Page images
PDF
EPUB

66

promise me a substantial gratuity, I shall come every time, an hour before the Ruler of the West loses something, to your shop in the Jews' Lane, and say: Do not leave your house, Abner; you know why already; lock yourself in your little room until sunset, under lock and key."

This, O Master, is The Story of Abner who Saw Nothing.

When the slave had finished, and silence prevailed again in the hall, the young scribe reminded the old man that the thread of their conversation had been broken, and requested him to explain to them in what the really great charm of a fairy-tale lay. "I will tell you that now," replied the old man. "The human mind is much lighter and flows more easily than water, which makes all sorts of windings, and perforates gradually the densest objects. It is as light and free as the air, and becomes, like the latter, lighter and clearer the higher it rises from the earth. There is therefore a craving in every man to rise above the commonplace, and to move more lightly and freely in the regions above, even if only in dreams. You yourself said, my young friend, we lived in those stories, we thought and felt with those men; and thence emanates the charm which they had for you. Whilst you were listening to the slaves' stories, which were only fables, invented at a former time by someone else, you identified yourself with them; your mind did not remain with the objects around you, or think your usual thoughts. No, you experienced all as if it were to yourself that these wonderful things had happened so great was the interest you took in the man about whom the story was told. In this way your mind rose on the thread of such a story beyond the present time, which did not seem so beautiful or so attractive to you; in this way your mind moved more freely and unrestrainedly in strange and upper regions; the tale became to you a reality, or, if you prefer it, the reality turned into a tale, because your thoughts and being were bound up with it."

"I do not quite understand you," replied the young

merchant; "but you are right in saying that we lived in legends, and the legends in us. I still remember that delightful time. In our leisure we dreamed awake; we imagined ourselves to have been cast upon some desert and uninhabitable island; we consulted what we should do to preserve our existence; we often built huts in the thick willow-plot, and made a scanty meal of poor fruits, although we might have had the very best of everything at home, only at a distance of a hundred paces. Ay, there were times when we waited for the appearance of some good fairy, or some wonderful dwarf, who would come to us and say: The earth will soon open; and in that case will you kindly descend into my palace made of rock crystal, and content yourselves with what my servants, the long-tailed monkeys, place before you.'

6

229

The young men laughed, but admitted to their friend that what he had said was true. "Even at the present time," continued another, "this magic power influences me every now and again. I should not be a little annoyed, for example, at the stupid fable, if my brother were to rush in at the door and say: 'Have you heard of our neighbour the fat baker's misfortune; he has been quarrelling with a magician, and the latter, to revenge himself on him, changed him into a bear, and he now lies in his room, howling terribly.' I should be annoyed, and call him a liar. But how different it would be if I heard that the fat neighbour had undertaken a long journey to a far and unknown country, and had fallen there into the hands of a magician, who changed him into a bear. By-and-by I should feel myself transported into that story, would travel with the fat neighbour, would experience wonderful things; and I should not be very much surprised if he were clothed in a bear-skin and be obliged to walk on all fours."

"And yet," said the old man, "there are a number of delightful stories in which neither fairies nor magicians appear, no castle made of crystal, no genii who procure rare dishes, no bird like the roc, no magic horse-in fact a different kind from those which are usually called fairy tales."

"What are we to understand by that? Explain to us

more plainly what you mean. fairy tale?" said the young men.

"I think a certain distinction should be made between fairly tales and narrations which are commonly termed stories. If I tell you I am going to relate a fairy tale, you will think beforehand that it is an adventure which digresses from the usual path of life, and refers to regions which are no longer of a terrestrial nature. Or, to be more explicit, you will probably expect in a fairy tale the appearance of other beings besides mortal men; with the fate of the person of which the fairy tale treats it connects strange beings, such as fairies and magicians, genii and demons; the whole account assumes an extraordinary and wonderful form; it resembles the weaving of our carpets, and many pictures of our best masters, which the Franks term arabesques. The true Mussulman is forbidden to paint man, Allah's creature, in a sinful way, in colours and pictures. That is the reason one sees on those textures strangely intertwined trees and branches with human heads; men finishing off as fishes or shrubs; in short, figures which remind one of ordinary every-day life, and yet are most unnatural. You understand me, eh?

