JF Ptak Science Books Post 1738 [Part of the series on the History of Memory.]
Fact: toys have souls. Or, if we can establish that in this case a "fact" can be so identified, then a "fact" this must be.
I've stumbled onto a remarkable short story in Punch's Almanack for 1892 (as part of Punch, or the London Charivari) called "The Evolution of a Toy Soul, or Nursery Karma". This piece establishes that toys have souls, that they have an inner, thinking, emotional existence which is capable of Karma and reincarnation, a life of their own--lives of their own. Cognizant, penetrative, analytical. And a toy.
The story is told partially in the first person, in the voice of a toy who recounts its long series of births and rebirths--eleven (so far) in all--and its (his or her's) long experiences. And this all more than a hundred years before Toy Story. I don't know this literature very well, not really, but so far I have not found other "toys have souls" stories, nor have I been able to find out anything about this particular toy story, with searches done in JSTOR and Google and a host of other repositories turning up nothing at all. Its a puzzling thing, really, because it is a wonderful story.
In a brief summary, our toy soul starts out it life ("my first birth") as a rubber ball ("the body in which I first became conscious of my existence"). The toy soul figures too that it must be its first body, because there is no lower entry point in toydom, except, as is noted, for a brick, which happens to be not-really-a-toy.
"My Second Birth" find the toy soul returned to the nursery as a Ninepin, a Ninepin King, who lives part of its life in the hands of a ("quite mad") human child who dresses the Ninepin in dolls clothes and fabric.
"My Third Birth": "the law of Karma has mysteries which are hid even from the initiated, and I am still at a loss to explain how it came about that I was next incorporated in an Organ Top", which was basically a spinning top that produced a melody of some sort.
"My Fourth Birth": "I was advanced at a bound" in Karmic hierarchy by being held in the form of a fur monkey with bead teeth and glass eyes. Here our toy soul has a recollection of its earlier self as a musical top, as it leaves with the monkey a "chronic melancholy", who takes care (as it were) of a sick girl for a long period of time, and then in the end is given over to a careless boy, and ends up burning in a fireplace.
"My Fifth Birth" was a step upwards (deserved "for strict attention to duty in my previous state", appearing in new form as a clockwork mouse who falls in love with a real canary and who also shares an affection for a cuckoo in a cuckoo clock.
"My Sixth Birth" finds our hero ("in spite of my folly, I was allowed to begin my next life with brighter prospects"), as a drumming rabbit on a wheeled cart.
"My Seventh Birth" finds the toy soul imbued in the form of a man, "a meek little plastic grocer", complete with a shop with goods and scales, and who carries on a series of adventures with a clientelle.
"My Eighth Birth" evidently is highly problematic, the plaster grocer yields to a paper donkey, one that is part of a penny game of chance that kicks after a coin is deposited behind its ear. ("I was too closely tied to the bank for me to have any gentler emotions.")
"My Ninth Birth": "I deserved some promotion, and I got it. I was now a smart and well set up Wooden Soldier".
"My Tenth Birth": was in that of a "Dutch Doll", a not-happy existence, which led to
"My eleventh Birth", where "there must have been a heavy debit against me in the books of Karma" to find our toy soul coming back into existence "inhabiting perhaps the most hideous toy in existence", that being a "Japanese Goblin Head...without even a body of my own". It is at this point of the story that I have become convinced that this might not be something to read to my eight-year old daughter, as the descriptions get a little grimy and Grimm-y.
"My Twelfth Birth": "having done my best as a Goblin under great disadvantage:, the toy soul was once again promoted, this time to a Gentleman Doll in a window, hawking perfumes and airs and pomades for a long flowery beard and mustache.
"My Thirteenth Birth" was evidently a punishment for "uxorious carelessness", becoming "the Little Man in the Weather Cottage", and for which there is "little to record...about that state of being".
"My Fourteenth Birth", and final, was a birth outside the Nursery, "a toy no more". "I am a Mystic, an Automatic Magician in a glass case, a Cave of Mystery and Divination, to which trembling mortals resort to consult the future". In other words, a mechanical fortune teller of the arcade. The toy soul has reached its Nirvana, its Felicity, "the best". And it is from this perch that the toy soul says farewell, leaving us to wonder about a glassed-in heaven.
It is a very unexpected thing, this story, and I'm not entirely certain that it is worthy of a child's hands, or ears--but for the adult, it is something quite different.