Category Archives: German Tales

Mary Howitt: “The Filly”

Excerpt: “The Child’s Picture & Verse Book.” Commonly called Otto Speckler’s Fable Book. Translated from the original German by Mary Howitt. Illustrated with One Hundred Engravings. 1854.

Mary Howitt: “The Horse and Sparrow”

Excerpt, “The Child’s Picture & Verse Book.” Commonly called Otto Speckler’s Fable Book. Translated from the original German by Mary Howitt. Illustrated with One Hundred Engravings. 1854.

Ludwig Bechstein: “What Made A Princess Laugh”

Excerpt:  “As Pretty As Seven and Other Popular German Tales.” Collected by Ludwig Bechstein, with One Hundred Illustrations by Richter:  A Companion to Grimm’s German Popular Stories.  London: 1873.

Once upon a time there lived three brothers. Godfrey was the youngest, and the brunt of all his brothers’ mischievous tricks. When anything thwarted them, Godfrey was made to pay. Weaker than his brothers, he never dared refuse to do as he was told. Miserable, he dreamed of an opportunity to change his life. One day while cutting wood in the forest, and lamenting his hard lot, an old woman appeared who inquired the cause of his tears.  He told her of his troubles. “Ah, my lad,” said she, “the world is wide; why do you not try your fortune somewhere else?”

These words never left him and early one fine morning he set off to find his way. Ascending the hill which led from his village, he gained the peak. Settled upon a log, he wished farewell to his native place, remembering at least a happy childhood. Suddenly, the woman once again tapped his shoulder.  “You have done well so far, my boy. But what will you seek now?”

Godfrey was startled, for, in fact, he had commenced his journey with no idea where he should go.  He thought luck would follow his way. His companion sensed his puzzlement. “I will help guide your path,” she promised; “and why? Because I have regard for you, and I believe you will not forget me when good fortune comes your way.” Godfrey promised he would not forget her kindness.

“This evening,” she said, “take your way to that old oak tree that shades the cross-way. Beneath it you will find a man lying fast asleep, and tied to the tree will be a beautiful swan. Be there at sunset, and take care not to awaken the man.  Untie the swan and lead it away. Soon everyone you pass will wish to have a feather from such a fine bird, and you may allow them to pluck one. But if the swan cries out, you must say, “Swan, hold fast!” Immediately anyone who touches the swan will find himself it’s prisoner, who will not be able to get away until you tap him with this little wand, which I now offer to you. Then, when you have collected behind you a train of human birds, go straight forward, and you will arrive at a certain city where a princess dwells who has not been seen to laugh for many years. If your procession causes her even so little as a smile, your fortune is made.  Then mind you well that you do not forget me.”

Godfrey promised he would not. At sunset, he arrived at the tree. Finding the sleeping man, he took care not to waken him as he loosed the swan and led her away.  Soon he came to a building-yard where he found men with trousers rolled up to their knees, tramping on lime. They all admired the beauty of Godfrey’s swan, especially one young man besmeared all over with lime. “Oh,” he exclaimed, “how I should like to have a feather!”

“Pull one out,” urged Godfrey; and when the boy seized hold of the swan’s wing, she screamed. “Swan, hold fast!” said Godfrey; and the lad was caught and forced to follow. When he cried out to his companions for help, they only laughed. A girl washing linen at a stream nearby ran to assist and caught the boy by the collar to pull him away. When the swan screamed, again Godfrey said, “Swan, hold fast!” and the girl was compelled to follow. Soon they passed a chimney-sweep, who chuckled at the comical train.

“Alas, my good Hans,” she cried, “give me a hand here, and free me from this horrid wretch.”

“I will,” declared the chimney-sweep, catching her hand.

“Swan, hold fast!” shouted Godfrey, as the bird screamed, and the dusty sweep was caught as well. Entering a village, they passed a church in festival where a company of rope-dancers performed on the green. As a clown repeated jokes, he grinned at the three who hung onto the swan’s tail. “Are you turned fool?” he demanded of the sweep.

“There is nothing to laugh at,” cried the sweep; “the girl clasps my hand so tightly, it seems nailed to hers. Loose me, clown, and I will assist you when you need.”

Grabbing the sweep’s neck to pull him away, the clown found himself bound as well; for when the swan screamed, Godfrey again said, “Swan, hold fast!”

