Sagas and Legends
A PREFACE is to a book what a prologue is to a play--a usual, often agreeable, but by no means necessary precursor. It may therefore be altered or omitted at pleasure. I have at times exercised this right, and this is the third I have written for the present work.
In the first, after briefly stating what had given occasion to it, I gave the germs of the theory which I afterwards developed in the Tales and Popular Fictions. [a] The second contained the following paragraph:
"I never heard of any one who read it that was not pleased with it. It was translated into German as soon as it appeared, and was very favourably received. Goethe thought well of it. Dr. Jacob Grimm--perhaps the first authority on these matters in Europe--wrote me a letter commending it, and assuring me that even to him it offered something new; and I was one Christmas most agreeably surprised by the receipt of a letter from Vienna, from the celebrated orientalist, Jos Von Hammer, informing me that it had been the companion of a journey he had lately made to his native province of Styria, and had afforded much pleasure and information to himself and to some ladies of high rank and cultivated minds in that country. The initials at the end of the preface, he said, led him to suppose it was a work of mine. So far for the Continent. In this country, when I mention the name of Robert Southey as that of one who has more than once expressed his decided approbation of this performance, I am sure I shall have said quite enough to satisfy any one that the work is not devoid of merit."
I could now add many names of distinguished persons who have been pleased with this work and its pendant, the Tales and Popular Fictions. I shall only mention that of the late Mr. Douce, who, very shortly before his death, on the occasion of the publication of this last work, called on me to assure me that "it was many, many years indeed, since he had read a book which had yielded him so much delight."
The contents of the work which gave such pleasure to this learned antiquary are as follows:--
I Introduction--Similarity of Arts and Customs--Similarity of Names--Origin of the Work--Imitation--Casual Coincidence--Milton--Dante. II. The Thousand and One Nights--Bedoween Audience around a Story-teller--Cleomades and Claremond--Enchanted Horses--Peter of Provence and the fair Maguelone. IlI The Pleasant Nights--The Dancing Water, the Singing Apple, and the Beautiful Green Bird--The Three Little Birds--Lactantius--Ulysses and Sindbad. IV. The Shah-Nameh--Roostem and Soohrab--Conloch and Cuchullin--Macpherson's Ossian--Irish Antiquities. V. The Pentamerone--Tale of the Serpent--Hindoo Legend. VI. Jack the Giant-killer--The Brave Tailoring--Thor's Journey to Utgard--Ameen of Isfshan and the Ghool--The Lion and the Goat--The Lion and the Ass. VII Whittington and his Cat--Danish Legends--Italian Stories--Persian Legend. VIII. The Edda--Sigurd and Brynhilda--Volund--Helgi--Holger--Danske--Ogier le Danois--Toko--William Tell. IX. Peruonto--Peter the Fool--Emelyan the Fool--Conclusion. Appendix.
Never, I am convinced, did any one enter on a literary career with more reluctance than I did when I found it to be my only resource--fortune being gone, ill health and delicacy of constitution excluding me from the learned professions, want of interest from every thing else. As I journeyed to the metropolis, I might have sung with the page whom Don Quixote met going a-soldiering:
A Ia guerra me lieva--mi necesidad,
Si tuviera dineros--no fuera en verdad:
for of all arts and professions in this country, that of literature is the least respected and the worst remunerated. There is something actually degrading in the expression "an author by trade," which I have seen used even of Southey, and that by one who did not mean to disparage him in the slightest degree. My advice to those who may read these pages is to shun literature, if not already blest with competence.
One of my earliest literary friends in London was T. Crofton Croker, who was then engaged in collecting materials for the Fairy Legends of the South of Ireland. He of course applied to his friends for aid and information; and I, having most leisure, and, I may add, most knowledge, was able to give him the greatest amount of assistance. My inquiries on the subject led, to the writing of the present work, which was succeeded by the Mythology of Ancient Greece and Italy, and the Tales and Popular Fictions; so that, in effect, if Mr. Croker had not planned the Fairy Legends, these works, be their value what it may, would in all probability never have been written.
Writing and reading about Fairies some may deem to be the mark of a trilling turn of mind. On this subject I have given my ideas in the Conclusion; here I will only remind such critics, that as soon as this work was completed, I commenced, and wrote in the space of a few weeks, my Outlines of History; and whatever the faults of that work may be, no one has ever reckoned among them want of vigour in either thought or expression.. It was also necessary, in order to write this work and its pendent, to be able to read, perhaps, as many as eighteen or twenty different languages, dialects, and modes of orthography, and to employ different styles both in prose and verse. At all events, even if it were trifling, dulce est despere in loco; and I shall never forget the happy hours it caused me, especially those spent over the black-letter pages of the French romances of chivalry, in the old reading-room of the British Museum.
Many years have elapsed since this work was first published. In that period much new matter has appeared in various works, especially in the valuable Deutsche Mythologie of Dr. Grimm. Hence it will be found to be greatly enlarged, particularly in the sections of England and Prance. I have also inserted much which want of space obliged me to omit in the former edition. In its present form, I am presumptuous enough to expect that it may live for many years, and be an authority on the subject of popular lore. The active industry of the Grimms, of Thiele, and others, had collected the popular traditions of various countries. I came then and gathered in the harvest, leaving little, I apprehend, but gleanings for future writers on this subject. The legends will probably fade fast away from the popular memory; it is not likely that any one will relate those which I have given over again; and it therefore seems more probable that this volume may in future be reprinted, with notes and additions. For human nature will ever remain unchanged; the love of gain and of material enjoyments, omnipotent as it appears to be at present, will never totally extinguish the higher and purer aspirations of mind; and there will always be those, however limited in number, who will desire to know how the former dwellers of earth thought, felt, and acted. For these mythology, as connected with religion and history, will always have attractions.
[a] a sequel to this volume