The Water Babies

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.”

This is the beginning of “The Water-Babies, A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby” (1863) written by Charles Kingsley. He was an English priest of the Church of England, university professor, historian social reformer, novelist and poet.  

He was sympathetic to the idea of evolution and one of the first to appreciate Charles Darwin’s book “On the Origin of Species”:  his children’s novel has been described as a slightly distorted mirror version of Darwin’s work of scientific literature.

It was originally written for his four-year-old son, not only as a response to the theory of evolution, but also as a fairy tale, a moral fable, and a satire on Victorian attitudes to child labour and religion.

It deals with of a young chimney sweep, Tom, who finds redemption from the horrors of his work after he drowns and is magically transformed from a dirty little boy into a clean aquatic creature, a ‘water baby’. Taking up this second chance, the boy begins his moral education embarking on a series of adventures and lessons from all sorts of sea creatures. This will make him ‘evolve’ into a strong and worthy man capable of taking part in the modern world, after he regains his human form once again.

The novel seems to foreshadow Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, which appeared just two years later, in which the protagonist begins her adventures when she slips underground rather than underwater.

The year after “The Water Babies” was published, British parliament began the process that would lead to the 1864 Chimney Sweepers Regulation Act, which helped liberate so many children from unbelievable suffering.


(Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library)

Three quotes:

“But there are no such things as water-babies.”
How do you know that? Have you been there to see? And if you had been there to see, and had seen none, that would not prove that there were none”

“Some people think that there are no fairies. But it is a wide world, and plenty of room in it for fairies, without people seeing them; unless, of course, they look in the right place.”

“The most wonderful and the strongest things in the world, you know, are just the things which no one can see. There is life in you; and it is the life in you which makes you grow, and move, and think: and yet you can’t see it. And there is steam in a steam-engine; and that is what makes it move: and yet you can’t see it; and so there may be fairies in the world, and they may be just what makes the world go round to the old tune of “C’est l’amour, l’amour, l’amour
Qui fait la monde à la ronde:
” (*)
and yet no one may be able to see them except those whose hearts are going round to that same tune.”

(*) In “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, which may have been written partially in response to Rev. Kingsley’s novel, the translation of this refrain is recited by the Duchess, “Oh, ’tis love, ’tis love, that makes the world go round!”.

“Ma non esistono cose come i bambini acquatici.”
Come fai a saperlo? Sei andato lì a vedere? E se anche tu fossi andato lì a vedere, e non ne avessi visto nessuno, ciò non proverebbe che non ce n’erano “

“Alcune persone pensano che non ci siano fate. Ma è il mondo è immenso, e c’è molto spazio per le fate, senza che la gente le veda; a meno che, ovviamente, non guardi nel posto giusto. “

“Le cose più meravigliose e più potenti del mondo, sai, sono solo le cose che nessuno può vedere. C’è vita in te; ed è questa vita che ti fa crescere, muovere e pensare: eppure non riesci a vederla. E c’è vapore in una macchina a vapore; e questo è ciò che lo fa muovere: eppure non puoi vederlo; e quindi potrebbero esserci fate nel mondo, e potrebbero essere proprio ciò che fa girare il mondo sulla vecchia melodia di
“È amore, amore, amore
Chi fa girare mondo:”
e tuttavia nessuno può riuscire a vederle tranne quelli il cui cuore gira sulla stessa melodia. “

To be continued…

61 thoughts on “The Water Babies

  1. Wow, that is really a surprise! Not only for introducing this wonderful book but also to know a “priest” to like and write a fairytale and being a fan of Darwin 😳😊 Thank you, dearest Luisa, for this great post 🙏💖🥰

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Very interesting, Luisa. The son, Maurice, for whom this story was written, lived for a while in Colorado Springs in the early 1870s, and his sister, Rose, also came to visit, as did Reverend Kingsley a few years later. I haven’t actually read any of his writing, but have always wanted to, so I thank you for this introduction.
    Best wishes,
    Tanja

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank you LUISA, I ENJOYED IT BECAUSE I KNOW IT’S TRUE. THERE’S SO MUCH OUT IN THE HIDDEN WORLD WE DON’T UNDERSTAND OR JUST DON’T KNOW ABOUT . I REMEMBER THE GREAT BISHOP FULTON J. SHEEHAN WAS ON TELEVISION , I WAS LITTLE GIRL , HE SAID, HOW DO WE KNOW THERE ISN’T A TRAIN GOING BY THIS PODIUM RIGHT NOW , WE KNOW NOTHING .WE HUMANS WANT TO BELIEVE THAT WE ARE THE ONLY ONES WHO INHABIT THIS WORLD , AS FOR THE FAR

    Liked by 2 people

  4. As far as the fairies I feed the birds every day I have a beautiful combination of Seagulls pigeons Ravens even red tailed hawks Blue Jays finches sparrows and of course my angels boy and girl Cardinals and they say where there’s Cardinals that’s where the angels are the bird baths everything that they need the flowers to trees everything is in the yard there’s different little resting place has some e and don’t leave some stay just to get a bite or a little wash and bird bath let some just stay there all day they sit there and watch over the yard maybe there’s a little fairies who knows we don’t know

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Splendida! e come molto spesso accade, nelle favole per bambini ci sono molti insegnamenti…
    Noi adulti non dovremmo sorridere con distacco e superiorità davanti ad un buon libro simile
    Brava!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. This children’s fantasy tells the story of a 12-year-old boy who discovers a complex underwater world where young children are held prisoner by an evil shark and an eel.

    Like

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