Four and Twenty Fairy Tales: Selected from Those of Perrault, and Other Popular Writers | Annotated Tale

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Charles Perrault

MEMBER of the Académie Française, and premier commis des batimens du Roi, was born, as he himself tells us in the Mémoires he left to his children, in Paris, on the 12th of January, 1628; and at eight and a half years of age was sent to the College of Beauvais, where he gave early proof of his literary abilities. He died in 1703. Although the author of many creditable compositions, both in prose and verse, he is indebted for his celebrity to that collection of Fairy tales which, under the title of Histoires, ou Contes du Tems passé, were first published in 1697, and speedily obtained a world-wide popularity as Les Contes de ma Mère l'Oye, known in England as Mother Goose's Fairy Tales.

                They were published by Perrault, under the name of his son, Perrault D'Armancour, at that time a child only ten years old, whose name is appended to the dedication of the first edition to "Mademoiselle," i.e., Elizabeth Charlotte d'Orleans, sister of Philippe, Duke of Chartres, and, after the death of Louis XIV., Regent of France. Mademoiselle was born 13th September, 1676. The title, Contes de ma Mère l'Oye, has given rise to much controversy, and a great deal of paper, not to say learning, has been wasted in the attempt to discover the original source of the stories, and the reason of their being called those of "Ma Mère l'Oye." The former question I shall reserve for discussion in my notices of the tales themselves. The latter we will dispose of at once. Monsieur Colin de Plancy, in his valuable edition of the Œuvres Choisis de Charles Perrault, 8vo, Paris, 1826; and Baron Walkenaër in his Lettres sur les Contes des Fées attribués à Perrault, &c., Paris, 12mo, same date, have pretty well exhausted the subject. The three principal derivations that have been insisted upon, are:--

                Firstly. That in an ancient fabliau, "a goose is represented telling stories to her goslings, worthy of them and of her."

                Secondly. That in the frontispiece to the first edition of Perrault's Fairy Tales, an old woman is represented spinning, and beside her are three children, one boy and two girls, whom she is apparently amusing by her stories; and that as underneath this are the words Contes de ma Mère l'Oye,  [1] this old woman is no less a personage than Ma Mère l'Oye in propria persona.

                Thirdly. That Ma Mère l'Oye is one and the same individual with La Reine Pédauque, the goose or bird-footed Queen, a soubriquet applied by some to a Bertha, Queen of France; and by others to St. Clotilde and the Queen of Saba.

                The first is an assertion without proof. The second a mere opinion, which is instantly met by another--namely, that the old woman is repeating to her hearers the stories of Ma Mère l'Oye. The third is a tangible proposition, and has been dealt with accordingly.

                At St. Marie de Nesle, in the diocese of Troyes, at St. Bénigne de Dijon, at St. Pierre de Nevers, St. Pourcain in Auvergne, and in divers other churches in France, the statue is to be seen of a queen with a web-foot, and therefore called La Reine Pied-d'oie, or Pédauque. [2] This statue is said by Mabillon, but without giving any authority for his assertion, to represent St. Clotilde.

                The Abbé Lebœuf believes that the origin of this name is to be found at Toulouse. He quotes a passage in Rabelais, who, speaking of certain large-footed persons, says, "they were splay-footed, like geese, or Queen Pédauque in her portrait formerly at Toulouse;" "and the Abbé concludes," says Monsieur de Plancy, "curiously enough, that the Queen Pédauque is the Queen of Saba;" supporting his opinion by the following tale in the Targum of Jerusalem:--

                 "The Queen of Saba was so fond of bathing, that she plunged every day in the sea. When she went to visit Solomon, he received her in an apartment of crystal. The Queen of Saba on entering it, imagined that the Monarch was in the water, and in order to pass through it to him, she lifted her robe. The King then seeing her feet, which were hideous, said to her: 'Your face unites all the charms of the most beautiful women, but your legs and feet correspond but little to it.'"

