The Fairy Tale in England, 1800–1870

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<ul><li><p>Michael C. Kotzin Department of English Tel-Aviv University Ramat-Aviv, Tel-Aviv, Israel </p><p>THE FAIRY TALE IN ENGLAND, 1800-1870 </p><p>The history of the fairy tale in England during the first two thirds of the nineteenth century follows the movement of a popular narrative form, told by the folk and printed in cheap, crude chapbooks, into the mainstream of childrens and, to a certain extent, even adult literature. Some aspects of the history have already been traced by folklorists and by historians of childrens books, but it is also of inter- est to the historian of adult literature and to the historian of culture. During this period the fairy tale was not restricted to the folk and the nursery; its history involves not only folklorists and educators but also many important writers of the period, and illustrates an interesing as- pect of Victorian culture. </p><p>of the nineteenth century had been imported from foreign literary sources. There had been fairy tales in England before-they were drawn upon by Shakespeare, Spenser, Peele, and Jonson. But, as Katharine M. Briggs puts it, those stories became scarce and fragmentary in England.l In 1822 Wilhelm Grimm speculated that it is probable that the greater </p><p>Most of the fairy tales available in England at the beginning </p></li><li><p>THE FAIRY TALE IN ENGLAND, 1800-1870 131 </p><p>part of the stories known in Germany are indigenous in Great Britain also, but after citing a few of the types of stories found in both countries, he had to add that little, however, has as yet been collected or communicated. This department of literature has been filled up by translations from the French. Grimm then summarized and discussed three characteristic and genuine English stories which had been print- ed by Benjamin Tabart earlier in the century: Jack the Giant Killer, Tom Thumb, and Jack and the Beanstalk.2 The truth, as discover- ed by later folklorists, appears to be that by the nineteenth century there were few other characteristic and genuine English stories to collect-not much more than Tom Tit Tot (similar to Rumpelstdt- skin, AT 500) and Dick Whittington and his Cat (AT 1651). Richard M. Dorson says: </p><p>The fact had become painfclly evident, by the close of Vic- torias reign, that the treasure trove of fairy tales unearthed for nearly every European country, in replica of the Grimms discovery in Germany, would not be found in England . . . . Why had a blight struck Merry England? No one has yet pro- duced a satisfactory answer.3 It seems to me that the most satisfactory answer was advanced </p><p>by Edwin Sidney Hartland, who observed in 1890 that whereas there are few English fairy tales, there is a considerable body of folktale material of the legend type, such as the Robin Hood tales. Hart- lands theory was that Puritanism was responsible: the English Non- conformists of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries objected to the fantastic, obviously untrue stories and killed off much of the earlier native t r a d i t i ~ n ; ~ the subsequent vacuum, it seems, was later filled by fairy tales which had first been published in France. Whether or not that was the way it happened, the fact is that it was the import- ed tales which were common in eighteenth and nineteenth-century England. They themselves encountered resistance, especially from en- lightened rationalists. However, though the resistance temporarily pre- vented the tales from becoming accepted as childrens literature, it could not prevent them from being translated and published, from appearing in chapbooks, and thence from entering the oral folk corpus. </p><p>The first fairy tales to be translated into English in the eighteenth </p></li><li><p>132 JOURNAL OF POPULAR CULTURE </p><p>century were those found in the Thousand and One Nights, also known as the Arubian Nights Entertainment. First collected in about 1550, the Arabic stories in the volume were translated into French by Antoine Galland in 1704, and from French to English by 1708 (and possibly as early as 17045). Their Oriental exoticism was a main reason for the popularity of these stories, but some of them, most notably Aladdin, became associated with the fairy tale tradition-which, like them, came to England from France. In 1707 and 1716 there were separate trans- lations of the courtly, literary Les Contes des Fges of Marie Catherine d Aulnoy, which had appeared in France in about 1700. In 1729 there appeared a translation by Robert Sarnber of the eight folk fairy tales masterfully transcribed by Charles Perrault or his son which had been published in France in 1696-97 with the inscription Contes de ma rnere ZOye, and became known in English as Mother Goose. </p><p>All of these collections were reprinted during the eighteenth century, in part or in full, and so were translations of selections from other collections of fairy tales, including the forty-one volume Le Cabinet des Fges (1785-89), which included Beauty and the Beast. The forces of enlightenment could not keep these stories out of the country. But they could keep them from entering whatever recommended lists there might have been for children. When John Newbery, the first publisher of childrens books, entered the trade in the mid-forties, he became known not for imaginative fairy tales, but for moral, in- structive tales, which were to be the dominant acceptable childrens fare for the rest of the century and the beginning of the next. When the fairy-type stories were printed by the official presses, they usually were made heavily didactic. And Newberys followers were even more oppressively moral than he had been. He was interested in entertaining children as well as educating them. (It was he, in fact, who attached the name of Mother Goose to nursery rhymes.) But his followers had more limited goals. Mostly women, such as Anna Laetitia Barbauld and Sarah Trimmer, they advocated strictly didactic and factual literature for children and opposed anything imaginative. Mrs. Trimmer said that Mother Goose would only fill the minds of children with confused notions of wonderful and supernatural events.7 The state of affairs which existed at the turn of the century is indicated </p></li><li><p>THE FAIRY TALE IN ENGLAND, 1800-1870 </p><p>by a letter which Mrs. Trimmer printed in her magazine, The Guardian ofEducation (1802-06). Referring to the most popular fairy tale in the world, an unidentified correspondent said that Cinderella is perhaps one of the most exceptionable books that was ever written for child- ren. . . .It paints some of the worst passions that can enter into the human breast, and of which little children should, if possible, be totally ignorant; such as envy, jealousy, a dislike to mothers-in-law and half- sisters, vanity, a love of dress, etc. etc. 8 </p><p>Meanwhile, fairy tales had survived-not only those from the Arabian Nights, which benefitted from an Orientalism which they played a part in stimulating, but also others which came from France. These stories were kept alive primarily thanks to chapbooks (which several tales from the Arabian Nights also entered) and the folk that the chapbooks brought them to. The chapbook, mostly a seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth-century phenomenon, cheap, illustrated, containing almost all kinds of entertainment, from Bible stories to riddles and jokes, frequently written terribly, brought the imported Aladdin and Blue Beard, as well as the native Jack and Tom Thumb, to the English folk and, although not printed specially for him, to the English child.9 The chapbook brought the imported, printed stories into the native, oral and sub-literary traditions. Lower-class and countrydwelling children heard the stories from their elders and, if they could, read them in chapbooks. Wealthier and urban children heard them from their lower-class and country nurses and, if they could, also read them in chapbooks. In these ways the stories were available to the Romantics who, applying their beliefs in the primacy of the child and the value of imagination, came to the defense of the tales and attacked the official childrens reading. </p><p>strongly attacked the anti-fairy tale educators. He said: </p><p>133 </p><p>In a letter to Coleridge dated October 23, 1902, Charles Lamb </p><p>I am glad the snuff and pi-Pos Books please. Goody Two Shoes is almost out of print. Mrs. Barbaulds stuff has banished all the old classics of the nursery; and the shopman at Newberys hardly deigned to reach them off an old exploded corner of a shelf, when Mary asked for them. Mrs. B.s and </p></li><li><p>134 JOURNAL OF POPULAR CULTURE </p><p>Mrs. Trimmers nonsense lay in piles about. Knowl- edge insignificant and vapid as Mrs. B.s books convey, it seems, must come to a child in the shape of knowl- edge, and his empty noddle must be turned with conceit of his own powers when he has learnt that a Horse is an animal, and Billy is better than a Horse, and such like: instead of that beautiful Interest in wild tales which made the child a man, while all the time he has suspected himself to be no bigger than a child. Science has succeeded to Poetry no less in the little walks of children than with men. Is there no possi- bility of averting this sore evil? Think 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? </p><p>Damn them! ---I mean that cursed Barbauld Crew, those Blights and Blasts of all that is Human in man and child.10 Coleridge himself as a child had passionately read his fathers </p><p>copy of the Arabian Nights, and had read chapbook versions of Jack the Giant-Killer, The Seven Champions of Christendom, and other stories. Later he had defended fairy tales for children, basing has judgment on his own experiences. On October 16, 1797, he wrote Thomas Poole: </p><p>From early reading of fairy tales and about genii, etc., etc., my mind had been habituated to the vast, and I never regarded my senses in any way as the criteria of my belief. I regulated