A short time ago, I was favored with a flying visit from my young friendEustace Bright, whom I had not before met with since quitting the breezymountains of Berkshire. It being the winter vacation at his college,Eustace was allowing himself a little relaxation, in the hope, he told me,of repairing the inroads which severe application to study had made uponhis health; and I was happy to conclude, from the excellent physicalcondition in which I saw him, that the remedy had already been attendedwith very desirable success. He had now run up from Boston by the noontrain, partly impelled by the friendly regard with which he is pleased tohonor me, and partly, as I soon found, on a matter of literary business.
It delighted me to receive Mr. Bright, for the first time, under a roof,though a very humble one, which I could really call my own. Nor did I fail(as is the custom of landed proprietors all about the world) to parade thepoor fellow up and down over my half a dozen acres; secretly rejoicing,nevertheless, that the disarray of the inclement season, and particularlythe six inches of snow then upon the ground, prevented him from observingthe ragged neglect of soil and shrubbery into which the place had lapsed.It was idle, however, to imagine that an airy guest from MonumentMountain, Bald Summit, and old Graylock, shaggy with primeval forests,could see anything to admire in my poor little hillside, with its growthof frail and insect-eaten locust trees. Eustace very frankly called theview from my hill top tame; and so, no doubt, it was, after rough, broken,rugged, headlong Berkshire, and especially the northern parts of thecounty, with which his college residence had made him familiar. But to methere is a peculiar, quiet charm in these broad meadows and gentleeminences. They are better than mountains, because they do not stamp andstereotype themselves into the brain, and thus grow wearisome with thesame strong impression, repeated day after day. A few summer weeks amongmountains, a lifetime among green meadows and placid slopes, with outlinesforever new, because continually fading out of the memory — such wouldbe my sober choice.
I doubt whether Eustace did not internally pronounce the whole thing abore, until I led him to my predecessor’s little ruined, rustic summerhouse, midway on the hillside. It is a mere skeleton of slender, decayingtree trunks, with neither walls nor a roof; nothing but a tracery ofbranches and twigs, which the next wintry blast will be very likely toscatter in fragments along the terrace. It looks, and is, as evanescent asa dream; and yet, in its rustic network of boughs, it has somehow encloseda hint of spiritual beauty, and has become a true emblem of the subtileand ethereal mind that planned it. I made Eustace Bright sit down on asnow bank, which had heaped itself over the mossy seat, and gazing throughthe arched windows opposite, he acknowledged that the scene at once grewpicturesque.
“Simple as it looks,” said he, “this little edifice seems to be the workof magic. It is full of suggestiveness, and, in its way, is as good as acathedral. Ah, it would be just the spot for one to sit in, of a summerafternoon, and tell the children some more of those wild stories from theclassic myths!”
“It would, indeed,” answered I. “The summer house itself, so airy and sobroken, is like one of those old tales, imperfectly remembered; and theseliving branches of the Baldwin apple tree, thrusting so rudely in, arelike your unwarrantable interpolations. But, by the by, have you added anymore legends to the series, since the publication of the ‘Wonder-Book’?”
“Many more,” said Eustace; “Primrose, Periwinkle, and the rest of them,allow me no comfort of my life unless I tell them a story every day ortwo. I have run away from home partly to escape the importunity of theselittle wretches! But I have written out six of the new stories, and havebrought them for you to look over.”
“Are they as good as the first?” I inquired.
“Better chosen, and better handled,” replied Eustace Bright. “You will sayso when you read them.”
“Possibly not,” I remarked. “I know from my own experience, that anauthor’s last work is always his best one, in his own estimate, until itquite loses the red heat of composition. After that, it falls into itstrue place, quietly enough. But let us adjourn to my study, and examinethese new stories. It would hardly be doing yourself justice, were you tobring me acquainted with them, sitting here on this snow bank!”
So we descended the hill to my small, old cottage, and shut ourselves upin the south-eastern room, where the sunshine comes in, warmly andbrightly, through the better half of a winter’s day. Eustace put hisbundle of manuscript into my hands; and I skimmed through it prettyrapidly, trying to find out its merits and demerits by the touch of myfingers, as a veteran story-teller ought to know how to do.
