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Book No. 10

To first story in the book press: 291

To last story in the book press: 333

English Fairy Tales

Jacobs Joseph

English Fairy Tales, Joseph Jacobs, 1890


Who says that English folk have no fairy tales of their own? The present volume contains only a selection out of some 140, of which I have found traces in this country. It is probable that many more exist.

A quarter of the tales in this volume have been collected during the last ten years or so, and some of them have not been hitherto published. Up to 1870, it was said equally of France and of Italy, that they possessed no folk-tales. Yet, within fifteen years from that date, over 1000 tales had been collected in each country. I am hoping that the present volume may lead to equal activity in this country, and would earnestly beg any reader of this book who knows of similar tales, to communicate them, written down as they are told, to me, care of the Publishers. The only reason, I imagine, why such tales have not hitherto been brought to light, is the lamentable gap between the governing and recording classes and the dumb working classes of this country--dumb to others but eloquent among themselves. It would be no unpatriotic task to help to bridge over this gulf, by giving a common fund of nursery literature to all classes of the English people, and, in any case, it can do no harm to add to the innocent gaiety of the nation.

A word or two as to our title seems necessary. We have called our stories Fairy Tales though few of them speak of fairies. [For some recent views on fairies and tales about fairies, see Notes] The same remark applies to the collection of the Brothers Grimm and to all the other European collections, which contain exactly the same classes of tales as ours. Yet our stories are what the little ones mean when they clamour for 'Fairy Tales', and this is the only name which they give to them. One cannot imagine a child saying, 'Tell us a folk-tale, nurse', or 'Another nursery tale, please, grandma'. As our book is intended for the little ones, we have indicated its contents by the name they use. The words 'Fairy Tales' must accordingly be taken to include tales in which occurs something 'fairy', something extraordinary--fairies, giants, dwarfs, speaking animals. It must be taken also to cover tales in which what is extraordinary is the stupidity of some of the actors. Many of the tales in this volume, as in similar collections for other European countries, are what the folklorists call Drolls. They serve to justify the title of Merrie England, which used to be given to this country of ours, and indicated unsuspected capacity for fun and humour among the unlettered classes. The story of Tom Tit Tot, which opens our collection, is unequalled among all other folk-tales I am acquainted with, for its combined sense of humour and dramatic power.

The first adjective of our title also needs a similar extension of its meaning. I have acted on Moliere's principle, and have taken what was good wherever I could find it. Thus, a couple of these stories have been found among descendants of English immigrants in America; a couple of others I tell as I heard them myself in my youth in Australia. One of the best was taken down from the mouth of an English Gipsy. I have also included some stories that have only been found in Lowland Scotch. I have felt justified in doing this, as of the twenty-one folk-tales contained in Chambers' Popular Rhymes of Scotland, no fewer than sixteen are also to be found in an English form. With the folk-tale as with the ballad, Lowland Scotch may be regarded as simply a dialect of English, and it is a mere chance whether a tale is extant in one or other, or both.

I have also rescued and retold a few Fairy Tales that only exist nowadays in the form of ballads. There are certain indications that the 'common form' of the English Fairy Tale was the cante-fable, a mixture of narrative and verse of which the most illustrious example in literature is Aucassin et Nicolette. In one case, I have endeavoured to retain this form, as the tale in which it occurs, Childe Rowland, is mentioned by Shakespeare in King Lear, and is probably, as I have shown, the source of Milton's Comus. Late as they have been collected, some dozen of the tales can be traced back to the sixteenth century, two of them being quoted by Shakespeare himself.

In the majority of instances I have had largely to re-write [It is perhaps worth remarking that the Brothers Grimm did the same with their stories. 'Dass der Ausdruck', say they in their Preface, 'mid die Ausführung des Einzelnen grossentheils von uns herrührt versteht sich von selbst'. I may add that many of their stories were taken from printed sources.] these Fairy Tales, especially those in dialect, including the Lowland Scotch. Children, and sometimes those of larger growth, will not read dialect. I have also had to reduce the flatulent phraseology of the eighteenth-century chap-books, and to rewrite in simpler style the stories only extant in 'Literary' English. I have, however, left a few vulgarisms in the mouths of vulgar people. Children appreciate the dramatic propriety of this as much as their elders. Generally speaking, it has been my ambition to write as a good old nurse will speak when she tells Fairy Tales. I am doubtful as to my success in catching the colloquial-romantic tone appropriate for such narratives, but the thing had to be done or else my main object, to give a book of English Fairy Tales which English children will listen to, would have been unachieved. This book is meant to be read aloud, and not merely taken in by the eye.

