Page images

Pictures, and Images; and, moreover, all the most frightful Signs, Shows, Monstrosities, and Portents of

Heaven and Earth." But here the reader's breath,

we are sure, fails him; and we will therefore waive the rest of the learned doctor's trumpeting.

After all, however, this may be but the editor's or the bookseller's blast, for the first edition of the work did not appear till some months after the author's death. The date of the second edition, now before us, is Frankfort on the Maine, 1671. The stories are strung together in chronological order, at least in so far that those belonging to each century are knotted up in a bunch by themselves. Of the sixteen centuries from the commencement of the Christian era, over which the author's gleanings extend, fifteen are despatched in the first volume; the whole of the second, which is besides much more bulky, being given to the remaining one. A very copious index to the whole work, compiled by a person who has been vain enough of his achievement to record his name at full length—" Joannes Jacobus Lingius cognomine Hagendorn "—was printed at Leipsic in 1672.

Nothing can go beyond the credulity and absurdity of the worthy Aulic counsellor in these ' Centuries ;' he has certainly raked together a rich compost of the dotage and anility of all preceding ages, and comfortably must the minds of his readers have been manured thereby. The generality of them, no doubt, took the whole in with ready and even greedy faith. Of all prodigies, prodigious births seem to be the author's special favourites. The book is embellished with copper-plate representations of many of the wonders detailed in it, some hundreds of them being thrown together upon a single broadside; and, thus spread out before the eye in full blaze, they make, it may be conceived, a droll enough show.

The compilers of collections of this kind among the ancients seem to have had generally a very different taste in the matter of title-pages from our German doctor. Both the elder Pliny, in the Dedication of his ' Natural History ' to Prince Titus, the son of the Emperor Vespasian, and Aulus Gellius, in the Preface to his 'Attic Nights,' have enumerated several examples of what the latter calls the " festivitates inscriptionum"—the fanciful titles—which had been given to books somewhat like theirs by many preceding Greek and Roman writers: they are all distinguished by their brevity, as well as by their prettiness or fantastic character. Among them are —' Musae,' the Muses ;' Silva,' a Forest; 'Kngnr,' a Comb of Honey; 'Ki^s A/uiktuxs,' Amalthea's Horn (the horn of plenty); < Antiques Lectiones,' Ancient Readings; 'iLvdtxi3i«,' a Tablet; 'Eyx'f^""'' a Manual or Handbook; 'Pandectae,' literally an Omnium-gatherum, or medley of all kinds of things; 'B^rfwn,' a Library; 'An/am,' or Pratum, a Meadow, &c. Most of these are mentioned by both writers.

Pliny's very curious work is really a sort of book of table-talk, though it affects a somewhat more scientific arrangement than that title demands. Perhaps he himself would have preferred that it should be considered an encyclopaedia (that is, as it may be translated, the whole circle of instruction), which he tells us was the name commonly given by the Greeks to works professing to treat scientifically of all the departments of nature. But his Natural History, devoid as it is of anything like systematic exposition, and consisting merely of a huge assemblage of what we may call, in the language of its old English translator, Philemon Holland, "notable things, histories, matters memorable, and observations," has scarcely a claim to this title in its modern use. Of these "histories," or, as we should now rather call them, stories, &c., the thirty-six books of which it consists, contain, according to an enumeration found in several of the old manuscripts, about forty thousand; and they are taken from the whole field, not only of what is commonly called nature, but also of the arts and of human life.

The twenty books of the ' Noctes Atticae,' or Attic Nights, of Aulus Gellius, who probably flourished in the second century of our era, although made up, in the greater part, of critical observations on books, are still sufficiently general and miscellaneous to be reckoned in the class of works of which we are here treating. They were compiled, the author tells us, for the use of his children, to afford them a ready relaxation when any release from business might allow their minds the opportunity of ease and indulgence. The plan he had followed in their preparation was merely to note down, without any attempt at arrangement, whatever struck him as interesting or worthy of observation in any book, Greek or Latin, that fell into his hands. He modestly claims no further merit as belonging to the work, or as distinguishing it from other similar compilations, than that its contents are of a more select character than those of many preceding works of the same kind, the authors of which seemed chiefly to have aimed at displaying the extent of their reading by putting down everything, however trivial or trite, that came in their way.