It will be remembered that Mr. Bright condescended to avail himself of myliterary experience by constituting me editor of the “Wonder-Book.” As hehad no reason to complain of the reception of that erudite work by thepublic, he was now disposed to retain me in a similar position withrespect to the present volume, which he entitled TANGLEWOOD TALES. Not, asEustace hinted, that there was any real necessity for my services asintroducer, inasmuch as his own name had become established in some gooddegree of favor with the literary world. But the connection with myself,he was kind enough to say, had been highly agreeable; nor was he by anymeans desirous, as most people are, of kicking away the ladder that hadperhaps helped him to reach his present elevation. My young friend waswilling, in short, that the fresh verdure of his growing reputation shouldspread over my straggling and half-naked boughs; even as I have sometimesthought of training a vine, with its broad leafiness, and purple fruitage,over the worm-eaten posts and rafters of the rustic summer house. I wasnot insensible to the advantages of his proposal, and gladly assured himof my acceptance.
Merely from the title of the stories I saw at once that the subjects werenot less rich than those of the former volume; nor did I at all doubt thatMr. Bright’s audacity (so far as that endowment might avail) had enabledhim to take full advantage of whatever capabilities they offered. Yet, inspite of my experience of his free way of handling them, I did not quitesee, I confess, how he could have obviated all the difficulties in the wayof rendering them presentable to children. These old legends, so brimmingover with everything that is most abhorrent to our Christianized moralsense some of them so hideous, others so melancholy and miserable, amidwhich the Greek tragedians sought their themes, and moulded them into thesternest forms of grief that ever the world saw; was such material thestuff that children’s playthings should be made of! How were they to bepurified? How was the blessed sunshine to be thrown into them?
But Eustace told me that these myths were the most singular things in theworld, and that he was invariably astonished, whenever he began to relateone, by the readiness with which it adapted itself to the childish purityof his auditors. The objectionable characteristics seem to be aparasitical growth, having no essential connection with the originalfable. They fall away, and are thought of no more, the instant he puts hisimagination in sympathy with the innocent little circle, whose wide-openeyes are fixed so eagerly upon him. Thus the stories (not by any strainedeffort of the narrator’s, but in harmony with their inherent germ)transform themselves, and re-assume the shapes which they might besupposed to possess in the pure childhood of the world. When the firstpoet or romancer told these marvellous legends (such is Eustace Bright’sopinion), it was still the Golden Age. Evil had never yet existed; andsorrow, misfortune, crime, were mere shadows which the mind fancifullycreated for itself, as a shelter against too sunny realities; or, at most,but prophetic dreams to which the dreamer himself did not yield a wakingcredence. Children are now the only representatives of the men and womenof that happy era; and therefore it is that we must raise the intellectand fancy to the level of childhood, in order to re-create the originalmyths.
I let the youthful author talk as much and as extravagantly as he pleased,and was glad to see him commencing life with such confidence in himselfand his performances. A few years will do all that is necessary towardsshowing him the truth in both respects. Meanwhile, it is but right to say,he does really appear to have overcome the moral objections against thesefables, although at the expense of such liberties with their structure asmust be left to plead their own excuse, without any help from me. Indeed,except that there was a necessity for it — and that the inner life ofthe legends cannot be come at save by making them entirely one’s ownproperty — there is no defense to be made.
Eustace informed me that he had told his stories to the children invarious situations — in the woods, on the shore of the lake, in thedell of Shadow Brook, in the playroom, at Tanglewood fireside, and in amagnificent palace of snow, with ice windows, which he helped his littlefriends to build. His auditors were even more delighted with the contentsof the present volume than with the specimens which have already beengiven to the world. The classically learned Mr. Pringle, too, had listenedto two or three of the tales, and censured them even more bitterly than hedid THE THREE GOLDEN APPLES; so that, what with praise, and what withcriticism, Eustace Bright thinks that there is good hope of at least asmuch success with the public as in the case of the “WonderBook.”
