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The Journal of Sir Walter Scott from the Original Manuscript at Abbotsford
Appendix V

by Sir Walter Scott

"Mother Goose's Tales," p. The following note by a distinguished authority on Nursery Tales, will be read with interest.



"It is unfortunate that Sir Walter Scott did not record in his Diary the dates of the Neapolitan collection of 'Mother Goose's Tales,' and of the early French editions with which he was acquainted. He may possibly have meant Basile's Lo Cunto de li cunti (Naples, 1637-44 and 1645), which contains some stories analogous to those which Scott mentions. There can be no doubt, however, that France, not Italy, can claim the shapes of Blue Beard, The Sleeping Beauty, Puss in Boots, and the other 'Tales of Mother Goose,' which are known best in England. Other forms of these nursery traditions exist, indeed, not only in Italian, but in most European and some Asiatic and African languages. But their classical shape in literature is that which Charles Perrault gave them, in his Contes de ma Mère l'Oie, of 1697. Among the 'early French editions' which Sir Walter knew, probably none were older than Dr. Douce's copy of 1707, now in the Bodleian. The British Museum has no early copy. There was an example of the First Edition sold in the Hamilton sale: another, or the same, in blue morocco, belonged to Charles Nodier, and is described in his Mélanges. The only specimen in the Public Libraries of Paris is in the Bibliothèque Victor Cousin. It is probable that the 'dumpy duodecimo' in the Neapolitan dialect, seen by Scott, was a translation of Perrault's famous little work. The stories in it, which are not in the early French editions, may be L'Adroite Princesse, by a lady friend of Perrault's, and Peau d'Ane in prose, a tale which Perrault told only in verse. These found their way into French and Flemish editions after 1707. Our earliest English translation seems to be that of 1729, and the name of 'Mother Goose' does not appear to occur in English literature before that date. It is probably a translation of 'Ma Mère l'Oie,' who gave her name to such old wives' fables in France long before Perrault's time, as the spider, Ananzi, gives his name to the 'Nancy Stories' of the negroes in the West Indies. Among Scott's Century of Inventions, unfulfilled projects for literary work, few are more to be regretted than his intended study of the origin of Popular Tales, a topic no longer thought 'obnoxious to ridicule.'"—A.L.
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