Preface to the First Edition

Preface to the First Edition

The object of this Handbook is to supply readers and speakers with a lucid but very brief account of such names as are used in allusions and references, whether by poets or prose writers,—to furnish those who consult it with the plot of popular dramas, the story of epic poems, and the outline of well- known tales. Who has not asked what such and such a book is about? and who would not be glad to have his question answered correctly in a few words? When the title of a play is mentioned, who has not felt a desire to know who was the author of it?—for it seems a universal practice to allude to the title of dramas without stating the author. And when reference is made to some character, who has not wished to know something specific about the person referred to? The object of this Handbook is to supply these wants. Thus, it gives in a few lines the story of Homer’s lliad and Odyssey, of Virgil’s Æneid, Lucan’s Pharsalia, and the Thebaid of Statius; of Dantê’s Divine Comedy, Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, and Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered; of Milton’s Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained; of Thomson’s Seasons; of Ossian’s tales, the Nibelungen Lied of the German minnesingers, the Romance of the Rose, the Lusiad of Camoëns, the Loves of Theagnês and Charicleia by Heliodorus (fourth century), with the several story poems of Chaucer, Gower, Piers Plowman, Hawes, Spenser, Drayton, Phineas Fletcher, Prior, Goldsmith, Campbell, Southey, Byron, Scott, Moore, Tennyson, Longfellow, and so on. Far from limiting its scope to poets, the Handbook tells, with similar brevity, the stories of our national fairy tales and romances, such novels as those by Charles Dickens, Vanity Fair by Thackeray, the Rasselas of Johnson, Gulliver’s Travels by Swift, the Sentimental Journey by Sterne, Don Quixote and Gil Blas, Telemachus by Fénelon, and Undine by De la Motte Fouqué. Great pains have been taken with the Arthurian stories, whether from sir T. Malory’s collection or from the Mabinogion, because Tennyson has brought them to the front in his Idylls of the King; and the number of dramatic plots sketched out is many hundreds.

Another striking and interesting feature of the book is the revelation of the source from which dramatists and romancers have derived their stories, and the strange repetitions of historic incidents. Compare, for example, the stratagem of the wooden horse by which Troy was taken, with those of Abu Obeidah in the siege of Arrestan, and that of the capture of Sark from the French, p. 504. Compare, again, Dido’s cutting the hide into strips, with the story about the Yakutsks, p. 182; that of Romulus and Remus, with the story of Tyro, p. 930; the Shibboleth of Scripture story, with those of the “Sicilian Vespers,” and of the Danes on St. Bryce’s Day, p. 1003; the story of Pisistratos and his two sons, with that of Cosmo de’ Medici and his two grandsons, p. 849; the death of Marcus Licinius Crassus, with that of Manlius Nepos Aquilius, p. 434; and the famous “Douglas larder,” with the larder of Wallace at Ardrossan, p. 297. Witness the numerous tales resembling that of William Tell and the apple, p. 1082; of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, p. 843; of Llewellyn and his dog Gelert, p. 410; of bishop Hatto and the rats, p. 474; of Ulysses and Polyphemos, p. 1156; and of lord Lovel’s bride, p. 712. Witness, again, the parallelisms of David in his flight from Saul, and that of Mahomet from the Koreishites, p. 1035; of Jephthah and his daughter, and the tale of Idomeneus of Crete, or that of Agamemnon and Iphigenia, p. 544; of Paris and Sextus, p. 988; Salome and Fulvia, p. 955; St. Patrick preaching to king O’Neil, and St. Areed before the king of Abyssinia, p. 812; of Cleopatra and Sophonisba, with scores of others.

To ensure accuracy, every work alluded to in this large volume has been read personally by the author expressly for this Handbook, and since the compilation was commenced; for although, at the beginning, a few others were employed for the sake of despatch, the author read over for himself, while the sheets were passing through the press, the works put into their hands. The very minute references to words and phrases, book and chapter, act and scene, often to page and line, will be sufficient guarantee to the reader that this assertion is not overstated.

The work is in a measure novel, and cannot fail to be useful. It is owned that Charles Lamb has told, and told well, the Tales of Shakespeare; but Charles Lamb has occupied more pages with each tale than the Handbook has lines. It is also true that an “Argument” is generally attached to each book of an epic story; but the reading of these rhapsodies is like reading an index—few have patience to wade through them, and fewer still obtain therefrom any clear idea of the spirit of the actors, or the progress of the story. Brevity has been the aim of this Handbook, but clearness has not been sacrificed to terseness; and

  By PanEris using Melati.

  Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission.
See our FAQ for more details.