I made all sorts of inquiries about the children, not doubting that therewould be great eagerness to hear of their welfare, among some good littlefolks who have written to me, to ask for another volume of myths. They areall, I am happy to say (unless we except Clover), in excellent health andspirits. Primrose is now almost a young lady, and, Eustace tells me, isjust as saucy as ever. She pretends to consider herself quite beyond theage to be interested by such idle stories as these; but, for all that,whenever a story is to be told, Primrose never fails to be one of thelisteners, and to make fun of it when finished. Periwinkle is very muchgrown, and is expected to shut up her baby house and throw away her dollin a month or two more. Sweet Fern has learned to read and write, and hasput on a jacket and pair of pantaloons — all of which improvements Iam sorry for. Squash Blossom, Blue Eye, Plantain, and Buttercup have hadthe scarlet fever, but came easily through it. Huckleberry, Milkweed, andDandelion were attacked with the whooping cough, but bore it bravely, andkept out of doors whenever the sun shone. Cowslip, during the autumn, hadeither the measles, or some eruption that looked very much like it, butwas hardly sick a day. Poor Clover has been a good deal troubled with hersecond teeth, which have made her meagre in aspect and rather fractious intemper; nor, even when she smiles, is the matter much mended, since itdiscloses a gap just within her lips, almost as wide as the barn door. Butall this will pass over, and it is predicted that she will turn out a verypretty girl.
As for Mr. Bright himself, he is now in his senior year at WilliamsCollege, and has a prospect of graduating with some degree of honorabledistinction at the next Commencement. In his oration for the bachelor’sdegree, he gives me to understand, he will treat of the classical myths,viewed in the aspect of baby stories, and has a great mind to discuss theexpediency of using up the whole of ancient history, for the same purpose.I do not know what he means to do with himself after leaving college, buttrust that, by dabbling so early with the dangerous and seductive businessof authorship, he will not be tempted to become an author by profession.If so I shall be very sorry for the little that I have had to do with thematter, in encouraging these first beginnings.
I wish there were any likelihood of my soon seeing Primrose, Periwinkle,Dandelion, Sweet Fern, Clover Plantain, Huckleberry, Milkweed, Cowslip,Buttercup, Blue Eye, and Squash Blossom again. But as I do not know when Ishall re-visit Tanglewood, and as Eustace Bright probably will not ask meto edit a third “WonderBook,” the public of little folks must not expectto hear any more about those dear children from me. Heaven bless them, andeverybody else, whether grown people or children!
In the old city of Troezene, at the foot of a lofty mountain, there lived,a very long time ago, a little boy named Theseus. His grandfather, KingPittheus, was the sovereign of that country, and was reckoned a very wiseman; so that Theseus, being brought up in the royal palace, and beingnaturally a bright lad, could hardly fail of profiting by the old king’sinstructions. His mother’s name was Aethra. As for his father, the boy hadnever seen him. But, from his earliest remembrance, Aethra used to go withlittle Theseus into a wood, and sit down upon a moss-grown rock, which wasdeeply sunken into the earth. Here she often talked with her son about hisfather, and said that he was called Aegeus, and that he was a great king,and ruled over Attica, and dwelt at Athens, which was as famous a city asany in the world. Theseus was very fond of hearing about King Aegeus, andoften asked his good mother Aethra why he did not come and live with themat Troezene.
“Ah, my dear son,” answered Aethra, with a sigh, “a monarch has his peopleto take care of. The men and women over whom he rules are in the place ofchildren to him; and he can seldom spare time to love his own children asother parents do. Your father will never be able to leave his kingdom forthe sake of seeing his little boy.”
“Well, but, dear mother,” asked the boy, “why cannot I go to this famouscity of Athens, and tell King Aegeus that I am his son?”
“That may happen by and by,” said Aethra. “Be patient, and we shall see.You are not yet big and strong enough to set out on such an errand.”
“And how soon shall I be strong enough?” Theseus persisted in inquiring.
“You are but a tiny boy as yet,” replied his mother. “See if you can liftthis rock on which we are sitting?”
The little fellow had a great opinion of his own strength. So, graspingthe rough protuberances of the rock, he tugged and toiled amain, and gothimself quite out of breath, without being able to stir the heavy stone.It seemed to be rooted into the ground. No wonder he could not move it;for it would have taken all the force of a very strong man to lift it outof its earthy bed.
He tugged and toiled amain.
His mother stood looking on, with a sad kind of a smile on her lips and inher eyes, to see the zealous and yet puny efforts of her little boy. Shecould not help being sorrowful at finding him already so impatient tobegin his adventures in the world.
“You see how it is, my dear Theseus,” said she. “You must possess far morestrength than now before I can trust you to go to Athens, and tell KingAegeus that you are his son. But when you can lift this rock, and show mewhat is hidden beneath it, I promise you my permission to depart.”
