Men love stories, and for very good reasons, as has been pointed out in introductions to other volumes in this series; and the more quick and original the imagination of a race, the more interesting and varied will be its stories. From the earliest times, long before books were made, the people of many countries were eagerly listening to the men and women who could tell thrilling or humorous tales, as in these later days they read the novels of the writers who know how to tell a story so as to stir the imagination or hold the attention and make readers forget themselves and their worries and troubles. In India and Japan, in Russia and Roumania, among the Indians at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, these stories are still told, not only to children by their mothers and grandmothers, but to crowds of grown-up people by those who have the art of making tales entertaining; and there are still so many of these stories floating about the world from one person to another that if they were written down they would fill a great library. “Until the generation now lately passed away,” says Mr. Gosse in his introduction to that very interesting book, “Folk and Fairy Tales” by Asbjoernsen, “almost the only mode in which the Norwegian peasant killed time in the leisure moments between his daily labour and his religious observances, was in listening to stories. It was the business of old men and women who had reached the extreme limit of their working hours, to retain and repeat these ancient legends in prose and verse, and to recite or sing them when called to do so.” And Miss Hapgood has told us that in Russia these stories have not only been handed down wholly by word or mouth for a thousand years, but are flourishing to-day and extending into fresh fields.
The stories made by the people, and told before evening fires, or in public places and at the gates of inns in the Orient, belong to the ages when books were few and knowledge limited, or to people whose fancy was not hampered by familiarity with or care for facts; they are the creations, as they were the amusement, of men and women who were children in knowledge, but were thinking deeply and often wisely of what life meant to them, and were eager to know and hear more about themselves, their fellows, and the world. In the earlier folk-stories one finds a childlike simplicity and readiness to believe in the marvellous; and these qualities are found also in the French peasant’s version of the career of Napoleon.
FOLK TALES EVERY CHILD SHOULD KNOW
HANS IN LUCK
Hans had served his Master seven years, and at the end of that time he said to him: “Master, since my time is up, I should like to go home to my mother; so give me my wages, if you please.”