Skip to main content

Full text of "Letter from William Adolphus Wheeler to John Greenleaf Whittier"

See other formats



■ *. JuL. 

Dorchester, 20th May, 1863. 

My dear Sir : — 

I have in an advanced state of preparation, and shall soon publish, 
a novel work, on which I have been for some years engaged ; viz., “An Explanatory and 
Pronouncing Dictionary of the Names of Noted Fictitious Persons and Places, including 
Celebrated Pseudonyms, Surnames bestowed upon Eminent Men, and such Analogous 
Popular Appellations as are often alluded to in Literature and Conversation.” The plan 
of the book is tolerably well indicated by the title, but a more detailed statement of its 
scope and limits will be found on the next page. There is no work of the same or a 
similar kind, it is believed, in any language ; and — while there is an advantage in bringing 
out a word-book that is entirely unique — the collection of the necessary materials is, for 
this reason, a task of very great difficulty', involving an amount of general and special 
reading, and an extent of research in certain directions, that might occupy the best part 
of a lifetime without insuring absolute completeness. I can only hope, in a first edition, 
to produce a book which shall he considerably better than none at all, — one which shall 
be minutely accurate as far as it goes, and go as far as the nature of the undertaking and 
the means at hand will allow, — trusting that its appearance w ill call out information and 
criticisms that may be availed of in subsequent editions. 

May 1 request you, Sir, to assist me, in the first essay, so far as to note down, on the 
last page, such names as you may happen to think /if, or may meet with in the course of 

We km-<u:V {ry' 

your reading, and deem suitable for insertion, withjirief explanations, if you can readily 
give them : also, to make any queries, or to offer any suggestions, that may occur to you ; 
and to return this circular to me within two months from the present time ? 

For special reasons connected with the publication of the work, — which is already 
arranged for, — it is desired that the fact of its preparation and probable early issue should 
not become generally known. You will, therefore, please to regard this communication as 
in some degree a confidential one. 

I remain, my dear Sir, 

. With great respect, very truly yours, 


G E X E R A I, S C H E M E 



I. The Important Names in 
Pure Fiction, including . 

a. Drama (as, Bobadil, Ague check, Paul Pry, 

p. Epic, Homan tie, &e. (as, Palin u rup, Adamas- 
tor, Alcina, &c.). 

y. Ballads (as, Gil Morrice, Sir Patrick Spens, 

а. Legends of the Middle Age (as, Wandering 
Jew, Prester John, Seven Sleepers, &e.). 

б. Parables, Allegories, Proverbs, & c. (as, Laza- 
rus, Great-heart, Jack Robinson, &c.). 

y. Kovels, Romances, Tales (as, Pantagruel, San- 
cho Panza, Uncle Toby, Meg Merrilies, La- 
puta, Pickwick, &e.). 

3. Angelology (as, Gabriel, Ithuriel, Sandaiphon, &c.). 

4. Demonology, Fairy Mythology, and Popular Superstitions (as, Mepli- 

istoph|les, Cluricaune, Titania, Davy Jones, Mother Carey, Flying 
Dutchman, &c.). 

5. Names of Pseudo-Saints, and other Imaginary Ecclesiastical Person- 

ages (as, St. Christopher, St. Tammany, Pope Joan, &c.). 

1. Poetry 

2. Prose Romance 

II. Pseudonyms 

III. Surnames and Sobriquets . 

f (Only those in English, French, German, &c.., which are of great im- 
j portance or frequent occurrence ; such as, Martin Mar prelate, 
Junius, Peter Pindar, Boz, Diedricli Knickerbocker, Georges Sand, 
f Kovalis, &c.) 

' 1. Personal Appellations (as, Philosopher of Malmesbury, Man of Ross, 
Iron Mask, Bomba, Ettrick Shepherd, &c.). 

2. Familiar Karnes of Parties, Sects, Laws, Battles, &c. (as, Young 

Italy, Della Cruscans, Lakers, Blue Laws, Battle of Spurs, Bloody 
J Assizes, &c.). 

3. Poetical or Popular Karnes of Countries, States, Cities, Oceans, Seas, 

&c. (as, Columbia, Coila, Edina, Korth Britain, Horse Latitudes, 
Old Dominion, Modern Athens, Spanish Main, &c.). 

4. Personifications (as, Jack Frost, King Cotton, Yellow Jack, Don 

Perlone, &c.). 

