decorated initial 'F' made from a Rackham drawing airy tales, though much beleaguered by the turn of the nineteenth century, continued to exist within nurseries and in English print. In fact, evangelical writers' self-proclaimed aim to provide wholesome reading for English children and vigorous criticism by moralists such as Mrs. Trimmer indicates a continued perception of a threat from the ever present popular fairy stories. Before the middle of the century, fairy tales and fantasies had won respected defenders of this tradition.

Fairy tales exist throughout English history, and although traditional English tales were written in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, these were produced primarily for adult entertainment. However in the seventeenth century, the advent of widespread chapbook circulation meant that children could, and did, avidly peruse crude redactions of English tales such as Tom Thumb and the Seven Champions. These tales of impossible events were avidly enjoyed by English children. For instance, in 1709, the essayist Sir Richard Steele noted in his newly launched periodical, The Tatler, that his godson's sister, Betty "deals chiefly in fairies and springs" for her reading material and "sometimes in a winter night will terrify the maids with her accounts until they are afraid to go to bed" (Carpenter and Prichard, 179).

Yet the fairy tales that modern readers would most likely recognize actually hale from France, and, unlike traditional English folk tales, they arrived in England expressly to entertain the young. Thus although the seventeenth-century French Court amused themselves with fairy-tales, the first English translation of Charles Perrault's 1697 Histoires ou Contes du temps passé avec des Moralitéz, Robert Samber's 1729 Histories, or Tales of Past Times. Told by Mother Goose was intended for the nursery (Darton, 85). It appears that Perrault collected these tales from the tales re-told and narrated by one his sons, Pierre Darmancour who appears to have signed the dedication of the 1697 edition (Whitmore, 77).

Samber's 1729 translation, which was incorporated in subsequent publications including a 1760 edition by John Newbery, included the following tales:

Little Red Riding-Hood
The Fairy
Blue Beard
The Sleeping Beauty, in the Wood
The Master Cat; or Puss in Boots
Cinderilla; or, The Little Glass Slipper
Riquet with the Tuft
Little Thumb

Here, Samber faithfully reproduced all of Perrault's original seven tales, Blue Beard is the additional tale, and also included Perrault's accompanying morals. The inclusion of Perrault's morals in English editions is perhaps ironic given that English evangelicals sought to illustrate the demoralizing influences of such foreign fairy tales, In 1802, Mrs. Trimmer wrote in The Guardian of Education that she aimed "to contribute to the preservation of the young and innocent from the dangers which threaten them in the form of infantine and juvenile literature" One of this magazine's correspondents goes one step further, singling out Cinderella as "one of the most exceptionable books that was ever written for children... it paints some of the worst passions that can enter into the human breast, and of which [sic] 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."

This, perhaps is unfair given that Sambar's Cinderella ultimately forgives her vain, haughty step-sisters. The tale ends with the sister's repentance:

And now her two sisters found her to be that fine beautiful lady whom they had seen at the ball. They threw themselves at her feet, to beg pardon for all the ill treatment they had made her undergo. Cinderilla took them up, and as she embraced them, cried, That she forgave them with all her heart, and desired them always to love her. She was conducted to the young prince, dressed as she was; he thought her more charming than ever, and, a few days after, married her. Cinderilla, who was no less good than beautiful, gave her two sisters lodgings in the palace, and that very same day matched them with two great lords of the court. [103]

Although the timely appearance of Cinderella's godmother before the prince arrives, she swiftly waves her wand and dresses Cinderella in clothes "richer and more magnificent than any of those she had before" (103), probably affronted Mrs. Trimmer and her associates, Perrault also adds a rather lengthy addendum to the tale. The first of these two Morals begins with the reminder that:

Beauty's to the sex a treasure,
We still admire it without measure,
And never yet was any known,
By still admiring, weary grown.
But that which we call good grace,
Exceeds, by far, a handsome face;
Its charms by far, surpass the other,
And this was what her good godmother
Bestow'd on Cinderilla fair [103]

Here, it is clear that Perrault and Sambar recognize that although Cinderella's fine clothes make her pleasant to the eye, true beauty lies within and "'Tis true the gift of heaven and fate" (104).

