There was a time – especially the Elizabethan age (but lasting till the Victorian era and even longer)- when titles of English books were splendidly evocative.
In the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, you could read A Quip for an upstart Courtier, or, a quaint Dispute between Velvet Breeches and Cloth Breeches, &c. (1592) – by Robert Greene – best known today for a posthumously published pamphlet attributed to him, Greene’s Groats-Worth of Wit, which may contain a polemic attack on William Shakespeare, as well his own scandalous lifestyle, or A Check, or Reproof of Mr Howlet’s untimely screeching in her Majesty’s Ear (1581).
For those interested in more active and outdoor pusuits, they could dip into A Boke of Fishing with hooke and Line, A Boke of Engines and Traps to take Polecats, Buzzards, Rats, Mice and all other Kinds of Vermine and Beasts whatsoever, published in 1600.
The process continued, and you must know the names of many of the classics we read are just shortened versions of the originals, which were most bombastic, if I may use the term.
Take for example, Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, an account of a man’s shipwreck on a deserted island and his subsequent adventures – which gave rise to a whole genre and still influences works down to today. But the full title, according to the title page of the first edition in 1719 was :
AND STRANGE SURPRIZING
Who Lived Eight and Twenty Years,
all alone in an un-inhabited ifland on the Coaft of AMERICA, near the Mouth of the Great River of OROONOQUE;
Having been caft on Shore by Shipwreck, where-
in all the Men perifhed but himfelf.
An Account how he was at laft as ftrangely deli-
ver’d by PYRATES.
Well, just the shortened title seems inspid in from this, which tells you all you can expect from the book.
I will soon provide some more examples, though not here, but soon, rest assured.
Some years ahead, you could take satirist Heny Fielding’s 1746 pamphlet, which was called: The Female Husband or the Surprising History of Mrs Mary alias Mr George Hamilton, who was convicted of having married a young woman of Wells and lived with her as her husband, taken from her own mouth since her confinement
The mind boggles….
But what I feel is that the best titles were coined by 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, who still exerts a marked influence existentialism and postmodernism. However, the concept of humility and modesty seemed to be an alien to his nature, going by his last published book.
In his Ecce homo: Wie man wird, was man ist (Ecce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is) written by Nietzsche in 1888 before his final years of insanity that spanned until his death in 1900. (Unkind and uncharitable people claim the insanity had set in much earlier). According to a prominent scholar, the book offers “Nietzsche’s own interpretation of his development, his works, and his significance” but has some rather interesting titles to the various chapters.
If you see the table of contents, you will find this:
Warum ich so weise bin.
Warum ich so klug bin.
Warum ich so gute Bücher schreibe.
Geburt der Tragödie.
La gaya scienza.
Also sprach Zarathustra.
Jenseits von Gut und Böse.
Genealogie der Moral.
Der Fall Wagner.
Warum ich ein Schicksal bin.
Der Hammer redet
Oops, I gave you the German version….. However, those familiar with the philosopher can find titles of his other works here, and open them to see his own reviews. But it is the name of the first three chapters and the one before the second-last that concern us. In English (in the same order), they will be:
“Why I Am So Wise”, “Why I Am So Clever”, “Why I Write Such Good Books” and “Why I Am a Destiny”.
Can anyone beat that?