A certain little attendant demon or sprite

I went to Third Place Books a couple of days ago to pick up one of my birthday presents to myself—a shiny copy of Homes of Family Names in Great Britain by Henry Brougham Guppy, printed on their book machine!

It’s basically a list he collected of English last names in all the different counties, and I wanted it for naming characters. Here are the first two paragraphs of the Preface:

“Most books have a history attached to their inception, and, although strongly tempted to inform my readers as to how I came to write this work, I prefer to follow the advice of a certain little attendant demon or sprite, call him what you will, that hangs, metaphorically speaking, to my coat-tails, and brings me up sharply with a prohibitive pull. It will be enough for the author to crave the generous judgment of his readers, and there are few men in this world on whom kindly appreciation and a little timely encouragement are altogether thrown away.

When, some thirteen years ago, whilst a young naval surgeon, I measured the water discharged of the Yang’tse, one of the largest rivers of the world, I little thought that it would be my future lot to be intimately concerned with problems of such widely different natures as the origin of coral islands and the distribution of names in Great Britain. The first of these problems I hope still to work at for many years to come, and particularly because in this matter English geologists have abandoned the safe road of observation and research for the doubtful track of airy speculation under the shadow of a name. A solution of the second complicated problem I now present to my readers, and I await their verdict with no inconsiderable anxiety. Their approval will encourage me in another work of a very different character, on which I am at present engaged, namely, on the homes of the oceanic races of men; but for the prosecution of this and my other works means are necessary, and, failing other aid, I appeal in these pages to the English people.”

WHOA. That’s a huge mess of rhetorical flourishes and professional politics right there. Also, I’d LIKE to pretend that he was doing research on the great cities of the merpeople, but I suspect (and superficial googling appears to confirm) that “oceanic races” is part of the Victorian racial classifications and means, like, Polynesian or something.

And in fact, reading the rest of the preface, the point of the book appears to be in large part to pin down racial differences within Britain. It gets creepier and creepier the more I read: he mentions that “if some disinterested person were to make a study of the distribution of family names in Ireland on the lines adopted in this work, he would provide the legislature with information of practical value,” and follows that up with this gem: “in truth the vexed question of Alsace and Lorraine might be more easily settled by a study of the family nomenclature than by the manufacture of smokeless powder.” Because of course the most relevant question in that dispute was whether the people who lived there had more DNA in common with the French or the German. You have to love those white male Victorians scientists.

Anyway, while I was at the bookstore, I decided to just take a look around…and ended up with:

1. Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage by Jennifer Ashley. (I adored The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie, the first book in the series.)

2. Ancient Whispers by Marie-Claude Bourque. (Marie-Claude is my friend and this book sounds fantastic!)

3. Iron Kissed by Patricia Briggs. (I loved the first two books in this series. Mercy is such a fabulous heroine!)

4. Turn Coat by Jim Butcher. (The Dresden Files #11, I think–I’ve been reading this series for years and adore it, and when I realized I’d somehow gotten two books behind, I had to do something right away!)

What’s the last book you bought on impulse?

2 thoughts on “A certain little attendant demon or sprite”

  1. Julie and Romeo Get Lucky by Jeanne Ray. One of funniest first chapters ever!
    Lucia, Lucia by Adrianna Trigiani.

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