IV. Miscellaneous Designations, 
information about which J 
is not easily obtainable, ) 2. 

Some Ancient Geographical Karnes bestowed by the early Kavi- 
gators and Discoverers (as, Acadia, Kew France, Estotiland, Ver- 
milion Sea, & c.). 

A few quasi-historical, or real, but obscure, Karnes of Persons, Places, 
and Things, often alluded to, and requiring explanation (as, Iiobin 
Hood, Darby and Joan, Mother Goose, Vinegar Bible, &c.). 


Specimens of the work have been submitted to a number of our leading literary men, 
who have formed a very favorable estimate of its plan and execution. Mr. Everett says, 
“I have examined the specimens of your proposed new work with much pleasure. The 
conception is a happy one, and the execution, as far as I can judge from the specimens, 
highly successful. I have no doubt the work will attain popularity both here and in Eng- 
land.” Mr. Hawthorne writes, “ I have found great pleasure and entertainment in looking 
over the specimens of your Dictionary, and I really have nothing to suggest towards the 
improvement of your plan. ... I think it must prove a very curious and interesting- 
work. In fact, I once had a similar idea in my own mind, — a sort of mythological dic- 
tionary embracing the principal characters in modern fiction. I hope you will indicate the 
right pronunciation of the names — a point on which I often find people at variance.” 
Other testimonials equally favorable have been received from Dr. Holmes, Prof. Long- 
fellow, Mr. Emerson, Prof. Lowell. Mr. George Tieknor, Dr. Worcester, Mr. Wendell 
Phillips, &c. 

S E L E C T I O N S . 

A few articles are subjoined for the purpose of illustrating the design of the work, 
and showing the general style and method of treatment. 

Pettirloo, "Field, of. A name popularly given in 
England to the scene of the somewhat famous at- 
tack by the yeoman cavalry upon the great reform 
meeting held in St. Peter’s field at Manchester on 
the 16th of Aug., 1819, which was attended by 60,000 
persons, of whom only 8 were killed, though many 
were wounded; — a word formed in burlesque imi- 
tation of Waterloo , and with a sarcastic allusion to 
the bloody and world-renowned battle on that spot 
in 1815, in which Wellington completely destroyed 
the gigantic power of Napoleon. See Manchester 

gib, ro f . The hero of Beaumarchais’ celebrated 
comedies, “ Le Barbier de Seville,” and “Le Ma- 
nage de Figaro.” The latter play was brought out 
at Paris in 1784, and met with a success altogether 
unprecedented, being kept upon the stage for two 
successive years. The name has passed into com- 
mon speech, and is used to designate an intriguer, 
a go-between •; in general, any adroit and unscrupu- 
lous person. Mozart and Rossini have both made 
Figaro the hero of operas. 

In Figaro, Beaumarchais has personified the tiers-etat, su- 
perior in wit. industry, and activity to birth, rank, or fortune, 
in whose hand lies the political power; so that the idea of the 
piece is not only a satirical allegory upon the government and 
nobility of that epoch, but a living manifesto upon the in- 
equality, just or unjust, of society. Rose. 

King-maker, Tlie. A title popularly conferred 
upon Richard JSTevil, Earl of Warwick (d. 1471), who 
was chiefly instrumental in deposing King Henry 
VI. and raising the Duke of York to the throne as 
Edward IV., and who afterwards put Edward to 
flight, and restored the crown to Henry. 

fount fiitt (zh<7oR / daN'), JfW. The hero of Moliere’s 
comedy, “ Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme ” ; — repre- 
sented as an elderly tradesman, who, having sud- 
denly acquired immense riches, becomes desirous 
to emulate such as have been educated in the front 
ranks of society, in those accomplishments, whether 
mental or personal, which cannot be gracefully ac- 
quired after the early part of life is past. 

Great Commoner* Tlie. William Pitt (Earl of 
Chatham), a famous parliamentary orator, and for 
more than forty years (1735 to 1778) a leader in the 
House of Commons. 

Cornwall, Barry. An imperfectly anagrammatic 
nom de plume adopted by Bryan Waller Procter, a 
distinguished English poet of the present century. 

IVepli/e-lo-eoe-^^'i-a. [Cloud-cuckoo-town.] A 
town built in the clouds by the cuckoos, in the 
“Birds” of Aristophanes, a comedy intended as 
a satire on Athenian frivolity and credulity, on 
that building of castles in the air, and that dream- 
ing expectation of a life of luxury and ease, in 
which the great mass of the Athenian people of that 
day indulged. 

