The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler

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Charles Godfrey Leland, 1824-1903

Nationality: American
Date of Birth: 1824
Place of Birth: Philadelphia, PA
Date of Death: 1903
Place of Death:


Charles Godfrey Leland was a writer under the nom de plume, 'Hans Breitmann'. He was born into a Puritan heritage family and his father was a descendent of one of the first white settlers.


Leland was an American folklorist, lecturer and author who wrote several works of English gypsies and Italian witches. He was the founder and president of the Gypsy Lore Society and there is no doubt that his fascination with Gypsy lore influenced the revival of the subject.

Even as a child, he had an interest in the occult, learning Irish fairy tales and tales of voodoo from the servants of the house. Even though he graduated from Princeton, he showed a dislike for education and in his early twenties he had short-lived careers as a lawyer and a newspaper editor of the Philadelphia Bulletin where he wrote strongly against slavery.

From 1870, he lived in England and made a study of Gypsy society, gaining the trust of Marty Cooper, the King of the Gypsies, learning of the secret language Shelta and eventually gaining the title 'Romany Rye' (a non Gypsy who associates with the Romany).

By 1888, he was living in Florence and had made the acquaintance of two 'witches', Maddelena and Marietta, the result being an extensive study of Italian witchcraft.

In a letter dating 22 May 1884, JW makes a reference to Leland, quoting the line 'Vere is dat barty now?' from his work Ballad of Hans Breitmann. In addition to this, JW's biographer Elizabeth Robins Pennell was actually the niece of Charles Godfrey Leland.

Bibliography: (accessed 2004).