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Telling Tales

David Blamires

7. Moral, Didactic and Religious Tales

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1From the end of the eighteenth century to at least the middle of the nineteenth the dominant pattern of children’s literature in the British Isles was didactic. Fairytales and traditional chapbook romances were distractingly popular, but the leaders of educational opinion inveighed against them as superstitious, untruthful, pernicious, misleading and immoral. The sober middle classes required their children to be socialized, taught how to behave properly towards other people of whatever status and to internalize the virtues that made for a harmonious and orderly society. As we have already seen, German writers such as Campe and Salzmann formed part of this programme, and Campe’s books continued to be read and reprinted during the early part of the nineteenth century. Many more German authors of this kind were translated into English during this period. Some of them were named, but very frequently the title-pages or prefaces of these new books content themselves with the bare words ’translated from the German’. It is thus not always easy or even possible to identify either authors or specific tales. One can only speculate about the reasons that led publishers to be so vague about the sources of their material. Most probably they were attempting to evade copyright and making payment to the German publishers and authors. But they may also have reasoned that the author’s name would have meant nothing to the British reader, unless he or she was famous. Nonetheless, the fact that so many books contain the words ’translated from the German’ indicates that German authorship was a significant factor in marketing them. No doubt children’s books profited from the considerable attraction that Goethe, Schiller, Tieck, Fouqué and many of their contemporaries had for British readers.

2Too many German books of a moral or didactic kind were translated into English in the nineteenth century for all of them to be considered or even noted here. Posterity has not dealt very kindly with them. Most simply reflect the social expectations of their day and have no special historical or literary merits that single them out from the mass of well-meaning, but mediocre children’s fiction. Books whose chief purpose is to promote a strong line of moral conduct do not generally survive changes in social attitudes. They would need a strong plot, memorable and sympathetic characters and a compelling literary style to transcend such changes. These qualities, however, are not usually in strong supply in our period. The publishing history of many titles points up considerable differences between the perceptions of the nineteenth century and those of our own times. Books which now seem shallow, conventional and over-simplified may have been very popular in their own day.

3In 1805 Darton and Harvey published Tales for Children, in a Familiar Style by Maria Joseph Crabb. The preface concludes: ’Most of the subjects are taken from the German’. However, there is no indication as to which of the thirty short tales for small children were taken from the German and whether one or more German authors were used. All the stories demonstrate the unfortunate effects of childish disobedience, selfishness or carelessness. These effects constitute the children’s punishment, and the parents do not punish their children themselves, but forgive them since they have now learnt their lesson. Though the stories are taken from German sources, the children’s names are all anglicized, as they were with Wollstonecraft’s translation of Salzmann.

4The story entitled ’The New Year’s Gift’reflects the traditions of a German Christmas Eve, but has been transposed to New Year’s Day to fit in with contemporary English practice. Only a few years later E. T. A. Hoffmann will give a comparable account of German Christmas celebrations in his Nußknacker und Mausekönig, but without the didactic elements. Crabb has a further story that can be contrasted with another famous children’s tale. ’The Children who Played with Fire’ provides an earnest warning to children. Five-year-old James places some pieces of paper on the fire, but as it does not blaze quickly enough his four-year-old sister Charlotte fans it with the corner of her frock, which then catches fire. Charlotte’s mother comes in response to the children’s screams and rescues her, but the child is badly burnt. Crabb furnishes a daunting description: ’One side of her face was quite without any skin; her hair was burnt almost all off her head; and one of her arms was all over large blisters’ (p. 47). Forty years later Heinrich Hoffmann dealt with the same theme in a comic, but more drastic fashion in his rhyming tale of Paulinchen (in English, Harriet) and the matches. There Paulinchen burns to ashes. It may have been Crabb’s source that Hoffmann was parodying, but the worry that parents have about children playing with fire or matches is so prevalent that Hoffmann would not have needed a particular source for his blackly comic verse tale.

5Crabb’s collection of German moral tales reached a seventh edition in 1831 (London: Darton & Harvey), so its brand of realistic short tale reflecting the day-to-day possibilities of a small child’s life clearly enjoyed some popularity, though probably more with parents than with children themselves. Maria Joseph Crabb was the wife of George Crabb (1778-1851), who went to Bremen in 1801 to teach English. He had previously published A Complete Introduction to the Knowledge of the German Language (London: C. Whittingham, second edition, 1799) and on his return to England published several further books on German language and literature. The preface to Maria’s Tales for Children is dated Bremen, April 29, 1809.

6The firm of Darton in its various guises published quite a number of children’s books taken from German sources. In 1814 Darton, Harvey, and Darton published Gustavus; or, the Macaw, which had the subtitle ’A story to teach children the proper value of things’. Neither author nor translator was named in the book, but the author was Gottlob Eusebius Fischer (born 1769) and the book’s German title was Gustav oder der Papagey (Leipzig: Leo, 1795). This is a story in fifteen chapters centring on Gustavus, the ten-year-old son of a country minister, and his pet macaw. Gustavus’s father does not forbid him to buy the macaw, but points out various moral problems: Is it moral to keep a bird in a cage? Is it not an indulgence? Later Gustavus is shamed that he values his macaw more highly than his friend Jacob, who comes to him in distress because he hasn’t sufficient money for his school fees. If Gustavus hadn’t bought the macaw, he could have helped Jacob instead. Gustavus goes with his father on a walking trip to Leipsic, where they meet a merchant who is so impressed with the minister’s educational ideas that he proposes giving him his own son to educate. In their absence the minister’s house burns down, but Jacob manages to save the macaw and takes it to the nearest town to sell it. On his return he discovers a purse with a lot of money inside, and coincidentally it turns out to have been lost by the merchant whom Gustavus and his father met in Leipsic. The merchant allows Mr Liebworth, the minister, to dispose of the money, and he reserves it for Jacob, whose father had died while he was away. The minister is helped by his affectionate parishioners, a new house is built for him, and the merchant’s son arrives for his education. The story is chock-a-block with episodes that provide Gustavus with moral lessons, the macaw especially being seen as a symbol of reprehensible desires and self-centredness that distract its owner from being supportive and helpful to others.