The whole tone of this preface is modest and unaffected, and gives us a very favourable impression of the author. He had given his book the name of' Attic Nights,' he says, not out of any ambition to imitate the gay titles in which others had indulged, but simply because the composition of it had been begun as an amusement in the long winter nights while he was residing in Attica. In Beloe's translation (a very bad one, by the bye, but the only English translation of this author that exists) may be found, extracted from the ' Bibliotheca Latina' of the learned John Albert Fabricius, and from other sources, a list of several modern works which, in their titles at least, may be considered as imitations of the ' Noctes Atticae.' Those there mentioned are the' Noctes Tusculan* et Rawennatenses' of John Matthew Carvophilus; the 'Noctes Geniales' of John Nardius; the ' Noctes Groningenses ' of James Gussetius; the ' Noctes Augusta?, sive Perusinae,' of Mark Antony Bouciarius; the ' Noctes Mormantinae' of John Bacchotius ; the ' Noctes Medicae' of John Freitagius; the ' Noctes Academicae' of John Frederick Christius; the ' Noctes Ripenses' of Falster; and the ' Noctes Nottinghamicae ' of our countryman Richard Johnson. We may add the ' Dies Geniales' of the Italian lawyer, Alexander ab Alexandre, as a much better known work than any of these, and one both the title and general plan of which may be said to have been suggested by those of the' Noctes Atticae ' of Aulus Gellius. There is a curious coincidence also, it may be remarked, between this title inscribed upon his lucubrations by the old Roman critic, and that of our delightful Oriental acquaintance, the ' Thousand and One Nights.'

The oldest imitation however, we believe, of the' Attic Nights ' which we possess is the work of Macrobius, in seven books, entitled ' Convivia Saturnalia;' or Saturnalian Table-talk, as it may be rendered. Indeed Macrobius, who flourished in the latter part of the fourth century, has been called by some the plunderer, by others the ape, of Gellius, from whom be has undoubtedly pilfered liberally, as he has also done from other writers; though he has given us much that is curious and valuable of his own likewise, or, at least, of what we do not know not to be his own. His subjects are principally ancient manners and customs, and criticism on the writings of Virgil, Homer, and Plato. The scheme of the work, which the author professes to have composed for the use of his son, is that of a series of conversations at table among certain learned Romans during the celebration of the Saturnalia. We are not aware that there is any English translation of this work.

Nor do we possess any version in our language of a much richer and more copious book of table-talk of those times, the celebrated ' Deipnosophistae,' or Banquet of the Learned, of Athenaeus. Athenaeus flourished in the third century. His work, which is written in Greek, is thrown into the form of convivial dialogues, the principal subjects of which indeed are eating and drinking, but which occasionally range over wider ground. Even, however, while professedly occupied with his predominant topic, the author incidentally spreads before his readers a vast store of miscellaneous information and anecdote. Among the most precious contents of the ' Deipnosophistae' are the numerous quotations introduced from writers now lost, especially from the Greek comic

poets. It has been reckoned that Athenaeus quotes above fifteen hundred lost works, and the writers whom he mentions amount to about seven hundred, among which number are included many of whom we should never otherwise have known even the names. There are two French translations of Athcnaeus, neither of which, however, enjoys much reputation. One, published in a quarto volume in 1680, is by the old doer of all work in that line, Michel de Marolles; on the title-page of a copy of whose version of Martial's Epigrams Menage wrote " Epigrams against Martial." The author of the other, which is in five volumes quarto, Paris, 1785—91, was Lefebre de Villebrune, who was more famous for the quantity than the quality of his scholarship. We understand that a series of translations from Athenaeus appeared some years ago in a London periodical publication called 'The Monthly Mirror.'

Here also we may mention the nine books of Valerius Maximus, entitled 'De Dietis et Factis Memorabilibus Antiquorum' (Of the Memorable Sayings and Doings of the Ancients), which are, however, of earlier date, having been composed in the early part of the first century of our era, during the reign of the Emperor Tiberius, to whom they are dedicated. This work appears to be a compilation of anecdotes from elder writers, executed with little exactness; but, as many of the author's sources of information are now lost, his excerpts and abridgments are of considerable value. Valerius Maximus was one of the favourite authors of the middle ages; perhaps, indeed, he was, of all the Roman writers who remained in repute in those daTk times, the one nearest to being a classic, at least in date. He writes, however, so unclassically that, notwithstanding the dedication to the immediate successor of Augustus which fronts his book, it has been doubted if he could really have lived quite so close upon the Augustan age. Be this as it may, his bad style and hfe amusing stories together made him, as we have said, very popular with the reading public of what we call the dark ages. He was accordingly, as might have been expected, one of the first of the ancient

« PreviousContinue »