungodly story-books like sorcerers of old, and fill their baskets with the productions sanctified by the Imprimatur of the Tabernacle. As for the much lamented Mr. Marshall, now no longer of Aldermary Church-yard, whose cheap and splendid publications at once excited and rewarded our youthful industry, lie hath been compelled to shut up his shop long ago. Not a soul in the trade would bid for the copy-right and back stock of Tommy Two Shoes. His penny books are out of print, one and all, and therefore, if things continue to go on as they have done of late years, there is really no telling what sums of money a good copy of the genuine edition of the Life and Death of Cock Robin may not soon fetch under the hammer of Mr. Evans, especially if it should chance to be a ' tall copy,' with ' uncut margins,' graced with ' clear impressions' of the' numerous wood cuts,' and retaining its ' original' gilt paper binding.

Physiologists investigate the laws of animated life in the animalcules swimming in the rain-drop. The botanist ascends from mosses and lichens to the oak tree and palm. The man of letters should not disdain the chap book, or the nursery story. Humble as these efforts of the human intellect may appear, they shew its secret workings, its mode and progress, and human nature must be studied in all its productions: And we shall observe, in the words of Walter Scott, ' that a work of great interest might be compiled upon the origin of popular fiction and the transmission of similar tales from age to age and from country to country. The mythology of one period would then appear to pass into the romance of the next century, and that into the nursery tale of the subsequent ages.'

Fiction thus resolves itself into its primitive elements, as by the slow and unceasing action of the rain and wind the solid granite is crumbled into sand. The creations embodied by the vivid imagination of man in the childhood of his race, incorporate themselves in his fond and mistaken faith. Sanctity is given to his day-dreams by the altar of the idol. Then, perhaps, they acquire a deceitful

truth

Ivntli from the genius of the bard. Blended with the mortal hero, the aspect of the god gleams through the vizor of the helmet, or adds a holy dignity to the regal crown. Poetry borrows its ornaments from the lessons of the priest. The ancient God of strength of the Teutons, throned in his chariot of the stars, (he northern wain,* invested the Emperor of the Franks and the Paladins who Surrounded him with superhuman might. And the same constellation darting down its rays upon the head of the long lostf Arthur has given to the monarch of the Britons the veneration which once belonged to the son of' Uthry Bendragon,' 1 Thunder the Supreme leader,' and ' Eygyr the generating power.' But time rolls on: faith lessens, the Hocks are led to graze within the rocky circle of the giants. Even the bones of the warriors moulder into dust; the lay is no longer heard; and the fable, reduced again to its original simplicity and nudity, becomes the fitting source of pastime to the untutored peasant and the listening child.

Hence we may yet trace no small proportion of mystic and romantic lore in the tales which gladden the cottage fireside, or, century after century, sooth the infant to its slumbers. When the uursery-maid looks for her sweetheart in the bottom of the tea-cup ►he is little aware that she is practising the scyphoihancy of the Egyptians. We must not now, however, allow ourselves to wander from the realmsof popular fiction to the land of popular superstition, although there is so much difficulty in ascertaining their proper boundaries that forgiveness might be readily obtained for the digression. The elves which dance on the wold must be considered as subject to the same laws as the fairies who bless the young prince s christening cap; and the giant who fills up the portal of the castle, or who wields his club upon the roof of the tower,' does not differ essentially from the tall black man who carries away the naughty boy, and terrifies the little ruddy-eheeked, maiden on the maternal bosom. These man-eaters were generally the great cap-» tains of the times. 'Beware of Melendo!' was the threat of the Moorish mother to her babe.J The Moors were driven from Andalusia

• The Great Bear appears to have been known hy the name of Charles's Wain among the Teutons and Scandinavians, in the earliest ages. At Upsala, according to an ancient Swedish metrical chronicle, it was placed in the hands of the God Thor.

Thor Gud ;—

Satl nacken som ett barn

Siw Stjernor i Hauden och Karlewagn. t Arthur, according to Mr. Owen, is a mythological, personage. 'Arthur,' he says, 'it the Great Bear, as the name actually implies:' (it is odd he did not think of Arctos aud Arcturus to strengthen his hypothesis.) 'And perhaps this constellation, being so tjcu the pole, and sensibly describing a circle in so small a space, is the origin of the; rouud table/—Souther's Pref ace to the History of Arthur, p. 3.

t He is mentioned in the account of the siege of Huesca in the Cronica General. —-A><a its) iufanzon que era sobrino de Don Lorenzo Xuarctqnel llamaron Meleu

Rodrieuri dalusia before fear and hatred had distorted the Castilian knight into* a monster. But Attila the Hun, the mighty monarch of the book of heroes, degenerated into a blood-thirsty ogre amongst the inhabitants of Gaul who had smarted under his exterminating sword.

