letteratura dimenticata

THE WATER BABIES
Charles Kingsley scrisse The Water Babies, sottotitolato Fairy Tale for a Land Baby, per il figlioletto Grenville. Inizialmente venne pubblicato a puntate sul Macmillan's Magazine tra il 1862 e il 1863,anno in cui fu i pubblicato in volume con illustrazioni di Noel Paton. Appartenente al genere fantasy, narra la storia di Tom, un piccolo spazzacamino costretto a lavorare per il cattivo Mr Grimes. Un giorno Tom cade giù per un camino e si trova alla presenza di una bella bambina, Ellie. Ellie è pulitissima e Tom si rende conto della propria sporcizia. Si precipita fuori e cade nel fiume. Allora entra in un magico mondo e diventa un bambino dell'acqua (water-baby). Qui ha una serie di incontri, compresi animali e personaggi strani, e vive diverse avventure. Infine i cattivi vengono puniti e, in virtù del suo buon comportamento, e per aver fatto il suo dovere, anche se spiacevole, Tom torna ad essere un bambino normale (e pulito). L'essenzialità del racconto sta infatti tutta in una frase:
“Those that wish to be clean, clean they will be; and those that wish to be foul, foul they will be.”


Come Alice's Adventures in Wonderland di Lewis Carroll o The Sword in the Stone di White, o Peter Pan di Barrie, questo tipo di letteratura esplora le possibilità di mondi alternativi a quello reale, non dimenticando di presentarne la morale (spesso in contrapposizione alla sua mancanza nel mondo reale) sotto forma di insegnamenti provenienti dai personaggi fantastici (inclusi gli animali). Questo tipo di letteratura per l'infanzia è tipico della fine del XIX secolo, dove si tendeva a insegnare la morale a coloro che si supponeva ne fossero privi (i poveri). Inoltre, vi è una buona dose di moralismo verso lo sfruttamento dei minori, non diversamente che nell'Oliver Twist di Dickens.

CHARLES KINGSELY (1819 - 1875)

Charles Kingsley, ministro della Chiesa Anglicana, nacque in una parrocchia situata a Clovelly, sulla costa nord del Devonshire e trascorse la maggior parte della sua vita in un'altra, ad Eversley, nello Hampshire, dove venne nominato curato nel 1842 e dove morì nel 1875. Il titolo onorifico di Canonico di Westminster gli fu conferito dalla Regina Vittoria, che leggeva The Water Babies ai suoi figli.
Kingsley pubblicò moltissimi racconti e sermoni; per mezzo della scrittura volle portare l'attenzione sui problemi sociali del proprio tempo.
The Water Babies è un classico della letteratura inglese infantile, ed ebbe un immediato successo che dura tuttora. Il romanzo originale è assai lungo, per cui lo stesso Kingsley ne autorizzò anche delle edizioni ridotte.

Altre opere di Kingsley:

Hereward the Wake

Westward Ho!
Yeast
Alton Locke
The Heroes


The Heroes, London, Oxford University Press, n.d.,
Herbert Strang's Library


The Water Babies, J B Lippincott, 1917, include 8 tavole a colori,
ill. by Maria L. Kirk



The Water Babies,
David McKay, Philadelphia, 1920,
incluse 4 tavole a colori


The Water Babies, David McKay Company, Inc., Philadelphia,
include 4 tavole a colori, n.d.

L'EDIZIONE ILLUSTRATA PIU' FAMOSA E' QUELLA DI JESSIE WILLCOX-SMITH (1916)


The Water Babies,
New York: Dodd and Mead Company, 1916, ill. by
Jessie Willcox Smith, cover,
include 12 tavole a colori


The Water Babies,
New York: Dodd and Mead Company, 1916, ill. by
Jessie Willcox Smith, front


Color photograph of
Jessie Willcox Smith,
published in Good Housekeeping ,
v. 65, p. 32, November 1917

Ulteriori notizie su Jessie Willcox-Smith sono nel volume
The Red Rose Girls
by Alice A. Carter



Anna Alice Chapin,
The Everyday & Now-A-Day Fairy Book
, London, J. Cocker,
ca. 1930, incluse 8 tavole a colori by Jessie Willcox-Smith



The Water Babies, London, Hodder
and Stoughton, 1929, ill. by Jessie Willcox-Smith

ALCUNE EDIZIONI MODERNE DI THE WATER BABIES

The Water Babies, McMillan & Co., London, 1979 (riproduzione dell'originale del 1928)
The Water Babies, International Leading Systems, 1968, ill. by Charles Mozley
The Water Babies, The Children's Press, London, 1974
The Water Babies, World International Publishing Ltd., Manchester, 1990, include 8 tavole a colori, ill. by Cathy Simpson


