« PreviousContinue »
The taste for those collections which, under the title of Ana, form so conspicuous and so interesting a portion of French literature, is both of high antiquity, and wide extent. The same blending of moral apothegms, of critical remarks, of serious and comic anecdotes, of scientific or literary information, which distinguishes the French Ana, is to be traced, more or less modified by natural habits, and the state of human knowledge, in the Nasr Eddin, the Bassiri, and Teudai of the Turks and Arabians, in the Memorabilia of Plato and Xenophon, in the Enchiridion of Arrian, and in the Noctes Atticæ of Aulus Gellius. The Bons Mots of Cicero we know were compiled by no less a person than Julius Cæsar, while another collection of his good things, we are told by Quinctilian, was made by a freedman under the title, De Jocis Ciceronis. Quinctilian himself has favoured us with not a few specimens of the Roman Orator's jocular vein, from which
we may fairly conclude, that these collections of his sayings would have borne no inconsiderable resemblance to the comic portion of the Menagiana.
In modern Italy the taste for such collections seems to have been not less general. Of the older works of this class little is known; though there is every reason to think that the l'acetic and Poggiana of Poggio were by no means the earliest works of the kind. Many of the novels of Boccaccio are merely repartees and remarks attributed to celebrated persons, in the style of the Poggiana, and the collection attributed to Æneas Sylvius Piccolomini; and nearly one half of the tales of Sacchetti are composed of anecdotes of this kind. The Facetice of Poggio, however, is the only Italian work of this class which is generally known. It embodies the scandal of the time, and the coarsely licentious, but often singularly comic tales and anecdotes, with which Poggio and the other clerks of the Roman Chancery used to amuse themselves in an apartment of the Vatican, to which they had given the appropriate name of the Buggiale, or as Poggio himself translates it, Mendaciorum Officina. Unfortunately, the best articles in that collection are so strongly tinctured with coarseness or obscenity, that few specimens of it can be exhibited in translation.
In Germany again, the Loci Communes of Melancthon and the Colloquia Mensalia of Luther, though differing in the character of their contents from the coarser works of the Italians, belong also to the class of Ana. The first is remarkable for the theological learning it displays, and the information it communicates, as to the early state of the reformed church. The second is a most singular record of the conversations of the reformers; in which learning is strangely blended with grossignorance on some points, clear and acute reasoning with mysticism, and a vigorous and intrepid spiritof inquiry, with the grossest superstition and credulity.
But it is to France that we are indebted for the most interesting, instructive, and amusing works of this class. And, accordingly, it is from these sources that the present volume has been principally derived. Of these collections, the earliest, in point of date, is the Scaligerand, which professes to contain the opinions and conversations of Joseph Scaliger, and was published in 1699. But the work is altogether unworthy of that great name, and affords little which is calculated to afford either amusement or instruction. From the remaining collections liberal extracts have been made, particularly from the Menagiana, and the Melanges d' Histoire et de Littérature of Vigneul Marville,
and short notices of the authors have been prefixed to the selections from each.
English Literature affords but few works of this kind, and it can scarcely be said that any of these possesses distinguished merit. The 1 able-Talk of Selden derives its chief interest from the learned name with which it is associated. The IValpoliana is the one which approaches nearest to the character of the French Ana. Some of the most striking passages in the conversations of Johnson, extracted from Boswell's Life, are added under the head of Johnsoniana; and a few selections from the valuable, but imperfectly known Omniana of Southey, close the extracts from the English Ana.
EDINBUNGII, July 1827.