: The Yellow Fairy Book
In China, as I daresay you know, the Emperor is a Chinaman, and
all his courtiers are also Chinamen. The story I am going to
tell you happened many years ago, but it is worth while for you
to listen to it, before it is forgotten.
The Emperor's Palace was the most splendid in the world, all made
of priceless porcelain, but so brittle and delicate that you had
to take great care how you touched it. In the
garden were the
most beautiful flowers, and on the loveliest of them were tied
silver bells which tinkled, so that if you passed you could not
help looking at the flowers. Everything in the Emperor's garden
was admirably arranged with a view to effect; and the garden was
so large that even the gardener himself did not know where it
ended. If you ever got beyond it, you came to a stately forest
with great trees and deep lakes in it. The forest sloped down to
the sea, which was a clear blue. Large ships could sail under
the boughs of the trees, and in these trees there lived a
Nightingale. She sang so beautifully that even the poor
fisherman who had so much to do stood and listened when he came
at night to cast his nets. 'How beautiful it is!' he said; but
he had to attend to his work, and forgot about the bird. But
when she sang the next night and the fisherman came there again,
he said the same thing, 'How beautiful it is!'
From all the countries round came travellers to the Emperor's
town, who were astonished at the Palace and the garden. But when
they heard the Nightingale they all said, 'This is the finest
thing after all!'
The travellers told all about it when they went home, and learned
scholars wrote many books upon the town, the Palace, and the
garden. But they did not forget the Nightingale; she was praised
the most, and all the poets composed splendid verses on the
Nightingale in the forest by the deep sea.
The books were circulated throughout the world, and some of them
reached the Emperor. He sat in his golden chair, and read and
read. He nodded his head every moment, for he liked reading the
brilliant accounts of the town, the Palace, and the garden. 'But
the Nightingale is better than all,' he saw written.
'What is that?' said the Emperor. 'I don't know anything about
the Nightingale! Is there such a bird in my empire, and so near
as in my garden? I have never heard it! Fancy reading for the
first time about it in a book!'
And he called his First Lord to him. He was so proud that if
anyone of lower rank than his own ventured to speak to him or ask
him anything, he would say nothing but 'P!' and that does not
'Here is a most remarkable bird which is called a Nightingale!'
said the Emperor. 'They say it is the most glorious thing in my
kingdom. Why has no one ever said anything to me about it?'
'I have never before heard it mentioned!' said the First Lord.
'I will look for it and find it!'
But where was it to be found? The First Lord ran up and down
stairs, through the halls and corridors; but none of those he met
had ever heard of the Nightingale. And the First Lord ran again
to the Emperor, and told him that it must be an invention on the
part of those who had written the books.
'Your Irmperial Majesty cannot really believe all that is
written! There are some inventions called the Black Art!'
'But the book in which I read this,' said the Emperor, 'is sent
me by His Great Majesty the Emperor of Japan; so it cannot be
untrue, and I will hear the Nightingale! She must be here this
evening! She has my gracious permission to appear, and if she
does not, the whole Court shall be trampled under foot after
'Tsing pe!' said the First Lord; and he ran up and down stairs,
through the halls and corridors, and half the Court ran with him,
for they did not want to be trampled under foot. Everyone was
asking after the wonderful Nightingale which all the world knew
of, except those at Court.
At last they met a poor little girl in the kitchen, who said,
'Oh! I know the Nightingale well. How she sings! I have
permission to carry the scraps over from the Court meals to my
poor sick mother, and when I am going home at night, tired and
weary, and rest for a little in the wood, then I hear the
Nightingale singing! It brings tears to my eyes, and I feel as
if my mother were kissing me!'
'Little kitchenmaid!' said the First Lord, 'I will give you a
place in the kitchen, and you shall have leave to see the Emperor
at dinner, if you can lead us to the Nightingale, for she is
invited to come to Court this evening.'
And so they all went into the wood where the Nightingale was wont
to sing, and half the Court went too.
When they were on the way there they heard a cow mooing.
'Oh!' said the Courtiers, 'now we have found her! What a
wonderful power for such a small beast to have! I am sure we
have heard her before!'
'No; that is a cow mooing!' said the little kitchenmaid. 'We
are still a long way off!'
Then the frogs began to croak in the marsh. 'Splendid!' said the
Chinese chaplain. 'Now we hear her; it sounds like a little
'No, no; those are frogs!' said the little kitchenmaid. 'But I
think we shall soon hear her now!'
Then the Nightingale began to sing.
'There she is!' cried the little girl. 'Listen! She is sitting
there!' And she pointed to a little dark-grey bird up in the
'Is it possible!' said the First Lord. 'I should never have
thought it! How ordinary she looks! She must surely have lost
her feathers because she sees so many distinguished men round
'Little Nightingale,' called out the little kitchenmaid, 'our
Gracious Emperor wants you to sing before him!'
