Thomas Keightley's Biography (Books)
Thomas Keightley (17 October 1789 - 4 November 1872) was an Irish writer known for his works on mythology and folklore, particularly Fairy Mythology (1828) which has been reprinted as The World Guide to Gnomes, Fairies, Elves, and Other Little People (1880, 1978, 2000, etc.). Regarded as a pioneer in the study of Folklore by modern scholars in the field, he was one of the "early and important comparativist collectors" of folklore. A circumspect scholar, he did not deem that similar tales recognizable across countries automatically signified transmission, but allowed that similar tales could arise independently in different cultures.
At the request of the educator Thomas Arnold, he authored a series of textbooks on English, Greek, and other histories, which were adopted at Arnold's Rugby School as well as other public schools.
Having spent time in Italy, he was capable of producing translations of tales from Pentamerone or The Nights of Straparola in Fairy Mythology, and he struck up a friendship with the patriarch of the Rossetti household. Thomas claimed to be literate in twenty-odd languages and dialects in all, and published a number of translations and digests of medieval and foreign works and passages, often sparsely treated elsewhere in the English language, including the expanded prose versions of Ogier the Dane which conveys the hero to Morgan le Fay's Fairyland, or Swedish ballads on nixes and elves, such as Harpans kraft ("Power of the Harp") and Herr Olof och alvorna (sv) ("Sir Olof in Elve-Dance").
Keightley, born in October 1789, was the son of Thomas Keightley of Newtown, co. Kildare, and claimed to be related to Thomas Keightley (1650?-1719). He entered Trinity College, Dublin, on 4 July 1803, but left without a degree, and due to poor health he was forced to abandon his plans to enter the legal profession and to be admitted to the Irish Bar.
In 1824 he settled in London, and engaged in literary and journalistic work. Keightley is known to have contributed tales to Thomas Crofton Croker's Fairy Legends of South Ireland (1825), though not properly acknowledged. It turned out that he submitted at least one tale almost entirely of his own fabrication unbeknown to Croker and others (see "Soul Cages," below).
Thomas Keightley's Works on Fairy Mythology:
In 1828 Keightley published Fairy Mythology, 2 vols., illustrated by W. H. Brooke. A German translation by Wolff (de) Mythologie der feen und elfen (1828) quickly appeared. Jacob Grimm is said to have praised the work. It was popular among Victorian folklore researchers and literary figures in its day; an expanded edition appeared in 1850, and a newly prefaced one in 1860. It has subsequently been reissued intermittently up to modern times, to an extent vindicating Keightley's own "high hopes of immortality for his work" in his preface, despite an early biographer calling this "pretentious".
Keightley is regarded as an early practitioner in England of the Brothers Grimm's approach to the study of myth and folklore, exploring the parallels between the myth of a nation to the religions and mythology of other regions. Thus Keightley began by attempting to trace fairy myth to Gothic and Teutonic roots, as the Grimms had done for elves. Eventually however Keightley, like the Grimms, arrived at the conclusion that it was implausible to trace myths to an ultimate single source, and that similarity in myths can be explained by the "Enlightenment idea that human nature [that] is uniform," together with the observation that the human experience and actions in response are similar across mankind.
A selection in Fairy Mythology was an Irish mermaid story entitled "The Soul Cages," which turned out to be a hoax of sorts. The story, which was first printed in Croker's anthology, was purported to be an Irish folktale about a fisherman Jack Dogherty befriending a male merrow named Coomara, and releasing the soul of drowned people which the merrow had by misguided intentions held captive in lobster-pot like vessels. When Keightley came out with a later edition of the Fairy Mythology he added a footnote to this tale, proclaiming he "must here make an honest confession," and inform the reader that except for the kernel of the story adapted from the German story of the "The Peasant and the Waterman", another selection in his book, this Irish tale was entirely his invention.
Keightley's bowdlerized The Mythology of Ancient Greece and Italy for the Use of School (1831) was applauded by Thirlwall for making the subject "fit for ladies." In it, Cronus's use of the adamant sickle (harpe) to emasculate his father has been euphemized as an act of Uranus being "mutilated." It has been noted that Keightley took a more historico-scientific, as opposed to theological approach to Greek mythology.
Thomas Keightley's Tales and Popular Fictions:
Keightley's Tales and Popular Fictions; their Resemblances and Transmissions from Country to Country, appeared in 1834. He divided the book into three parts, tales which he believed were transmitted to Europe from the Middle East, tale groups demonstrating striking similarity but which he thought were independently conceived, and those which confounded him.
Historical works Keightley was long occupied in compiling historical manuals for instructional use and popular enlightenment. His Outlines of History was one of the early volumes of Lardner's Cabinet Cyclop?dia (1829). His History of the War of Greek Independence (1830) forms volumes lx. and lxi. of Constable's Miscellany.
