This book includes short renditions of eighteen of the most famous legends in Western civilization. Included are the stories of St. George and the Dragon, William Tell, King Cophetua, St. Christopher, The Wandering Jew, and the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, all retold in fine English prose. Stories from Greek and Roman times, Christian and Biblical stores, and tales from the middle ages are all included in this small volume, easily read by an older grammar school student.
This little book follows the general design of The Book of Fables and The Book of Folk Stories. Literature, in one form or another, recognizes a number of stories which are current in many tongues, and may or may not have had a single origin. Such is the tale of William Tell. There are legends also which sprang up in the popular mind about some hero of real life, and, in ages which knew a marked separation between literate and illiterate, these stories, treasured by uncritical minds, came to express in supernatural terms facts and incidents which at other times would have been held fast in more exact biography. Such are the legends of "St. Christopher" and "St. George and the Dragon." Again, there are stories like "The Bell of Justice" and "The lmage and the Treasure" which were the invention of mediæval preachers of a lively turn of imagination, and have found a place in such collections as Gesta Romanorum.
These tales, springing from various sources, have been taken up into literature of a more conscious sort, and have been made the basis of poem or story or drama. Their antiquity and their persistence mark them as corresponding to elemental conditions of human nature, and thus they have seemed to me peculiarly acceptable to the young, whose imagination is vivid and uncritical. But for the most part these stories are not accessible in a form easily apprehended by young readers, and it has been my pleasure to tell them over again in simple language. Perhaps some of the readers of this book will find a keener pleasure in after-life when they take up, for example, Longfellow's "King Robert of Sicily," or hear an opera by Wagner, because the story in each case had become familiar in childhood.
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