I have concluded that I just love to seek out monstrous tasks, it’s a sort of masochism. And, I can’t give it up until I’ve finished.
I recently looked again at Tales from Shakespeare by Charles & Mary Lamb, first published in 1807. In this they produced a summary of all the Shakespearian tragedies (Charles) and comedies (Mary). This was Jane’s (my wife’s) copy of the book. They wrote it so that it was appropriate for children, but I found it a great way to get at the essence of his plays, mostly so I was prepared for it if it came up in a quiz, rather than have to study the whole.
When I was a child, among the few books in our house were my grandfather’s collections. He was clearly someone who liked a good part-work, for example he had passed down the Harmsworth Encyclopaedia, a set of some thirty weighty part-works, together with a set of classical-looking red covers, though he had not arranged to have them bound in. He had also collected a part-work of Dante’s Inferno, the first part of his epic poem Divine Comedy. I have to confess as a young lad I didn’t read any of the text, it was the illustrations that drew me in, among the first nudes that I could study. He also had a set of the Complete Works of Dickens.
Back to the Lambs’ publication, I wondered if anyone had done the same for Charles Dickens and discovered a few websites that did reviews of some of his works. But no-one appeared to have done this for all of his works. Before I knew it I was preparing such a summary.
It was truly monstrous, he has just fifteen major works, but I discovered thirty-five minor works, another nineteen Christmas books, there were eight poems (plus more poems within his works), and he published three magazines across some twenty years (often the vehicles for his part works). He also produced five dramas. I chose to ignore his journalism which was prodigious.
I began to maintain a database of his characters, which soon grew to around 2,000 individuals that he had created. Amazingly there are few repititions, did he use a card index of them? He did have a few popular first names – George, Jane, Joe, John, Tom and William – and some frequent surnames – Bailey, Brown, Green, Harris, Jones, Walker. But you can forgive him those, given his collection of wonderful inventions – Barnacle, Chickenstalker, Dingo, Fezziwig, Fitz-Whisker, Grazinglands, Rev Melchisedech Howler, Hon and Rev Long Eers, Marquess of Mizzler, Mr Muddlebranes, Nockemorf, Pecksniff, Mealy Potatoes, Pumpkinskull, Professor Queerspeck, Snittle Timberry, Anastasia Veneering and Lord Frederick Verisopht.