Page images

thank his punch-bowl for keeping him alive in the memory of his 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, he 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 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, the northern wain, invested the Emperor of the Franks and the Paladins who surrounded him with superhuman might. And the same constellatiou darting down its rays upon the head of the long lost↑ Arthur has given to the monarch of the Britons the veneration which once belonged to the son of Uthry Bendragon,' Thunder the Supreme leader,' and Eygyr the generating power.' But time rolls on: faith lessens, the flocks 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 nursery-maid looks for her sweetheart in the bottom of the tea-cup she is little aware that she is practising the scyphomancy of the Egyptians. We must not now, however, allow ourselves to wander from the realms of 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-cheeked 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. The Moors were driven from An


The Great Bear appears to have been known by 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

Satt nacken som ett barn
Siw Stjernor i Handen och Karlewagn.

Arthur, according to Mr. Owen, is a mythological personage.

Arthur,' he says,

is 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 year the pole, and sensibly describing a circle in so small a space, is the origin of the fouad table.'-Southey's Preface to the History of Arthur, p.3.

He is mentioned in the account of the siege of Huesca in the Cronica General
-Avis ya infanzon que era sobrino de Don Lorenzo Xuarez quel llamaron Meleu


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 Mabonogion, 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 Archæology 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 Nasuta, Popa Scartellata, Antonella Vavosa, Ciulla Mossuta, Paola Sgargiata, Rodriguez Gallinato. Tomaron del tan gran miedo los Moros que quando algun niño llorava, decienle, Cata Melendo!

*Il Pentamerone,. . . . . . overo Trattenemiento de li Piccerille, di Gian Alesso Abbatutis 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


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 Maricastaña. Maricastaña 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 Hausmärchen' 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 samne 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

In the dialogue between Scipio and Berganza, the former speaks of the cuentos de viejas, como aquellos del cavallo sin cabeza, y de la Varilla de Virtudes con que se entretenien al fuego las dilatadas noches 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, l. vi.) in which the sage alludes to a similar superstition amongst the Greeks.


have taken considerable pains, and often with considerable success, to shew the relationship between these Kinder Märchen,' or Children's Tales, and the venerable Sagas of the North, which, in good sooth, were only intended for children of larger growth. The real worth of these tales,' continue Messrs. Grimm, is indeed to be highly estimated, as they give a new and more complete elucidation of our ancient German heroic fictions than could be obtained from any other source. Thornrosa, who is set a sleeping in consequence of the wounds inflicted by her spindle, is Brynhilda cast into slumber by the sleep-thorn of Odin. The manner in which Loke hangs to the giant-eagle is better understood after a perusal of the story of the Golden Goose, to which the lads and lasses who touch it, adhere inseparably. In the stories of the Wicked Goldsmith, the Speaking Bird, and the Eating of the Bird's Heart, who does not recognize the fable of Sigurd *In these popular stories is concealed the pure and primitive mythology of the Teutons which has been considered as lost for ever; and we are convinced that if such researches are continued in the different districts of Germany, the traditions of this nature, which are now neglected, will change into treasuries of incredible worth, and assist in affording a new basis for the study of the origin of our ancient poetical fictions.'-Kindermärchen, vol. ii. p. 7.

Messrs. Grimm are ardent and enthusiastic. Our lamented Leyden, who took an analogous view of popular narrative, was rather inclined to connect its history with ancient romance, as he overlooked the mythological basis of the system. In the repetition of an unskilful reciter the metrical romance or fabliau seems often to have degenerated into a popular story; and it is a curious fact that the subjects of some of the popular stories which I have heard repeated in Scotland, do not differ essentially from those of some of the ancient Norman fabliaux, presented to the public in an elegant form by Le Grand. Thus when I first perused the fabliaux of the Poor Scholar, the Three Thieves, and the Sexton of Cluni, I was surprised to recognize the popular stories which

These fables, familiar to Messrs. Grimm, are not equally so to our readers. Sigurd passes through the flames which surround the castle, where he finds Brynhilda cast in a magic slumber: he releases her, and she speaks. Two kings warred upon each other, the one was named Hialmgunnar, and he was old and a mighty warrior, and to him had Odin promised viciory. The name of the other was Agnar, the brother of Aud. I killed Hialmgunnar in battle, and Odin wounded me in the head, with the thorn of sleep.' The corresponding traditionary story is nearly the same as Perrault's Sleeping Beauty in the Wood, which, as we have observed, is also said to be founded in tradition.

The Golden Goose and the other adventures are too long to be epitomized in this place: those who choose may consult the Volsunga Saga, and the Second Part of the edition of Resenius, c. 12.

« PreviousContinue »