Page images

(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 lull 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 'Traits de l'Opinion; ou, Memoires pour servir k l'Histoire de PEsprit 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 tact, 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 in different 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, con

[graphic][merged small]

sisted of six volumes, but it was afterwards enlarged to eight. To this 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. This 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; boing the Discourses of John Selden, Esq., or his sense of various matters of weight and high consequence, relating especially to Religion and State.' In the dedication his Seidell.


amanuensis, Richard Milward, by whom it had been compiled, states that he had had the opportunity of hearing Selden's discourse for twenty years together, and that of what is here collected " the sense and notion is wholly his, and most of the words." Milward seems to have been a person of judgment, for there is very little in what he has preserved that has not a real value.

The title given to this collection of the conversational remarks of Selden was no doubt suggested by that singular work, the Table-talk of Martin Luther, an English translation of which had appeared not many years before. The facts connected with this translation make a curious history. The original work first appeared in 1565, about twenty years after his death, at Eisleben, the great reformer's birth-place, and where also he closed his days. The editor was John Aurifaber (or Goldsmith), who states in a preface that he had been much with Luther in 1545 and 1546, the two last years of his life, and that he had inserted in the book many things which during that time he had heard himself from the reformer's lips, but that the bulk of the notes had been previously collected by Anthony Lauterbauch, from whose manuscripts he (Aurifaber) had merely transcribed the remarks, and arranged them under their proper heads. He gave the book the title of Luther's Tisch-Reden, of which term our Table-talk is a literal translation. After the collection had been printed again the followingyear in German, it was translated into Latin, and published at Frankfort in 1571 by Henry Peter Rebenstock, minister at Eischeim, in two volumes octavo, under the title of ' Colloquia, Meditationes, Consolationes, Consilia, Judicia, Sententiae, Narrationes, Responsa, Facetiae, D. Mart. Lutheri, piae et sanctae Memoriae, in Mensa Prandii et Coenae, et in Peregrinationibus, observata et fideliter transcripta;'—that is, Conversations, Meditations, Consolations, Counsels, Judgments, Opinions, Stories, Repartees, and Bons-Mots, of Mr. Martin Luther, of pious and holy memory, collected some at the Dinner and Supper-table, others on the Highways, and all faithfully noted down. This Latin edition was often reprinted.

The author of the English translation was a Captain Henry Bell, who gives a very strange account of all the circumstances connected with his performance. His statement is headed ' Captain Henry Bell's Narrative or Relation of the miraculous preserving of Dr. Martin Luther's Book entitled Colloquia, &c., and how the same Book was by God's Providence discovered lying under the Ground, where it had lain hid Fifty-two Years, and was few Years since sent over to the said Captain Henry Bell, and by him translated,' &c. "I, Captain Henry Bell," the writer then commences, "do hereby declare, both to the present age and also to posterity, that, being employed beyond the seas in state-affairs divers years together, both by King James and also by the late King Charles, in Germany, I did hear and understand in all

[merged small][graphic]

lamentation made by reason

« PreviousContinue »