THE FAIRY MYTHOLOGY
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.
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,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.