The following epilogue to George Cruikshank's Fairy Library (1865) is largely based on his polemical "letter" (published as a pamphlet in 1854) from the character Hop-o' My-Thumb to Charles Dickens), long out of print by 1865. Page breaks in the original are indicated as follows: [30/31] — Philip V. Allingham
At the end of the part of the "Fairy Library" containing "Cinderella," in answering a criticism upon my "Jack and the [30/31] Bean-Stalk, allusion is made to Mr. Charles Dickens's paper, entitled "Frauds on the Fairies," which attack upon my edition of "Fairy Tales" was answered, as I dare state, by Master Hop-o'-my-Thumb, and which answer was published at Eighty-six Fleet Street, and might be had for One Penny. This letter of "Hop-o'-my-Thumb's" is out of print, and I therefore take this opportunity of giving the substance of the said letter, as an answer and as a defence for rewriting these four "Fairy Tales" to suit my own taste in these matters, and taking at the same time the opportunity of introducing my own views and convictions upon what I consider important social and educational questions; and for so doing Mr. Charles Dickens thought proper to publish in Household Words a paper entitled "Frauds on the Fairies," of which the following is an extract: —
We may assume that we are not singular in entertaining a very great tenderness for the fairy literature of our childhood. What enchanted us, then, and is captivating a million of young fancies now, has, at the same blessed time of life, enchanted vast hosts of men and women who have done their long day's work, and laid their grey heads down to rest. It would be hard to estimate the amount of gentleness and mercy that has made its way among us through these slight channels. FORBEARANCE, COURTESY, CONSIDERATION FOR THE POOR AND AGED, KIND TREATMENT OF ANIMALS, THE LOVE OF NATURE, ABHORRENCE OF TYRANNY AND BRUTE FORCE — many such good things have been first nourished in the child's heart by this powerful aid. It has greatly helped to keep us, in [31/32] some sense, ever young, by preserving through our worldly ways one slender track not overgrown with weeds, where we may walk with children, sharing their delights.
In an utilitarian age, of all other times, it is a matter of grave importance that fairy tales should be respected. Our English red-tape is too magnificently red ever to be employed in the tying up of such trifles, but every one who has considered the subject, knows full well that a nation without fancy, without some romance, never did, never can, never will, hold a great place under the sun. The theatre, having done its worst to destroy these admirable fictions — and having in a most exemplary manner destroyed itself, its artists, and its audiences, in that perversion of its duty &mdaash; it becomes doubly important that the little books themselves, nurseries of fancy as they are, should be preserved. To preserve them in their usefulness, they must be as much preserved in their simplicity, and purity, and innocent extravagance, as if they were actual fact. Whosoever alters them to suit his own opinions, whatever they are, is guilty, to our thinking, of an act of presumption, and appropriates to himself what does not belong to him.
We have lately observed with pain the intrusion of a Whole Hog of unwieldy dimensions into the fairy flower-garden. The rooting of the animal among the roses would in itself have awakened in us nothing but indignation!"
But his pain arises, as he says, from this "Whole Hog" being driven in by one, whom he charges with altering the text of a Fairy Story for the purpose of propagating doctrines of my own, and protests against my right to do so; and after stating that the [32/33] theatres have done their worst to destroy these fictions (an opinion which I have the temerity to say is altogether erroneous) he goes on to say that —
It becomes doubly important that the little books themselves, nurseries of fancy as they are, should be preserved. To preserve them in their usefulness, they must be as much preserved in their SIMPLICITY and PURITY and INNOCENT extravagance, as if they were actual fact."
In reply to all this, I have to state, in the first place, that when I began the illustrations for this "Fairy Library," I commenced with "Hop-o'-my-Thumb," and had not any intention to make any alterations in that story; but upon frequently referring to the text, as I always do when employed this way, so as thoroughly to understand the work, and for the purpose of selecting the best subjects for illustration, I discovered that there were some parts of this Fairy literature that required, as I thought, a little pruning; but I found so much difficulty in cutting out the objectionable parts, so as to leave it readable, that I decided upon re-writing the whole, and in doing this I certainly did introduce some of my " doctrines," and on this point he declares that whoever alters these Fairy Tales to suit his own opinions is guilty of an act of presumption, and appropriates to himself what does not belong to him. This is the opinion of Mr. Charles Dickens; but in my humble opinion, if Shakespeare thought proper to alter Italian tales, and even history, to suit his [33/34] purpose, and if Sir Walter Scott used history also in the same way for his purpose, surely any one may take the liberty of altering a common Fairy Tale to suit his purpose, and convey his opinions; and most assuredly so, if that purpose be a good one.