'With the greatest of pleasure!' said the Nightingale; and she
sang so gloriously that it was a pleasure to listen.
'It sounds like glass bells!' said the First Lord. 'And look how
her little throat works! It is wonderful that we have never
heard her before! She will be a great success at Court.'
'Shall I sing once more for the Emperor?' asked the Nightingale,
thinking that the Emperor was there.
'My esteemed little Nightingale,' said the First Lord, 'I have
the great pleasure to invite you to Court this evening, where His
Gracious Imperial Highness will be enchanted with your charming
'It sounds best in the green wood,' said the Nightingale; but
still, she came gladly when she heard that the Emperor wished it.
At the Palace everything was splendidly prepared. The porcelain
walls and floors glittered in the light of many thousand gold
lamps; the most gorgeous flowers which tinkled out well were
placed in the corridors. There was such a hurrying and draught
that all the bells jingled so much that one could not hear
oneself speak. In the centre of the great hall where the Emperor
sat was a golden perch, on which the Nightingale sat. The whole
Court was there, and the little kitchenmaid was allowed to stand
behind the door, now that she was a Court-cook. Everyone was
dressed in his best, and everyone was looking towards the little
grey bird to whom the Emperor nodded.
The Nightingale sang so gloriously that the tears came into the
Emperor's eyes and ran down his cheeks. Then the Nightingale
sang even more beautifully; it went straight to all hearts. The
Emperor was so delighted that he said she should wear his gold
slipper round her neck. But the Nightingale thanked him, and
said she had had enough reward already. 'I have seen tears in
the Emperor's eyes--that is a great reward. An Emperor's tears
have such power!' Then she sang again with her gloriously sweet
'That is the most charming coquetry I have ever seen!' said all
the ladies round. And they all took to holding water in their
mouths that they might gurgle whenever anyone spoke to them.
Then they thought themselves nightingales. Yes, the lackeys and
chambermaids announced that they were pleased; which means a
great deal, for they are the most difficult people of all to
satisfy. In short, the Nightingale was a real success.
She had to stay at Court now; she had her own cage, and
permission to walk out twice in the day and once at night.
She was given twelve servants, who each held a silken string
which was fastened round her leg. There was little pleasure in
flying about like this.
The whole town was talking about the wonderful bird, and when two
people met each other one would say 'Nightin,' and the other
'Gale,' and then they would both sigh and understand one another.
Yes, and eleven grocer's children were called after her, but not
one of them could sing a note.
One day the Emperor received a large parcel on which was written
'Here is another new book about our famous bird!' said the
But it was not a book, but a little mechanical toy, which lay in
a box--an artificial nightingale which was like the real one,
only that it was set all over with diamonds, rubies, and
sapphires. When it was wound up, it could sing the piece the
real bird sang, and moved its tail up and down, and glittered
with silver and gold. Round its neck was a little collar on
which was written, 'The Nightingale of the Emperor of Japan is
nothing compared to that of the Emperor of China.'
'This is magnificent!' they all said, and the man who had
brought the clockwork bird received on the spot the title of
'Bringer of the Imperial First Nightingale.'
'Now they must sing together; what a duet we shall have!'
And so they sang together, but their voices did not blend, for
the real Nightingale sang in her way and the clockwork bird sang
'It is not its fault!' said the bandmaster; 'it keeps very good
time and is quite after my style!'
Then the artificial bird had to sing alone. It gave just as much
pleasure as the real one, and then it was so much prettier to
look at; it sparkled like bracelets and necklaces.
Three-and-thirty times it sang the same piece without being
tired. People would like to have heard it again, but the Emperor
thought that the living Nightingale should sing now--but where
was she? No one had noticed that she had flown out of the open
window away to her green woods.
'What SHALL we do!' said the Emperor.
And all the Court scolded, and said that the Nightingale was very
ungrateful. 'But we have still the best bird!' they said and the
artificial bird had to sing again, and that was the thirty-fourth
time they had heard the same piece. But they did not yet know it
by heart; it was much too difficult. And the bandmaster praised
the bird tremendously; yes, he assured them it was better than a
real nightingale, not only because of its beautiful plumage and
diamonds, but inside as well. 'For see, my Lords and Ladies and
your Imperial Majesty, with the real Nightingale one can never
tell what will come out, but all is known about the artificial
bird! You can explain it, you can open it and show people where
the waltzes lie, how they go, and how one follows the other!'
'That's just what we think!' said everyone; and the bandmaster
received permission to show the bird to the people the next
Sunday. They should hear it sing, commanded the Emperor. And
they heard it, and they were as pleased as if they had been
intoxicated with tea, after the Chinese fashion, and they all
said 'Oh!' and held up their forefingers and nodded time. But
the poor fishermen who had heard the real Nightingale said: 'This
one sings well enough, the tunes glide out; but there is
something wanting-- I don't know what!'
