Charles Godfrey Leland

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Charles Godfrey Leland
Charles Godfrey Leland portrait.jpg
Born(1824-08-15)15 August 1824
Died20 March 1903(1903-03-20) (aged 78)
Signature of Charles Godfrey Leland.jpg

Charles Godfrey Leland (August 15, 1824 March 20, 1903) was an American humorist and folklorist, born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was educated at Princeton University and in Europe.


Leland worked in journalism, travelled extensively, and became interested in folklore and folk linguistics. He published books and articles on American and European languages and folk traditions. He worked in a wide variety of trades, achieved recognition as the author of the comic Hans Breitmann’s Ballads, [1] and fought in two conflicts. He wrote Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches , which became a primary source text for Neopaganism half a century later.

Early life

Leland was born to Charles Leland, a commission merchant, and Charlotte Godfrey on 15 August 1824 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His mother was a protegee of Hannah Adams, the first American woman to write professionally. Leland believed he was descended from John Leland, among other illustrious antiquaries.

Leland claimed to have been influenced as a child by intellectual figures such as Lafayette and Nicolas Gouïn Dufief. Leland recounted that shortly after his birth, his Dutch nurse took him to the family attic and performed a ritual involving a Bible, a key, a knife, lighted candles, money, and salt to ensure him a long life as "a scholar and a wizard."[ citation needed ] His biographers refer to this account as foreshadowing his interest in folk traditions and magic. [2] The poet George Henry Boker was his neighbour in youth, and the two maintained a friendship through adulthood. George B. McClellan was a classmate.

Leland's early education was in the United States, and he attended college at Princeton University. During his schooling, he studied languages, wrote poetry, and pursued a variety of other interests, including Hermeticism, Neoplatonism, and the writings of Rabelais and Villon. [3]

After college, Leland went to Europe to continue his studies, first in Germany, at Heidelberg and Munich, and in 1848 at the Sorbonne in Paris, where he became involved with the Revolutions of 1848 in France, fighting at constructed barricades against the King's soldiers as a captain in the revolution. [4]



Leland returned to America after the money given to him by his father for travel had run out, and passed the bar in Pennsylvania. Instead of practicing law, he instead began a career in journalism. As a journalist, Leland wrote for The Illustrated News in New York, the Evening Bulletin in Philadelphia and eventually took on editorial duties for Graham's Magazine , and the Philadelphia Press . In 1856 Leland married Eliza Bella "Isabel" Fisher. [4]

Leland was also an editor for the Continental Monthly , a pro-Union Army publication. He enlisted in the Union Army in 1863, and fought at the Battle of Gettysburg. Leland coined the term "emancipation" as an alternative to "abolition" to refer to the anti-slavery position. [4]

Folklore research

Leland returned to Europe in 1869, and travelled widely, eventually settling in London. His fame during his lifetime rested chiefly on his comic Hans Breitmann’s Ballads (1871), written in a combination of broken English and German (not to be confused, as it often has been, with Pennsylvania German). [5] In recent times his writings on pagan and Aryan traditions have eclipsed the now largely forgotten Breitmann ballads, influencing the development of Wicca and modern paganism.

In his travels, he made a study of the Gypsies, on whom he wrote more than one book. Leland began to publish a number of books on ethnography, folklore and language. His writings on Algonquian and gypsy culture were part of the contemporary interest in pagan and Aryan traditions. Scholars have found Leland had taken significant liberties with his research. In his book The Algonquin Legends of New England Leland attempts to link Wabanki culture and history to the Norse. It has also come to light that Leland altered some of those folk tales in order to lend credence to his theory. [6] He erroneously claimed to have discovered "the fifth Celtic tongue": the form of Cant, spoken among Irish Travellers, which he named Shelta. Leland became president of the English Gypsy Lore Society in 1888.

