The A-B-C Book
By Hans Christian Andersen (1858)
There was a man who had written some new verses for the A.B.C. book ; two lines for every letter, as in the old A.B.C. books ; he thought that one ought to have something new, the old verses were so stale, and he always thought so well of his own. The new A.B.C. book was as yet only in manuscript, and it was placed beside the old printed one in the big book-case, in which stood so many learned and interesting books ; but the old A.B.C. book would not be a neighbour to the new one, and so it had sprung from the shelf, and at the same time had given the new one a push, so that it also lay upon the floor with all its loose leaves scattered round about. The old A.B.C. book was open at the first page, and it is the most important : all the letters stand there, the big and the little. That page contains everything that all the other books live upon, the alphabet, the letters, which really rule the world ; they have a terrible power ! it entirely depends on how they are commanded to stand ; they can give life, put to death, gladden, and afflict. Placed separately they signify nothing, but placed in ranks ah ! when our Lord caused them to be placed under His thoughts, we learned more than we had strength to bear, we bowed ourselves deeply, but the letters had the strength to bear it.
There the books lay now, facing upwards ! and the cock in the capital A shone with red, blue, and green feathers ; he thrust out his chest, for he knew what the letters meant, and knew that he was the only living thing amongst them. When the old A.B.C. book fell on the floor, he flapped his wings, flew out, and set himself on the edge of the book-case, preened his feathers and crowed, so that echo rang with it. Every book in the book-case, which at other times stood day and night as in a doze when not in use, heard the trumpet-call and then the cock talked clearly and distinctly about the injustice which had been done to the worthy old A.B.C. book.
Everything must now be new, be different,’ he said, ‘ everything must be so advanced ! Children are so clever, that they can now read before they know the letters.
” They shall have something new,” said he who wrote the new A.B.C. verses, which lie there scattered on the floor. I know them ! more than ten times have I heard him read them aloud to himself ! it was such a pleasure to him. No, may I beg to have my own verses, the good old ones with Xanthus, and the pictures which belong to them ; these will I fight for, these will I crow for ! Every book in the book-case knows them well. Now I shall read the new ones he has written, read them with all calmness, and then let us agree that they are no good ! ‘
An Ayah has an Eastern air
And others’ children are her care.
A Boor in former days but toiled ;
Now he ’s somewhat proud and spoiled.
That verse, now, I think wonderfully flat ! ‘ said the cock, ‘ but I will read on ! ‘
Columbus sailed across the main,
And earth became as large again.
Of Denmark’s kingdom it is told,
God over it His hand will hold.
‘ Many will think that beautiful ! ‘ said the cock, but I don’t ! I find nothing beautiful here ! Let us read on ! ‘
The Elepliant, though young it be,
Can tread but heavily, we see.
When rain makes rivers rise in Flood,
It may do harm, but also good.
A Goose, though ne’er so wisely taught,
Is always slow in learning aught.
Hurrah is used to mark applause,
And often for but trifling cause.
‘ How ’s a child to understand that now ? ‘ said the cock, ‘ there certainly stands on the title-page ” A.B.C. book for big and little “, but the big ones have other things to do than read A.B.C. verses, and the little ones cannot possibly understand it ! There is limit to everything ! Lot us go on ! ‘
Our earth an Island is in space,
And we but atoms on its face.
The Kine are kindred to the bull,
And with their calves the fields are full.
‘ How can one explain to children the relationship of these to each other ? ‘
In deserts wild the Lions roam,
But we have other lions at home.
M. MORNING SUN
The Morning sun its beams has shown,
But not because the cock has crown.
‘ Now I am being insulted ! ‘ said the cock, ‘ but I am in good company, in company with the sun. Let ’s go on ! ‘
Black is the Negro past all hope,
One cannot wash him white with soap.
The Olive leaf of Noah’s dove
Must rank all other leaves above.
The Post conveys from land to land
The work of many a head and hand.
A Quey will one day be a cow,
And so is worth the having now.
One may as stout as Round-tower stand,
And yet have neither name nor land
Be not too proud, though all the Swine
That in the forest feed are thine
‘ Allow me to crow now ! ‘ said the cock. ‘ it tries one’s strength to read so much ! one must take a breath ! ‘ and he crowed, so that it rang like a brass trumpet, and it was a great delight to hear it for the cock.
Though lowly the Tea-kettle’s place,
It sings with all a Tea-urn’s grace.
Though far as Uranus we fly,
Beyond is still the endless sky.
A Washerwoman may wash so long
That things will tear, however strong.
‘ Here he hasn’t been able to invent anything new ‘
A stormy cliff in wedlock’s seas
Xanthippe proved to Socrates.
‘ He had to take Xanthippe ; but Xanthus is better.’
‘Neath Ygdrasil the gods did dwell ;
The tree is dead, and the gods as well.
The Danish Zephyr from the west
Can blow through fur-lined coat and vest.
‘ There it ended ! but it is not done with ! now it is to be printed ! and then it is to be read’- it is to be offered instead of the worthy old letter-verses in my book ! What says the meeting, learned and unlearned, single and collected works ? What says the book-case ? I have spoken now the others can act ! ‘
And the books stood and the book-case stood, but the cock flew down again into his capital A, and looked about him proudly. I talked well, I crowed well ! that the new A.B.C. book cannot do after me ! it will certainly die ! it is dead already ! it has no cock ! ‘