The real Nightingale was banished from the kingdom.
The artificial bird was put on silken cushions by the Emperor's
bed, all the presents which it received, gold and precious
stones, lay round it, and it was given the title of Imperial
Night-singer, First from the left. For the Emperor counted that
side as the more distinguished, being the side on which the heart
is; the Emperor's heart is also on the left.
And the bandmaster wrote a work of twenty-five volumes about the
artificial bird. It was so learned, long, and so full of the
hardest Chinese words that everyone said they had read it and
understood it; for once they had been very stupid about a book,
and had been trampled under foot in consequence. So a whole year
passed. The Emperor, the Court, and all the Chinese knew every
note of the artificial bird's song by heart. Bat they liked it
all the better for this; they could even sing with it, and they
did. The street boys sang 'Tra-la-la-la-la, and the Emperor sang
too sometimes. It was indeed delightful.
But one evening, when the artificial bird was singing its best,
and the Emperor lay in bed listening to it, something in the bird
went crack. Something snapped! Whir-r-r! all the wheels ran
down and then the music ceased. The Emperor sprang up, and had
his physician summoned, but what could HE do! Then the
clockmaker came, and, after a great deal of talking and
examining, he put the bird somewhat in order, but he said that it
must be very seldom used as the works were nearly worn out, and
it was impossible to put in new ones. Here was a calamity! Only
once a year was the artificial bird allowed to sing, and even
that was almost too much for it. But then the bandmaster made a
little speech full of hard words, saying that it was just as good
as before. And so, of course, it WAS just as good as before. So
five years passed, and then a great sorrow came to the nation.
The Chinese look upon their Emperor as everything, and now he was
ill, and not likely to live it was said.
Already a new Emperor had been chosen, and the people stood
outside in the street and asked the First Lord how the old
Emperor was. 'P!' said he, and shook his head.
Cold and pale lay the Emperor in his splendid great bed; the
whole Court believed him dead, and one after the other left him
to pay their respects to the new Emperor. Everywhere in the
halls and corridors cloth was laid down so that no footstep could
be heard, and everything was still--very, very still. And
nothing came to break the silence.
The Emperor longed for something to come and relieve the monotony
of this deathlike stillness. If only someone would speak to him!
If only someone would sing to him. Music would carry his
thoughts away, and would break the spell lying on him. The moon
was streaming in at the open window; but that, too, was silent,
'Music! music!' cried the Emperor. 'You little bright golden
bird, sing! do sing! I gave you gold and jewels; I have hung my
gold slipper round your neck with my own hand--sing! do sing!'
But the bird was silent. There was no one to wind it up, and so
it could not sing. And all was silent, so terribly silent!
All at once there came in at the window the most glorious burst
of song. It was the little living Nightingale, who, sitting
outside on a bough, had heard the need of her Emperor and had
come to sing to him of comfort and hope. And as she sang the
blood flowed quicker and quicker in the Emperor's weak limbs, and
life began to return.
'Thank you, thank you!' said the Emperor. 'You divine little
bird! I know you. I chased you from my kingdom, and you have
given me life again! How can I reward you?'
'You have done that already!' said the Nightingale. 'I brought
tears to your eyes the first time I sang. I shall never forget
that. They are jewels that rejoice a singer's heart. But now
sleep and get strong again; I will sing you a lullaby.' And the
Emperor fell into a deep, calm sleep as she sang.
The sun was shining through the window when he awoke, strong and
well. None of his servants had come back yet, for they thought
he was dead. But the Nightingale sat and sang to him.
'You must always stay with me!' said the Emperor. 'You shall
sing whenever you like, and I will break the artificial bird into
a thousand pieces.'
'Don't do that!' said the Nightingale. 'He did his work as long
as he could. Keep him as you have done! I cannot build my nest
in the Palace and live here; but let me come whenever I like. I
will sit in the evening on the bough outside the window, and I
will sing you something that will make you feel happy and
grateful. I will sing of joy, and of sorrow; I will sing of the
evil and the good which lies hidden from you. The little
singing-bird flies all around, to the poor fisherman's hut, to
the farmer's cottage, to all those who are far away from you and
your Court. I love your heart more than your crown, though that
has about it a brightness as of something holy. Now I will sing
to you again; but you must promise me one thing----'
'Anything!' said the Emperor, standing up in his Imperial robes,
which he had himself put on, and fastening on his sword richly
embossed with gold.
'One thing I beg of you! Don't tell anyone that you have a
little bird who tells you everything. It will be much better not
to!' Then the Nightingale flew away.
The servants came in to look at their dead Emperor.
The Emperor said, 'Good-morning!'