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BOOK OF TABLE-TALK.
INTRODUCTORY TALK UPON TABLE-TALK.
When man puts his faculties on the strut and the stretch, he builds pyramids, founds empires, wages wars, circumnavigates the globe, writes epic poems, histories, and dictionaries, and delivers speeches and lectures. In short, it is doubtless by this stiffening of himself, this straining and striving, that he achieves most of those things which get him what is called a name. But, very well as all this may be in its way, it would make a weary world if we had nothing else. Therefore, as Sancho Panza, in his honest natural horror at the idea of constant movement and exertion, invoked blessings on the man who invented sleep, we are grateful also for the existence of that pleasant middle region which lies between the scene of public display and struggle and absolute slumber-land. It is here we would stray at our ease in the present book. This Book Of Table- Talk, we hope, will have little in it of what is trivial, any more than of what is dull; but, admonished by the title we have just written, and keeping in remembrance that a festive board is neither a class-room nor a church, and that a talk is not, or at least ought not to be, either a sermon or a lecture, we shall especially endeavour to avoid the fatiguing and the long-winded.
This last word alone, indeed, gives us nearly a complete definition of all that a book of table-talk should not be. There is scarcely anything capable of being put into a book of which it may not contain a little. The acts,
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and sayings, and fortunes of individuals; public events; the manners and customs of different ages, and nations, and states of society; curious and interesting facts in all the departments of natural knowledge; the wonders of science and of art; all the turnings and windings of human opinion; sagacious maxims for the conduct of life; even ingenious thoughts in speculative philosophy;—all things, in short, that have either wit or humour in them, or a finer intellectual life and spirit of any other kind, may here enter as ingredients, and be mixed up together in rich variety: —
"Quicquid agunt homines, votum, timor, ira, voluptas, Gaudia, discursus, nostri est farrago libelli."
A book of table-talk, like the actual conversation poured forth at a social meeting of accomplished and well-furnished minds, should be a distillation of whatever is most ethereal in all the wealth of life and of books.
Of works of this class, reading people have been fond ever since reading began; and a complete catalogue of the various dishes of intellectual hotch-potch, which this taste has called forth both in the ancient and the modern world, would considerably outmeasure, we suspect, the longest carte ever displayed by Parisian restaurateur. They have been prepared to suit the palate and digestion of every several species of literary gourmands. A great many of them have been got up more especially for the use of the religious public. Of these, one of the greatest favourites for a long time after the revival of letters was a volume entitled the' Speculum Exemplorum,' and in the latter and fatter editions the 'Magnum Speculum Exemplorum ;' that is, the Great Looking-glass of Examples. An edition of this work in small quarto, printed at Douay in 1605, consists of between four and five hundred closely-printed double-columned pages. The book, we are told on the title-page, was originally compiled by a person whose name is not known, but who appears to have lived about the year 1480; and this enlarged edition professes to be revised and corrected by a learned Jesuit.
The examples or stories, it is affirmed, have been extracted from more than sixty authors venerable for their piety, their learning, and their antiquity, and from various histories, tracts, and pamphlets. The stories are grouped together under heads, and the whole work is divided into ten books, or distinctions, as they are called, exclusive of a pretty long appendix.
One of the most curious things in this volume is a list which it contains of previous works of the same description, or, as it is expressed, of authors who have professedly written books of examples. The catalogue extends to about five columns, and may comprehend between seventy and eighty names.
This work, of course, was for story-lovers of the Roman persuasion; but Protestantism also had its books of table-talk. Among these was one of the most extraordinary of such compilations ever produced, the ' Lectiones Memorabiles et Reconditae;' or, Memorable and Recondite Readings, of John Wolfius. The author of this brace of huge folios (making together more than two thousand pages) is stated, in a short notice of him given in the ' Vitae Virorum Eruditorum' (Lives of Learned Men) of Melchior Adam, to have been born at Berg Zabern, in the duchy of Deux Ponts (Bipont), in the year 1537, and to have died in 1600. He was by profession a lawyer, but became eventually a political functionary, in which quality his name is followed on the title-page of his book by a long flourish of very highsounding titles. It appears, in point of fact, that he was what is called Aulic Counsellor to the Margrave of Baden. Melchior Adam takes great pains to guard his readers against confounding this John Wolf with another John Wolf, or rather Wolph, who was Professor of Theology at Zurich, and wrote commentaries, it seems, upon various parts of the Scripture. To be sure, the theological cast of the Aulic counsellor's speculations might naturally enough lead to his being mistaken for the learned professor; at the same time, there might be quite as much danger of his being confounded with another contemporary writer of books, whom his biographer does not