« AnteriorContinuar »
They, when clash'd the ringing blade,
Sang the war-song shrill and deep,
From the mansions of your sleep.
O’er their heads in anger wreath’d,
Sounds of triumph fill'd their ear,
Henry whirld the unerring spear.
Twined the cuirass round the breast,
To the charge the courser press’d.
Ridged in battle's grim array,
When they urge their deadly way.
They the furious onset met
And the point of bayonet.
Bore the breast-plate of the brave;
Every arm a winged glaive.
To the heroes of your fame;,
Whilst she points to every name-
On the tablets of her power,
Through futurity's dark hour!
Would slight Woman, and yet do his duty;
If unhallow'd by tears from Beauty.
When the perils of war are over,
When she welcomes him home as a lover ?
Such baubles could never inspire them,
And the stars for the eyes that admire them.
GERMAN POPULAR AND TRADITIONARY LITERATURE.
NO. IV. " Now you must imagine me to sit by a good fire, amongst a company of good fellowes, over a well-spiced wassel-bowle of Christmas ale, telling of these merry tales which hereafter follow.”—Preface to “ the History of Tom Thumbe the Little.” Lond. 1621. Black letter.
In spite of the benumbing influence of this age of reason, when (as the successor to the immortal Mr. Newbery informs us) even sober "History is introduced into the Nursery in the form of a Babytale,” when even the cradle is to “keep pace with the improvement of time, and the rising generation is to reap every advantage from the progress of scientific research,"--experience tells us that the youthful breast yet beats high at the delights of fairy fiction, and warms at the adventures of Owl Glass and the Giant-killer, of Cinderella and the Sleeping Beauty. Like the Christmas pantomimes too, we suspect that these dainties not only tickle the palates of the young, but may safely be relied upon to rekindle joyous recollections and bright associations in the hearts of their elders. Be it so! we shall think the better of this plodding age, this “ignorant present time," as some of our friends like to style it, and shall at all times be disposed to pardon the truancy of those little wights whom we catch deserting “Marmaduke Multiply's merry method of making minor mathematicians" (as we see one of these products of "scientific research” is styled) to steal a peep at more engaging studies. We agree with them, that they may just as well now and then
--" Through mire and bush
Be lanthorn-leci by Friar Rush,” if indeed his memory still lives and retains its savor.
We can at any rate safely recommend many of our old acquaintances as fast friends and jolly company; they (as our motto, if we had continued it, would have told us) “ have been the only revivers of drowsy age at midnight. Old and young have with (such] tales chimed mattens till the cocks crew in the morning; batchelors and maids have compassed the Christmas fire-block till the curfew-bell rings candle out; the old shepheard and the young plow-boy, after their day's labor, have caroled out the same to make them merry with ; and who but they have made long nights seem short, and heavy toyles easie ?"
We have before lamented the manifest corruption and neglect of those popular tales to which Hearne, Le Neve, Spelman, and many other worthies did not disdain to turn the light of their carefullytrimmed lamp, scanty and ill-furnished in many important particulars as it was; and we do hope, that before it is too late, some effort will be made to preserve the last wreck from perdition, or from that equally deplorable state of debasement in which it is our grief sometimes to see our old favourites. For such a work every facility is now afforded, particularly by the abundant acquisitions lately made to the stock of collateral information by our northern neighbours. We need only point to the very interesting disquisition on the subject which Jately appeared in the Quarterly Review (No. 41), to shew how much has been done elsewhere, and how much might be effected here in the
VOL. JV. NO. XVI.
