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WILLIAM S. WALSH,
AUTHOR OF "FAUST: THE POEM AND THE LEGEND,"
Primarily the aim of this Handy-book is to entertain. If it succeeds in instructing as well, there is no harm done. But a sugar coating of grateful gust has been quite as much an object with the compiler as the tonic which it may envelop.
It is obvious that in so large a field as is afforded by the curiosities of literature the embarrassment has been mainly that of riches. No single volume nor a dozen volumes of this size could exhaust the material. Nevertheless, if the compiler has been even approximately successful, if his gleanings from the rich harvest-field have been fairly judicious, a gain in interest and even in value has been achieved by consulting the limitations of space.
At one time he had thought of disarming a certain kind of criticism by calling this " A Dictionary of Things Not Worth Knowing," the bulk of the matter herein contained being either in substance or in detail that which is deemed below the dignity of encyclopaedias, dictionaries, or literary manuals. However, we are gradually coming to learn that there is no great and no small in the achievements of the human intelligence; that what has ever interested men in the past must preserve an interest for the student of human nature at all times; that the literary trifling which pleased the keenest wits at particular periods of mental development has a distinct historical value in the retrospect; that the blunders of great minds are worth preserving as successive steps towards the altar of Knowledge; that in proverbs is embodied the wisdom of many as well as the wit of one; and that the vagaries of slang are dignified by the fact that slang may become the scholarly language of the future, just as the slang of the past is nearly the richest and most idiomatic portion of the current speech of to-day. Even the tracing of literary analogies, which is held in some disrepute by those who see in it merely a low detective cunning, a joy in convicting nobler minds of larceny and of discrediting the gifts of Nature's bounty,—even this , O is an exercise which, reverently conducted, is full of instruction and OO profit as well as curious interest. To learn that there is nothing new under the sun is to take to heart the lesson that the right direction of human achievement is to co-ordinate and harmonize the disjecta
membra of the old and ever young, and thus arrive at the sum and essence—the very heart of things. He is the poet, the creator, the mighty man, who does this, just as he is the great sculptor who liberates from the marble the image of all conceivable beauty that already resides therein. And, to run the analogy to the ground, one might trace the history of that block of marble up to its native quarry with nothing of invidious reflection on the sculptor.
A certain proportion of the articles, long and short, which are here collected appeared in various periodicals,—in Lippincolt's Magazine and the American Notes and Queries of Philadelphia, in the Illustrated American and Belford's Magazine of New York. This fact is mentioned not only as an acknowledgment of courteous permission to reproduce them, but also as affording an opportunity to remark that, in the last year or so, some of these articles have been pretty freely levied upon by makers of literary manuals, whose apparent priority of publication might confuse the unwary as to which was the follower and which the leader. The point is not worth insisting upon, however, for, in a less flagrant way, most of us compilers are indebted to our predecessors. As to myself (let us drop all awkward locutions), I honestly acknowledge that I have found great assistance in such books of reference as Bartlett's " Familiar Quotations," Bent's " Famous Short Sayings," and Norton's "Political Americanisms," also in such collections of bibelots and curios as Brewer's " Dictionary of Phrase and Fable," Bombaugh's "Gleanings for the Curious," and Wm. T. Dobson's and Davenport Adams's various compilations. More than this, I have consulted the English Notes and Queries with predatory aim, and have carried on a war of conquest amid the files of old periodicals. Where credit was possible, it has been given ; but where (as does happen occasionally) a particular article is almost a cento made up from a dozen different authorities, it is well-nigh impossible properly to apportion the credit. This general confession, therefore, must suffice.
In conclusion, I must record my indebtedness to Mr. Stephen Pfeil, who contributed the articles on "Epigrams," "Impromptus," and "Quodlibets," as well as a number of the shorter articles embodying political Americanisms, etc. And a special debt of gratitude is due to Mr. Joseph McCreery, the scholarly proof-reader in the establishment of Messrs. J. B. Lippincott Co., whose corrections and suggestions went far beyond the limits of mere proof-reading.
Wm. S. Walsh.