THE largest green leaf in this country is certainly the
burdock-leaf. If you hold it in front of you, it is large
enough for an apron; and if you hold it over your head, it is
almost as good as an umbrella, it is so wonderfully large. A
burdock never grows alone; where it grows, there are many
more, and it is a splendid sight; and all this splendor is
good for snails. The great white snails, which grand people in
olden times used to have made into fricassees; and when they
had eaten them, they would say, 'O, what a delicious dish!'
for these people really thought them good; and these snails
lived on burdock-leaves, and for them the burdock was planted.
There was once an old estate where no one now lived to
require snails; indeed, the owners had all died out, but the
burdock still flourished; it grew over all the beds and walks
of the garden- its growth had no check- till it became at last
quite a forest of burdocks. Here and there stood an apple or a
plum-tree; but for this, nobody would have thought the place
had ever been a garden. It was burdock from one end to the
other; and here lived the last two surviving snails. They knew
not themselves how old they were; but they could remember the
time when there were a great many more of them, and that they
were descended from a family which came from foreign lands,
and that the whole forest had been planted for them and
theirs. They had never been away from the garden; but they
knew that another place once existed in the world, called the
Duke's Palace Castle, in which some of their relations had
been boiled till they became black, and were then laid on a
silver dish; but what was done afterwards they did not know.
Besides, they could not imagine exactly how it felt to be
boiled and placed on a silver dish; but no doubt it was
something very fine and highly genteel. Neither the
cockchafer, nor the toad, nor the earth-worm, whom they
questioned about it, would give them the least information;
for none of their relations had ever been cooked or served on
a silver dish. The old white snails were the most aristocratic
race in the world,- they knew that. The forest had been
planted for them, and the nobleman's castle had been built
entirely that they might be cooked and laid on silver dishes.
They lived quite retired and very happily; and as they had
no children of their own, they had adopted a little common
snail, which they brought up as their own child. The little
one would not grow, for he was only a common snail; but the
old people, particularly the mother-snail, declared that she
could easily see how he grew; and when the father said he
could not perceive it, she begged him to feel the little
snail's shell, and he did so, and found that the mother was
One day it rained very fast. 'Listen, what a drumming
there is on the burdock-leaves; turn, turn, turn; turn, turn,
turn,' said the father-snail.
'There come the drops,' said the mother; 'they are
trickling down the stalks. We shall have it very wet here
presently. I am very glad we have such good houses, and that
the little one has one of his own. There has been really more
done for us than for any other creature; it is quite plain
that we are the most noble people in the world. We have houses
from our birth, and the burdock forest has been planted for
us. I should very much like to know how far it extends, and
what lies beyond it.'
'There can be nothing better than we have here,' said the
father-snail; 'I wish for nothing more.'
'Yes, but I do,' said the mother; 'I should like to be
taken to the palace, and boiled, and laid upon a silver dish,
as was done to all our ancestors; and you may be sure it must
be something very uncommon.'
'The nobleman's castle, perhaps, has fallen to decay,'
said the snail-father, or the burdock wood may have grown out.
You need not be in a hurry; you are always so impatient, and
the youngster is getting just the same. He has been three days
creeping to the top of that stalk. I feel quite giddy when I
look at him.'
'You must not scold him,' said the mother-snail; 'he
creeps so very carefully. He will be the joy of our home; and
we old folks have nothing else to live for. But have you ever
thought where we are to get a wife for him? Do you think that
farther out in the wood there may be others of our race?'
'There may be black snails, no doubt,' said the old snail;
'black snails without houses; but they are so vulgar and
conceited too. But we can give the ants a commission; they run
here and there, as if they all had so much business to get
through. They, most likely, will know of a wife for our
'I certainly know a most beautiful bride,' said one of the
ants; 'but I fear it would not do, for she is a queen.'
'That does not matter,' said the old snail; 'has she a
'She has a palace,' replied the ant,- 'a most beautiful
ant-palace with seven hundred passages.'
'Thank-you,' said the mother-snail; 'but our boy shall not
go to live in an ant-hill. If you know of nothing better, we
will give the commission to the white gnats; they fly about in
rain and sunshine; they know the burdock wood from one end to
'We have a wife for him,' said the gnats; 'a hundred
man-steps from here there is a little snail with a house,
sitting on a gooseberry-bush; she is quite alone, and old
enough to be married. It is only a hundred man-steps from
'Then let her come to him,' said the old people. 'He has
the whole burdock forest; she has only a bush.'
So they brought the little lady-snail. She took eight days
to perform the journey; but that was just as it ought to be;
for it showed her to be one of the right breeding. And then
they had a wedding. Six glow-worms gave as much light as they
could; but in other respects it was all very quiet; for the
old snails could not bear festivities or a crowd. But a
beautiful speech was made by the mother-snail. The father
could not speak; he was too much overcome. Then they gave the
whole burdock forest to the young snails as an inheritance,
and repeated what they had so often said, that it was the
finest place in the world, and that if they led upright and
honorable lives, and their family increased, they and their
children might some day be taken to the nobleman's palace, to
be boiled black, and laid on a silver dish. And when they had
finished speaking, the old couple crept into their houses, and
came out no more; for they slept.
The young snail pair now ruled in the forest, and had a
numerous progeny. But as the young ones were never boiled or
laid in silver dishes, they concluded that the castle had
fallen into decay, and that all the people in the world were
dead; and as nobody contradicted them, they thought they must
be right. And the rain fell upon the burdock-leaves, to play
the drum for them, and the sun shone to paint colors on the
burdock forest for them, and they were very happy; the whole
family were entirely and perfectly happy.