When nursery tales and entertaining stories did not yet exist—and those were dull times for children, for then their youthful paradise wanted its gayest butterfly—there lived two royal children, a brother and sister. They played with each other in a garden allotted to them by their royal sire. This garden was full of the most beautiful and fragrant flowers; its paths were over-spread with golden sands and many-coloured stones, which vied in brilliancy with the dew which glistened on the flowers, illuminated by the splendour of an eastern sun. There were in it cool grottos with rippling streams; fountains spouting high towards heaven; exquisitely chiselled marble statues; lovely arbours and bowers inviting to repose; gold and silver fish swam in the reservoirs, and the most beautiful birds flitted about in gilded cages so spacious that they scarcely felt that they were confined, whilst others at full liberty flew from tree to tree, filling the air with their sweet song. Yet the children who possessed all these delights, and saw them daily, were satiated with them and felt weary. They looked without pleasure on the brilliancy of the stones; the fragrance of the flowers and the dancing water of the fountains no longer attracted them; they cared not for the fish which were mute to them, nor for the birds whose warbling they did not comprehend. They sat mournful and listless beside each other; having everything that children could desire—kind parents, costly toys, the richest clothing, every delicacy the land could furnish, with liberty to roam from morning until evening in the beautiful garden,—still they were unsatisfied and they knew not why!—they could not tell what else they wanted.
Then came to them the queen, their mother, beautiful and majestic, with a countenance expressive of love and gentleness. She grieved to see her children so mournful, meeting her with melancholy smiles, instead of gaily bounding to her embrace. Her heart was sorrowful because her children were not happy as she thought they ought to be, for as yet they knew not care; and, thanks to an all-good Providence, the heaven of childhood is usually bright and cloudless.
The queen placed herself between her two children. She threw her full white arms round their necks, and said to them with endearing maternal tenderness, “What ails you, my beloved children?”—”We know not, dear mother!” replied the boy.—”We do not feel happy!” said the girl.
“Yet everything is fair in this garden, and you have everything that can give you pleasure. Do all these things then afford you no enjoyment?” demanded the queen, whilst tears filled her eyes, through which beamed a soul of goodness.
“What we have and enjoy seems not to be the one thing which we want,” answered the girl.—”We wish for something else, but we know not what it is,” added the boy.
The queen sat silent and sad, pondering what that might be for which her children pined. What could possibly afford them greater pleasure than that splendid garden, the richness of their clothing, the variety of their toys, the delicacy of their food, the flavour of their beverage? But in vain; she could not divine the unknown object of their desire.
“Oh, that I myself were again a child!” said the queen to herself with a deep sigh. “I should then perhaps discover what would impart cheerfulness to my children. To comprehend the wish of a child, one should be a child oneself. But I have already wandered too far beyond the boundaries of childhood where fly the golden birds of paradise; those beautiful birds without feet, that never require the repose of which all earthly creatures stand in need. Oh, that such a bird would come to my assistance, and bring to my dear children that precious gift which should dispel their gloom and make them happy!”
And, behold, the queen had scarcely formed this wish, when a wondrously beautiful bird, whose splendour surpassed all that can be imagined, bent its flight from the ethereal sky, and wheeled round and round until it attracted the gaze of the queen and her children, who on beholding it were filled with astonishment, and with one voice exclaimed: “Oh, how wonderful is that bird!” And wonderful indeed it was, and gorgeous to behold as it gradually descended towards them. Like burnished gold blended with sparkling jewels shone its plumage, reflecting the seven colours of the rainbow, and dazzling the eye which it still rivetted anew by its indescribable charms. Beautiful as it was, the aspect of the bird inspired them with a kind of awe, which, though not unpleasing, increased when they felt the wafting of its wings, and suddenly beheld it rest in the lap of the queen. It looked on them with its full eyes, which, though they resembled the friendly smiling eyes of a child, had yet in them something strange and almost unearthly; an expression the children could not comprehend, and therefore feared to consider. They now observed also, that mingled with the bright coloured plumage of this unearthly bird, were some black feathers which they had not before perceived. But scarcely was a moment permitted to them for these observations, ere the wonder-bird again arose, soared aloft higher and higher till it was lost to the sight in the blue and cloudless ether. The queen and her children watched its flight in amazement until it had entirely vanished, and when they again looked dow lo, a new wonder! The bird had deposited in the mother’s lap an egg which beamed like the precious opal with many-coloured brilliancy. With one voice, the royal children exclaimed: “Oh, the beautiful egg!” whilst the mother smiled in an ecstasy of joy; for a voice within her predicted to her that this was the jewel which alone was wanting to complete the happiness of her children. This egg, she thought, within its thousand-coloured shell, must contain the treasure that would ensure to her children that which has ever been, and ever will be withheld from age—Contentment;—the longing for that treasure and the anticipation of it would charm away their childish melancholy.
The children could not gaze their fill on the splendid egg, and soon in admiring it, forgot the bird that had bestowed it on them. At first they hardly ventured to touch their treasure, but after a while, the maiden first took courage to lay upon it one of her rosy fingers, exclaiming whilst a purple blush of delight over-spread her innocent face: “The egg is warm!” then the royal youth, to try the truth of his sister’s words, cautiously touched it also, and lastly the mother placed her beautifully white and taper finger on the costly egg, which then separated into two parts, and there came out from it a being most marvellous to behold. It had wings, and yet it was no bird, nor yet butterfly nor bee, though it was a combination of all these infinitely and indescribably blended. It was in short, that multiform many-coloured childish Ideal, the Fairy Tale, dispensing pleasure, and happiness, and inspiration to infancy and youth. The mother thenceforth no longer beheld her children pining with melancholy, for the Fairy Tale became their constant companion, and remained with them till the sun which shone on their last day of childhood had set. The possession of this wondrous being from that day endeared to them garden and flowers, bowers and grottos, forests and valleys; for it gave new life and charms to all around them. Borne on its wings they flew far and wide through the great measureless world, and yet, ever at their wish, they were in a moment wafted back to their own home.
Those royal children were mankind in their youthful paradise, and nature was their lovely serene and mild mother. Their wishes drew down from heaven the wonder-bird, Phantasy, most brilliant of plumage although intermingled with its feathers, were some of the deepest black: the egg deposited by this bright bird, contained the Golden Fairy Tales: and as the affection of the children for Fairy Lore grew stronger from day to day, enlivening and making happy the time of their childhood, the stories themselves wandered forth, and were welcomed alike in hall and palace, castle and cottage, ever growing in charms and novelty, till they at length received the mission of pleasing manhood also. The grave, the toil-worn, and the aged, would listen with pleased ear to their wonderful relations, and dwell with fond recollection on the golden birth of those Fairy charms.