The name of this imaginary city occurs also in 
the “ Veres Histories ” of Lucian, a romance written 
probably in the age of M. Aurelius Antoninus, and 
composed with the design of ridiculing the authors 
of extraordinary tales. 

What you do 

For bread, will taste of common grain, not grapes, 
Although you have a vineyard in Champagne, 

Much less in Nephelococcygia, 

As mine was, peradventure. E. B. Browning. 

L^^i-das. A poetical name under which Milton, 
in a celebrated monody, bewails the death of his 
friend Edward King, fellow of Christ College, Cam- 
bridge, who was drowned on his passage from 
Chester to Ireland, Aug. 10th, 1637. 

Pecksniff. A hypocrite, in Dickens’s novel of 
“ Martin Chuzzlewit,” “ so thoroughly impregnated 
with the spirit of falsehood, that he is moral even 
in drunkenness, and canting even in shame and dis- 

Eagle of Meaux (mo), Tlie. A name popularly 
given to Bossuet (1627-1704), a French divine cele- 
brated for his extraordinary powers of pulpit elo- 

I/aveugle d’ Albion lui doit son beau d6lire, 

L'aigle de Meaux sa foudre, et le Tasse sa lyre. Soumet. 

Flowery Kingdom, Tlie. A translation of the 
words u Hwa Kwo a name often given to China by 
the inhabitants, who consider themselves to be the 
most polished and civilized of all nations, as the 
epithet Juva intimates. 

Sea, p'i r no, or Seapin (sk:i-p;tN / ). [From Ital. 
scappino , a sock, or short stocking.] A mask on 
the Italian stage; — represented as a cunning and 
knavish servant of Gratiano, the loquacious and 
pedantic Bolognese doctor. 

Brentford, Tlie Two Kings of. Persons who 
have been known to hate each other heartily for a 
long time, and who afterwards profess to have be- 
come reconciled and to be warm friends, are often 
likened to the Two Kings of Brentford. These are 
two characters in “Tlie Rehearsal,” a celebrated 
farce, written by George Villiers, Duke of Buck- 
ingham, with tlie assistance of Butler, Sprat, and 
others, in order to correct the public taste by hold- 
ing up the heroic or rhyming tragedies to ridicule. 
The two kings are represented as walking hand in 
hand, as dancing together, as singing in concert, 
and generally as living on terms of the greatest in- 
timacy and affection. There seems to have been no 
particular reason for making them kings of Brent- 
ford rather than of any other place. Bayes says 
(Act I. sc. 1), “ Look you, sirs, the chief hinge of 
this play .... is, that I suppose two kings of the 
same place, as, for example, at Brentford; for I 
love to write familiarly.” Colonel Henry Howard, 
son of Thomas, Earl of Berkshire, wrote a play 
called “ The United Kingdoms,” which began 
with a funeral, and had also two kings in it. It 
has been supposed that this was the occasion of 
Buckingham’s setting up two kings in Brentford, 
though some are of opinion that hie intended them 
for tlie two royal brothers, Charles II. and the Duke 
of York, afterwards James II. Others say that 
they represent Boahdelin and Abdalla, the contend- 
ing' kings of Granada. But it is altogether more 
probable that they were designed to burlesque the 
two contending kings of the same place introduced 
by Dryden — the Bayes of the piece — into so many 
of his serious plays. 

Keystone State, Tlie. The State of Pennsylva- 
nia; — so called from its having been the central 
State of the Union at the time of the formation of 
the Constitution. 

Mi-efiw^toer, Mr. A prominent and celebrated 
character in Dickens’s novel of “ David Copper- 
field”; — noted for his long speeches, ambitious 
style, love of letter-writing, alternate elevation and 
depression of spirits, hearty appetite, reckless im- 
providence, everlasting troubles, and constantly 
“ waiting for something to turn up.” 

Who does not venerate the chief of that illustrious family, 
who, being stricken by misfortune, wisely and greatly turned 
his attention to “coals”? — the accomplished, the Epicurean, 
the dirty, tlie delightful Micawkcr. Thackeray. 

E/li-a. A pseudonym under which Charles Lamb 
wrote a series of celebrated essays, which were be- 
gun in the “ London Magazine,” and were after- 
wards collected and published by themselves. 

He is also the true Elia, whose essays are extant in a little 
volume published a year or two since, and rather better known 
from that name without a meaning than from any thing he has 
done, or can hope to do, in his own. 

Lamb, Autobiographical Sketch, 1827.