66

I think I can guess what you mean," said the scribe; "but do continue."

66

'Such is the character of the fairy tale-fabulous, extraordinary, and surprising. Because it is strange to ordinary life, the scene is often laid in foreign countries, or in remote and long bygone times. Every country, every people has such fairy tales-the Turks as well as the Persians, the Chinese as well as the Mongols; even in the land of the Frank there are said to be many; at least a learned giaour once told me about them. But they are not so beautiful as ours; for instead of lovely fairies who live in magnificent palaces, they have magic women called witches-malicious, ugly people, who live in wretched huts; and instead of riding through the blue air in a carriage made of a shell drawn by griffins, they ride on a broomstick through the mist. They have also gnomes and elves, which are diminutive, deformed little fellows, carrying on all sorts of pranks.

A different kind than the

د.

Such are fairy tales. But it is quite different with narrations usually called stories. These remain quite true to nature upon earth, happen in the usual course of life; and the most wonderful thing in them is merely the concatenation of the fates of one man, who, not by magic enchantment or fairy spells as in fairy tales, but by his own acts, or the extraordinary turn of circumstances, has become rich or poor, happy or unhappy." "True!" replied one of the "Such young men. natural stories are also to be found amongst the excellent narrations of Scheherazade, called the Thousand and One Nights. Most of the adventures of the King Harun Al Raschid and his Viziers are of such a nature. They go out disguised, and witness some very peculiar event, which develops itself afterwards in quite a natural manner."

"And yet you must confess," continued the old man, "that those stories are not the worst part of the Arabian Nights. How greatly do they differ in their origin, in their course, in their whole tenour from the fairy tales of the Prince Biribinker, or those of the three dervishes with one eye, or the fisherman who draws out of the sea the box sealed with Solomon's seal! But there is after all a common source which lends its charm to both, namely, the fact that we experience something surprising and uncommon. With the fairy tale this singularity lies in that mixture of a fabulous magic power with the ordinary life of men, whereas with the stories something takes place in accordance with natural laws, but in a surprising and unusual manner."

"Strange!" exclaimed the scribe. "It is strange that this natural course of events attracts us as much as the supernatural in the fairy tales. What may be the cause of this?" "That lies in the description of one individual,” replied the old man. "In the fairy tale the wonderful part increases to such an extent, and man acts so little from his own impulse, that individual figures and their characters can only be depicted in a hasty manner. It is quite different however with the ordinary story, where the manner in which everyone, in accordance with his character, speaks and acts, forms the principal interest and the most attractive part."

"Indeed, you are right," replied the young merchant. "I have never taken the time to meditate properly about these things. I have merely regarded them in a casual manner; I have found pleasure in one, and tedium in the other, without really knowing why. You are giving us now, however, the key with which to unlock this mystery; a touchstone with which we can make a trial, to enable us to judge aright." "And your

66

'Always do that," replied the old man. enjoyment will increase when you learn to meditate upon that which you have heard. But look, yonder rises another one to relate a story."

So it was, and another slave began

THE YOUNG ENGLISHMAN.

Sir! I am a German by birth and have only lived a short time in your country, so I cannot tell a Persian fairy tale or some other delightful story about Sultans and Viziers. You must permit me therefore to relate to you something of my native land, which may perhaps also give you some pleasure. Unfortunately our stories are not always so sublime as yours. That is to say, they do not treat about Sultans or our Kings, nor about Viziers and Pashas, who are called in our country Ministers of Justice and Finance, also Privy Councillors and the like; but they originate, if they do not refer to soldiers, as a rule very modestly among the citizens.

In the southern part of Germany lies the little town of Grünwiesel, where I was born and educated. It is a little town, like the majority of them. In the centre is a small market-place with a well, and by the side of it a small old town-hall; round about the market-place are the houses of the justices of the peace and the most esteemed merchants, and in a few narrow streets live the rest of the inhabitants. They all know one another; everybody knows what occurs everywhere; and whenever the rector or the burgomaster or the doctor has an extra dish served up, the whole town knows it at dinner-time. In the afternoon the women pay each other visits, and it is said they converse over the strong coffee and sweet cakes

« PreviousContinue »