And now, let us look at the "USEFULNESS," "SIMPLICITY," "PURITY," and "INNOCENCE" of Mr. Dickens's favourite Fairy Tales, which he declares ought to be preserved in their integrity, he having "a very great tenderness for the Fairy literature of our childhood." For this end I call attention to the story of "Jack the Giant-Killer," which is really little more than a succession of slaughterings and bloodshed. This sort of example cannot, surely, be very useful to the children of a civilized and Christian people. Then that pretty little episode of Jack dropping his dinner into a bag, suspended under his chin, and pretending to cut his stomach open, and daring and inducing the stupid Giant to do the same feat, which he does on his real stomach, and the shocking and disgusting result thereof, is surely neither useful nor innocent; and as to the purity of this tale, why, there are in some of the old editions (such as Mr. Dickens wishes to be kept entire) some parts so gross that no decent person would reprint them for publication in the present day. And in the old editions of "Hop-o'-my-Thumb and the Seven-League Boots," two copies of which I have, both differing most materially from each other, in one of which the very title is altered to Minet or Little [34/35] Thumb, the father of Hop-o'-my Thumb (who it must be remembered is a Count) in consequence of a scarcity of food, proposes, and induces the mother, the Countess, to take the children, seven in number, out into the forest, and leave them there to perish miserably of hunger, or to be devoured by wild beasts.
Now, allow me to ask where is the amount of tenderness and mercy to be found in such an unnatural and horrible act as is here narrated ? And feeling that such a statement was not only disgusting, but against nature, and consequently unfit for the pure and parent-loving minds of children, I felt certain that any father acting in such a manner must either be mad, or under the influence of intoxicating liquor, which is much the same thing ; and therefore, wishing to avoid any allusion to such an awful affliction as that of insanity, I accounted for the father's unnatural conduct by attributing it to that cause which marks its progress daily and hourly by acts of uimatural brutality.
In these old editions, which Mr. Dickens wishes so much to be preserved in their usefulness, the Ogre has a family of seven children; and these pretty little darlings are thus described: —
They were yet young, and were of a fair and pleasing complexion, though they devoured human flesh like their father ; but they had little round grey eyes, flat noses, and long sharp teeth set wide from each other. They promised already what they [35/36] would some day grow to be; for at this early age they would bite little children on purpose to suck their blood.
The story goes on to say that Hop and his brothers were put into one bed, and that the giant's children were sleeping in another, in the same room, with "tiger-skin" caps or "crowns" on their heads, and that Hop got out of bed whilst all were asleep, and exchanged the giant's children's seven crowns for the seven nightcaps; that the Ogre awoke in the night, and regretting that he had not slaughtered Hop and his brothers, sprang out of bed, and taking his great sabre, crept softly into the chamber where the children lay, and approaching the bed on which were those of the Count, he felt at their heads, one by one, of which they were not sensible, except Hop-o'-my-Thumb, who lay awake and trembling for fear of discovery. The Giant, feeling the well-known crowns on the heads of Hop and his brothers, said, "Truly, I must have drunk too much last night, thus to mistake one bed for the other." He then went immediately to the bed where his own children were asleep, and feeling on their heads the caps of the Count's children, he cut their throats in a moment, and without remorse.
Now, I would ask if this peculiarity of the young Ogres — "biting little children on purpose to suck their blood" — is any part of those "many such good things" as "have been first nourished in a child's heart?" And I should also like to know what there [36/37] is so enchanting and captivating to "young fancies" in this description of a father (ogre though he be) cutting the throats of his own seven children? Is this the sort of stuff that helps to "keep us ever young?" or give us that innocent delight which we may share with children? It then goes on to say that Hop —
Having thus kindly provided for the immediate safety of his brothers, he approached the giant with great caution, and pulling off his wonderful boots, which he put on without delay, Hop-o'-my-Thumb then set out with all the speed his boots could give, for the Giant's house, where he found the good mother weeping for her slaughtered children. 'Your husband,' said he, addressing her, 'is in great peril; he has been taken while asleep, by a band of robbers who have vowed to kill him, unless he gives them all his grold and silver. In this moment of distress, with the weapons of the robbers at his throat, perceiving me, he prayed me to acquaint you with his danger, and to desire that you would send him all his money and valuables without reserve, or his life would become the forfeit. As the case does not admit of delay, he has given me his seven-league boots, that I might not be long on the way, and that you may be convinced I do not wish to deceive you. The good woman, who knew it was her duty to preserve her husband, notwithstanding his faults, gave Hop-o'-my-Thumb all the wealth in the house, which loaded him heavily; yet he departed highly pleased with the burden.
