November 14, 2010

Leland: The ink with which we secrets write

The day before his 68th birthday, Charles Godfrey Leland inscribed a personal copy of his book The Hundred Riddles of the Fairy Bellaria to a friend on November 14, 1892. That friend, Mrs. Fisher Unwin, was also the subject of the dedication of the book. Her husband was the publisher of the book and, in her personal copy, Leland improvised a short but charming rhyme:

This book was only made for you,
The riddles and the pictures too.
Full many better things there be
To keep your name in memory:
Yet if 'tis true as many say,
No book can e'er quite pass away,
My pride in it and only aim
Is that it bears your honoured name,
And that while it exists — as fit —
Your name will ever be in it.

Leland was a bit of a folklorist, as his book on fairies implies, as well as a humorist, as his poem above illustrates. The Philadelphia writer, who was friends with George Henry Boker and others, used his book of a Hundred Riddles to display both interests. Presented as a series of riddles volleyed back and forth between a king and queen, the book is also heavily illustrated. As the book was being published, Leland was also compiling what would become his memoirs, perhaps making this one riddle all the more interesting:

"Answer me this, O Queen! on thy life:
What tells our secrets yet, never knows them?"

The Queen sang —
"The ink with which we secrets write
Nothing knows what we indite;
And the pen from which it flows
Of it all as little knows."

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