7In comparing the range of moral, didactic and religious tales written by German authors with those by British and Irish writers, it is readily apparent that most of the Germans are male and clergymen while most of the English-speaking authors are female and thus members of the laity. The majority of the German writers were Protestant, but there were Catholic writers too, as we shall see later. The earlier writers were deeply indebted to the thinkers of the Enlightenment and tended to keep their theology in check, restricting themselves to matters of common moral concern. However, with changes in the religious climate, especially the advent of Evangelical ideas and piety, the temper of moral and didactic children’s literature was also affected.

8One of the earliest German clerical writers to give voice to specifically religious concerns was the theologian Friedrich Adolf Krummacher (1767-1845), whose name and work crop up in a variety of contexts as a writer for children. Krummacher was well known for his Parables, brief tales or anecdotes about a variety of topics that children could relate to from their daily lives, the world around them and the Bible. Several selections were published in English up to the 1860s, beginning with a translation by F. Shoberl (London: R. Ackermann, 1824) and another by Miss F. Johnston (London and Brighton, 1839). As late as March 1906 W. T. Stead published a collection entitled Parables for Little People as no. 121 of his Books for the Bairns. These Parables were much more varied and open in character than the writings of his son, Friedrich Wilhelm Krummacher (1796-1845), several of whose sermons and Biblical works were translated into English, apparently for children. Typical of them was one entitled The Infant Saviour; the Ransomed of the Lord; and the Flying Roll (London: B. Wertheim, 1837). The section headed ’The Infant Saviour’ dealt with the nativity theme under five heads – ’In the Stable and the Manger’, ’In the Arms of his Mother’, ’In the Glory on the Field’, ’In the Message of the Angels’ and ’In the Heart of the Poor Sinner’. The younger Krummacher was far more Evangelical than his father.

9A further little book by Friedrich Adolf enjoyed comparable popularity to his Parables. This was Das Täubchen (1828), which was immediately translated into English by Ann Steinkopff as The Little Dove. A Story for Children, Founded on Fact (London: Harvey & Darton, 1828). The story is based on episodes from the childhood of the real life Adelbert Count von der Recke-Volmerstein (1791-1878), who, as a result of encountering destitute children after the Napoleonic wars, founded an institution to care for and educate them. This was situated first at his family home at Overdyk, near Bochum, but in 1822 it moved to Düsselthal, near Düsseldorf, and, when visited by an English traveller in 1826, was looking after one hundred and twenty boys and one hundred and seventeen girls. Its fame grew over the years, and a short description of it is included in the 1860 edition of Murray’s Handbook for Travellers on the Continent: being a Guide to Holland, Belgium, Prussia, Northern Germany, and the Rhine from Holland to Switzerland. In the English book the young count is called Alfred rather than Adelbert, and Volmerstein is omitted from his family name. The incident that gives The Little Dove its title centres on the young Alfred’s rescue of a baby dove from drowning in a pond, but the little book contains several other episodes that show the boy going to the assistance of poor and distressed families as well as suffering animals and birds. A new edition was published by Charles Gilpin, taken from Dean and Son c. 1854. Another translation, ’by a lady’, was published with the title Alfred and the Little Dove (Edinburgh: Johnstone, Hunter & Co.; London: Hamilton, Adams, & Co.).

10The social circumstances described in The Little Dove recur scores of times in nineteenth-century children’s books. Honest and hard-working children are afflicted by poverty through the death or illness of parents. They bear their fate as best they can, trusting in prayer and God’s mercy, and are helped back on to their feet through the unexpected kindness of a well-to-do person, generally a member of the aristocracy. The message to the poor is ’Be patient and hopeful, be cheerful in adversity and trust in God’. It is the responsibility of the aristocracy and the comfortably off to help those in distress by providing a modicum of financial or material assistance. This pattern is repeated time and again. The heroes and heroines of the stories naturally survive and are happy, but the social conditions brought about by war, disease, exploitation, failure of crops, physical accident and inadequate medical care are never globally addressed. The haphazard kindly acts of individual wealthy people do not seem an adequate response to the ongoing situation. Count von der Recke-Volmerstein’s establishment of the Düsselthal Institution, providing education and training for destitute youngsters, was an important step in the right direction, but nineteenth-century children’s fiction still concentrated on individual rather than institutional or political responses to the sufferings of the poor, especially the rural poor.

11. Title-page and frontispiece of The Little Dove: a Story for Children, Founded on Fact. New Edition (c. 1854).

12. Title-page and frontispiece of Little Swiss Seppeli; or Confidence in God Rewarded. A True Story Translated from the German (1829).

11Only a year later, in 1829, Harvey and Darton published another German book with a similar message. This was Little Swiss Seppeli; or, Confidence in God Rewarded, presented as another true story. It concerns two brothers, Seppeli and Fridolin, the eldest of nine children, whose parents send them from their home in Toggenburg to try to sell laces to earn money in a time of great scarcity. The children have been taught to pray regularly and trust in God and been told not to stay away longer than a fortnight. Fridolin returns home, but Seppeli decides to look for a job as a shepherd boy. His artless, innocent demeanour makes people treat him kindly, and his fervent sincerity in prayer elicits admiration and assistance. Eventually this leads him to find a home and a different position with a baron and baroness on an island in the Lake of Constance. There he also learns to read. When Seppeli declares his desire to visit his parents, the baron and baroness give him new clothes, provisions and money to take with him. Seppeli’s parents are delighted at his good fortune. His father accompanies him on the return journey and is cordially welcomed by the baron and baroness. A warm, supportive relationship between the noble couple and the peasant family thus ensues. Differences of social status are bridged by innocence, simplicity of heart and a profound trust that God will provide. The result is a story that readers found ’striking and affecting’, as the opening pages indicate. The original story was written by the Catholic parish priest Franz Sales Meyer (1786-1818), but the English book does not mention the author’s name. The events took place in 1817, a year of famine in Switzerland, and Meyer must have written his story immediately since he died the year after.