A nice young gentleman, certainly. Hop finds the "good mother weeping for her slaughtered children" — (slaughtered by their own father!) — but quite unmoved by this maternal grief, he [37/38] is made to tell her a most abominable falsehood, and with the low, artful cunning of a young " thief," he points to the boots as evidence that he did not wish to deceive her, thus making out poor little "Hop-o'-my-Thumb " to be an unfeeling, artful liar, and a thief. Surely there is not much "purity" in lying and thieving, and such a display of artful falsehood and successful robbery cannot be very advantageous lessons for the juvenile mind! And further, in Mr. Dickens's favourite edition, the child is not only made a thief, but they make his m noble parents receivers of stolen goods. The family — father, mother, and brothers — are described as being in great grief at the non-arrival of Master Hop ; but th(,* authors say, "It is not easy to imagine the great joy that filled cverN- heart when Hop-o'-my-Thumb entered their apartment, and poured out before their astonished eyes the treasures with which he was loaded."
The Count immediately re-purchased the lands and castles that he had before sold; and instructed by his late sufferings, spent afterwards his time and his wealth in improving the minds of his children (whom he had taken into the forest to starve or to be devoured by wolves), or in acts of benevolence to the surrounding poor, with the money that one of his children had robbed the poor woman of, who was weeping in great anguish for the loss of her seven children, slaughtered by mistake by their own father.
This is truly another pretty example for children. A father and mother (of noble blood too) encouraging a young child in [38/39] thieving, and at once, without hesitation, appropriating to themselves the produce of his robbery!!!
And then, as to "Puss in Boots," when I came to look carefully at that story, I felt compelled to re-write it, and alter the character of it to a certain extent; for, as it stood, the tale was a succession of successful falsehoods — a clever lesson in lying! — a system of imposture rewarded by the greatest worldly advantages! A useful lesson, truly, to be impressed upon the minds of children! And here comes a serious question for consideration: If there is a powerful effect produced upon youthful minds by Fairy Tales, what has been the effect of such instances of grossness, vulgarity, and deceit as I have here pointed out? Little boys and girls are sometimes naughty, and unfortunately sometimes very naughty, when grown up. May it not be possible, I ask, that the simplicity, purity, and innocence which Mr. Dickens is so anxious to preserve may have had some influence here? At any rate, parents and guardians will agree with me that as the first impressions upon a child's mind are those which last the longest, it is therefore most important that these impressions should be as pure as possible, and, if possible, morally useful to them through life; and this object I have had in view when I introduced some of my "doctrines." And what are these doctrines and opinions? Aye! What I have done? Where is the offence? Why, I have endeavoured to inculcate at the earliest age, a HORROR of [39/40] drunkenness and a recommendation of total abstinence from all INTOXICATING LIQUORS, which, if carried out universally, would not only do away with DRUNKENNESS ENTIRELY, but also with a large amount of POVERTY, MISERY, DISEASE, and DREADFUL CRIMES; also A DETESTATION OF GAMBLING, and a LOVE OF ALL THAT IS VIRTUOUS AND GOOD, and an endeavour to impress on every one the necessity, importance, and justice of EVERY child in the land receiving a useful and religious education. And I would here ask in fairness, what harm can possibly be done to Fairy literature by such re-writing or editing as this? more particularly as I have been most careful in clearly working out all the wild poetical parts and faithfully preserving all the important features of each tale, so that all the wonderful parts are given that so astonish and delight children, but in what I hope a more readable form, quite as entertaining, and, I trust, somewhat more useful.
This is the sum and substance of the letter alluded to, which was supposed to be written by Hop-'o-my-Thumb, but which of course was written by
Your obedient servant, GEORGE CRUIKSHANK. — pp. 30-40, after Puss in Boots.
- "Frauds on the Fairies" (1 October 1853)
- Editor's Note on "Frauds on the Fairies"
- Defending the Imagination: Charles Dickens, Children's Literature, and the Fairy Tale Wars
- George Cruikshank and Charles Dickens
- Fairy Tales: Surviving the Evangelical Attack
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Last modified 10 July 2017