Eleven years later Godfrey produced Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches , reportedly containing the traditional beliefs of Italian witchcraft as conveyed him in a manuscript provided by a woman named Maddalena, whom he refers to as his "witch informant." [7] This remains his most influential book. Aradia's accuracy has been disputed, [8] and used by others as a study of witch lore in 19th century Italy. [9]

Art education

Leland was also a pioneer of art and design education, becoming an important influence on the Arts and Crafts movement. In his memoirs he wrote, "The story of what is to me by far the most interesting period of my life remains to be written. This embraces an account of my labour for many years in introducing Industrial Art as a branch of education in schools."

He was involved in a series of books on industrial arts and crafts, including Pyrography or burnt-wood etching (1876), co-authored with Thomas Bolas (revised by Frank H Ball and G J Fowler in 1900). He was, more significantly, the founder and first director of the Public School of Industrial Art in Philadelphia (not to be confused with the contemporaneous Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art). [10] This originated as a school to teach crafts to disadvantaged children and became widely known when it was praised by Oscar Wilde, who predicted his friend would be "recognised and honoured as one of the great pioneers and leaders of the art of the future." [11] The Home Arts and Industries Association was founded in imitation of this initiative. [12]


Leland translated the collective works of the German Romanticist Heinrich Heine, [13] and poems by Joseph Victor von Scheffel into English. [14] He translated Eichendorff's novella Aus dem Leben eines Taugenichts to English as Memoirs of a Good-for-Nothing, published in New York in 1866 by Leypohlt & Holt. [15]


His biography was written by his niece Elizabeth Robins Pennell, an American who also settled in London and made her living in part by writing about travels in Europe. Leland had encouraged her as a young woman to consider writing as a career, which she did with some success.

Select bibliography

Title page of the original edition of Aradia. Aradia-title-page.jpg
Title page of the original edition of Aradia.

