Page images

and especially the volumes of the ' Retrospective Review,' have presented to modem readers much more inviting as well as more valuable gleanings from the contents of curious old books than it belonged to Mr. Beloe's slender endowment of learning and tact to provide. But these are matters that scarcely come under our present subject.

Perhaps the best and most learnedly compiled collection of anecdotes we possessed before the appearance of Mr. D'Israeli's works was that entitled ' Anecdotes, &c., Ancient and Modern, with Observations,' by James Pettit Andrews, who is also known as the author of a curious and carefully drawn up chronological history of Great Britain. The work in question appeared in an octavo volume in 1789, and a supplement to it under the title of ' Addenda,' the following year. The whole has been reprinted, but the book is now rather a scarce one. The anecdotes are collected under heads, which are arranged in alphabetical order; and the book is also provided with an excellent index. Indeed, like everything Andrews did, it is distinguished by its accuracy, which, if it be its chief, is at the same time a very rare and high merit. A work which appeared at London in 1764, under the title of Anecdotes of Polite Literature,' in five volumes 12mo., is merely a set of essays on pastoral poetry, comedy, tragedy, and other subjects of the same class.

The nine volumes entitled ' Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century,' published by the late Mr. John Nichols, with the addition of his three supplementary volumes entitled ' Illustrations of the Literature of the Eighteenth Century,' form a most valuable repository of facts relating to the writers of the last age and their works. The work having appeared in portions, as the materials for it accumulated, is, as might be expected, somewhat undigested and confused; but a copious index, which fills one of the volumes, makes the consultation of it sufficiently easy and expeditious. The stores collected in this publication derive a high value from being mostly original and previously unprinted.

The subject of other collections of anecdotes is the manners and customs of past times. Of this class are the late James Peller Malcolm's' Anecdotes of the Manners and Customs of London,'and also, in great part, his other publication entitled ' Miscellaneous Anecdotes.' Few schemes admit of a greater or more interesting variety than that which thus associates the memory of by-gone events, usages, and characters, with the enduring and still present localities, and other memorials, which once formed the scenery of their living and moving drama. For this purpose, a great city, the work of human hands, and in whose dwellings and streets the pulse of human existence has for many ages beat high and hot, has the advantage over any rural spot or tract which great deeds may have illustrated, but on which man has not thus left the visible and continuing impression of his handiwork. Indeed, an old city is perhaps altogether the most solemn and affecting thing on this earth to every imaginative mind. One of the earliest anecdote-books of the present class, if not the very first, is still one of the best—the most lively as well as the most learned—Saint Foix's ' Essais Historiques sur Paris' (Historical Essays on Paris), in five, and in the latest editions in four duodecimo volumes. The four-volume edition, however, wants a good index, with which the earlier editions are furnished. There is an English translation of this work.

There is a curious old English book, which has been several times printed, called ' The Wonders of the little World; or, a General History of Man, in six books;' by the Reverend Nathaniel Wanley, who died Vicar of Trinity parish, in the city of Coventry, about the end of the seventeenth century. He was father of Humphrey Wanley, the compiler of the catalogue of Saxon manuscripts, which forms the third volume of Hickes's great work, the ' Thesaurus Linguarum Septentrionalium.' His book is commonly designated, for shortness and alliteration-sake, ' Wanley's Wonders.' The compilation was suggested, the author tells us in his preface, by the following passage in Bacon's ' Advancement of Learning:'—" I sup

ttose it would much conduce to the magnanimity and lonour of man if a collection were made of the uliimates (as the schools speak) or summities (as Pindar) of human nature, principally out of the faithful reports of history; that is, what is the last and highest point to which man's nature of itself hath ever reached in all the perfections both of body and mind; that the wonders of human nature, and virtues as well of mind as of body, should be collected into a volume, which might serve as a calendar of human triumphs. For a work of this nature, we approve the purpose and design of Valerius Maximus and C. Plinius; but it could be wished they had used more choice and diligence." Proceeding upon the notion here started, Wanley has accumulated a large mass of singular stories, and distributed them under many separate heads, with not much exercise of judgment or discrimination indeed, but yet with very commendable industry and pains-taking. For one thing, he has always noted very minutely the authorities for his curious or marvellous statements. But his opportunities, as well as his capacity and acquirements, were insufficient for any very philosophic accomplishment of Bacon's project; indeed, he informs us that he scarcely began the work with any intention of laying it before the public; and he frankly laments his poverty in respectof" variety of books, great judgment, vast reading, and a full freedom and leisure to attend upon it." Another performance, which may be regarded as a contribution to the fulfilment of the same scheme, though the object directly aimed at by the author is somewhat different, as the scope of his work is also considerably more limited, is the Marquis Legendre's 'Traite de l'Opinion; ou, Memoires pour servir k l'Histoire de l'Esprit Humain' (Treatise on Opinion; or, Memoirs for the History of the Human Mind). Wanley takes in the body as well as the mind, and is more copious upon the former than the latter. Legendre tells us that the object of his work is to teach the science of doubting; not, however, in the sense of Pyrrhonism, or the system of universal doubt, but only in so far as it is really advantageous and wise to suspend the judgment. "It is," he adds, "a treatise on the diversity of opinions which have prevailed in the profane sciences, an essay in inculcation of a regulated scepticism, and a new method of forming the human mind by means of its own history, which no previous writer has till now even projected." It is, in fact, an attempt to show the folly of credulity and confidence in matters not admitting of conclusive evidence, rather than any recommendation of scepticism. With this view the author has ransacked the records of the multifarious and contradictory opinions which men indifferent countries and ages have held on all the great subjects both of speculation and conduct, mixing, however, very few reflections with his examples and citations, but leaving his facts, for the most part, to read their own lesson. The instances are, however, arranged in a very orderly manner, and the work altogether, though necessarily somewhat slight in its construction—for it addresses itself to the many rather than the few—displays very considerable research and learning, as well as much judgment and ingenuity. The first edition, published in 1733, cousisted of six volumes, but it was afterwards enlarged to eight. To thiR may be added such works as Lord Kaimes's 'Sketches of the History of Man,' and Meiner's ' History of Women,'unless the latter should be considered as too elaborately filled up to be classed among books of anecdotes.


There are also a few English publications which profess by their titles to be imitations of the French Ana, but only one or two that have attained much celebrity. The majority of them, indeed, have been merely collections of extracts from the printed works of the persons after whom they were named. Of our Ana, properly so called, the most remarkable is the ' Walpoliana,' which is a miscellany of remarks and anecdotes collected from the conversation of Horace Walpole, and also of some matter of the same kind which he had himself committed to writing, and which was found among his papers after his death. Walpole's unrivalled talent of light narrative, and the authentic and select character of the fragments here preserved, make this one of the most piquant and highly esteemed of the Ana.

Some of our biographical works, however, are really Ana in everything except their titles. There is no richer collection of this kind in any language, for instance, than Boswell's ' Life of Johnson,' especially as enlarged and made complete by the mass of additional materials that have been incorporated with the original work in Mr. Croker's late edition, and that still more extensive one which the same spirited publisher has since put forth.

Such books, also, as Selden's Table-talk and Coleridge's Table-talk are exactly what would have been called Ana by the French in former times. Indeed, the former is often mentioned by foreign writers under the name of the Seldeniana. 1 his valuable little collection of acute and learned remarks was first published in 1689, thirtyfive years after Selden's death, in a quarto pamphlet of sixty pages, with the title of 'Table-talk; being the Discourses of John Selden, Esq., or his sense of various natters of weight and high consequence, relating especially to Religion and State.' In the dedication his

« PreviousContinue »