12Before we go on to look at the two major writers of moral and religious tales for children, there is one further book that we need to consider that had an extraordinary impact in both Britain and America. In German it is called Das Mährchen ohne Ende, in English The Story Without an End, and it was written by Friedrich Wilhelm Carové (1789-1852), a private scholar with particular interests in Catholicism and its relationship to other religious groups. The book has only a tenuous narrative line, focussing on a child who makes his way through a paradisal landscape of flowers, insects, birds and other small creatures. It can be seen as anticipating Hans Christian Andersen’s ’Tommelise’ (’Thumbelina’) and other tales in which he dilates on the miracles of the natural world, but Carové is a sentimental moralist, not a quirky genius who can mingle humour and melancholy to lasting effect. Carové’s little child is at first alone in a hut with simply a bed and a looking-glass. No other children or adults approach him. The birds refer to him as ’our dear little prince’, and the dragonfly calls him ’lord and king of all the flowers’. All the flowers and creatures he meets are anthropomorphized (this is also the case with Andersen). In the course of the story various moral lessons are imparted to the young child. The natural world is a source of wonder. Conceitedness and pride are to be avoided, faithfulness, love, contentment and humility to be embraced. No creature should be despised for being different from oneself. With the sky above and water below, the mind carries pictures that are permanent. The child recognizes the importance of light to life and appreciates the silence of the night. Trickery, self-love, jeering and envy are all to be shunned. The Story Without an End is a celebration of firm values, life seen through the innocent eyes of a child.

13I have not been able to discover when Das Mährchen ohne Ende was first published. No separate printing of it is recorded in the Gesamtverzeichnis des deutschen Schrifttums. The story was first translated into English by one of the most distinguished translators from German of the day, Sarah Austin, and she dedicated the book to her daughter, who had so enjoyed it and regretted that it was not longer. It was published with illustrations by William Harvey (London: Effingham Wilson, 1834). Further editions with Harvey’s engravings were published c. 1840 and 1864, this latter edition by Virtue Bros. Austin’s translation then gained its most sumptuous treatment at the hands of the Hon. Eleanor Vere Boyle, who provided the story with fifteen full-page colour illustrations, superbly printed by Leighton Bros. (London: Sampson Low & Co., 1868; reprinted 1874). Eleanor Vere Boyle (1825-1916) worked using simply the initials E. V. B. and took inspiration from the work of Holman Hunt and Millais. The Story Without an End is her most famous book, and her pictures certainly complement the gentle dreaminess of Carové’s text. Two further editions illustrate the great diversity of publishers’ approaches to the story. An edition by Wells Gardner, Darton & Co. in 1899 is a miniature book with monochrome pictures by Aimée G. Clifford, while Duckworth and Co. in 1912 return to full-colour illustrations by Frank C. Papé (1878-1972). While Boyle’s pictures of the child, all fully clothed, are of chubby, rather girlish-looking infants, Papé’s mainly portray a naked, somewhat older boy. This seems to be the last treatment of Carové’s story. Its late Romantic idyllic view of childhood did not survive the changes brought about by the First World War, though my copy of the Papé edition has inscribed on the title-page ’Mummy loved this tale all her life. 1934’.

  • 1 Most of what follows on Schmid and The Basket of Flowers is taken from David Blamires, ‘Christoph (...)
  • 2 See Anne Renier, The Basket of Flowers by Christoph von Schmid: a Checklist of Copies in the Renie (...)

14The authors that we have so far considered in this chapter have for the most part made their mark on British children’s literature through a single book. Of these The Story Without an End was clearly the most successful, to judge by the length of time the book was available in several different editions. We now, however, come to a German author of religious tales whose success in Britain and America was phenomenal – Christoph von Schmid (1768-1854).1 One of his books in particular, The Basket of Flowers, is known in more than 125 separate editions,2 but a considerable number of his other books were also translated into English and widely distributed. He was born Johann Christoph Schmid, the eldest of nine children, in Dinkelsbühl and studied theology at the Episcopal University in Dillingen from 1785 to 1791. After being ordained priest in the Roman Catholic Church he combined school-teaching with parochial responsibilities in Thannhausen an der Mindel, about thirty kilometres west of Augsburg. It was here that he wrote or conceived the ideas for very many of his books for children. In 1816 he moved to Oberstadion, near Ulm, until in 1827 he was inducted as canon of Augsburg Cathedral. In 1837 he was created a knight of the Order of Merit of the Bavarian Crown, an honour which entitled him to use ’von’ with his surname.

15Schmid published his first book for children in 1797, but his first real success came in 1810 with Genovefa, the retelling of a well-known legend. There are at least two American translations of this text (1832 and c. 1872), and Milner and Sowerby published it in Britain in 1859. In 1816 there appeared the story for which Schmid is most celebrated in Germany – Die Ostereier, of which an English translation was published as The Easter Eggs (1829). Then followed a spate of further children’s stories, with Das Blumenkörbchen (The Basket of Flowers) coming in 1823. A bibliography of his works in German lists some sixty-three separate items published in his lifetime. Schmid seems everywhere to have been a greatly loved personality, much concerned with children and a teaching ministry focussed on them. A monument was erected to his memory in Dinkelsbühl in 1859.

  • 3 See Andrea Immel, ‘Corrigendum to Moon’s John Harris’s Books for Youth: a Translation from Christo (...)

16By and large Schmid’s stories are set in an unspecified past. Genovefa is medieval in its retelling of the legend of Genevieve of Brabant, which is actually a christianized version of the secular tale of the Queen of France and the faithless marshal whose amorous advances she repulses, only to find her husband does not believe her. The events of Gottfried, der junge Einsiedler (1829; Godfrey, the Little Hermit, 1853), which in essence is a Christian Robinsonade, are said to have taken place several hundred years ago. Wie Heinrich von Eichenfels zur Erkenntnis Gottes kam (1817; Little Henry, translated from the French of M. Lambert, London: J. Harris & Son, 1823)3 and Das Blumenkörbchen recount events from the beginning of the eighteenth century, Der Weihnachtsabend (1825; Christmas Eve, 1843) from the middle of it. Ludwig, der kleine Auswanderer (1834; Louis, the Little Emigrant, Baltimore, 1841) is located in the period of the French Revolution and its aftermath.

17Schmid’s stories for children enjoyed an immense popularity for most of the nineteenth century, and not only in German-speaking countries. Translations of individual tales appeared in most of the languages of Europe, extending to Icelandic, Welsh, Finnish, Romansch and Maltese. Some tales were even translated into Arabic. There were also editions published in German and English in the United States and in Portuguese in Brazil. How are we to account for this widespread success?

