This collection of stories in verse and prose was published in London in 1830 by James Ridgeway. Most of the pieces contain supernatural elements and all of them are in the tradition of the Gothic “first wave” of the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries. Talbot translated or adapted them from various sources which had themselves collected them from the folklore of various European countries. The fashion for such stories is attested in Talbot’s correspondence (which you can read at the excellent website from which much of this biographical information is drawn) in which he states that he has written them to be published specifically to coincide with the London “season”.
Talbot was born in 1800. His father was William Davenport Talbot, who died when his son was only months old. Talbot’s mother, Elisabeth Theresa, remarried in 1804 to Captain Charles Fielding, who came to occupy in Talbot’s affections the place of his biological father.
Talbot is a well-known figure to historians of nineteenth-century culture, but not for his literary ventures (Legendary Tales is his only literary work). Rather, he is known as a pioneer of photography. While he was not the first to create a method of producing light-fast and permanent photographic images, Talbot is credited with the invention of the negative-positive process of reproducing pictures – that is, the method by which one negative is used to produce several positive reproductions. The image below, of a window of the family estate at Lacock Abbey, taken in 1835, is the earliest known surviving camera negative.
In 1844-46, Talbot was also responsible for the first commercially-published photo-illustrated book – The Pencil of Nature, which is both a book of photographs, and a book about the process and art of photography, then a cutting-edge science.
While Talbot is well-known as a pioneer of photographic reproduction, his volume of Gothic tales relies on the mind’s eye in its evocation of the supernatural sublime and is an enjoyable reminder of the fashionable tastes of early-nineteenth-century society.
I have made very few edits to the text and have largely retained the original’s somewhat erratic use (or non-use) of speech marks and the convention of capitalising random nouns. In some cases, adjusting the settings of the e-reader display from ‘portrait’ to ‘landscape’ will ensure that poems with longer lines display correctly.