In a few instances I have introduced or changed an incident. I have never done so, however, without mentioning the fact in the Notes. These have been relegated to the obscurity of small print and a back place, while the little ones have been, perhaps unnecessarily, warned off them. They indicate my sources and give a few references to parallels and variants which may be of interest to fellow-students of Folk-lore. It is, perhaps, not necessary to inform readers who are not fellow-students that the study of Folk-tales has pretensions to be a science. It has its special terminology, and its own methods of investigation, by which it is hoped, one of these days, to gain fuller knowledge of the workings of the popular mind as well as traces of archaic modes of thought and custom. I hope on some future occasion to treat the subject of the English Folk-tale on a larger scale and with all the necessary paraphernalia of prolegomena and excursus. I shall then, of course, reproduce my originals with literal accuracy, and have therefore felt the more at liberty on the present occasion to make the necessary deviations from this in order to make the tales readable for children.

Finally, I have to thank those by whose kindness in waiving their rights to some of these stories, I have been enabled to compile this book. My friends, Mr E. Clodd, Mr F. Hindes Groome, and Mr Andrew Lang, have thus yielded up to me some of the most attractive stories in the following pages. The Councils of the English and of the American Folklore Societies, and Messrs Longmans, have also been equally generous. Nor can I close these remarks without a word of thanks and praise to the artistic skill with which my friend, Mr J. D. Batten, has made the romance and humour of these stories live again in the brilliant designs with which he has adorned these pages. It should be added that the dainty headpieces to Henny Penny and Mr Fox are due to my old friend, Mr Henry Ryland.

Prefatory Note to Third Edition

I HAVE taken the opportunity of a fresh issue of this book to revise the phraseology and bring the Notes, as far as possible, up to date. The remarkable cordiality with which the book has been received by readers, young and old, has laid upon me the obligation of making it as worthy as possible of such a kind reception.


Introductory Notes

Notes and References for


THE Fairy Tales of England have been treated in rather a step-motherly fashion. That they once existed in tolerable numbers there are still traces in the library list of Captain Cox, published by the New Shakespeare Society, among others, and in odd references in literature and in chap-books. But in the middle of last century the genius of Charles Perrault captivated English and Scotch children with as much force as or, probably, with even more force than he had entranced French ones. Cinderella and Puss in Boots and their companions ousted Childe Rowland and Mr Fox and Catskin. The superior elegance and clearness of the French tales replaced the rude vigour of the English ones. What Perrault began, the Grimms completed. Tom Tit Tot gave way to Rumpelstiltschen, the three Sillies to Hansel and Grethel, and the English Fairy Tale became a mélange confus of Perrault and the Grimms.

This would not have been so serious if English provincial life had been as conservative and tenacious as the provincial life of France, Italy, or Germany. But railways and the telegraph have disintegrated our provincial life much more than continental. And for various reasons the English peasant has never had so vivid a social life as the Bauer or Jacques Bonhomme. Consequently there is less hope of recovering the lost fairy tales of England to such a degree as has been accomplished with such brilliant success in almost every European country during the past thirty years, or still more conspicuously among the Gaels of Scotland by the late J. F. Campbell.

Yet something has been done even for England. Halliwell collected a considerable number of folk-tales in two volumes he edited for the Percy Society and reprinted in his Nursery Rhymes and Tales. Mr Baring-Gould appended to the first edition of Henderson's Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties (1866) several tales derived from the peasantry of Yorkshire and Devon. More recently Mrs Balfour collected among the peasants of the Cars in Lincolnshire the remarkable legends and tales she published in Folk-Lore, vol. ii, while scattered among the local newspapers and Notes and Queries there have been several drolls reproduced in dialect, among them Tom Tit Tot and Cap o' Rushes of this volume, originally published in the 'Suffolk Notes and Queries'. Mr Hartland has collected some of these in his English Folk and Fairy Tales, edited for the Camelot Series.

Since the first publication of this book in 1890, Mr S. O. Addy has published a number of traditional tales collected in the counties of York, Lincoln, Derby, and Nottingham (Household Tales and other Traditional Romances, Nutt, 1895). Mr Baring-Gould, who was himself one of the earliest modern collectors of English folk-tales, has brought together a number of legends and tales in his English Fairy Tales, 1895, and I have myself published a sequel entitled More English Fairy Tales, containing forty-four additional stories (Nutt, 1894). This includes a number of previously unpublished English folk-tales collected by Mrs Balfour and Mrs Gomme. In the introduction to the notes to this sequel volume, I have made some general remarks on the English folk-tale in particular, and on its relations to the general body of European tales. Of the eighty-seven tales contained in my two volumes, thirty-eight are Märchen proper, ten sagas or legends, nineteen drolls, four cumulative stories, six beast tales, and ten nonsense stories. With regard to their provenance, eight are derived from ballads, while twenty-nine others show traces of having rhyming portions and thus partaking of the nature of the cante-fable. Of the seventy story-radicles common to the European area, about forty are represented in my two volumes, and of these about twenty-seven are shown in the notes to have been imported. It is probable that of the remaining thirty radicles many once existed in England, and some of them can be traced in the English-speaking Pale in Ireland. These statistics show a rather larger proportion of imported tales than other parts of Europe, where tradition has not so completely died out. But, properly speaking, we may say that from a quarter to a third of the story store of any European country has been derived from abroad, and is in most cases shared by all Europe. Hitherto the attention of folk-lorists has been concentrated on these common elements of European folk-lore, but in reality the chief interest is afforded by the native tales in each country, which are the only ones to which we can legitimately apply the method of 'survivals'.