Often and often, after this, did Theseus ask his mother whether it was yettime for him to go to Athens; and still his mother pointed to the rock,and told him that, for years to come, he could not be strong enough tomove it. And again and again the rosy-checked and curly-headed boy wouldtug and strain at the huge mass of stone, striving, child as he was, to dowhat a giant could hardly have done without taking both of his great handsto the task. Meanwhile the rock seemed to be sinking farther and fartherinto the ground. The moss grew over it thicker and thicker, until at lastit looked almost like a soft green seat, with only a few gray knobs ofgranite peeping out. The overhanging trees, also, shed their brown leavesupon it, as often as the autumn came; and at its base grew ferns and wildflowers, some of which crept quite over its surface. To all appearance,the rock was as firmly fastened as any other portion of the earth’ssubstance.
But, difficult as the matter looked, Theseus was now growing up to be sucha vigorous youth, that, in his own opinion, the time would quickly comewhen he might hope to get the upper hand of this ponderous lump of stone.
“Mother, I do believe it has started!” cried he, after one of hisattempts. “The earth around it is certainly a little cracked!”
“No, no, child!” his mother hastily answered. “It is not possible you canhave moved it, such a boy as you still are!”
Nor would she be convinced, although Theseus showed her the place where hefancied that the stem of a flower had been partly uprooted by the movementof the rock. But Aethra sighed, and looked disquieted; for, no doubt, shebegan to be conscious that her son was no longer a child, and that, in alittle while hence, she must send him forth among the perils and troublesof the world.
It was not more than a year afterwards when they were again sitting on themoss-covered stone. Aethra had once more told him the oft-repeated storyof his father, and how gladly he would receive Theseus at his statelypalace, and how he would present him to his courtiers and the people, andtell them that here was the heir of his dominions. The eyes of Theseusglowed with enthusiasm, and he would hardly sit still to hear his motherspeak.
“Dear mother Aethra,” he exclaimed, “I never felt half so strong as now! Iam no longer a child, nor a boy, nor a mere youth! I feel myself a man! Itis now time to make one earnest trial to remove the stone.”
“Ah, my dearest Theseus,” replied his mother “not yet! not yet!”
“Yes, mother,” said he, resolutely, “the time has come!”
Then Theseus bent himself in good earnest to the task, and strained everysinew, with manly strength and resolution. He put his whole brave heartinto the effort. He wrestled with the big and sluggish stone, as if it hadbeen a living enemy. He heaved, he lifted, he resolved now to succeed, orelse to perish there, and let the rock be his monument forever! Aethrastood gazing at him, and clasped her hands, partly with a mother’s pride,and partly with a mother’s sorrow. The great rock stirred! Yes, it wasraised slowly from the bedded moss and earth, uprooting the shrubs andflowers along with it, and was turned upon its side. Theseus hadconquered!
While taking breath, he looked joyfully at his mother, and she smiled uponhim through her tears.
“Yes, Theseus,” she said, “the time has come, and you must stay no longerat my side! See what King Aegeus, your royal father, left for you beneaththe stone, when he lifted it in his mighty arms, and laid it on the spotwhence you have now removed it.”
Theseus looked, and saw that the rock had been placed over another slab ofstone, containing a cavity within it; so that it somewhat resembled aroughly-made chest or coffer, of which the upper mass had served as thelid. Within the cavity lay a sword, with a golden hilt, and a pair ofsandals.
“That was your father’s sword,” said Aethra, “and those were his sandals.When he went to be king of Athens, he bade me treat you as a child untilyou should prove yourself a man by lifting this heavy stone. That taskbeing accomplished, you are to put on his sandals, in order to follow inyour father’s footsteps, and to gird on his sword, so that you may fightgiants and dragons, as King Aegeus did in his youth.”
“I will set out for Athens this very day!” cried Theseus.
But his mother persuaded him to stay a day or two longer, while she gotready some necessary articles for his journey. When his grandfather, thewise King Pittheus, heard that Theseus intended to present himself at hisfather’s palace, he earnestly advised him to get on board of a vessel, andgo by sea; because he might thus arrive within fifteen miles of Athens,without either fatigue or danger.
“The roads are very bad by land,” quoth the venerable king; “and they areterribly infested with robbers and monsters. A mere lad, like Theseus, isnot fit to be trusted on such a perilous journey, all by himself. No, no;let him go by sea.”