18Reading a number of Schmid’s tales in succession, one quickly becomes aware of recurrent features and patterns of narration. The typical structure presents an initial idyllic situation followed by an unexpected reversal of fortune and a period of suffering or deprivation, in which the protagonist learns to recognize God’s goodness even in times of adversity. At the lowest point of expectation the protagonist is rescued from distress, generally by an unforeseen positive response to a spontaneous, unselfconscious act of goodness or bravery by the protagonist. The story then ends with the re-establishment of happiness, in which justice is tempered with mercy, wickedness is banished and forgiveness is the order of the day. The structure is analogous to that of the traditional fairytale, though with Schmid there is no recourse to magic helpers or to miraculous divine intervention. Where coincidence provides a resolution of the story, it is carefully rationalized and made factually plausible. In contrast to the fairytale, the conclusion of the story does not usually put forward a radical change in the protagonist’s original circumstances, nor is there a transformation of personality. The kitchen-maid does not marry a prince. The peasant doesn’t marry a princess and acquire a kingdom. The social order remains static. The character is changed morally rather than socially.

19Despite the occurrence of misfortune, injustice and wickedness, Schmid’s tales are always ultimately reassuring and optimistic. He himself was a child of the Enlightenment, so his Christian teaching is infused with the spirit of rational humanism. His characters do not rail at the body-blows life deals them, but are more likely to discern God’s goodness in the lesser things they still enjoy. Acts of kindness are always rewarded, though the reward may come unexpectedly after a long period of suffering or destitution. Though Schmid acknowledges the existence of evil and wickedness, his emphasis is Leibnizian in always perceiving a positive lesson in whatever happens. If Henry of Eichenfels had not been abducted by a gipsy woman and not spent his infancy incarcerated in a robbers’ cave, he would not have experienced the outside world and nature as the breathtaking marvels he sees when he escapes into the light. He would have taken everything for granted. The plot-structure of How Little Henry came to the Knowledge of God is designed so that Schmid can present the child as an innocent observer of the wonders of the world and the strangeness of human behaviour. Through his experience of nature and the assumption of a controlling intelligence behind, for example, the movement of the sun and the clouds, Henry is led by the wise hermit Menrad to an understanding of God as the invisible Creator.

20Schmid’s presentation of Christianity is remarkable in that it contains little that is specifically Catholic. He is largely unconcerned with dogma or the distinguishing features of Catholicism. The Virgin Mary and the saints play no role in his stories. God the benevolent Creator tends to figure more prominently than Jesus, the Saviour who suffered for humanity on the cross. When Schmid’s characters go to church the terminology used is non-specific, e.g. the word Gottesdienst, ’divine service’, is used rather than Messe, ’mass’. Probably the most distinctively Catholic elements are to be found in The Easter Eggs, where the heroine Rosalind frequently resorts to a chapel for prayer, and in the figure of the hermit that crops up in a number of tales. We have already encountered the hermit Menrad with Little Henry, while the entire story of Godfrey, the Little Hermit centres on the hermit life that the shipwrecked boy, Godfrey, is forced to lead. Similarly, the life of the Countess Genevieve and her infant son in the wilderness is equivalent to that of a hermit. Schmid invests the hermit figure with a certain idealized attractiveness. The solitary individual in tune with God and nature, free from the temptations of a worldly life, is a very positive figure for him. At the end of Little Henry Menrad cannot be prevailed upon by the Count to stay at his castle, but returns to his hermitage to devote himself entirely to God.

21The Christian content of Schmid’s stories centres chiefly on piety and morals rather than on matters of belief. Parents bring up their children to thank God for all his gifts and to accept suffering and misfortune without rancour. They should turn constantly to God in prayer, the efficacy of which is demonstrated time and time again. At the opening of Christmas Eve (1843) the eight-year-old orphan Antony prays when he is lost in the snowy forest and is swiftly led by the sound of singing voices to the forester’s cottage, where he is treated kindly and eventually adopted by the forester and his wife. When in Godfrey, the Little Hermit the shipwrecked boy is plagued with thirst as he stumbles among the rocks in the hot sun, he prays to God for help and shortly comes across a cool spring. In The Basket of Flowers, after Mary has been thrown out of her lodging by the unpleasant young peasant wife and goes to sit by her father’s grave, she asks God if he has an angel to show her which way to turn. Immediately she hears the voice of the young Countess Amelia (in German Amalia), who has been looking for her and wants to make good the injustice Mary has suffered earlier from the Count and his family. These are typical examples of Schmid’s belief in the power of prayer. The answers are prompt, helpful and always carefully motivated and explained. They may have the quality of a miraculous response to need, but they depend respectively, in the instances given above, on human generosity to a person in distress, the abundance of the natural world or a set of unsuspected causal connexions.

22The Christian values and patterns of behaviour that Schmid propounds are simple and straightforward. Truthfulness, honesty, kindness, patience, prudence, courage and a forgiving spirit are the mark of goodness. These virtues are most often displayed in peasant families who stretch out a helping hand to those worse off than themselves, but it is not confined to the lower classes. Schmid views goodness as a normal human characteristic, not as something that distinguishes the responses of one social class rather than another.

23Yet the characters in Schmid’s tales all have a clear sense of the distinction between the classes. They know what is appropriate and inappropriate conduct for their particular station. Mary’s father, in The Basket of Flowers, is wary and anxious about his daughter’s growing attachment to the young Countess Amelia. When the Countess gives Mary a discarded, but still serviceable dress in gratitude for the basket of flowers that Mary has given her for her birthday, Mary’s father, James, thinks that others may become envious of them and fears that the gift may make Mary vain. Envy has indeed already been shown towards her by Amelia’s maid, and the maid’s subsequent false witness against Mary, motivated by her envy, results in father and daughter being banished from their home and in their possessions being confiscated.