                Even if we could suppose Solomon to have been so ungallant, there does not appear much in this Hebrew story to bear upon the subject; for what possible reason was there for attributing these stories to the Queen of Saba? Bullet, doyen of the University of Besançon, goes back to the eleventh century, in France, for the source of this epithet. The Good King Robert had married his relative, Bertha; Gregory V. compelled him to divorce her, and imposed on him a penance of seven years. The King, who loved Bertha, refused obedience, and the Pope excommunicated him. He was deserted by everybody except two servants. In the meanwhile, Bertha was said to have been brought to bed of a monster resembling an ill-formed duck, or, according to others, a goose. Abbon, Abbot of Fleury, brought the supposed offspring to the King, who, horrified at the sight of it, repudiated Bertha, leaving her, however, the title of Queen. The dreadful story was circulated that she had given birth to a goose, and that she had herself become goose-footed, as a punishment for her criminal marriage. Her name of Bertha gave more authority to this story in the eyes of the people. They remembered that Bertha or Bertrade, wife of Pepin-le-bref, was surnamed "Bertha with the Great Foot," because she had one foot larger than the other; and they called the repudiated wife of Robert, "Bertha au pied d'Oie." It is possible also, remarks Mons. de Plancy, that this fable was invented to flatter Queen Constance, who succeeded her, for it was the period of credulity and superstition. Constance went to Toulouse. She was lodged in front of an aqueduct so narrow that a man could not pass through it. To amuse the Princess, they told her it was the bridge of Queen Goose, or of the queen with the goose's foot. This story was afterwards amplified, and it became a saying that Queen Pédauque was of Toulouse.

                In the Contes d'Entrapel, by Noël Dufail, published during the latter half of the sixteenth century, a man is made to swear by "the spindle of Queen Pédauque;" and therefore Bullet assumes that she must have been Queen Bertha, because there is an old French saying, "when Queen Bertha spun," [3] which is applied to any marvellous story of bygone days, or to events that are said to have happened "once upon a time." This is very inconclusive. In the middle ages, spinning was a favourite occupation of queens and princesses, and Queen Bertha was by no means an exception. [4] There is another French saying, similarly applied to an incredible tale--"It is of the time when King Robert sang to the lute," the said King Robert being the husband of Queen Bertha. This is all tantamount only to our old English sayings, "When Adam was a little boy," and "When Adam delved and Eve span," &c. It is also more than probable that the Bertha of the proverb is identical with the Frau Berchta of German superstition. She is said to live in the imaginations of the upper German races in Austria, Bavaria, Swabia, Alsace, Switzerland, and some districts of Thuringia and Franconia. She appears in The Twelve Nights as a woman with shaggy hair, to inspect the spinners, when fish and porridge are to be eaten in honour of her, and all the distaffs must be spun off. This superstition was also common in England:--

Partly work and partly play     
You must on St. Distaff's day.

                That is, the day after Twelfth Day, and is evidently the relic of some pagan rite in honour, most probably, of Freya or Frega, the Venus of the Scandinavians. "Dame Bertha horned," is one of the characters in Les Evangiles des Conoilles (Quenouilles), the joint composition of Jean d'Arras and three other writers, in 1475. It was translated into English, and printed by Winkyn de Worde, with the title of The Gospelles of Distaffs. [5]

                A writer who signs himself Philetymus, has acutely pointed out a more probable origin of the title of Contes de ma (or de le) Mère l'Oye, which it is clear, from passages in Boileau and Molière, was applied to a certain collection of old stories, long before Perrault published his Histoires du Temps Passé. This writer refers us to the customs of antiquity and the superstitions of the middle ages. He recals to us that the ancient Romans confided their dwellings to the care of their geese. He alludes to the two hundred thousand Crusaders who, in 1096, directed their march by the flight of a goose from Hungary to Jerusalem; to the guardian fairies of the Château de Piron in the Contentin, who, at the time of the invasion of the Normans, transformed themselves into wild geese; to the benevolent and protecting dwarfs of the Canton of Berne, who are said to have been all goose-footed; and above all, to Marguerite de Navarre, who, in her Heptameron, calls herself Oisille; and he concludes by saying, "C'est que la bonne dame Oisille, veuve de grand expérience y représente la Mère l'Oie; c'est que du conté le moins discret elle sait tirer toujours une conclusion favorable à la morale.... Contes de la Mère l'Oie c'est à dire contes de la vieille grand mère, jaseuse et criande comme l'Oie mais comme l'Oie, surtout gardienne vigilante de la maison.... J'allais dire de la Vertu."

