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The author of this volume contributed to the edition of Webster's Quarto Dictionary published in 1864 a “Vocabulary of the Names of Noted Fictitious Persons and Places ;” but the present work, though based on that Vocabulary, embraces a wider range of subjects, contains nearly seventeen hundred new articles, besides important modifications of many of the others, and is furnished with an orthoëpical Introduction, and an Index of the real names of persons, places, &c., whose nicknames, pseudonyms, or popular appellations, are given in the body of the book. Notwithstanding the great pains that has been taken to secure fullness and minute accuracy, there are undoubtedly some errors and numerous omissions; but no more of either, it is hoped, than are inseparable from a work of such multiplicity. And although a casual examination or closer scrutiny may bring to light defects of both kinds, it may still be affirmed, that, with respect to a very large class of names, there can nowhere else be found in a collective form an equal amount and variety of information.
The main design of the work is to explain, as far as practicable, the allusions which occur in modern standard literature to noted fictitious persons and places, whether mythological or not. For this reason, the plan is almost entirely restricted to proper names, or such as designate individual persons, places, or things. The introduction of appellative or generic names, such as abbot of unreason, lord of misrule, kobold, &c., as well as the explanation of celebrated customs and phrases, such as flap-dragon, nine-men's-morrice, philosophy of the Porch, too vast a field of inquiry; and, besides, there are copious special treatises on these subjects already before the public, as those of Brand, Hone, Pulleyn, Timbs, and others. The author has been urged to extend his plan so as to include the titles of famous poems, essays, novels, and other literary works, and the names of celebrated statues, paintings, palaces, country-seats, churches, ships, streets, clubs, and the like; inasmuch as such names are of very common occurrence in books and newspapers, and, for the most part, are not alphabetically entered and explained in Encyclopædias, Dictionaries, or Gazetteers. That a dictionary which should furnish succinct information upon such matters would supply a want which is daily felt by readers of every class is not to be doubted; but it should constitute an independent work. A manual of this description the author has for some time had in preparation ; and he hopes to publish it, at no distant day, as a companion to the present volume.
The names from the Greek, Roman, Norse, and Hindu Mythologies that are here given, are concisely treated, mainly with a view to explain frequent allusions in the poets and other popular writers, and for the benefit of mere English readers, rather than for that of professed scholars. From the Rabbinical and Mohammedan Mythologies have been taken some names, which are occasionally made the subject of reference, and concerning which information is not readily obtainable. Prominence has been given to the departments of Angelology, Demonology, Fairy Mythology, and Popular Superstitions, which afford many of the most important names in Fiction. Parables, Allegories, Proverbs, and Mediæval Legends have also furnished a considerable number. Ecclesiastical History contributes the names of several pseudo-saints, and other imaginary personages. In the Drama, and in Poetry — including the various kinds, Epic, Romantic, Narrative, Comic, &c., - the intention has been to give the names of all such characters as are familiarly referred to by writers and speakers at the present day; and, though there may be accidental omissions, it is hoped that under The principal deficiency is most likely to exist in the department of Prose Romance; for, though there is very little that is fictitious in ancient literature which is not included in ancient Mythology, yet the field of research continually widens as we come down to modern times, until it seems to be almost boundless. In fixing the limits of the work, the consideration which has determined the admission or rejection of names has not been the intrinsic merit of a book, or the reputation of its writer, but the hold which his characters have taken upon the popular mind. There are many authors of acknowledged genius, and hundreds of clever and prolific writers, who yet have not produced a single character that has so fallen in with the humor, or hit the fancy, of the time, as to have become the subject of frequent allusion.