24Christoph von Schmid does not challenge the social order of his time. The peasant can be as happy in his or her position as the nobility in theirs. Indeed, in Rosa von Tannenburg the heroine says to poor Gertrud, the charcoal-burner’s wife, with whom she takes refuge on being driven out of her castle, that a quiet, peaceful life is better than choice food and drink. This is, of course, all of a piece with the eighteenth-century ideal of rural retirement and closeness to nature, detached from the busyness and artificiality of the court and the city. Schmid does not over-idealize this, since he makes plain the grimness of poverty and the harsh side of nature, the cold, rain, bleakness and lack of shelter, in many of his tales. The role of the peasantry is to work hard, accept their humble lot, be virtuous and show respect. That of the nobility is to rule wisely and alleviate distress by philanthropy. In this stable social situation misfortune is personal and occasional. It is not a consequence of defects in social consciousness and responsibilities.

25Schmid’s attention is largely confined the individual and the family. His child protagonists are frequently only children. Where there are brothers and sisters, they are never of crucial importance to the story. The most important relationship is that of child to parent, characterized by obedience, docility, helpfulness and affection. Although Godfrey, the little hermit, is described in a very positive way at the outset, he also had faults, the principal being self-righteousness, a desire to domineer over his brothers and sisters and a complaining spirit. One may wonder at the fact that it took three years of life on a desert island to bring such a boy to a proper feeling of respect and gratitude towards God and his parents. However, Schmid was simply following the model provided by Campe in Robinson the Younger, whose hero’s disregard of his parents led to an even longer period of isolation and separation.

26The world of Schmid’s stories reflects the hills, forest and fields, the small towns and villages of the borders of Bavaria and Swabia where he spent his life. In the eighteenth century it was a country of multitudinous principalities, many very small, in which the nobility and their subjects were often in easy contact. The place-names that Schmid gives to the settings of his stories relate to his feelings for the natural world and are broadly symbolic, as is the case with the names of many of his characters. Schmid combines the ordinary with the symbolic and distinctive in such a way as to render social and moral distinctions clear, but not crassly obtrusive. The associations of the names are not always apparent to readers of the English translations, and indeed some of them were changed to make them less difficult for the English-language reader to pronounce or understand.

27Let us now turn to look in more detail at Das Blumenkörbchen, which is one of Schmid’s longest tales. It focusses on a miscarriage of justice, its later discovery and the compensation of the innocent victim. (The names given in this account are the original German names.) The gardener’s daughter Marie gives the Countess Amalia for her birthday a beautiful basket of flowers that her father has made with Amalia’s name and family coat of arms cleverly worked into it. Marie is rewarded with a dress from the young Countess’s wardrobe. At the time of her visit a diamond ring vanishes from the castle, and Marie falls immediately under suspicion of having stolen it. Despite her unflinching denials Marie is convicted on the basis of false evidence given by the Countess’s jealous maid. Marie and her elderly father, Jakob, are evicted from their home and banished from the Count’s lands. Jakob falls ill, and the two are taken in by a peasant couple. On Jakob’s recovery father and daughter manage to make themselves useful and earn their keep. But after Jakob dies and the peasant couple hand over their property to their son, the latter’s unpleasant wife makes Marie’s life a misery. Finally, the theft of some linen (not by Marie) gives her an excuse to throw the girl out of the house. Marie goes for comfort to her father’s grave, which she has adorned with the basket of flowers that had been thrown back at her when she and her father were banished. Here she prays for help and is discovered by the Countess Amalia, who has actually been searching for her, for in the interim the lost ring has been found: it had been taken by a jackdaw and hidden in a nest in an old pear-tree that has recently had to be felled after being damaged in a storm. Amalia is now with her parents visiting a neglected hunting-lodge and has heard of the piety and touching way in which a local girl has adorned her father’s grave. She recognizes the basket of flowers and is anxious to find Marie in order to beg forgiveness for the injustice done to her. Marie bears the Count and his family no ill-will. She is fêted and taken into the household as Amalia’s companion. An additional episode shows the miserable maid poverty-stricken and dying in a garret. She has been punished for her perjury, but of course Marie also forgives her. The story ends with Marie’s marriage to the son of the justice who had earlier pronounced sentence on her.

28Marie is a heroine of unblemished virtue, industrious, affectionate, generous-hearted and of a forgiving nature. Her father is deeply Christian and a man of the utmost probity. Despite the harsh treatment that he and his daughter receive at the hands of the law, he desires that Marie should conquer any resentment she may feel and be of a forgiving spirit. His self-reliance and integrity are such that he will accept help from the forester Anton, who meets the two exiles as they are leaving the town of Eichburg, only when he is convinced that the money is Anton’s to give, and not money properly belonging to the Count. Father and daughter suffer greatly, but their original act of spontaneous generosity – the making and gift of the basket of flowers – is what provides the means for righting the injustice they have suffered. The basket of flowers is all that Marie can place on her father’s grave as a memorial – she cannot afford a gravestone – but it is the hallmark of her devotion and the talk of the neighbourhood. Thus, the only act that she can perform at the lowest point of her misery turns out to be the instrument of her rehabilitation. This kind of motif is one that Schmid was fond of. A further example of synchronicity in Das Blumenkörbchen occurs when the village clergyman tells how old Jakob on his deathbed had received a consolation that his daughter’s innocence would be proved. When the date of this incident is checked, it coincides with the night of the storm in which the old pear-tree is damaged. By such occurrences Schmid expresses his profound belief in the interconnectedness of human life. Good deeds simply and honestly performed without any ulterior motive bring their own reward in God’s good time. His characters have a lively sense of God’s presence in their lives. They give thanks for small blessings as well as for great ones. They accept suffering and hardship as part of God’s plan for themselves, so that when they reach the depths of misery they cast themselves on God’s mercy as a natural reaction, and their prayers are answered.

