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WHEN I took up the study of the Kalevala and Finnish literature, with the intention of publishing a critical English edition of the poem, on which I am still engaged, the accumulation of the necessary materials led me to examine the literature of the neighbouring countries likewise. I had expected to find the Kalevipoeg an Esthonian variant of the Kalevala; but I found it so dissimilar, and at the same time so interesting, when divested of the tedious and irrelevant matter that has been added to the main story, that I finally decided to publish a full account of it in prose, especially as nothing of the kind has yet been attempted in English, beyond a few casual magazine articles.
The Esthonian folk-tales are likewise of much interest, and in many cases of an extremely original character; and these also have never appeared in an English dress. I have, therefore, selected a p. x sufficiently representative series, and have added a few ballads and short poems. This last section of the work, however, amounts to little more than an appendix to the Kalevipoeg, though it is placed at the end of the book. Esthonian ballad literature is of enormous extent, and only partially investigated and published at present, even in the original; and it would therefore be premature to try to treat of it in detail here, nor had I time or space to attempt it. I had, however, intended to have included a number of poems from Neus’ Ehstnische Volkslieder in the present volumes, but found that it was unnecessary, as Latham has already given an English version of most of the best in his “Nationalities of Europe.”
The Introduction and Notes will, it is hoped, be sufficiently full to afford all necessary information for the intelligent comprehension of the book, without overloading it; and it has been decided to add a sketch-map of this little known country, including some of the places specially referred to. But Esthonian folk-literature, even without the ballads, is a most extensive study, and I do not pretend to do more than offer a few specimens culled from some of the most easily accessible sources. My professional work does not allow me time to attempt p. xi more at present; and it is from the same cause that my work on the Kalevala has been delayed so long.
In outlying parts of Europe like Finland and Esthonia, which were not Christianised till long after the southern and western countries, primitive literature has survived to a much greater extent than elsewhere; and the publication of the Kalevala and the Kalevipoeg during the present century furnishes a striking example before our very eyes of the manner in which the Iliad and the Odyssey grew up among the Greeks, before these poems were edited in the form in which they have come down to us, by order of Pisistratus.
The principal books used in the preparation of this work are mentioned in the short Bibliography. The names of others quoted or referred to will be found in the Index, which has also been drawn up in such a manner as to form a general glossary.
W. F. KIRBY.
CHISWICK, September 1894.