The stately mayor of the village was foremost among the spectators of this strange scene. “To the beadle with you!“ he cried, so incensed at the folly before him that he grabbed onto the clown. But “Swan, hold fast!” said Godfrey a fifth time, as the bird screamed; and the angry mayor was made prisoner with the rest. The lady mayoress, a tall, thin dame, was horrified at seeing her lord in this evil plight; and she yanked his pigtail to pull him away from his companions. “Swan, hold fast!” exclaimed Godfrey; in spite of her cries, the lady mayoress had to follow in the train.

The towers of the city were in sight when Godfrey and his human train finally met a carriage, in which sat a lovely but sedate-appearing young lady. Observing the motley crew, she burst out laughing, which her servants joined in spite of themselves. “The princess laughs!” exclaimed all. Observing the strange procession and its still stranger evolutions, the princess laugh some more. As the carriage turned round, Godfrey followed it slowly into the city. When the king heard the good news that his daughter had laughed, he went to see the cause. At the sight of Godfrey and his train, the king laughed till tears ran out his eyes.  “You silly fellow,” said he to Godfrey, “Do you know what I promised to whomever should make my daughter smile? A thousand gold dollars or a fine estate: choose between the two.”

Joyfully, Godfrey chose the estate.  With his wand he touched the boy, the maiden, the sweep, the clown, the mayor and his lady, and set them all free. Liberated, they ran away as if a wild bull was at their heels; while those who witnessed this burst out in peals of laughter.

The princess herself took a fancy now to stroke the swan, and to admire its feathers; but it screamed at her touch, and Godfrey cried, “Swan hold fast!”  Thus he won the king’s daughter; but the swan rose in the air and disappeared from sight. Godfrey received a duchy for himself; and when he went to reside on it, he remembered the old woman who had been the origin of his good fortune, and brought her to live out her life in his noble establishment.

Ludwig Bechstein: “The Kitten and the Knitting Needles”

Excerpt, “As Pretty As Seven and Other Popular German Tales.” Collected by Ludwig Bechstein, with One Hundred Illustrations by Richter:  A Companion to Grimm’s German Popular Stories.  London: 1873.

ONCE upon a time there lived a poor woman who earned her livelihood by picking up sticks in the forest to sell for firewood. One day, as she was returning home with a bundle, she saw a kitten lying against the trunk of a tree and mewing piteously. She took compassion on it, and putting it in her apron, carried it home. On her way her two children met her, and asked her what she had in her apron; but she would not let them have the kitten, fearing they might tease and distress it. So she took it carefully home, and laying it on some soft rags, gave it some milk to drink. The kitten stayed in the house till it was quite recovered, and then suddenly disappeared. Some time afterwards, when the woman was again in the forest, and was returning home with her bundle of firewood at her back, just as she passed the place where she had found the kitten, there stood there an old dame who beckoned to her, and gave her five knitting needles. The poor woman knew not what to make of this gift, and thought the needles were not of much value to her. However, she carried them home, and laid them on the table at night.

The next morning she found a pair of newly made stockings on the table close by the needles. The poor woman was much astonished, and left the needles the following evening in the same place. A second pair of stockings was the result; and she now supposed that the wonderful needles were given her as a reward for her kindness to the kitten. Every night a fresh pair of stockings was produced; and as they found a ready sale, the woman gained for herself and her children an honest livelihood without the hard drudgery to which she had formerly been accustomed.


Ludwig Bechstein: “As Pretty as Seven”

Excerpt, “As Pretty As Seven, and Other Popular Tales from the German.”  Collected by Ludwig Bechstein with One Hundred Illustrations by Richter.  1848.

As Pretty as Seven

ONCE upon a time, in a certain village, dwelt a worthy pair in a small cottage. They had but one child, a daughter; but she was a treasure in her way. She worked, sewed, washed, and spun as much as seven ordinary people, and withal was “As Pretty as Seven.” But on account of her pretty face, everybody stared at her; and, as she did not like this, she put a veil over her face when she went to church on Sundays; for this was one of her greatest charms, that she was pious as well as hard-working. One day the king’s son saw her, and admired her graceful form and figure, and her ladylike manners; but to his great mortification he could not see her face, because of the veil. He asked his servants the reason why she wore this veil; and they told him it was because she was so modest and maidenly.

“If the girl is so modest about her beauty,” said the king, “I am sure she would make a good wife. Go, take her this gold ring; and say I wish to speak to her, if she will come this evening to the great oak-tree.”

