THE success attending the publication of a new translation of the Fairy Tales of the Countess d'Aulnoy has justified the publishers in believing that an equally faithful version of some of the most popular stories of her contemporaries and immediate successors, similarly annotated, might meet with as favourable a reception. I have therefore selected twenty-four of the best Fairy Tales, according to my judgment, remaining in the Cabinet des Fées, commencing with those of Charles Perrault, the earliest, and terminating with some of Madame Leprince de Beaumont, the latest French writer of European celebrity in that particular class of literature. Independently of the fact that, with the exception of those of Madame de Beaumont, few if any in the present volume have ever been placed in their integrity before the English reader, I trust that the chronological order I have observed in their arrangement will give them a novel interest in the eyes of those "children of a larger growth," who are not ashamed to confess, with La Fontaine--
Si "Peau d'ane" m'étoit conté
J'y prendrais un plaisir extrême.
Or with the great Reformer, Martin Luther--
"I would not for any quantity of gold part with the wonderful tales which I have retained from my earliest childhood or have met with in my progress through life."
The reader will by this arrangement observe, in a clearer way than probably he has yet had an opportunity of doing, the rise, progress, and decline of the genuine Fairy Tale--so thoroughly French in its origin, so specially connected with the age of that "Grand Monarque" whose reign presents us, in the graphic pages of St. Simon and Dangeau, with innumerable pictures of manners and customs, dresses and entertainments, the singularity, magnificence, profusion, and extent of which scarcely require the fancy of a d'Aulnoy to render fabulous. In my introduction to the tales of that "lively and ingenious lady," I have already shown the progress of the popularity of this class of composition; but in the present volume it will be seen how, in the course of little more than half a century, the Fairy Tale, from a fresh, sparkling, simple yet arch version of a legend as old as the monuments of that Celtic race by whom they were introduced into Gaul, became first elaborated into a novel, comprising an ingenious plot, with an amusing exaggeration of the manners of the period; next, inflated into a preposterous and purposeless caricature of its own peculiarities; and finally, denuded of its sportive fancy, its latent humour, and its gorgeous extravagance, subsided into the dull common-place moral story, which, taking less hold of the youthful imagination, was, however laudable in its intention, a very ineffective substitute for the merry monitors it vainly endeavoured to supersede. Too much like a lesson for the child, it was too childish for the man. The Fairies were dismissed in consequence of the incapacity of the writers to employ them; but they were not to be annihilated. They still live in their own land, to laugh at those mortals who will not laugh with them and learn while they laugh. Modern art may vainly invoke them to perform fresh marvels, but enough power still exists in their old spells to enchant youth, amuse manhood, and resuscitate age; and, despite the hypercritic and the purist, they will continue to exercise their magic influence over the human mind so long as it is capable of appreciating wit, fancy, and good feeling. As Mademoiselle Lheritier wrote two hundred years ago--
Ils ne sont pas aisées à croire,
Mais tant que dans le monde on verra des enfans,
Des mères et des mères-grands
On en gardera la memoire.