13. Christopher von Schmid, Title-page and frontispiece of The Flower-Basket. A Moral Tale (1848).

29Das Blumenkörbchen was translated into English not once, but at least five times. As was the case with the first translation of Goethe’s Werther, the first two translations were made from a French text and not directly from the German original. The British connexion with French culture and language has always been much stronger than that with German. The first translator, however, was an American – the Rev. Gregory Townsend Bedell, D.D. (1793-1834), the greater part of whose ministry took place in the Episcopalian church of St. Andrew, Philadelphia, where he won a considerable following with his preaching, searching pastoral care and concern for children. In his introduction to The Basket of Flowers (Philadelphia: H. Perkins; Boston: Perkins & Marvin, 1833) Bedell admits that his translation is ’a very free one; and in many places large omissions are made, and in others considerable additions will be found’. The reasons for this lie in his earlier remark, namely, that ’with some alterations, to make [The Basket of Flowers] convey lessons of clear and decided evangelical truth, it would be a very interesting little work for the libraries of Sunday Schools, and every variety of youthful readers’. This desire to alter and make conform to the tenets of Evangelicalism is a commonplace among British translators of German material. Other translators – for example, the Rev. T. M. Ready, LL.B., on the title-page of The Rose Bush (Schmid’s Der Rosenstock) – indicate that they have ’corrected’ Schmid’s text. What do such ’alterations’ and ’corrections’ amount to? The German text of Schmid’s tales on the whole allows the Christian way of life, morals and religious practice to emerge naturally from the narrative. Where overt instruction is given, it is almost always through the mouthpiece of one of the characters personally involved in the action. More rarely, a respected clergyman (the neutral word Pfarrer is most commonly used) may comment or preach a sermon. Schmid hardly ever provides an authorial comment that goes beyond what is implicit in the narrative. By contrast, Bedell’s translation frequently engages in such authorial nudges, obtrusive assertions and direct addresses to the reader, a practice that is foreign to Schmid and is damaging to his calculated technique. For example, in describing the father at the outset of the book, Bedell adds:

While he was quite young James Rode had been brought to a knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus Christ. He had been born again of the Spirit, and these are the reasons why he had been enabled to discharge his duties.... No matter how humble the situation any real child of God may occupy, if he is consistent in his walk and conversation, he is witness for the truth of religion which no enemy can be able to gainsay.

30In the characterization of the admirable Mary, Bedell declares:

By all the neighbours she was called a beautiful girl, and sometimes they were indiscreet enough to call her so before her face – a very great mistake, as all children are naturally prone to vanity.

31This sort of moralizing gloss figures throughout Bedell’s translation. He also inserts a small number of passages of verse and gives occasional Biblical references that Schmid had not deemed necessary.

32Bedell’s practice was standard in the nineteenth-century treatment of children’s books. It is in fact extended in the translation by a person whose identity is hidden behind the initials J. H. St. A. and who also worked from a French text. The earliest edition of this translation would appear to be that of 1857. The translator increases the Biblical references and inserts a good many more verses, mainly anonymous, but there are a couple of quotations each from Cowper and from Coleridge. After Mary has been given the Countess’s dress there follows a very strong homily:

Do you love gaudy dresses and useless ornaments, young reader? Remember that it is an evidence of an uncultivated taste and a vulgar and frivolous mind. If a woman is overloaded with gaudy ornaments and unsuitable dresses, they do not adorn her – she only bears about upon her person the badge of inward deformity. Learn to understand the real beauty of simplicity.... What innumerable evils have been the consequence of a foolish fondness for dress! ... Mothers, beware of the appearance of such a taste in your children! Foster it not. Strive to check it, as you would strive to check the first symptoms of a fatal disease, the more insidious, because it appears slight and harmless at first.

33Such heavily moralizing sentiments and exhortations are more numerous than in Bedell.

34James’s deathbed advice to his daughter is quite considerably different from Schmid’s German text. Jakob does not actually mention the name of Jesus, but puts all his emphasis on a direct relationship with God as Father, the heavenly thus paralleling the earthly. One of Marie’s most important guides is her sense of shame. She should never do anything that she would be ashamed for her father to know. By contrast, J. H. St. A.’s version focusses on Jesus, underlines the need for daily prayer and is much more comprehensive in its religious injunctions. Schmid’s position is more general, more genial than his translator’s. He has a greater faith in human capacity for good, not the Evangelicals’ insistence on human sinfulness apart from God’s exercise of grace.

35While the translations of Bedell and J. H. St. A. were frequently reprinted and dominated the market in the nineteenth century, a much closer translation from the original German had appeared in 1848. This was entitled The Flower-Basket: a Moral Tale and came from the hand of William E. Drugulin. It was published in Stuttgart by J. B. Müller, with W. S. Orr of London as co-publisher. This is a rare book; it is not included in the checklist of the Renier Collection, nor is there a copy in the British Library. It is remarkable in being a faithful translation, with no additional material to make it acceptable to Evangelical readers, and containing three illustrations by Julius Nisle. However, it made little impression in Britain, and no reprints are recorded. One oddity of the translation is the fact that it has the young Countess refer to her father and mother quite incongruously as ’Pa’ and ’Ma’. The name of the jealous maid varies from translation to translation. In Schmid’s original she is called Jettchen, but Bedell calls her Margaret, J. H. St. A. has Juliette, and Drugulin Harriet.

36In the mid 1860s a second translation was made directly from the German. This was published by Warne in 1866. Like so many translations it is anonymous. Although it is a careful piece of work, this translator, like Bedell and J. H. St. A., cannot withstand the impulse to improve on or correct the German original. When James is explaining the emblematic significance of flowers to his young daughter, he reflects on the lily’s whiteness by declaring: ’There is a white robe freely offered to all. Blessed are they who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb’. Such a formulation is not, of course, to be found in Schmid. The anonymous translator also appends, at the beginning and end of each chapter, a very wide range of verses from Cowper, Spenser, Hogg, the German Protestant hymn-writer Paul Gerhardt and many other now largely forgotten poets. By the time of the publication of this translation the methods of book illustration have changed. Metal engraving has given way to colour printing, so that the main feature of the new editions’ appeal lies more in their attractive and extensive illustration than in the story by itself. The most ambitious of the Warne editions – and there were several in different formats, usually undated – has twenty-four coloured illustrations printed by the leading colour printed of the day, Edmund Evans. Curiously, the artist who produced these attractive designs is not named.

37A further anonymous translation, of which Blackie and Son published an edition c. 1900, with a frontispiece by G. Demain Hammond, provides a second rendering untainted by verse and prose additions and religiously motivated alterations. This may perhaps be the same translation as that published by A. Hislop of Edinburgh, in 1869. Blackie’s edition contains a couple of pages of historical information about Schmid. When the same publisher produced a new edition, with illustrations by A. A. Dixon dated 1912, presumably during the First World War, Schmid’s name was removed from the title-page, the historical introduction was omitted, and the setting was changed from the imaginary German ’Eichburg’ to ’a certain little market town in Guelderland’ with a ’Count of Terborg’. Jingoistic patriotism could not brook the enjoyment of a story known to be German, even from nearly a century ago.