The Water Babies: A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby
Burnham, 1864


The Water Babies, Ginn & Company, new York, 1916,
ill. by Florence Liley Young



The Water Babies, London, 1920, Raphael Tuck, edited by Capt. Edric Uredenburg, ill. interna by Mabel Lucie Attwell


The Water Babies, Wessels, New York, 1900, ill. by G. Wright


The Water Babies, Thomas Nelson & Sons, London, 1911,
include 4 tavole a colori, ill. by A. Jackson


The Water Babies, Macmillan, London, 1912, include frontispiece e
15 tavole a colori, ill. by Goble



The Water Babies, Godfrey Cave Asosciates/McMillan & Co., London,
1928, ill. by Linley Sambourne


The Water Babies, London, Ward Lock, ca. 1930, ill. by Harry G. Theaker


The Water Babies, H.M. Caldwell Company Cloth, New York, n.d.

Jessie Willcox Smith (1863-1935)

Nacque a Philadelphia e fece l'insegnante per le prime classi, prima di scoprire di avere un talento per il disegno quando aveva già passato i 20 anni. Si iscrisse allora alla
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; diplomatasi nel 1888, iniziò una carriera che l'avrebbe portata alla notorietà. I primi lavori apparvero in un mensile per bambini, il St. Nicholas, poi nel Ladies' Home Journal, e nel 1889 si iscrisse al Drexel Institute of Arts and Sciences, dove insegnava Howard Pyle. La prima commissione che le procurò Pyle fu per l'edizione del 1897 di Evangeline, che illustrò insieme con Violet Oakey. Insieme ad un'altra allieva di Pyle, Elizabeth Shippen Green, le tre illustratrici instaurarono un sodalizio che durò per l'intera vita: nel 1901 aprirono uno studio insieme, The Red Rose Inn. Jessie Willcox-Smith illustra The Ladies' Home Journal, Century, Collier's Weekly, Leslie's, Harper's, McClure's, Scribners' A Child's Garden of Verses, In A Closed Room di France Hodgson Burnett. Col tempo si specializza nel disegnare bambini; i suoi lavori migliori sono infatti A Child's Book of Stories (1911), The Water-Babies (1916), At the Back of the North Wind (1919), and Boys and Girls of Bookland (1923), Dickens' Children (1912), The Everyday Fairy Book (1915), A Child's Book of Modern Stories (1920), un'edizione di Heidi.
Ma sono le copertine di Good Housekeeping che le danno la notorietà. Per oltre 15 anni illustrò le copertine di una delle riviste più popolari d'America. Naturlamente la sua produzione include ritratti, poster e pubblicità.

The Water Babies,
New York: Dodd and Mead Company, 1916, ill. by
Jessie Willcox Smith,
4 tavole a colori


ALCUNE EDIZIONI MODERNE DI THE WATER BABIES ILLUSTRATE DA JESSIE WILLCOX-SMITH
che riprendono in copertina le illustrazioni originali


Chapter 1

“ I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined;
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind
. “ To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think,
What man has made of man

—Wordsworth.

Once upon a time there was a little chimney-sweep, and his name was Tom. That is a short name, and you have heard it before, so you will not have much trouble in remembering it. He lived in a great town in the North country, where there were plenty of chimneys to sweep, and plenty of money for Tom to earn and his master to spend. He could not read nor write, and did not care to do either; and he never washed himself, for there was no water up the court where he lived. He had never been taught to say his prayers. He never had heard of God, or of Christ, except in words which you never have heard, and which it would have been well if he had never heard. He cried half his time, and laughed the other half. He cried when he had to climb the dark flues, rubbing his poor knees and elbows raw; and when the soot got into his eyes, which it did every day in the week; and when his master beat him, which he did every day in the week; and when he had not enough to eat, which happened every day in the week likewise. And he laughed the other half of the day, when he was tossing halfpennies with the other boys, or playing leap-frog over the posts, or bowling stones at the horses' legs as they trotted by, which last was excellent fun, when there was a wall at hand behind which to hide. As for chimney-sweeping, and being hungry, and being beaten, he took all that for the way of the world, like the rain and snow and thunder, and stood manfully with his back to it till it was over, as his old donkey did to a hail- storm; and then shook his ears and was as jolly as ever; and thought of the fine times coming, when he would be a man, and a master sweep, and sit in the public-house with a quart of beer and a long pipe, and play cards for silver money, and wear velveteens and ankle-jacks, and keep a white bull-dog with one gray ear, and carry her puppies in his pocket, just like a man. And he would have apprentices, one, two, three, if he could. How he would bully them, and knock them about, just as his master did to him; and make them carry home the soot sacks, while he rode before them on his donkey, with a pipe in his mouth and a flower in his button-hole, like a king at the head of his army. Yes, there were good times coming; and, when his master let him have a pull at the leavings of his beer, Tom was the jolliest boy in the whole town.