elucidation of one of the most curious as well as entertaining departments of the history of fiction.*
In a review of German Popular Literature, the labours of M. M. Grimm, brothers united in spirit as well as kindred, cannot but be honourably acknowledged, though the abundance of materials which their volumes of “Kinder und Haus Märchen" present appals us with the difficulty of fixing any choice amidst such a profusion of dainties. Their tales, many of which possess great simplicity and beauty, have been chiefly collected in different parts of the country from the mouths of aged peasantry. In the rich collection thus formed, almost every country in Europe may recognise some of its oldest favourites, and find consolation in the increased renown of the heroes of their affections for the mortification which their patriotic feelings may experience, at being deprived of the honour of giving them birth. None thought themselves more secure than the Londoners of their Whittington and his Cat, none than the citizens of Lincoln of the monumental honours of Thomas Thumb; no one seemed more entitled than Friar Bacon to the services of his man Miles ; yet the peasants of Saxony, the worthy inhabitants of Munster and Paderborn, lay rival claims, and the contest for the honour of giving birth or burial to some of these citizens of the world seems more likely to be a continental war than a scramble, as in the days of Hearne, between rival parishes. Our imaginations, indeed, are stretched to fix upon a period for the origin of these tales sufficiently remote to account for their extensive diffusion.
The field which they open for discussion is a wide one, and some parts of it may, perhaps, puzzle a few of those supporters of exclusive systems of fairy and fiction, who love to trace the pedigree, and time and place of importation, of every product of the imagination, Heathen and Christian traditions and superstitions are most curiously intertwined, and stories which bear all the usual characteristics of Eastern fiction appear involved in legends of the highest Teutonic origin, and domiciled on the shores of the Baltic, ages before we can fix the "how and when” of the introduction of Oriental materials.
We will take as an instance in point the tale of “The King of the Golden Mountain.” The story tells that “there was once upon a time” a merchant who had an only son, and was reduced by unexpected misfortunes to the possession of one small plot of land. While walking there musing on his hard fate, a little black dwarf appears, and asks him the cause of his sorrows. On hearing the tale, the “ Brownie" tells him not to be cast down, and promises as much gold as he can desire, on condition of dedicating to his service the object which would first meet his eye on returning home, and delivering it up on that spot in twelve years. The promised wealth is sent, but the first object that meets the merchant's sight is his only son. At the end of the twelve years the son is informed of his father's rash promise, but is desired not to make himself uneasy, for the dwarf had no power over him. Certain prudent antimagical precautions are resorted to, under the protection of which the conference commences :
* We are happy to find by the announcement of the “Popular Tales illustrative of the Traditional Literature of various Nations," that our deficiencies in this respect will at length be fully made up.
and at length the imp, by way of compromise, relinquishes his claim, on condition that the son shall be put into a boat, and pushed off by the father's own hand upon the wide ocean. The vessel is accordingly dispatched, apparently in a most forlorn condition. However, it is safely borne by some invisible guardian to an unknown shore, where the son enters a palace, brilliantly
adorned, but desolate and silent, under the power of enchantment. At last he meets a fair maiden (of course a princess) under the form of a serpent, who hails him as her deliverer from the
power of the twelve hostile giants that held her thus bound, and instructs him in the mode of her disenchantment. He has only in silent patience to endure all their injuries, even to the sacrifice of his life; but finally his forbearance achieves the release of the damsel ; he himself is restored by virtue of “the water of life;" joy is again kindled in the courts of the palace, and the merchant's son weds, and is hailed “ King of the Golden Mountain."
Eight years the king and queen live happily together, till, contrary to her advice and forebodings of ill-luck, he determines to revisit his father the merchant, and receives as a parting gift the wishing ring, which transports from place to place at the will of its bearer, with the single stipulation that he shall not use it to bring his wife to his father's home. At his visit to the town where the merchant dwells, the guards at the gate, wondering at his strange garb, refuse admittance; but he borrows an old cloak, and passes unobserved. He makes himself known to his father, who disbelieves the story of his marriage, and to convince him of the fact, unguardedly makes use of the magic ring to bring over his queen and the prince their son.