The Welch have their Mabonugion, or 'Juvenile amusements,' of undoubted authenticity and antiquity. Some of them are extant in manuscript, others live only in the traditions of the common people. A translation of the former was prepared for the-press by Mr. William Owen, to whom Cymric literature is so greatly indebted, but the manuscript was unfortunately lost before publication. These tales possess extraordinary singularity and interest, and a complete collection of them in the original language is, as Mr. Southey remarks, a desideratum in British literature. The Cymry however seem to have little feeling for the productions of their ancestors; and the praiseworthy and patriotic exertions of individuals may cause the Welch nation at large to blush. When a foreigner asks us the names of the nobility and gentry of the principality who published the Myvyrian Archaeology at their own expense, we must answer that it was none of them, but Owen Jones, the Thames-street furrier.

The popular fiction of the Celts is lively in its poetical imagery. Amongst the nations where the blood of the Teutons yet predominates, popular fiction is equally poetical in its cast. Not so in the happier climes of the south of Europe, where the Italian gives a zest to his popular narratives by buffoonery or ribaldry. A considerable portion of the fairy tales contained in the ' Pentamerone, overo Trattenemiento de li Piccerille,' or 'Entertainment for the Little Ones,' together with those from the Nights of Signor Straparola, exhibit the inhabitants of Peristan as their chief characters, though not always retaining their eastern grace and beauty. Giovan' Battista Basile, who published his work under the fictitious name of Gian Alesso Abbatutis, compiled the Pentamerone* from the old stories current amongst the Neapolitans, and the work is written wholly in his native Neapolitan dialect, a language, not a jargon as it is absurdly called by the Tuscans, which was cultivated at a much earlier period than the volgar' illustre of Tuscany. The narrative which connects the stories is invented by the Cavalier Basile himself; the tales are told with characteristic oddity by the ten old women of the city, whose tongues run most glibly, to wit— Zoza Scioffata, Cecca Storta, Meneca Vozzolosa, Tolla Nasula, Popa Scartellata, Antonella Vavosa, Ciulla Mossuta, Paola Sgarg'iafa*

Rodriguez Gallinato. Tomaron del tan gran miedo los Morns que quando ajgun nino llorava, decienle, Cata Melendo!

* II Pentamerone, orero Trattenemiento de li Piccerille, di Gian Alesso Ab:

batutis novamente restampato, e co tutte le Zeremonie corrietto 'n Napole. 1714.

Coimmetella

Ciommetella Zellosa, and Giacova Squacquarata, denominations and epithets as expressive to the Neapolitan ear, as the more harmonious names of the Naiads of Homer were to the Grecians. The Pentamerone is one of those racy national works which defy translation. Basile seems to gesticulate and laugh aloud. His writing is as the discourse of the story-teller of the Piazza addressing an audience of gaping urchins and fullgrown Lazzaroni, basking in the. sunshine.

Of the traditionary tales of Spain little can be said, except that, we know that all the beasts used to speak in the days of Mf ricastana. Maricastana flourished in the reign of King Bamba when the slashed petticoat of black velvet which the curate borrowed of the inn-keeper's wife was yet a new one. The good dog Scipio,* who spoke in times nearer to our own, has noticed the stories of the 'Horse without a Head,' and the ' Rod of Virtue' with which the, old women ' were wont to entertain themselves when sitting by the. fire-side in the long nights of winter.' In order that the horse without a head may travel to posterity, we think it right to add, that this marvellous monster haunts the Moorish ramparts of the Alhambra, in company with another non-descript beast ycleped the Belludo, on account of his woolly hide: both have a local habitation and a name in the guard-room by the side of the principal portal of the palace, from whence they occasionally sally forth, and terrify the sentries.

The most important addition to nursery literature has been effected in Germany, by the diligence of John and William Grimm, two antiquarian brethren of the highest reputation. Under the title of' Kinder und Hausmarchen' they have published a collection of, German popular stories, singular in its kind, both for extent and variety, and from which we have acquired much information. In this collection we recognize a host of English and French and Italian stories of the same genus and species, and extant in printed books; but the greater part of the German popular or nursery stories are stated by the editors to be traditionary, some local, others more widely known; and MM. Grimm say that they are confident' that all those which they have so gathered from oral tradition, with the exception indeed of Puss in Boots, are pure German, and not borrowed from the stranger.' In their annotations, Messrs. Grimm

* la the dialogue between Scipio and Berganza, the former speaks of the ' cuentos de TOjas, como aquellos del cavallo sin cabeza, y de la Varilla de Virtudes con que se entreteuien al fuego las dilatadas nochcs del invierno.' But the Horse without a Head sometimes migrates into this country, and we have frequently fled before his imaginary approach, in the days.of our naughtiness. A friend has pointed out to us a passage in' Plato (De Legibus, 1. vi.) in which the sage alludes to a similar superstition amongst the Greeks.

have

« AnteriorContinuar »