38Surprisingly, new editions of The Basket of Flowers, with or without the author’s name, continued to be produced up to the 1960s, making Schmid’s story one of the most enduring and frequently republished German children’s books. The story has its own attractions, as Schmid was a skilful writer, but a large part of its success in Britain is due to the fact that it was an enormously popular reward book given to those attending Sunday Schools. To what extent it was a book that children chose for themselves and wanted to read is a question that is difficult to answer. But it clearly had a great publishing market from around 1850 onwards. There are editions from a large number of firms – Thomas Nelson, Milner and Sowerby, Ward and Lock, Simpkin and Marshall, W. Nicholson and Sons, Frederick Warne, Hodder and Stoughton, Houlston and Sons, Oliphant Anderson & Ferrier, Blackie and Son, Collins and several others. Many of these editions are undated, presumably so that they never looked out-of-date. Sometimes the author’s name is given in a semi-anglicized form as ’Christopher von Schmid’, but often it is omitted entirely. Since Schmid was dead by the time his book became such a publishing success in Britain, it is unlikely that he or his heirs gained anything financially from it.

39Christoph von Schmid was undoubtedly the most important of the German writers of religious tales for children to be translated into English, albeit in a largely Evangelical disguise aimed at counteracting his Catholic roots. We have to remember that the Catholic Emancipation Act came only in 1829 and that Catholics were the focus of a good deal of antagonism for a long time afterwards. No other German religious writer for children had as many individual works translated into English as Schmid. The only person who comes anywhere near him is the Protestant writer, Christian Gottlob Barth (1799-1862), with around a dozen stories or small collections available in English. None of them, however, enjoyed the many reprints that came the way of several of Schmid’s tales as well as The Basket of Flowers.

40Barth was a Swabian, born in Stuttgart, a student in Tübingen, pastor in Möttlingen and later resident in Calw in the Black Forest, where he founded the Protestant Calw publishing firm and later died. This was prime Protestant territory, as was Greifswald in Pomerania, where he gained his theology doctorate in 1838. In addition to his pastoral duties Barth was deeply involved in evangelical missionary concerns and in writing books for children. The Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie tells us:

He had two particular characteristics. On the one hand he combined a very clear, sharp intellect with an absolute faith in the Bible, the latter going so far as to regard the Copernican system without ado as false on account of its not tallying with the Bible. On the other hand he was able to combine a sparkling sense of humour and serene life-style with an attitude towards life and the world that was rooted in a marked pietism.

41Barth’s clear faith in the Bible, belief in the efficacy of prayer and God’s providence made him an obvious candidate for translation into English, though his stories do not reveal much in the way of humour.

42Barth’s religious tales were first published in English by Darton and Clark in 1838, and they were followed by other publishers into the 1850s. Some reprints by the Religious Tract Society date from as late as the 1870s, but after this Barth disappears from the British scene. Most of his tales are located in Germany, with events taking place in specifically named areas and towns. In this respect he is more realistic than Schmid, who uses fictitious, vaguely symbolic place-names. Barth’s stories range over large areas of German-speaking Europe and almost always have some reference to missionary activity in more distant parts of the world such as India, the West Indies and Labrador. His protagonists also have individual rather than typical names. Although his stories are fictions, Barth wants his readers to feel that the events he relates could actually have happened, even though they often depend on a range of coincidences that exceed plausibility.

43Darton and Harvey published Setma, the Turkish Girl: and Woodrof, the Swedish Boy in 1838, no translator’s name being given. Setma, das türkische Mädchen had appeared in 1831 and tells the story of the capture of a Turkish girl in the siege of Belgrade in 1688 and her subsequent conversion to Christianity in Germany, where she does excellent educational work with girls and ends up living at the ducal palace in Stuttgart. Further editions of Setma were published by Paton and Ritchie in Edinburgh in 1853 and by the Religious Tract Society in an undated edition. The RTS also published The Swedish Shepherd Boy in the 1850s. Unusually, this is a first person narrative about the struggles of a poor boy in rural Sweden to gain an education, become a teacher and finally a missionary in India. It mainly recounts the protagonist’s experience of trials, tribulations and eventual acts of kindness, which he interprets as the hand of God guiding him. The whole account shows how conventional church-going is inadequate and that a feeling experience of the Saviour is essential to true Christianity.

44Around 1838 Darton and Clark published a translation by Samuel Jackson of Der Fensterladen (1834) under the title The Juvenile Artist. This was also included in a composite volume of Barth’s tales entitled Winter Evening Stories (London: Darton & Clark, c. 1844), which in addition contained The Young Tyrolese and The Wanderer. Der Fensterladen appeared in a different translation by R. Menzies with the title Gregory Krau; or the Window Shutter (Edinburgh: Paton & Ritchie, 1850; Stuttgart: Müller, 1851). This is a story with two threads, one about Gregory Krau, a man who gets into bad company and deserts his family, but eventually becomes a true Christian in India. The other thread concerns his son Justus (a symbolic name here!), who develops skills as an artist and picture-restorer. In exercising his practical knowledge he discovers that the picture painted on an old wooden shutter in their house is a Rubens, which when sold raises the equivalent of 1800 dollars and extinguishes the family’s debts. At this point the father, Gregory, returns and is reunited with them. As usual in a story by Barth, there is a lot about trusting in God and about help coming unexpectedly. A short section about missionary work among ’Hindoos’ describes them as ’poor deluded creatures’ throwing themselves under the wheels of a carriage with a horrible idol. Mention is also made of a man lying on a bed of nails, of the custom of burning widows alive and of ’their senseless Deities’. Like so many other Evangelical writers of this period, Barth gives voice to a self-confidence of religious understanding that is horrified by the different traditions it encountered in other parts of the world.