But when Theseus heard of robbers and monsters, he pricked up his ears,and was so much the more eager to take the road along which they were tobe met with. On the third day, therefore, he bade a respectful farewell tohis grandfather, thanking him for all his kindness; and, afteraffectionately embracing his mother, he set forth with a good many of hertears glistening on his cheeks, and some, if the truth must be told, thathad gushed out of his own eyes. But he let the sun and wind dry them, andwalked stoutly on, playing with the golden hilt of his sword, and takingvery manly strides in his father’s sandals.
I cannot stop to tell you hardly any of the adventures that befell Theseuson the road to Athens. It is enough to say, that he quite cleared thatpart of the country of the robbers about whom King Pittheus had been somuch alarmed. One of these bad people was named Procrustes; and he wasindeed a terrible fellow, and had an ugly way of making fun of the poortravelers who happened to fall into his clutches. In his cavern he had abed, on which, with great pretense of hospitality, he invited his gueststo lie down; but, if they happened to be shorter than the bed, this wickedvillain stretched them out by main force; or, if they were too tall, helopped off their heads or feet, and laughed at what he had done, as anexcellent joke. Thus, however weary a man might be, he never liked to liein the bed of Procrustes. Another of these robbers, named Scinis, mustlikewise have been a very great scoundrel. He was in the habit of flinginghis victims off a high cliff into the sea; and, in order to give himexactly his deserts, Theseus tossed him off the very same place. But ifyou will believe me, the sea would not pollute itself by receiving such abad person into its bosom; neither would the earth, having once got rid ofhim, consent to take him back; so that, between the cliff and the sea,Scinis stuck fast in the air, which was forced to bear the burden of hisnaughtiness.
After these memorable deeds, Theseus heard of an enormous sow, which ranwild, and was the terror of all the farmers round about; and, as he didnot consider himself above doing any good thing that came in his way, hekilled this monstrous creature, and gave the carcass to the poor peoplefor bacon. The great sow had been an awful beast, while ramping about thewoods and fields, but was a pleasant object enough when cut up intojoints, and smoking on I know not how many dinner tables.
Thus, by the time he reached his journey’s end, Theseus had done manyvaliant feats with his father’s golden-hilted sword, and had gained therenown of being one of the bravest young men of the day. His fame traveledfaster than he did, and reached Athens before him. As he entered the city,he heard the inhabitants talking at the street corners, and saying thatHercules was brave, and Jason too, and Castor and Pollux likewise, butthat Theseus, the son of their own king, would turn out as great a hero asthe best of them. Theseus took longer strides on hearing this, and fanciedhimself sure of a magnificent reception at his father’s court, since hecame thither with Fame to blow her trumpet before him, and cry to KingAegeus, “Behold your son!”
He little suspected, innocent youth that he was, that here, in this veryAthens, where his father reigned, a greater danger awaited him than anywhich he had encountered on the road. Yet this was the truth. You mustunderstand that the father of Theseus, though not very old in years, wasalmost worn out with the cares of government, and had thus grown agedbefore his time. His nephews, not expecting him to live a very greatwhile, intended to get all the power of the kingdom into their own hands.But when they heard that Theseus had arrived in Athens, and learned what agallant young man he was, they saw that he would not be at all the kind ofa person to let them steal away his father’s crown and scepter, whichought to be his own by right of inheritance. Thus these bad-heartednephews of King Aegeus, who were the own cousins of Theseus, at oncebecame his enemies. A still more dangerous enemy was Medea, the wickedenchantress; for she was now the king’s wife, and wanted to give thekingdom to her son Medus, instead of letting it be given to the son ofAethra, whom she hated.
It so happened that the king’s nephews met Theseus, and found out who hewas, just as he reached the entrance of the royal palace. With all theirevil designs against him, they pretended to be their cousin’s bestfriends, and expressed great joy at making his acquaintance. They proposedto him that he should come into the king’s presence as a stranger, inorder to try whether Aegeus would discover in the young man’s features anylikeness either to himself or his mother Aethra, and thus recognize himfor a son. Theseus consented; for he fancied that his father would knowhim in a moment, by the love that was in his heart. But, while he waitedat the door, the nephews ran and told King Aegeus that a young man hadarrived in Athens, who, to their certain knowledge, intended to put him todeath, and get possession of his royal crown.
“And he is now waiting for admission to your majesty’s presence,” addedthey.