MRS. EWING'S CHILDREN'S TALES.* MRS. EWING has a genius for
children's tales. If she has a weak side for imitating Hans Christian Andersen, and is, besides, too apt to hint at explanations of her marvels,—a practice which all -children justly resent,—she has enough reverence in her not to ex- plain outright and spoil them ; but barring her studies after Andersen and this last nineteenth-century weakness, Mrs. Ewing must be admitted to understand her subject. She satisfies the four great tests for tale-writers of this species. She has a fine feeling for toys. She understands animals. She enters into naughty .children. She has caught the plain realistic dialect of fairy-land. Let us try her by all these tests.
Nothing can be truer than her feeling for toys. 'The Land of Lost Toys' is a tale of great dramatic power. Aunt Penelope, indeed, should not talk to the two children of the "delicious and suggestive scents of earth and moss about the dear old tree ; " 'suggestive' is not a child's word, and ought not to be a man's or a woman's word, and (except that the children would not have understood it), when combined with "delicious," it might have made them feel a little poorly. But Sam's representation of the great earthquake of Lisbon is a very powerful and moving episode, and avhen Aunt Penelope herself gets into the subject of toys, she
* The Brownies and other Taki. By Juliana Horatia Ewing. With Illustrations by George Cruikshank. London : Bell and Daldy. becomes quite another creature, and utters truths which go straight to the heart of children and of men. That enviable young lady, her friend, whose own room was adorned with all her old toys, must be one of the happiest as well as the 11104 frugal of human beings. "A faded doll slept in its cradle at the foot of her bed. A wooden elephant stood on the dressing-table, and a poodle that had lost his bark put out a red flannel tongue with Quixotic violence at a windmill on the opposite corner of the mantel-piece." Aunt Penelope feels the wisdom of her friend so vividly indeed, that she again forgets the children listening to her, and remarks very unworthily that "the room must have been redolent with the sweet story of childhood," as if children thought childhood a sweet story,' or could fail to feel uncom- fortable and shy at this very mawkish remark. For our own parts, we would give a great deal to have on our chimney-piece a certain dear wax soldier-doll without a head, a donkey with pan- niers, and a painted doll's wardrobe manufactured of deal under the immediate eye of a carpentering brother, and painted with a, very smelling white paint (the great triumph of which was a button appended on purpose to close the doors, and so ingeniously contrived that when the button was fastened the doors opened quite as easily and gracefully as before). But if we had them back again, we would not say, and would not think that they were 'redolent with the sweet story of childhood.' On the contrary, we should value the headless wax soldier, for instance, for the recollections of moist wax about his broken neck, the artistic sealing-wax foot with which, when he lost a foot in an engagement, he was fitted by a skilful brother, for the associations with the doll's decanters and wine-glasses out of which he quaffed (without a mouth) to the health of his owner, and for the red cap which he did not cease to wear after losing the head to which it fitted. Nor does it strike us that those specific visions which it would recall would be 'redolent of the sweet story of childhood.' The story of childhood, like the story of other hoods, is of a very variegated description, and as far as we can remember, no part of it could be quite appropriately described as sweet. A good deal was nice;' a good deal was jolly ;' a good deal was wonderful and exciting ; a good deal was horrid ; a good deal was confused ; almost all was grotesque; but nothing, we fancy, except the sugar, sweet. Still, we heartily appreciate the young lady who kept her wooden elephant on the dressing-table, and the poodle and wind- mill on opposite corners of the mantlepiece, and only wish we had had the hint in our own childhood, and could have lived up to the mark of that wonderful woman's frugality and foresight. As it is, we suppose the headless soldier, the donkey, and the wardrobe are all gone to 'the land of lost toys,' whither we must now follow Miss Penelope, against whose spinsterly weaknesses in the presence of her nephew and niece we have felt called upon bz realistic principles to protest.
What we most admire in Miss Penelope is the genuine realism of her feeling for toys. When in the midst of the great persecu- tion by the toys she has maimed and neglected, her favourite doll Rosa comes to her aid, and takes her hand patronizingly, she re- marks, with an insight quite worthy of Dickens, "I remember feeling vacantly the rough edges of the stitches on her fiat kid fingers," which shows how truly and vividly she recalls the days when she walked hand in hand with Rosa, and wished that dolls had flesh hands, or if they must have kid hands, hands without so many stitches in them as to suggest extensive surgical operations. Again, when she is compelled to lie down on the doll's bedstead, it is very refreshing to find her admitting that the pillows "had a meal-baggy smell from being stuffed with bran," and again, there is genuine knowlege and sentiment in the remark that when she took tea out of the little pewter tea-cups, she "was only conscious of imbibing a draught of air with a slight flavour of tin," and that in taking her second cup she was "nearly choked with the teaspoon, which got into my throat." There you have the real de- tail of "the sweet story of childhood," and no one who recollects that childhood so well, should describe it thus. These are the qualities in the toys which at once dispelled and stimulated illu- sion,—the qualities which children all mourn as inevitable take-offs from the glory of the toys, but which nevertheless stimulate them into still more spirited rebellion against the hard facts of earth.