In a few cases English folk-tales still exist preserved in metrical form among the Ballads. Thus Catskin, which Mr Burchell told the Primrose children in The Vicar of Wakefield, is now only extant as a chap-book ballad. The story of Binnorie is closely allied to the theme of L'os qui chante, which M. Monseur has, with remarkable industry and success, traced in all the folk-literatures of Europe. Yet in England there is scarcely a trace of its being told otherwise than in ballad form, and that in Lowland Scotch or Northern English.

The folk-literature of the Northern Englishmen known as Scots is clearly closely allied to that of England. The chief collection that has been made of Scotch folk-tales is that of W. Chambers in that delightful book, The Nursery Rhymes of Scotland (1842). But out of the twenty-one tales included in the volume, sixteen can be traced among Southrons, and till evidence is shown to the contrary, there seems no reason to doubt that the remaining five were also once current on the southern side of the Border. There is no evidence of a distinct story store of Lowland Scots differing from that of Northern or even Southern Englishmen, and I have treated Scots for the purpose of this volume as if they were merely Englishmen, which may Lowland Caledonia forgive !

As some attention has been drawn to this question, I may perhaps explain a little more fully here the principle on which I have acted in making my collection of the folk-tales of the British Isles, which now fill four volumes. My principle of selection has been linguistic rather than ethnographic. I accordingly distinguish two areas in which the folk-tale has passed from mouth to mouth owing to the continuity of language. The first of these includes England and runs up to the Highland line in Scotland. I make no distinction, therefore, between Lowland Scotch folk-tales, when they existed, from other Northern English tales. As we have seen from the enumeration made in the last paragraph, the stories told by Chambers are of exactly the same character, and in most cases of the same plot as those collected in Southern Britain. There is no independent collection of Lowland Scotch tales. I therefore call the stories collected within the English-speaking area English Fairy Tales. Strictly speaking, the tales told, and collected within the English Pale in Ireland ought perhaps logically to be included under the same title. But in many cases there is evidence that the tales now told in English in East Ireland originally existed in Irish, and belong therefore to the Celtic areas of these Isles. I have therefore included them in the two volumes which I have devoted to a selection from the much more luxuriant crop of Celtic fairy tales collected in Scotland and Ireland (Celtic Fairy Tales, 1891; More Celtic Fairy Tales, 1895).

Of the origin of English folk-tales this is not the place to speak at any length. So far as they are common with other European folk-tales, I see no reason for doubting that they all had a common origin. I have given reason in the introduction to the notes of my Indian Fairy Tales in this series for believing that the source of that international nucleus of the European folk-tales is India. But for each country there remains a residuum peculiar to that country--e.g. for England, Jack and the Beanstalk or Childe Rowland, and there is no reason to doubt that these are artistic products of the folk-fancy of some Englishman. Whether we can trust to them to obtain archaeological evidence of former customs in this island is a somewhat doubtful question, which I have dealt with in a concrete shape in the notes to Childe Rowland.

In the introduction to the notes of the companion volume, I have made some remarks on the form taken by the English folk-tale. This is essentially colloquial, and hence rarely if ever rises into romance. This is not peculiar to England. Wherever the stories are collected from the folk they almost always partake of this colloquial and unromantic nature. It would seem as if anything of a romantic type was produced by the folk in the form of ballads rather than of tales. Our idea of fairies is derived from literary versions rather than from those that are really folk-tales. Indeed, we may trace it mainly to the Countess d'Aulnoy and the other French contributors to the Bibliothèque des fées, who followed the example of Perrault in giving graceful form to the tales of the folk. In England we get humour rather than romance from the productions of the folk-fancy. Very few of the extant English folk-tales show any signs of constructive plot ability among the folk.

In the present volume there are but few signs of survival of prehistoric custom and belief, which to many folk-lorists form the only source of interest in the folk-tale. I have discussed the chief of these in the note of No. 21, Childe Rowland. But there are traces of transformation in 3, 9, 11, 13, 29, 33, 41. Animals or inanimates speak in 3, 9, 10, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 28, 33, 34, 36, 41, while there are visitants from another world, 3, 15, 24, 32. Mr Clodd sees in Tom Tit Tot a trace of the curious superstition current among savages that to know a man's name gives you power over him.

In the following notes I give first the source whence I obtained the various tales. Then come parallels in some fullness for the United Kingdom, but only a single example for foreign countries, with a bibliographical reference where further variants can be found. Finally, a few remarks are sometimes added where the tales seem to need it. In two cases (Nos. 16 and 21) I have been more full.

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