The servant did as he was bidden; and As Pretty as Seven, believing that the prince wished to give her some work, went to the spot named at the appointed time. There the prince told her how he loved her dearly for her beauty and virtue, and would make her his wife. But she said,” I am a poor girl, and you are a rich prince; your father would be very angry if I were to become your wife.”


The prince, however, would not be put off; and she at last consented to his entreaties, and promised him an answer in two days. But the prince fancied he could not possibly wait so long; and accordingly, the morning after their meeting, he sent As Pretty as Seven a pair of silver shoes, and begged her to meet him once more beneath the oak. When they met, he asked her if she had yet decided; but she said she had not yet had time-she had been too busy about household affairs; and besides, she was a poor girl and he a rich prince, and it would only enrage his father if he were to marry her. But the prince begged and entreated her so long to listen to him, that she at length promised to consider the matter, and tell her parents of it. The next day the prince sent her a golden cloak, and asked a third meeting beneath the oak-tree. But the maiden was as unprepared as before to listen to him; and she told him again she was too poor and he too rich, and his father would be in a terrible passion if they were married to one another. The prince declared that all her reasons went for nothing; that if she became his wife now, by and by she would be queen; and he seemed so much in earnest in all be said, that at last she consented to meet him every evening beneath the oak-tree.

Now the king knew not a word about this. But there was at the palace an ugly old courtier, who was always spying into the young prince’s doings, and he, discovering these meetings, reported them to the king. The king immediately sent his servants with orders to burn down the cottage where As Pretty as Seven lived; that she and her parents might perish together. But in this dark design he failed; for although the cottage was burnt, and also the helpless old couple, the maiden luckily escaped, and took refuge in an empty barn. As soon as the coast was clear, the maiden came out of her hiding-place, and searching among the ruins of the cottage, found a few small matters which were yet of use. These she sold, and with the money purchased a suit of men’s clothing, and went to the court attired as a footman in want of a place. The king asked the new-comer his name; and he received for answer, “Misfortune.” Now the king was so pleased with the youth’s manners, that he hired him at once, and by degrees grew so partial to him as to prefer him to any other servant.

Meanwhile the prince had heard and seen that the cottage of his betrothed was burnt to the ground, and he fully believed that she had perished in the flames. This the king also said; and he was very anxious that his son should marry the daughter of a neighbouring king. When the wedding was agreed upon, the whole court and all the royal household accompanied the young prince to the home of the bride. Among the others, but almost last in the procession, went Misfortune, sad at heart, and weighed down by grief. As she rode she sang:

“As Pretty as Seven was once my name,

But it changed to Misfortune when here I came.”

The prince heard the singing, and asked who it was. “It is my servant Misfortune, I think,” replied the king. Presently they heard the song again:

“As Pretty as Seven was once my name,

But it changed to Misfortune when here I came.”

Then the prince asked again if it were really only a servant of the king’s who sang so beautifully; and the king said he knew it could be no one else. But as the procession drew closer to the palace of the intended bride, the same clear voice sang louder than before:

“As Pretty as Seven was once my name,

But it changed to Misfortune when here I came.”

When the prince heard the same words a third time, he could restrain his impatience no longer, and rode as fast as possible back to the end of the cavalcade. There he saw Misfortune, and recognized As Pretty as Seven. So, contenting himself for the time with a kindly nod, he rode back to his place, and in due course entered the palace, where his bride awaited him. Then by and by, when all the guests were come, and were collected in the great council-chamber to hear the betrothal before the ceremony commenced, the young prince said to his future father-in-law, “My lord king, before I am betrothed to your daughter, give me, I pray you, an answer to this riddle. I possess a beautiful casket, to which some time since I lost the key; but now, just as I have procured a new one, the old key has come to light: tell me, therefore, which key am I bound to make use of?”

“Oh, naturally the old one,” answered the king; “the old key should be had in honour, and the new one laid aside.”

“Very well, my lord king,” said the prince; “then do not be angry with me, if I put aside your daughter; she is the new key, and there stands the old one!”

As he spoke he took the hand of As Pretty as Seven, and led her to his father, saying, “My lord, here is my bride.”

But the old king was quite frightened, and said, “Oh, no, my dear son, that is my servant Misfortune!”

Many of the people exclaimed too, “Yes, that is Misfortune!”

“No, no,” said the young prince, authoritatively; “this is not Misfortune the servant, but As Pretty as Seven my bride.”

And then taking a courteous leave of the assembly, he conducted his recovered sweetheart to the most charming of the castles which he possessed, and installed her there as his wife, and the mistress of all his wealth.