By the end of the eighteenth century, the influx of evangelical tracts aimed to swamp the English children's book market appeared to have relegated fairy tales to piecemeal chapbook publication. This prompted Lucy Aikin, in the introduction to her Poetry for Children in 1801 to caution that:

Since dragons and fairies, giants and witches, have vanished from our nurseries before the wand of reason, it has been a prevailing maxim that the young should be fed on mere prose and simple fact . . . the novel-like tales now written for the amusement of the youth may... be productive of more injury to the mind by giving a false picture of the real world, than the fairy fictions of the last generation, which only wandered over the region of shadows.

Chapbooks remained wildly popular amongst their young audiences, and the continued appearance of fairy-tales in this cheaper means of publication merely illustrates their resilience. In fact, Benjamin Tabart's 1804 edition of Cinderella; or, The Little Glass Slipper: A Tale for the Nursery was re-printed in sixteen editions in that year alone. It is then no wonder that evangelical periodicals continued to warn against the influences of fairy-tales. The 1817 Juvenile Review concludes that "Works of fancy highly wrought... and the like, we would not put into the hands of young people till their religious principles are fixed."

It is interesting that in his study of Victorian children's literature, J.S. Bratton traces "a didactic takeover of fantasy tales derived from fairy tales" from evangelical works such as Mrs. Trimmer's Fabulous Histories and Mary Jane Kilner's The Adventures of Pincushion to Mrs. Gatty's parable The Fairy Godmother, 1851 and then to Charles Kingsley's 1863, The Water Babies and the works of George MacDonald (70). Here, Bratton seems to indicate that the stringent didactic and heavily moralistic tone of earlier evangelical works would, by the end of the century, integrate a less harsh view of a child's reading world that could incorporate fantastical elements such as godmothers, fairies and sprites.

Whether evangelical messages and parables had grown to incorporate elements of fairy tales, or fairy tales had taken root even in the writings of their erstwhile opponents, it is clear that by the middle of the nineteenth century, fairy tales and fantasies were for the most part largely accepted as an important part of a children's reading. In fact, Mrs. Trimmer's The Guardian of Education finished publication in 1806 and in 1823-6, the brothers Grimm's Popular Stories were translated into English and published in a handsome volume illustrated by George Cruikshank. The publisher of a later edition of Popular Stories attests to the first edition's popularity in the volume's preface, after listing the various editions that the original publication underwent, four decades later, "the two volumes, originally sold for 12s., are worth at least 5 or 6!" Finally, no less a person than John Ruskin penned the Introduction to this 1868 edition. Here, he firmly lays out the ultimate triumph of the fairy tale:

Children... have no need of moral fairy tales; but they will find in the apparently vain and fitful courses of any tradition of old time, honestly delivered to them, a teaching for which no other can be substituted, and of which the power cannot be measured; animating for them the material world with inextinguishable life, fortifying them against the glacial cold of selfish science, and preparing them submissively, and with no bitterness of astonishment, to behold, in later years, the mystery - divinely appointed to remain such to all human thought - of the fates that happen alike to the evil and the good. [ix]

References

Bratton, J.S. The Impact of Victorian Children's Fiction. Croom Helm, London: Barnes & Noble Books, Totowa, New Jersey. 1981

Carpenter, Humphrey and Mari Prichard. "Fairy Stories" in The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1984.

Darton, F. J. Harvey. Children's Books in England. 3rd ed. revised by Brian Alderson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

Hunt, Peter, ed. Children's Literature: An Illustrated History. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

The original Mother Goose melody : as issued by John Newbery, of London, circa 1760, Isaiah Thomas, of Worcester, Mass., circa 1785, and Munroe & Francis, of Boston, circa 1825. / Reproduced in fac-simile, from the first Worcester edition, with introductory notes by William H. Whitmore ; to which are added the fairy tales of Mother Goose, first collected by Perrault in 1696 reprinted from the original translation into English, by R. Samber in 1729. Boston : Damrell & Upham, The Old Corner Bookstore ; London : Griffith Farran & Co., limited, 1892.

Taylor, Edgar ed. German popular stories. London: J.C. Hotten, 1868.


Victorian Web Overview Genre, Technique, and Style Children's Literature

Last modified 1 August 2007