The queen is greatly displeased ; and as she and her husband are walking on the sea-shore, viewing the spot where his crazy bark had been launched, he sits down tired and falls asleep. She avails herself of the opportunity, takes the ring from his finger, and transports herself and son back to the Golden Mountain. On awakening, the king in despair sets off in pursuit, and encounters three giants, who are quarrelling about the division of their inheritance, the treasures of which were, a sword which accomplishes its work at the mere wish of the possessor, a cloak which gives invisibility, and boots which transport the wearer in a moment wheresoever he wishes. The king, on being asked to arbitrate between them, is suffered to try the virtue of these different articles, and ends the dispute by quietly making off with them all. On arriving at his palace he finds his queen celebrating a second marriage, and frightens her conscience by taking his viewless station behind her chair, and removing the viands as she offers to carry them to her lips. The story ends with the punishment of the faithless court.
Now surely this tale would be fixed upon by many as displaying the most unequivocal proofs of an Oriental origin ; and yet M. M. Grimm, with very substantial reason, claim it as most strikingly coincident with traditions of the highest northern antiquity. The golden glittering palace at the extreme of the earth, with its twelve guardians, is no stranger; and in the whole fable they point out a strong resemblance to the adventures of the renowned Siegfried. The turning upon the waters—the rescue of his bride-her connexion with the dragon or serpent--the overcoming the enchanters by silence—the disguise of the old cloak, which is afterwards still more explicitly identified with the Tarncap—the encountering the contending guardians of the treasure, which he is called in to divide—the articles forming that treasure—the wonderful sword Balmung—the boots which, as the Quarterly Reviewer observes, “ were once worn by Leke when he escaped from Valhalla"—the wishing ring (or rod)--are all points agreeing (and many of them with striking exactness) with the tale to be made out partly from the Wilkina Saga and other Scandinavian sources, and partly from the Niebelungen Lied. M. M. Grimm find considerable resemblance too in the king's matrimonial infelicities to those of the ancient hero.
The learned editors speak with the utmost confidence of the pure German original of the tales collected by them from oral tradition. Indeed their opinion is strongly supported by their circulation, not among classes of society likely to have received the gay tales of southern minstrels or crusaders, but among the peaceful peasantry of the North and the remote shores of the Baltic, and by their striking coincidence with the most undoubted northern traditions, and with the stories popular among the parallel classes of Danish, Scotch, and English society. Yet what shall we think of the Paderborn tale of the “Geist im Glas,” “ The Spirit in the Bottle,” which so minutely agrees in many respects with the Arabian tale of the Genius confined by Solomon's seal in the casket and drawn up by the fisherman? Even here, however, M. M. Grimm point out a connexion with another tale of very northern aspect, exhibiting something which is at any rate exceedingly like Thor's Hammer.
Not the least interesting in the collection are the beast stories, those in which animals support the principal characters. These are equally, perhaps more, venerable in their origin than the fairy and heroic tales, and certainly there is full as much difficulty in accounting for so wide and early a diffusion. None of the channels by which the Æsopean fables or those of purer Eastern, whether Persian or Indian, origin, found their way into Europe during the middle ages, can be pointed out as at all probable sources of such stories as those before us.
Are not all these fables remnants of some great mass of amusing moral instruction, which has at the remotest periods and in all countries found its way for the edification of man, flowing from some fountain-head of wisdom, whence Calmuck, Russian, Celt, Scandinavian and German, in their various ramifications, have imbibed their earliest and simplest lessons of improvement ? To confine their origin or introduction to modern times or particular countries, may be as unprofitable as the labours of old Hearne to fix the birth and burial of Hickathrif or Tom Thumb. If we are for an Oriental hypothesis of the origin of such fairy fictions, it would be on a broader scale, and we should fancy we saw them after a pilgrimage from the Caucasus and a long sojourn in the wintry elimes of the North, meeting in their progress to the South a new arrival, by another channel, of similar materials, whose fortune it had been to make a longer residence in the land of their birth, and to be perhaps more ripened in the luxuriance of Asia.
M. M. Grimm's idea of the utility of these tales in explaining or preserving some supposed "pure and primitive Mythology of the