The English romancers and novelists whose creations are most familiarly known and most firmly established are Bunyan, De Foe, Swift, Richardson, Fielding, Smollett, Sterne, Goldsmith, Scott, Dickens, and Thackeray. Many of the portraitures of these writers may be safely presumed to be of more than temporary interest and importance. In regard to other and minor characters, from whatever source derived, it is to be borne in mind that a dictionary is chiefly designed for the use of the existing generation. To what extent names of secondary importance should be included was a question difficult to determine. Opinions from scholars entitled to the highest consideration were about equally divided upon this point. Some favored a selected list of the most important names only: others, and the greater number, recommended a much wider scope. A middle course is the one that has been actually followed. It is evident that many articles which may seem to one person of very questionable importance, if not wholly unworthy of insertion, will be held by another to be of special value, as throwing light upon passages which to him would otherwise be perplexing or obscure.
This Dictionary is, of course, chiefly designed to elucidate the works of British and American writers ; but names occurtroduced whenever they have become well known to the public through the medium of translations, or when they seemed, for other reasons, to be worthy of insertion.
In accordance with the plan of the work as indicated in the title, such English, French, German, and other Pseudonyms as are frequently met with in books and newspapers have been given for the benefit of the general reader. No pretense, however, is made to completeness, or even to fullness, in this respect. The bibliographer will find here little or nothing that is new to him; and he must still have recourse to his Barbier, Quérard, Weller, and other writers of the same class. Names like Erasmus, Melanchthon, Mercator, Ecolampadius, &c., assumed by learned men after the revival of classical literature, being, in general, merely the Latin or Greek equivalents of their real names, and being also the only names by which they are now known in history, are excluded as not pertinent to the work. For a similar reason, no notice is taken of such names as Masséna, Metastasio, Philidor, Psalmanazar, Voltaire, &c.
Many eminent characters in political and literary history are often known and referred to by the surnames and sobriquets, or nicknames, which they have borne; as, the Master of Sentences, the Scourge of God, the Stagirite, the Wizard of the North, the Little Corporal, &c. “ Nicknames," said Napoleon, “ should never be despised: it is by such means mankind are governed.” The Dictionary embraces the more important of these ; but names like Caligula, Guercino, Tintoretto, &c., which have entirely superseded the real names of the persons designated by them, have not been regarded as properly coming within the purview of the present undertaking. Nor has it, as a rule, been thought advisable to admit simple epithets, such as the Bold, the Good, the Great, the Unready, the Courtier, &c., the omission of which can hardly be considered a defect, since their signification and the reason of their imposition are usually too obvious to excite inquiry. This rule, however, has not been uniformly observed. Here, as elsewhere in the work,
every author of a dictionary or glossary is fairly entitled, and which he is often compelled to use.
A considerable space has been allotted to familiar names of Parties and Sects, of Laws, and of Battles ; to poetical and popular names of Seas, Countries, States, Cities, &c.; to ancient geographical names which have become interesting from their revival in poetry or otherwise ; and to certain long-established and important Personifications. In general, nicknames of Parties and Sects, such as Chouans, Ghibellines, Gueux, Methodists, Shakers, &c., which have been adopted by those to whom they were at first derisively applied, or which have passed into history and common use as their peculiar and appropriate names, and are to be found in any good Encyclopædia or Man. ual of Dates, are designedly not included. Most of the historical by-names inserted, such as Day of Dupes, Evil May-day, Wonderful Parliament, Omnibus Bill, Western Reserve, &c., are those which are not to be found under the proper heads in Encyclopædias and other books of reference. Popular designations connected with History and Geography have been freely given in all cases where they seemed to be well settled, and to be fitted to illustrate past or contemporary events or characters.
A slight departure from the strict limits of the plan has been thought allowable in the case of a few quasi-historical, or real but obscure, persons, places, and things, such as Owleglass, John O Groat, Mrs. Glasse, the Minerva Press, &c., which are often referred to in literature or conversation, and of most of which no account can be obtained except through an amount of research and toil hardly possible to a majority of readers.
Illustrative citations have been copiously given from no small variety of authors ; and, as many of them are gems of thought or expression, it is believed that they will be deemed greatly to enhance the value and interest of the work. Some of them, however, have purposely been taken from newspapers and magazines rather than from the classics of the language, in order to show, by such familiar examples, the popularity of the