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The Ingoldsby Legends: A Gallimaufry
by Richard Barham
In 1837 the first number of Bentley’s Miscellany appeared, published by Richard Bentley and edited by Charles Dickens. As well as the first installment of the editor’s Oliver Twist, it also featured the first of a series of ‘metrical tales’ – stories in verse – published under the name of Thomas Ingoldsby. As the Miscellany – and Oliver Twist – continued to appear, so did these grotesque and fantastical (and increasingly popular) narrative poems, which came to be known collectively as The Ingoldsby Legends. Drawing upon myths and legends, which they mercilessly parodied, and often using the more macabre conventions of fairy tales and ghost stories, they became so much in demand that Richard Bentley published three separate volumes of them in the following years. They have remained in print ever since.
The actual author of these pieces was Richard Harris Barham (1788-1845), an English classical scholar, novelist, writer of light humorous verse, and priest in the Church of England. Barham had been at school with Richard Bentley and as adults they had remained friends. His first contributions to the Miscellany were written as a favour to the publisher, but as their popularity grew and was sustained by further examples, he continued to produce the poems until in the end he had written more than fifty, some of considerable length. The Legends are representative of a particular style of early Victorian humour which mingled caricature with grotesquerie, and moral tales with Gothic or romantic atmosphere, the whole salted with antiquarian learning and odd scraps of history, literary allusion, and word-play. One has only to think of Dickens’ tale of the ‘Five Sisters of York’ in Nicholas Nickleby, or of characters like Quilp, Squeers, and Crook, to recognize elements of this style in Barham’s most distinguished contemporary; or to turn over a few volumes of Punch in its earliest incarnation in the 1840s and ’50s for the same comic twists as Barham regularly provides, and arguably helped to inspire. His capacity for ingenious rhyme and meter allows him to incorporate widely diverse materials into his verses: legal jargon, Latin and other foreign tags, ordinary conversation, and high-sounding rodomontade tumble over one another, and the delight of the poems lies as much in their language as in the narratives. There is a satirical edge to some of Barham’s poems – the hagiology and liturgical ritual of the Catholic church is a favourite butt – and like much Victorian writing the poems have elements of racial and social stereotyping, but these arise entirely from the milieu of Victorian society and must be seen in context.
Our edition provides a selection – or ‘gallimaufry’ as the Victorians might have termed it – of eight of these poems, illustrated with wood engravings produced in London by the Dalziel brothers for a proposed edition of the Legends which, in the end, never appeared. Six of the poems have been chosen to accompany six of the Dalziel engravings, but two (‘The Jackdaw of Rheims’ and ‘The Legend of Hamilton Tighe’) are included because they were among the most popular of the collection. We are inclined to think that the drawings for the illustrations, engraved on wood by the Dalziels in the 1860s or early 1870s, are by John Lewis Roget, son of the Roget of Thesaurus fame and a noted British painter and illustrator of the time: the initials ‘JLR’ are carefully engraved by the Dalziels into each of the blocks. The images may have been omitted for some reason from the 1864 edition published by Richard Bentley, which was illustrated by John Tenniel, John Leech (the original illustrator of A Christmas Carol), and George Cruickshank, all of whose drawings were transferred onto wood by the Dalziels. Roget's illustrations (if it was he) may have been considered for this edition as well, not used, and only engraved later, but this is only speculation. The images, with one exception, have remained unpublished till now, and this edition will therefore make their introduction to the world. The blocks were donated to the library at Massey College, University of Toronto from his own collection by the late Robertson Davies, and we are deeply grateful to Brian Maloney and P. J. MacDougall of the Robertson Davies Library at Massey College for lending them to us.
The poems unavoidably contain many topical references, Victorian slang, liturgical lore, and other matter unfamiliar to many 21st century readers, and with this in mind, each is followed by comprehensive notes by Crispin Elsted, who also provides an Afterword on Richard Barham and the character of his work.
You may be interested to read Chris Adamson’s review of The Ingoldsby Legends: a Gallimaufry on his Books and Vines website.
Some Comments By Readers
The Ingoldsby Legends: A Gallimaufry is published in an edition of 90 copies. Of these, 45 constitute the Standard Edition, and 45 copies the Deluxe.
DELUXE STATE: 45 copies. Hand-set in Poliphilus and Blado with unidentified Victorian initials and Goudy Thirty for display, and printed on Heine mouldmade paper, with the engravings tipped in on Zerkall Smooth Cream. Quarter calf with patterned paper from ornaments over boards, slipcased with an accompanying portfolio containing strikes of all the engravings, including one not used in the book and a titling block too large to be used.
STANDARD STATE: 45 copies. As the Deluxe state, but quarter cloth with patterned paper, and not slipcased.
The illustrations in both states are printed from the original blocks. The books are bound by Alanna Simenson at Mad Hatter Bookbinding, Sooke, B.C.
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