After the Outlines, Keightley was urged by the educator Thomas Arnold of Rugby School to undertake work on a series of mid-sized histories to be used in schools. History of England (1837-39), 2 vols., although based on John Lingard, was intended to counteract that writer's catholic tendencies. Other textbooks followed: History of Greece (1835); Rome (1836); Roman Empire (1840); India in (1846-7). His History of Greece was translated into modern Greek. Keightley also compiled as a study tool Questions on Keightley's History of Greece and Rome (1836), and one on English history (1840) consisted of a long list of history quizzes organized by chapter, for young students of his Roman, Greek, and histories.
Keightley stated he sought to create history material for the schoolroom which were an improvement on Oliver Goldsmith's History, thought himself equal to the task, and found his proof when his titles were "adopt(ed).. immediately on their appearance" by "Eton, Harrow, Rugby, Winchester, and most of the other great public schools, besides a number of private ones." In 1850, Keightley wrote immodestly of his historical output as "yet unrivalled, and may long be unsurpassed." Keightley's History of Rome was derivative of the labors of the German classical historian Barthold Georg Niebuhr, and Keightley's patron or mentor Arnold was a subscriber of Niebuhr's approach.
Samuel Warren, in his Legal Studies, 3rd ed. 1854 (i. 235-6, 349), highly praises his historical work. But he ludicrously overestimated all his performances, and his claim to have written the best history of Rome in any language, or to be the first to justly value Virgil and Sallust, could not be admitted by his friends. During the last years of his life he received a pension from the civil list. He died at Erith, Kent, on Nov 4, 1872.
Besides the works already mentioned Keightley was author of The Crusaders, or Scenes, Events, and Characters from the times of the Crusaders (1834). His Secret Societies of the Middle Ages (Library of Entertaining Knowledge 1837) was initially published anonymously, and against his wish, and later reprinted in 1848.
Keightley edited Virgil's Bucolics and Georgics (1847), which was prefigured by his Notes on the Bucolics and Georgics of Virgil with Excursus, terms of Husbandry, and a Flora Virgiliana, (1846). Other Latin classics he edited were Horace, Satires and Epistles (1848), Ovid, Fasti (1848), and Sallust, Catilina and Jugurtha (1849).
Keightley produced an annotated edition of Milton (2 vols. 1859) as well as his critical biography Account of the Life, Opinions, and Writings of John Milton, with an Introduction to Paradise Lost (1855). His nuggets of insight have been occasionally invoked, compared, and contradicted in studies into the 20th century and beyond. He is listed among the "distinguished file" in one survery of past commentaries on Milton, going back three centuries (Miner, Moeck & Jablonski 2004).
Appreciation of allusions in Milton's poems require familiarity with classical Greco-Roman mythology and epics; to borrow the words of an American contemporary Thomas Bulfinch: "Milton abounds in.. allusions" to classical mythology, and especially "scattered profusely" throughout Milton's Paradise Lost. Keightley was one annotator who meticulously tracked Milton's mythological sources. Some of Keightley's flawed commentary have been pointed out. He argued that Milton erred when he spoke of "Titan, Heaven's first-born," there being no single divine being named Titan, only a race of titans. Though that may be so according to the genealogy laid out by Hesiod's Theogony, it has been pointed out that Milton could well have used alternate sources, such as Lactantius's Divinae Institutiones ("Divine Institutes"), which quotes Ennius to the effect that Uranus had two sons, Titan and Saturn.
Likewise regarding Milton's angelology, Keightley had made some correct observations, but he had constrained the source mostly to the Bible, and made mistakes, such as to identify the angel Ithuriel as a coinage.
Keightley also published an unannotated edition of Shakespeare (6 vols. 1864), followed by a study guide entitled Shakespeare Expositor: an aid to the perfect understanding of Shakespeare's plays (1867).
Keightley is credited with first noticing that Chaucer's Squire's Tale is paralleled by, and hence may have drawn from, the Old French romance, Adenes Le Roi's Cleomades.
He also wrote of Henry Fielding's peculiarism of using the antiquated "hath" and "doth" ( Fraser's Magazine, 1858), without acknowledging a commentator who made the same observation before him.
Thomas Keightley's selected publications:
- "Tombs of the Kings of Juda", from The Crusaders, or Scenes, Events, and Characters from the times of the Crusaders, 1834
- The Fairy Mythology, Vol. 1, William Harrison Ainsworth & Vol. 2 (1828)
- The Fairy Mythology: Illustrative of the Romance and Superstition of various Countries, Vol. 1, Whittaker, Treacher, and Co. & Vol. 2 (1833)
- The Fairy Mythology: Illustrative of the Romance and Superstition of various Countries (new revised ed.), H. G. Bohn (1850)
- Tales and Popular Fictions: Their Resemblance, and Transmission from Country to Country, Whittaker and Co. (1834)
- Secret Societies of the Middle Ages, Charles Knight (1837)
- Secret Societies of the Middle Ages: With Illustrations, New edition, C. Cox 1848
- The Crusaders, or Scenes, Events, and Characters from the times of the Crusaders. 1834.
- The Mythology of Ancient Greece and Italy. 1838.
- The History of Greece. 1845. Whittaker and Company, London.
- The Manse of Mastland (1860), a translation of Schetsen uit de pastorij te Mastland, the Dutch novel by C. E. Van Koetsveld (nl).