The Water-Babies

The Water-Babies as commented by Huxley

Huxley wrote back a letter (later evoked by the New York Sun's "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" in 1897):

My dear Julian – I could never make sure about that Water Baby.

I have seen Babies in water and Babies in bottles; the Baby in the water was not in a bottle and the Baby in the bottle was not in water. My friend who wrote the story of the Water Baby was a very kind man and very clever. Perhaps he thought I could see as much in the water as he did – There are some people who see a great deal and some who see very little in the same things.

When you grow up I dare say you will be one of the great-deal seers, and see things more wonderful than the Water Babies where other folks can see nothing.[15]





The Water-Babies: INTRODUCTION

IT was in 1863 that The Water-Babies was written, showing the naturalist in the fulness of his strength, fearlessly, yet tenderly, playing with the tremendous results of advanced 

science in the nineteenth century. . . .


   "The writing of the book was the outcome of a gentle reminder, at breakfast one spring morning, of an old promise, to the effect that as the three elder children had their book-The Heroes-the baby, my youngest brother, then four years old, 'must have his.'  My Father made no answer, 'but got up at once and went to his study, locking the door,' and in an hour came back with the first chapter to The Water-Babies in his hand.  At this pace and with the same ease the whole book was composed. . .   



 "A visit in 1858 to Mr. W. E. Fester in Wharfedale, and to Mr. Morrison at Malham, gave him the local setting of the beautiful opening chapters.  For the grandeur of the scenery of Codale Scar and Malham Cove had made a profound impression on his mind, as did the beauty of the Wharfe below Denton Park.

   "Places he had seen, and many more he had read and dreamed of in his father's fine library of voyages and travels, fairies and men of science, fads and foibles, education true and false, Pandora's box and sanitary science-a matter always dear to his heart-the ways of beasts and birds, fishes and insects, of plant and tree and rock, of river and tide, are all interwoven here with the deepest truths of life and living, of morals and religion. So that while the boo enchants the child, it gives the wise man food for thought. . . .

   "Happy are the children who get their first ideas of the marvels of nature all around them from such a lesson-book as this. . . .

    "And perchance, when they are grown men and women, and like Tom have won their spurs in the great battle, they may look back with thankful hearts to certain pages in The Water-Babies; pages which taught them, while as little children they read a fairy tale, what a fine thing it is to love truth, mercy, justice, courage, and all things noble and of good report."



The Water-Babies: Chapter I

   Once upon a time there was a little chimney-sweep, and his name was Tom.  That is a very 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.  He could not read nor write, and he did not care to do either; and he never washed himself, for there was no water up the court where he lived.  He had never been taught to say his prayers.  He never had heard of God, or of Christ, except in words which you never have heard, and which it would have been well if he had never heard.  He cried half of his time, and laughed the other half.  He cried when he had to climb the dark flues, rubbing his poor knees and elbows raw; and when the soot got into his eyes, which it did every day in the week; and when his master beat him, which he did every day in the week; and when he had not enough to eat, which happened every day in the week likewise.  And he laughed the other half of the day, when he was tossing half pennies with the other boys, or playing leap-frog over the posts, or bowling stones at the horses' legs as they trotted by, which last was excellent fun, when there was a wall at hand behind which to hide.  As for chimney-sweeping, and being hungry, and being beaten, he took all that for the way of the world. like the rain and snow and thunder, and stood manfully with his back to it till it was over, as his old donkey did to a hail-storm; and then shook his ears and was jolly as ever; and he thought of the fine times coming, when he would be a man, and a master sweep, and sit in the public-house with a quart of beer and a long pipe, and play cards for silver money, and swear velveteens and ankle-jacks, and keep a white bull-dog with one gray ear, and carry her puppies in his pocket, just like a man.  And he would have apprentices, one, two, three, if he could.  How he would bully them, and knock them about, just as his master did to him;  and make them carry home the soot sacks, while he rode before them on his donkey, with a pipe in his mouth and a flower in his buttonhole, like a king at the heard of his army.  Yes, there were good times coming.

 
The Water-babies: To read Further...

...