Toy Stories

From the reminiscences of Eleanor Marx:

To my sisters — I was then too small — he told tales as they went for walks, and these tales were measured by miles not chapters. “Tell us another mile,” was the cry of the two girls. For my own part, of the many wonderful tales Mohr [Marx] told me, the most wonderful, the most delightful one, was “Hans Röckle.” It went on for months and months; it was a whole series of stories. The pity no one was there to write down these tales so full of poetry, of wit, of humour! Hans Röckle himself was a Hoffmann-like magician, who kept a toyshop, and who was always “hard up.” His shop was full of the most wonderful things — of wooden men and women, giants and dwarfs, kings and queens, workmen and masters, animals and birds as numerous as Noah got into the Arc, tables and chairs, carriages, boxes of all sorts and sizes. And though he was a magician, Hans could never meet his obligations either to the devil or the butcher, and was therefore — much against the grain — constantly obliged to sell his toys to the devil. These then went through wonderful adventures — always ending in a return to Hans Röckle’s shop. Some of these adventures were as grim, as terrible, as any of Hoffmann’s; some were comic; all were told with inexhaustible verve, wit and humour.

And Mohr would also read to his children. Thus to me, as to my sisters before me, he read the whole of Homer, the whole Nibelungen Lied, Gudrun, Don Quixote, the Arabian Nights, etc. As to Shakespeare he was the Bible of our house, seldom out of our hands or mouths. By the time I was six I knew scene upon scene of Shakespeare by heart.

On my sixth birthday Mohr presented me with my first novel — the immortal Peter Simple [adventure novel by the English writer Frederick Marryat]. This was followed by a whole course of Marryat and Cooper. And my father actually read every one of the tales as I read them, and gravely discussed them with his little girl. And when that little girl, fired by Marryat’s tales of the sea, declared she would become a “Post-Captain” (whatever that may be) and consulted her father as to whether it would not be possible for her “to dress up as a boy” and “run away to join a man-of-war,” he assured her he thought it might very well be done, only they must say nothing about it to anyone until all plans were well matured.

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