                There is, amidst all this suggestion, one fact to repose upon. It is, that Perrault was not the inventor of the stories he published; that he merely transmitted to writing, no doubt with some touches of his own, tales of the nursery which had descended orally from the earliest ages of the Celtic occupation of Armorica or Bretagne, to the peculiar superstitions of which we shall find, as we proceed, they all have more or less reference, and that the particular stories printed in the first edition of his Histoires du Temps Passé, had long been popularly known as Contes de ma Mère l'Oye. In 1678, at the age of fifty, Perrault retired from his public office to dedicate himself entirely to literature and the education of his children. Some ten years afterwards he composed a novel in verse, founded on a celebrated tale in the Decamerone of Boccaccio, and well known to us as Patient Grizzel, his title being La Marquise de Salusses; ou, la Patience de Griselidis. It was published at Paris, by Jean Baptiste Coignard, in 1691. La Fontaine had, as early as 1678, said, in the fourth Fable of his eighth Book, Le Pouvoir des Fables--

                                          ----"Et moi même 
Au moment que je fais cette moralité     
Si Peau d'Ane m'etait conté     
J'y prendrais un plaisir extrême."

                These lines it would seem induced Perrault to versify the old nursery story of Peau d'Ane, with which Louis XIV., when an infant, used to be rocked to sleep; and in 1694, on the publication of the second edition of his Griselidis, he added to it his metrical version of Peau d'Ane, and Les Souhaits Ridicules, known to us as The Three Wishes. The success of these stories led him to publish, in 1697, his collection of Les Contes de ma Mère l'Oye, under the title of Histoires du Temps Passé, and in the name of his son, as before stated. This collection consisted of eight stories only, all in prose: La Belle au Bois Dormant, Le Petit Chaperon Rouge, Barbe Bleue, Le Chat Botté, Les Fées, Cendrillon, Riquet à la Houpe, and Le Petit Poucet--a proof that Peau d'Ane was not one of the Contes de ma Mère l'Oie, any more than Griselidis or Les Souhaits Ridicules. The same eight stories alone appear in the second edition in 1707 (four years after the death of Perrault), and in the third edition by Nicolas Gosselin, in 1724. It is not until 1742, when an edition of the Histoires du Temps Passé was published at the Hague, [6] that we find any addition to the first eight stories, and then we have for the first time the story of L'Adroite Princesse; ou, Les Aventures de Finette, presented to us, with a dedication to the Countess of Murat, as a story by Perrault, although a story with that title and on that subject was published by Madlle. Lheritier in 1696, in a work entitled, Œuvres Mêlées, contenant Nouvelles et autres Ouvrages en Verse et en Prose, in which also appears a letter from the author to the daughter of Perrault. But even in the Hague edition of 1742, there is no Peau d'Ane, and it is only in comparatively modern collections that a prose version of that story, as well as the one in verse actually written by Perrault, is, with L'Adroite Princesse, Griselidis, and Les Souhaits Ridicules, added to the eight original Contes de ma Mère l'Oie, or Histoires du Temps Passé.

                From these eight stories I have selected six, omitting only Le Petit Chaperon Rouge, and Les Fées, so well known in the nursery as Little Red Riding Hood (why "Riding?") and Toads and Diamonds, and for the atmosphere of which they are alone calculated. On the others I shall now offer a few observations in their order of publication, and in the same spirit as those appended to the Fairy Tales of the Countess d'Aulnoy.



[1] "Ce qui nous indique que ce receuil contenait les contes vulgairement connus sous ce titre."--B. W.

[2] Oie being derived from the Low Latin word Auca (Du Cange in voce).

[3] The Italians have the same proverb--"Nel tempo ove Bertha filava."

[4] In the coffin of Jeanne de Bourgogne, the first wife of Philip de Valois, were found the Queen's ring of silver, her distaff and spindle. The tomb of Jeanne de Bourbon, Queen of Charles V. of France, also contained part of her crown, her golden ring, and her distaff of gilt wood (vide Lenoir, Notes Historiques sur les Exhumations faites en 1793 dans l'Abbaye de St. Denis).

[5] See a learned and interesting paper on the Distaff and Spindle, by J. Y. Akerman, Esq., Sec. F.S.A., Archæologia, vol. xxxvii.

[6] There was another edition, in French and English, published at the Hague three years afterwards:--Contes de ma Mère l'Oye, en Français et en Anglais. Par Perrault, avec des figures gravées par Fokke. La Haye: Neaulme, 1745. 12mo. It was a rare book in 1784, when it was sold, at the sale of the library of the Duc de la Vallière, for twenty-three livres nineteen sous.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Charles Perrault
Tale Author/Editor: Planché, J. R.
Book Title: Four and Twenty Fairy Tales: Selected from Those of Perrault, and Other Popular Writers
Book Author/Editor: Planché, J. R.
Publisher: G. Routledge & Co.
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1858
Country of Origin: France
Classification: Introduction

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