I've noticed there are multiple versions of Bulfinch "the age of fable".

The one in project Gutenberg (standalone version, equal to the Amazon free version) contains a chapter on the "aryan family" and has language that looks like it's from the 1800s

Meanwhile, another version exists, as part of "Bulfinch mythology". This one has more accessible writing, has less text and misses the chapter on the "aryan family". This version is the same across different books on amazon (from different publishers), all of them less than a dollar (so this text is probably also in the public domain).

What's the story behind these two versions? Did Bulfinch do a rewrite, or did someone else do it?

I've read through the introduction of Charles Martin again, I think he didn't rewrite the text. He only provided the intro and footnotes. I did find something in this introduction saying that the combination of all stories into "mythology" was done after Bulfinch death. And also that there were many editorial changes: "After Bulfinch’s death, other editors stepped in, and as archaeological activities in the Near East advanced, they were able to provide editions of Bulfinch’s book with fables, as one of them put it, from “Babylon, Assyria and Phoenicia.” One suspects that Bulfinch would have approved." - my guess is that those edits were made a long time ago, which why they too are in the public domain and appear in all books on amazon (including the removal of the now racist bits)

2 Answers 2


It looks like the edition with the "aryan family" reference was revised by Rev. E. E. Hale, while the Barnes & Noble edition was edited by Charles Martin and George Stade. At a glance, it looks to me like the B&N edition has had the racist-sounding (at least to American ears) elements removed or altered. A bit funny since both Thomas Bulfinch and Rev. Hale were abolitionists (anti-slavery).

from the Wiki page on Rev. Edward Everett Hale:

Combining a forceful personality, organizing genius, and liberal practical theology, Hale was active in raising the tone of American life for half a century. He had a deep interest in the anti-slavery movement (especially in Kansas), as well as popular education (involving himself especially with the Chautauqua adult-education movement), and the working-man's home.

He published a wide variety of works in fiction, history and biography. He used his writings and the two magazines he founded, Old and New (1870–75) and Lend a Hand (1886–97), to advance a number of social reforms, including religious tolerance, the abolition of slavery and wider education.

from Charles Martin's Introduction in the B&N edition:

Bulfinch did not appear to be much concerned with any of the social reform movements of his time. Reverend Peabody remarks that “one of those who knew him most intimately,” said that he was “deeply interested in the Anti-slavery movement, in its early period of difficulty and discouragement.” At that time, he associated with William Lloyd Garrison, the leader of the abolitionists in Boston.

Why all the editorial revisions? According to Charles Martin:

Bulfinch himself has his quirks and limitations. Unlike Whitman and Longfellow, he is not a great writer: At his best, as in most of The Age of Fable, he is a very good rewriter. He is sometimes prissy or didactic, and he suffers today from that previously mentioned subservience to his society’s desire to avoid anything “offensive to pure taste and good morals.” Nevertheless, Bulfinch’s instincts for narrative are usually clear and sharp, and for the last century and a half, readers have been putting themselves in his hands, confident that soon enough they will be re-imagining their lives in the terms of these very old stories that are, somehow, still new to us.

  • 2
    And of particular interest to science fiction fans, Edward Everett Hale's 1869 story "The Brick Moon" was the first story about an artificial satellite.
    – user14111
    Sep 28, 2015 at 13:21
  • Thanks for your great and in depth answer Joe L! Inspired me to reread the introduction more carefully, I've updated my question!
    – Matthijs
    Sep 28, 2015 at 17:03
  • @user1004989: Thanks! If my answer is satisfactory, please check the "Answered" checkbox.
    – Joe L.
    Sep 28, 2015 at 21:20

Answer already provided, I wanted to add a few more notes on the differences in Bulfinch Mythology editions.

In 1962, Mentor books in Canada published an edition of just "The Age of Chivalry" & "The Legends of Charlemagne". The forward is by Palmer Bovie.

The Mentor edition differs from the current (2017-Apr) Gutenberg (amazon, etc) editions.

In the Mentor edition, at the end of "The Age of Chivalry"

instead of


  • Beowulf
  • Cuchulain, Champion of Ireland
  • Hereward the Wake
  • Robin Hood

It has:


  • I King Richard and the Third Crusade
  • II Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest
  • III Robin Hood and His Adventures
  • IV Chevy Chase
  • V The Battle of Otterbourne
  • VI Edward the Black Prince

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