Wordsworth Dictionary of Phrase and Fable
The Wordsworth Dictionary of Phrase and Fable explains the origins of the familiar and the unfamiliar in everyday speech and literature, including the colloquial and the proverbial, and embracing archaeology, history, religion, the arts, science, mythology and characters from fiction. This valuable dictionary, which revises and updates the original work of Dr. Ebenezer Cobham Brewer, encompasses material from all over the English speaking world and cites many equivalents from other European countries. The inclusion of quotations which accompany and illustrate many of the entries adds hugely to the value of this legendary work of reference.
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Fascinated with references in Victorian Poetry, I find this reference book essential. It's nearly verbatim to a reference book I keep on my desk, "The Reader's Encyclopedia, An Encyclopedia of World Literature and Art", edited by William Rose Benet, Thomas Y Crowell Company, NY, (1948).