14. Title-page and frontispiece of C. G. Barth, The Young Tyrolese (1838).

45The Young Tyrolese is a translation of Der Weihnachtsmorgen oder das Tintenfäßchen (1836), a story whose title was literally translated in a later edition by R. Menzies as Christmas Morning; or, the Little Ink Cask (Edinburgh: Paton & Ritchie, 1851; Stuttgart: Müller, 1852). The hero of this story is a Tyrolese boy, Friedli, who walks to Berlin, selling ink from a cask that his brother has marked with a mill-wheel design and his initials, and is taken in by a gentleman who wants him as a positive role model for his wayward son. Friedli’s brother, Ulric, enlists with a Swiss regiment, goes to Holland and eventually, after much illness, gains a place as a footman. The brothers eventually make contact again as a result of Ulric recognizing the ink cask after it has been sent to Esquimaux in Labrador and then returned to Rotterdam. The motif of siblings or close friends being separated through adversity and then finding each other through some stroke of fortune is a commonplace of popular literature. There is a similar occurrence in Setma, where the Turkish girl meets her childhood friend Guly as an adult in the service of the Duchess of Wurtemberg. The motif of the token of recognition whereby separated friends or relatives meet each other again also occurs in The Raven’s Feather (Die Rabenfeder, 1832), which the Religious Tract Society published c. 1855 and again in 1878. The raven’s feather is also linked with a man called Raven, who provides help to the orphan boy who is the focus of the story.

46Barth had a particular regard for the Moravians. The Young Tyrolese has among its incidental characters a Moravian missionary who recounts the story of an Esquimau boy from Labrador, and mention is made of the Moravian settlement at Fulneck, near Leeds. In addition, The Young Artist contains a brief episode in which the Krau family visits the mother’s family in Neuwied, where there was a colony of Moravians among the Jews, Catholics and Protestants who settled there at the invitation of the prince after the Thirty Years War. Barth actually wrote a whole book about the Moravians, which was translated by Samuel Jackson and published by Darton and Clark in 1842. Another edition was published by S. Lingham c. 1845.

47Of the remaining stories by Barth that were translated into English Cuff, the Negro Boy merits attention on a number of points. It was probably the first of Barth’s tales to be translated by the Rev. Robert Menzies (Edinburgh: Paton & Ritchie, 1848). The book is notable for providing a gripping example of the abduction of a three-year-old child by a travelling circus as the result of the failure of the children’s attendant to look after them properly. This attendant is given the name Kunigunda, and one can’t avoid the suspicion that it may be intended to suggest that she is a Catholic. The book’s title suggests that it is the story of a poor black boy, but it turns out that Cuff – for that is his name – is not black in that sense at all, but simply has a blackened skin. He is the abducted middle-class child of only superficially Christian parents, but in his circus captivity he has read parts of the Bible and become a devout Christian. When the circus troupe finally returns to the town Cuff was born in, he finds it vaguely familiar and rediscovers the family house and his parents and siblings. He was originally called Emilius, and his sister Emilia is prompted to a deathbed conversion before dying of ’galloping consumption’. Emilius is now properly educated, and the story ends with him joining a merchant’s counting house. The acquisition of a true Christian faith may be the lesson that the book is teaching, but the financial security offered by a counting house clearly doesn’t come amiss. When Emilius is successful as a merchant, he gives lots of money for the gospel to be preached to poor blacks in the West Indies. The fact that he himself had suffered and been treated as a black leads him to devote his subsequent wealth to their spiritual benefit. It is an expression of his solidarity with them, even though the difference in their social and financial situations continues to exist.

48At the beginning of the nineteenth century moral and religious tales probably gained a broader readership among children than at the end of the century. In the early 1800s children’s books had not emancipated themselves very much from the educational, moral and religious didacticism that was everywhere the norm, but by the 1870s there was a mass of books that aimed to entertain rather than instruct children. Middle-class readers certainly had considerable choice. The market for most moral and religious books for children had gradually become more specialized. Many of the books we have looked at were published by the Quaker firm of Darton (with its variety of imprints) in the period up to, say, 1845 and formed part of a much broader output. But from around 1850 we can see religious titles becoming increasingly the province of more specialized publishers such as the Religious Tract Society, Paton and Ritchie of Edinburgh and B. Wertheim of London. Christoph von Schmid was such a popular phenomenon that a whole range of publishers cashed in on him, but he was the exception. The only other author to escape the straightjacket of the Evangelical publishers was Carové with The Story Without an End, which attracted the more sentimental section of Victorian and Edwardian middle-class society, especially through the diverse kinds of illustration that it elicited. Schmid at the latter end of the nineteenth century became the province of the working-class Sunday School, and one imagines many more such children received The Basket of Flowers as a reward book than actually chose it for themselves.

49Most of the books we have considered operate with well-tried formulae. Their protagonists are orphans, the poor, the innocent victims of injustice or economic hardship. They frequently have siblings or parents who go off the rails, but are led back to the straight and narrow through their example of Christian faith. Despite the trials their protagonists undergo the stories are optimistic and end happily. They demonstrate that the world is populated by good and devout people as well as by the wicked and thoughtless. In many ways one can see these tales as the religious equivalent of the fable and the fairytale with ordinary people occupying the roles of fairy, ogre, dwarf, witch and helper, but by the end of the century they had largely lost the general appeal that they previously exerted.


1 Most of what follows on Schmid and The Basket of Flowers is taken from David Blamires, ‘Christoph von Schmid’s Religious Tales for Children: German and English Versions’, Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, 76, 3 (Autumn 1994), pp. 69-82.

2 See Anne Renier, The Basket of Flowers by Christoph von Schmid: a Checklist of Copies in the Renier Collection (Stroud: The Thimble Press, 1972).

3 See Andrea Immel, ‘Corrigendum to Moon’s John Harris’s Books for Youth: a Translation from Christoph von Schmid’, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, 77 (1983), pp. 473-75.

Table des illustrations

Légende 11. Title-page and frontispiece of The Little Dove: a Story for Children, Founded on Fact. New Edition (c. 1854).
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Légende 12. Title-page and frontispiece of Little Swiss Seppeli; or Confidence in God Rewarded. A True Story Translated from the German (1829).
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Légende 13. Christopher von Schmid, Title-page and frontispiece of The Flower-Basket. A Moral Tale (1848).
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Légende 14. Title-page and frontispiece of C. G. Barth, The Young Tyrolese (1838).
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