One day a smart little groom rode into the court where Tom lived. Tom was just hiding behind a wall, to heave half a brick at his horse's legs, as is the custom of that country when they welcome strangers; but the groom saw him, and halloed to him to know where Mr. Grimes, the chimney-sweep, lived. Now, Mr. Grimes was Tom's own master, and Tom was a good man of business, and always civil to customers, so he put the half-brick down quietly behind the wall, and proceeded to take orders.

Mr. Grimes was to come up next morning to Sir John Harthover's, at the Place, for his old chimney- sweep was gone to prison, and the chimneys wanted sweeping. And so he rode away, not giving Tom time to ask what the sweep had gone to prison for, which was a matter of interest to Tom, as he had been in prison once or twice himself. Moreover, the groom looked so very neat and clean, with his drab gaiters, drab breeches, drab jacket, snow-white tie with a smart pin in it, and clean round ruddy face, that Tom was offended and disgusted at his appearance, and considered him a stuck-up fellow, who gave himself airs because he wore smart clothes, and other people paid for them; and went behind the wall to fetch the half- brick after all; but did not, remembering that he had come in the way of business, and was, as it were, under a flag of truce.

His master was so delighted at his new customer that he knocked Tom down out of hand, and drank more beer that night than he usually did in two, in order to be sure of getting up in time next morning; for the more a man's head aches when he wakes, the more glad he is to turn out, and have a breath of fresh air. And, when he did get up at four the next morning, he knocked Tom down again, in order to teach him (as young gentlemen used to be taught at public schools) that he must be an extra good boy that day, as they were going to a very great house, and might make a very good thing of it, if they could but give satisfaction.

....continues


Chapter 8

........

Oh, you may see him any clear night in July; for the old dog-star was so worn out by the last three hot summers that there have been no dog-days since; so that they had to take him down and put Tom's dog up in his place. Therefore, as new brooms sweep clean, we may hope for some warm weather this year. And that is the end of my story.

Moral.

And now, my dear little man, what should we learn from this parable?

We should learn thirty-seven or thirty-nine things, I am not exactly sure which: but one thing, at least, we may learn, and that is this - when we see efts in the pond, never to throw stones at them, or catch them with crooked pins, or put them into vivariums with sticklebacks, that the sticklebacks may prick them in their poor little stomachs, and make them jump out of the glass into somebody's work-box, and so come to a bad end. For these efts are nothing else but the water-babies who are stupid and dirty, and will not learn their lessons and keep themselves clean; and, therefore (as comparative anatomists will tell you fifty years hence, though they are not learned enough to tell you now), their skulls grow flat, their jaws grow out, and their brains grow small, and their tails grow long, and they lose all their ribs (which I am sure you would not like to do), and their skins grow dirty and spotted, and they never get into the clear rivers, much less into the great wide sea, but hang about in dirty ponds, and live in the mud, and eat worms, as they deserve to do.

But that is no reason why you should ill-use them: but only why you should pity them, and be kind to them, and hope that some day they will wake up, and be ashamed of their nasty, dirty, lazy, stupid life, and try to amend, and become something better once more. For, perhaps, if they do so, then after 379,423 years, nine months, thirteen days, two hours, and twenty-one minutes (for aught that appears to the contrary), if they work very hard and wash very hard all that time, their brains may grow bigger, and their jaws grow smaller, and their ribs come back, and their tails wither off, and they will turn into water- babies again, and perhaps after that into land-babies; and after that perhaps into grown men.

You know they won't? Very well, I daresay you know best. But you see, some folks have a great liking for those poor little efts. They never did anybody any harm, or could if they tried; and their only fault is, that they do no good - any more than some thousands of their betters. But what with ducks, and what with pike, and what with sticklebacks, and what with water-beetles, and what with naughty boys, they are “sae sair hadden doun,” as the Scotsmen say, that it is a wonder how they live; and some folks can't help hoping, with good Bishop Butler, that they may have another chance, to make things fair and even, somewhere, somewhen, somehow.

Meanwhile, do you learn your lessons, and thank God that you have plenty of cold water to wash in; and wash in it too, like a true Englishman. And then, if my story is not true, something better is; and if I am not quite right, still you will be, as long as you stick to hard work and cold water.

But remember always, as I told you at first, that this is all a fairy tale, and only fun and pretence: and, therefore, you are not to believe a word of it, even if it is true.