Shakespeare is a magic name to grown-ups, but to children it does not mean much. All they know is, that sometimes this name is spelled on the back of one fat volume, sometimes on three, sometimes on a dozen or more, but of the inside they know almost nothing, and when they hear persons say that Shakespeare is the greatest writer that ever lived, they wonder about it. If they take down a volume containing one of his plays, they think it very dull, but here in simple language we present the stories of two of the most fairy-like and beautiful plays, as retold for children by Charles and Mary Lamb.
Daniel Edwin Wheeler.
There is much truth in the saying that “old things are best, old books are best, old friends are best.” We like to connect in thought our best-loved books and our best-loved friends. A good friend must have some of the wisdom of a good book, though good books often talk to us with wisdom and also with humor and courtesy greater than any living friend may show. “Sometimes we think books are the best friends; they never interrupt or contradict or criticise us.”
Every year in our own country about ten thousand books are published. Most of them die in early life. Three hundred years from now every one of this year’s ten thousand books will be dead and forgotten, except possibly thirty or forty. The very best books do not die young. The books written about three hundred years ago that are read to-day—like Shakespeare’s plays—are as a rule the books that deserve to live forever. And, “Gentle Reader,” if you are wise you will see why the old books are best: they are the wheat, and the winds of time have blown only the chaff away.
Is it not strange that in the olden times so few poems or books or stories were written for children? The “Iliad,” the stories of King Arthur, the “Canterbury Tales,” and “Gulliver’s Travels” and “Robinson Crusoe,” were written for men and women.
But happily this is the children’s age, and now nearly half of all the books written are written for children. You must remember, however, that all boys and girls are children—in the eyes of the law—till they are twenty-one years old.
We know a little boy who read last week a very modern story. The book was bound in red cloth. It had a gilt top and very modern pictures drawn by a great artist and printed in three or four colors. How different from the books of one hundred years ago, with their black covers and queer pictures!
This story read by the little New York boy last week has been read by many little boys in Iowa, and by many little girls in Georgia. It tells about an orphan boy who was “bound out” to a farmer who treated him cruelly. He ran away to the Rocky Mountain region, where he had many adventures with robbers and Indians and blizzards. He was strong and heroic; he could shoot straight and ride the swiftest horses, and nothing ever hurt him very much.