A most wonderful find - Dictionary of Phrase and Fable by the Rev. E. Cobham Brewer, L.L.D.
The subtitle is: Giving the Derivation, Source, or Origin of Common Phrases, Allusions and Words that have a Tale to Tell.
I mean - could it get any better? Words that have a Tale to Tell?
Some sample entries:
Pongo: The terrible monster of Sicily. A cross between a "land-tiger and sea-shark." He devoured five hundred Sicilians and left the island for twenty miles round without inhabitant. This amphibious monster was slain by the three sons of St. George (The Seven Champions of Christendom, iii.2) A loose name for African anthopoid apes.
Harpe: The cutlass with which Mercury killed Argus; and with which Perseus subsequently cut off the head of Medusa.
Barnet: An epicure who falls in love with, and marries, a lady on account of her skill in dressing a dish of stewed carp. (Edward, a novel by Dr. John Moore, 1796).
At 1440 pages, there is a lot of these sort of posts. But more to it - who was this yesteryear Schott? And what possessed him to assemble this? And more importantly, where do I get my mitts on a copy of my own? Updates to follow.