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Scottish Review

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Children's Rhymes. Children's Games, Children's Songs, Children's Stories
Children's Stories


THE editor of a London literary journal was recently inviting men and women in prominent positions in public life to name for publication the books of their childhood. So far as I observed, none of the half-hundred or more who responded gave Blue Beard, Cinderella, Little Red Hiding Hood., or any of the others in the same category that follow here. But I am none the less convinced that these old-time favourites, not yet unknown, though familiar to city children in the present generation mainly in their variegated and fantastic Christmas pantomime form, were in Scotland and England alike in the last century more essentially the books of childhood than any others known and read beyond the walls of the school-room. The travelling stationers and packmen carried them in their thousands, in chapbook form, into even the most remote parts of the country, where they were bartered for and explored with avidity. In many quarters, indeed, they were so familiar fifty years ago that the books on occasions could be dispensed with, and the elder members of families would recite the stories from memory for the delectation of the younger fry, when all foregathered in a crescent before the kitchen fire to wear out the long winter evenings. In this manner, under the dim-flickering light of an "oilie cruizie," in a straggling village in Perthshire, did I learn first of Blue Beard and Jack the Giant Killer, and many another hero of chap-book literature. And my experience, I am sure, was by no means singular. Rather, I feel certain that while telling thus my own. I am expressing no less truly the experience of many thousands of men and women now beyond middle life who similarly were born and bred in any rural parish in Scotland. And, oh, the weird fascination of it all! There was no doubting of Blue Beard's reality; no hesitation in accepting as actual every extraordinary feat of Jack the Giant Killer. Both were as real in our innocent imagination as is now the personality of King- Edward the Seventh. It never occurred to us then, as it does now, that the story of Blue Beard is only a gory and fantastic parody of the history of Eden a temptation, a fall, and a rescue. And we had no concern about authorship. We did not know then, as we do now and as few are yet aware, perhaps that Blue Beard, Cinderella, and Little Red Riding Hood were all written by Charles Perrault, a celebrated French literateur and poet, who was born in Paris in 1628, and died there in 1703. And to have been told, as we have recently been, on authority that Perrault's Blue Beard - the Comte Gilles de Rais - was no mere wife-killer (though he was such) but from his youth upwards, in the fifteenth century, a man of exquisite culture, and a soldier under Joan of Arc, would have made for disillusionment so emphatic as to have shred the tale of a serious amount of its blood-curdling charm. As I can still enjoy reading them, it is a real pleasure to embrace here these old-time examples of child literature. Such as follow and all the more popular will be found in the list are printed verbatim from the chapbooks now unobtainable, except at a ransom price and without individual comment - none being required.


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