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Fairy Tales Every Child Should Know

And De Quincey created a kingdom


Robert Louis Stevenson, who knew well how to touch work with the spirit and charm of play, reports of certain evenings spent at a clubhouse near Brussels, that the men who gathered there "were employed over the frivolous mercantile concerns of Belgium during the day; but in the evening they found some hours for the serious concerns of life." They gave their days to commerce, but their evenings were devoted to more important interests!

These words are written for those older people who have made the mistake of straying away from childhood; children do not read introductions, because they know that the valuable part of the book is to be found in the later pages. They read the stories; their elders read the introduction as well. They both need the stuff of imagination, of which myths, legends, and fairy tales are made. So much may be said of these old stories that it is a serious question where to begin, and a still more difficult question where to end. For these tales are the first outpourings of that spring of imagination whence flow the most illuminating, inspiring, refreshing and captivating thoughts and ideas about life. No philosophy is deeper than that which underlies these stories; no psychology is more important than that which finds its choicest illustration in them; no chapter in the history of thought is more suggestive and engrossing than that which records their growth and divines their meaning. Fairy tales and myths are so much akin that they are easily transformed and exchange costumes without changing character; while the legend, which belongs to a later period, often reflects the large meaning of the myth and the free fancy of the fairy tale.

As a class, children not only possess the faculty of imagination, but are very largely occupied with it during the most sensitive and formative years, and those who lack it are brought under its spell by their fellows. They do not accurately distinguish between the actual and the imaginary, and they live at ease in a world out of which paths run in every direction into wonderland. They begin their education when they begin to play; for play not only affords an outlet for their energy, and so supplies one great means of growth and training, but places them in social relations with their mates and in conscious contact with the world about them. The old games that have been played by generations of children not only precede the training of the school and supplement it, but accomplish some results in the nature of the child which are beyond the reach of the school. When a crowd of boys are rushing across country in "hounds and deer," they are giving lungs, heart and muscles the best possible exercise; they are sharing certain rules of honor with one another, expressed in that significant phrase, "fair play"; and they are giving rein to their imaginations in the very name of their occupation. Body, spirit and imagination have their part in every good game; for the interest of a game lies in its appeal to the imagination, as in "hounds and deer," or in its stimulus to activity, as in "tag" and "hide-and-seek."

There are few chapters in the biography of the childhood of men of genius more significant than those which describe imaginary worlds which were, for a time, as real as the actual world in which the boy lived. Goethe entertained and mystified his playmates with accounts of a certain garden in which he wandered at will, but which they could not find; and De Quincey created a kingdom, with all its complex relations and varied activities, which he ruled with beneficence and affection until, in an unlucky hour, he revealed his secret to his brother, who straightway usurped his authority, and governed his subjects with such tyranny and cruelty that De Quincey was compelled to save his people by destroying them.


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