all my creeds by my conceptions, not by my sight, even at that age. Should children be permitted to read romances, and relations of giants and magicians and genii? I know all that has been said against it; but I have formed my faith in the affirmative. I know of no other way of giving the mind a love of the Great and the Whole.11 Wordsworth also read and defended fairy tales. In The </p><p>PreZude he remembered being a child not nine years old, </p></li><li><p>THE FAIRY TALE IN ENGLAND, 1800-1870 135 </p><p>and seeing the shining streams / Of Fairy land, the Forests of Ro- mance (Book Five, 474-477), and said that he had a precious treasure at that time / A little, yellow canvas-coverd Book, / A slender abstract of the Arabian Tales (482-483). Earlier in the poem he criticized the current system of education by portraying a knowledge- able product of it (. . . Tis a Child, no child, / But a dwarf Man - 294-295), and then said: </p><p>Meanwhile old Grandame Earth is grieved to find The playthings, which her love designed for him, Unthought of: in their woodland beds the flowers Weep, and the river sides are all forlorn. </p><p>(345-349) . . . . . . . . . . . . o h ! give us once again the Wishing-Cap Of Fortunatus, and the invisible Coat Of Jack the Giant-killer, Robin Hood, And Sabra in the forest with St. George! The child, whose love is here, at least, doth reap One precious gain, that he forgets himself. 12 </p><p>(364-369) For Wordsworth, Nature is the best educator; next best, it would seem, or at least better than what was taught in the schools, are fairy tales. </p><p>frequently were private), childrens reading continued to be en- lightened early in the nineteenth century, and the fairy tale was threatened even in its underground form as folk and chapbook liter- ature. In 1809 Benjamin Tabart published some of the stories from Mother Goose, Countess dAuhoy, and the Arabian Nights, some Robin Hood legends, the three native tales cited by Grimm and men- tioned above, and other legends and romances, under the title Popular Fairy Tales; or a Liliputian [sic] Library. But this collection did not help the cause of the fairy tale much, as is indicated by Antiquities of Nursery Literature, an important Quarterly Review article which an 18 18 second printing of it evoked from the pen of Francis Cohen, later Francis Palgrave and the father of Francis Turner Palgrave. </p><p>Despite the Romantics (whose writings about the fairy tale </p></li><li><p>136 JOURNAL OF POPULAR CULTURE </p><p>Cohen [ Palgrave] claimed that nursery stories had changed, that childrens literature no longer was imaginative because fanciful stories were considered too childish. The forces of enlightenment had done their job well. And what is more, Cohen maintained, the core of adult popular reading material had also changed: nurses no longer read fairy tales, so did not know them as well as they used to them- selves, and were less able to tell them t o children. 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 national literature: Gothic romances were read instead of legends, newspapers instead of broadside ballads. 13 </p><p>Cohen regretted the disappearance of the old nursery stories. He defended their value and noted the sharing by many peoples of similar stories, pointing to the similarities of fairy tales and ancient myths. Cohen is an example of the descendants of eighteenth- century antiquarians who followed the brothers Grimm (to whom he refers with the highest praise) into the field of comparative folk- lore, and who contributed to a re-evaluation of the fairy tale. The total influence of the brothers Grimm in England alone was enormous. The English Romantics had less effect on the fate of the fairy tale in their own country than did their German contemporaries: and the product of German Romanticism most influential was the Kinder- und Hausmarchen, the great collection of folktales recorded by the brothers Grimm and published in Germany in 1812 and 1815. This collection, and a scholarly study of the origin and diffusion of the tales which was attached in 1822 to an 1819 edition of it, began the scientific collection and study of folktales, and in England influenced similar study (in the 1820s, notably by Thomas Crofton Croker and Thomas Keightley). And despite Tabarts earlier publication, it was this collection which also played the major role in stimulating the printing of fairy stories, for children as well as scholars. As Cohen noted, chapbooks were dying out; but the printing of fairy stories was soon to be made respectable AS he also noted, the folk were losing the tales; but children were gaining (or regaining) them. </p></li><li><p>THE FAIRY TALE IN ENGLAND, 1800-1870 137 </p><p>In 1821, two years after Cohens article appeared, Edgar Taylor published an article called German Popular and Traditionary Literature in the New Monthly Magazine. In it he said: </p><p>There exists, at present, a very large and increasing...</p></li></ul>


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