But Mrs. Ewing has not only a fine feeling for toys ; she under- stands animals. The bull-dog which justly bit Amelia for teazing it, in the story of Amelia and the Dwarfs, and which Amelia's mamma unjustly wished to have shot,—Amelia sturdily protesting, and offering to have the wound fired without chloroform so long as the bull-dog's life was spared,—is drawn with a good deal of vigour and feeling. And the owl, in the story of "The Brownies," is admirable, fluffily mysterious and fluffily didactic,—in a word, owlish. When the old owl says to Tommy "Kiss my fluffy face," the situation is really thrilling ; and when the bearded Doctor at the end of the tale gives the same injunction to his little pet Tiny, and she, after complying, contemptuously replies, "You're not fluffy at all ; you're tickly and bristly. Puss is more fluffy ; and father is scrubby and scratchy because he shaves," we are lost in delight at the incisive discrimination of these rapid and luminous descriptions, at once characteristic of the observing power of children, and vividly picturesque in themselves.
Thirdly, there is a most healthy sympathy observable in Mrs. Ewing with naughty children, without any disposition to make light of the naughtiness. The literature of childhood errs in one of two ways. It either makes naughty children intolerable, like the healthy didactic books of the old generation ; or it does not make children naughty at all, only makes them faulty for the pur- pose of showing mamma's sweetness in curing their faults, which is uncandid, and not true to life. The Amelia above referred to is really a most thoroughly naughty child, but has that fundamental sense of justice towards the bull-dog which just saves her cha- racter, and makes her fit for her final triumph over the dwarfs. We appreciate Sam and Amelia, though Sam inclines a little too much to the 'faulty' sort. We forgive him, however, on account of his very just and strong objection to the chair whose horse- hair "tickled his legs."
Finally, Mrs. Ewing has caught the plain realistic language of fairy-land. She does not make her marvellous beings talk fine. Of course, no child would believe at all in a dwarf or a fairy who talked fine, but they are falsely so described every day, nevertheless. We have already alluded to the fine dramatic touch of making the wise Owl begin her advice by saying "Kiss my fluffy face," which you feel at once is the formula with which a wise owl would begin her counsels. But the Owl is not the best. How plain and com- monsensical the dwarfs are in their language and their tactics ! Take this conversation with Amelia, when she gets into their power :-
"Now with Amelia, to hear that she had better not do something, was to make her wish at once to do it ; and as she was not at all wanting in courage, she pulled the dwarf's little cloakjust as she would have twitched her mother's shawl, and said (with that sort of snarly whine in which spoilt children generally speak)—' Why shouldn't I come to the haycocks if I want to? They belong to my papa, and I shall come if I like. But you have no business here.'—' Nightshade and Hemlock!' ejaculated the little man, you are not lacking in impu- dence. Perhaps your Sauciness is not quite aware how things are dis- tributed in this world?' saying which he lifted his pointed shoes and began to dance and sing— 'All under the sun belongs to men,
And all under the moon to the fairies. So, so, so ! Ho, ho, ho !
All under the moon to the fairies.'
As he sang 'Ho, ho, ho!' the little man turned head over heels! and though by this time Amelia would gladly have got away, she could not, for the dwarf seemed to dance and tumble round her, and always to cut off the chance of escape ; whilst numberless voices from all around seemed to join in the chorus, with- ' So, so, so! Ho, ho, ho!
All under the moon to the fairies,'
'And now,' said the little man, 'to work ! And you have plenty of work before you, so trip on, to the first haycock.'—'I shan't!' said Amelia.—' On with you!' repeated the dwarf.—' I wont !' said Amelia. But the little man, who was behind her, pinched her funny-bone with his lean fingers, and, as everybody knows, that is agony ; so Amelia ran on' and tried to get away. But when she went too fast, the dwarf trod on her heels with his long-pointed shoe, and if she did not go fast enough, he pinched her funny-bone. So for once in her life she was obliged to do as she was told. As they ran, tall hats and wizened faces were popped out on all sides of the haycocks, like blanched almonds on a tipsy-cake; and whenever the dwarf pinched Amelia, or trod on her heels, they cried 'Ho ho, ho !' with such horrible contortions as they laughed, that it was hideous to behold."
One feels at once that dwarfs would "pinch the funny-bone" as their mode of applying a spur. So, too, the beetle's conversation in "the world of last Toys" is very crisp. Mrs. Ewing has understood aright the pithiness and sincerity of the talk in fairy-land.
One word as to the illustrations. It is delightful lo meet again with George Cruikshank, and to have a good gaze at his wise owl and at two more of his dwarfs. He has never done anything much better than these dwarfs. The dwarf in the domineering mood, in shoes with turned-up toes, romantic floating hair, and the sugar-loaf hat, who handles his stick jauntily as a sort of cane, and is opening his mouth so very wide as he gives his orders to Amelia, is as good as his Rumpebtiltzchen ; and as for the merry, fiddling, and dancing dwarf, with the shock of striggly hair and the looped-up frock, he is the soul of grotesque humour, which Mr. Cruikshank never surpassed, if he ever equalled. It is a jolly little book, though we rather object to the sentimental Wags.