Notes and references

  1. Leland, Charles Godfrey (1965). Hans Breitmann's Ballads. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications.
  2. Pennell, Elizabeth Robbins (1906). Charles Godfrey Leland: a Biography. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Co. cited in Mathiesen, Robert (1998). "Charles G. Leland and the Witches of Italy: The Origin of Aradia". In Mario Pazzaglini (ed.). Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches, A New Translation. Blaine, Washington: Phoenix Publishing, Inc. p. 25. ISBN   978-0-919345-34-8.
  3. Mathiesen, Robert (1998). "Charles G. Leland and the Witches of Italy: The Origin of Aradia". In Mario Pazzaglini (ed.). Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches, A New Translation. Blaine, Washington: Phoenix Publishing, Inc. pp. 25–57. ISBN   978-0-919345-34-8.
  4. 1 2 3 Farrar, Stewart (1998). "Foreword". In Mario Pazzaglini (ed.). Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches, A New Translation. Blaine, Washington: Phoenix Publishing, Inc. pp. 13–21. ISBN   978-0-919345-34-8.
  5. W. P. Trent, J. Erskine, S. P. Sherman & C. Van Doren (Eds.) (1907). Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Vol. XVIII Part III. Cambridge University. ISBN   978-1-58734-073-4.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  6. Swann, Brian (2005-01-01). Algonquian spirit: contemporary translations of the Algonquian literatures of North America. University of Nebraska Press. ISBN   9780803243149.
  7. Leland, Charles Godfrey (1899). Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches. David Nutt. See Leland's description in the appendix.
  8. See Russell, Jeffrey (1982). A History of Witchcraft: Sorcerers, Heretics and Pagans . Thames and Hudson. pp.  148–53. ISBN   978-0-19-820744-3. and especially Hutton, Ronald (2000). Triumph of the Moon. Oxford University Press. p. 148. ISBN   978-0-500-27242-8. for a discussion of the dispute
  9. Magliocco, Sabina (2002). "Who Was Aradia? The History and Development of a Legend". The Pomegranate: The Journal of Pagan Studies. 18. Archived from the original ( Scholar search ) on June 23, 2006.
  10. The Public Schools of Philadelphia: Historical, Biographical, Statistical. Philadelphia: Burk & McFetridge Co., 1897, p. 201-213
  11. "I would have a workshop attached to every school...I have seen only one such school in the United States, and the was[ clarification needed ] in Philadelphia, and was founded by my friend Leland. I stopped there yesterday, and have brought some of their work here to show you." Report of Wilde's New York lecture, Montreal Daily Witness, May 15, 1882. See also Wilde's letter to Leland, May 1882, MS, Yale University, "When I showed them the brass work and the pretty bowl of wood with the bright arabesques at New York they applauded to the echo, and I have received so many letters about it and congratulations that your school will be known and honoured everywhere, and you yourself recognised and honoured as one of the great pioneers and leaders of the art of the future."
  12. Stansky, P., Redesigning the World, Princeton University Press, 1985, p. 106
  13. The Works of Heinrich Heine. Translated from the German by Charles Godfrey Leland (Hans Breitmann). London: William Heinemann. 1893 Vol 1-12 and Vol 13-20
  14. Gaudeamus!Humorous Poems Translated From the German of Joseph Victor Scheffel and Others by Charles G. Leland at Project Gutenberg
  15. "Reviewed Work: Memoirs of a Good-for-Nothing. / From the German of Joseph Von Eichendorff by Charles Godfrey Leland". The American Art Journal. 5 (10): 152–155. 28 June 1866. JSTOR   25306236.
  16. Leland, Charles Godfrey (July 2, 1893). "The English Gipsies and their language". London : Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co. via Internet Archive.
  17. Leland, Charles Godfrey. "The English Gipsies and Their Language" via Internet Archive.
  18. Leland, Charles Godfrey; Neumann, Karl Friedrich; Huishen, 5th cent; Kennon, Barclay; Bretschneider, E. (July 2, 1875). "Fusang, or, The discovery of America by Chinese Buddhist priests in the fifth century". New York : J.W. Bouton via Internet Archive.
  19. Leland, Charles Godfrey; Neumann, Karl Friedrich (July 2, 1875). "Fusang : or, The discovery of America by Chinese Buddhist priests in the fifth century". London : Trübner via Internet Archive.
  20. "Fusang, or, The discovery of America by Chinese Buddhist priests in the fifth century [microform]". London : Trübner. January 1, 1900 via Internet Archive.
  21. Leland, Charles Godfrey (July 2, 1882). "The Gypsies". Boston, New York, Houghton, Mifflin and company via Internet Archive.
  22. Leland, Charles Godfrey. "The Gypsies" via Internet Archive.
  23. Leland, Charles Godfrey (July 2, 1888). "The gypsies". Boston, Houghton via Internet Archive.
  24. Leland, Charles Godfrey (July 2, 1882). "The Gypsies". Boston, New York : Houghton, Mifflin and company via Internet Archive.
  25. "The Gypsies". Boston : Houghton, Mifflin and Co. July 2, 1882 via Internet Archive.
  26. "Gypsy sorcery and fortune telling : illustrated by numerous incantations, specimens of medical magic, anecdotes and tales". London : T. Fisher Unwin. July 2, 1891 via Internet Archive.
  27. Leland, Charles Godfrey (July 2, 1891). "Gypsy sorcery and fortune telling, illustrated by numerous incantations, specimens of medical magic, anecdotes, and tales". New York, C. Scribner's sons via Internet Archive.
  28. Charles G. Leland was late director of the Public Industrial Art School of Philadelphia, with many illustrations and original designs by the author. 1st edition, Whittaker & Co. (publisher), London, 1892. 2nd edition, Whittaker (publisher), London, 1901. 3rd edition published 1925, Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, Ltd.
  30. "A dictionary of slang, jargon & cant embracing English, American, and Anglo-Indian slang, pidgin English, gypsies' jargon and other irregular phraseology". London, G. Bell. July 2, 1897 via Internet Archive.
  31. Leland, Charles Godfrey (July 2, 1904). "The alternate sex: or, The female intellect in man, and the masculine in woman". Funk & Wagnalls company via Hathi Trust.

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