As a folklorist and mythologist Gary Varner is very much aware of the allegations of fraud concerning the scholarship of Charles Leland’s work. Varner’s stated purpose is. “ . . . to sort out the fantasy from reality and to present the true story of a talented and driven man. . . .” The story of Charles Leland, is that of a man born into a prominent American family, educated at prominent universities in America, Paris, Munich, and Heidelberg, who led a life of leisure and enjoyed a career as a prodigious writer; authoring over 55 books and pamphlets in his life time. Leland began his publishing career while at Princeton where his articles were frequently published in 'The Nassau Monthly.' 'The Nassau Monthly, refused to publish one of Leland’s early satirical ballads entitled “Education Diaboli” involving Satan’s enrollment at Princeton. Leland enjoyed a somewhat impressive career as a journalist, holding positions ranging from book reviewer, headline writer, op-ed writer, columnist, copy editor, to assistant editor. Leland served as a journalist for magazines such as, “Knickerbocker”, 'The Atlantic Monthly, Grahams, The International, Continental, Vanity Fair, and Sartains;' he also wrote for newspapers such as 'The Philadelphia Press, The Illustrated News, and The Evening Bulletin.'
Leland’s greatest success followed the publication of his comic series of poems known as the 'Breitmann Ballads.' The Breitmann Ballads were a smash in the U.S. Great Britain, Canada, Germany, and Australia. The 'Breitmann Ballads,' the precursor to the popular television show “Hogan’s Heroes,”were so popular that some where adapted for burlesque shows, and one newspaper was named for the Hans Breitmann character. “Meister Karl’s Sketchbook,”a humorous rendition of Leland’s travels abroad was also popular in the U.S. and Europe.
Leland was an early and tireless advocate for the industrial arts movement in the U.S. He both founded and served as headmaster of the Home Arts School in Philadelphia. Between 1881 and 1882, Leland wrote twelve industrial arts manuals. Between 1889 and 1896 Leland published five books on industrial arts. In 1882, the U.S. Bureau of Education distributed one of Leland’s industrial arts pamphlets through out the U.S. Garner reports that through the years, Leland has not received the proper recognition for his role as an innovator and advocate at the forefront of the industrial arts movement. Leland’s greatest. . . desire was to be acknowledged as a scholar and as a ‘discoverer’ of lost worlds and cultures.” Leland was never taken seriously among the historians, folklorist and ethnographers of his time. Leland’s “ scholarly” works: Aradia: Gospel of the Witches; The Gypsies, The Algonquin Legends of New England; Gypsy Sorcery & Fortune Telling; Fusan or the Discovery of America by Chinese Buddhist in the Fifth Century; and the Etruscan Roman Remains received harsh criticism for the unscholarly methods used to obtain the information reported. It was said that Leland paid his Native American and Gypsy sources by the page and by the story. It is customary for folklorist and ethnographers to live among the indigenous populations as they acquire legends, myths, and history. This was not the case with Leland, . . .when he went Gyspying it was from his own comfortable quarters, he never lived with the Indians as Cushing did. He might walk a mile to meet a tinker, but nothing would induce him to set up a tinkers forge like Borrow. Leland had specific requirements and if the stories didn’t meet his specification they were unworthy. Of course, this is completely against any research methodology ever undertaken by serious scholars who try to seek out ethnographic information rather than to create it. Although the academic community did not find Leland’s “scholarly” works acceptable, the Neo-Pagan has accepted Leland as an authority on witchcraft. The Aradia: Gospel of the Witches . . . has become a primary reference book for Neo-Pagans and Wiccans in particular although its validity has been challenged many times. Garner paints a picture of a man whose name was known through out North America and Europe for his writing. Leland was disappointed by the scorn he met when his “scholarly” material was reviewed by the academic, he did enjoy some success as a humorist, journalist, and as a 'historian' of witchcraft.
The author could have provided a more cohesive presentation of examples of Leland’s tendency to exaggerate, if all of the examples were presented together on one page. It would be helpful to the reader if the credentials for Borrow, Cushing, Joseph Campbell and Leland’s harshest critics were presented in greater detail, this would enable the reader to determine for himself the quality of Leland’s “scholarly” material. The chapter on poetry does not discuss the degree to which Leland enjoyed success as a poet. The chapter on religion could have been omitted, since it concluded nothing more that Leland passed through several religious phases before turning to Christianity in his later years.
The reader becomes somewhat confused , after reading that Leland practically made up his Native American, Gypsy, and witch legends and myths; then the reader is told that “[i]t was Leland’s books on Gypsies, however, that gave him some legitimacy among academics.
Overall, Garner did deliver as promised. He did show that realistically as a scholar and a folklorist Leland a fraud. As a journalist Leland was competent. As a humorist, Leland was a raving success. Leland’s writings about his travels abroad were well received. As a promoter of industrial art education Leland was a success, despite the fact that his achievements were not recognized.