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The French abound in collections of this pature, which they have distinguished with the title of Ana. England has produced few examples of the kind, but they are eminently excellent. It may be sufficient to name Selden's Table Talk, Boswell's Life of Johnson, and the Walpoliana.
Mr. Spence seems to have been doubtful what title he should give to this collection; and those of Popiana, Spenceana, Symposia, and Table Talk, appear to have been successively adopted and rejected.
Whatever may have been the motive with which this compilation was begun, it was evidently continued, completed, and transcribed, with a view to the public; Mr. Spence had conditionally sold it to Dodsley, meditating its posthumous publication, but his executors were armed with a discretionary power, and prevailed upon
the Bookseller to forego his claim,
probably deeming many of the Anecdotes of too recent date for publication, or possibly thinking them of too trifling a nature to add any thing to the reputation of their friend; or it may have been in compliance with the wish of Lord Lincoln, (afterwards Duke of Newcastle) who was averse to their being made public. One of the manuscript copies was, therefore, presented to his Lordship, and the other consigned to a chest with all Mr. Spence's manuscript remains. It is thus that these anecdotes have hitherto remained a Sealed Book, except to a privileged few. Some of them, indeed, found their way to the public through the medium of Warburton, Warton, Johnson, and Malone. To the two first of these writers they were communicated by Mr. Spence himself. Among his papers, I find this memorandum, dated April 7th, 1744.—“Mr.Warburton thinks of writing Mr. Pope's Life, whenever the world may have so great a loss, and I offered to give him any lights I could toward it.”
He afterwards gave Dr. Warton the following more circumstantial account:
“ As they returned in the same carriage together from Twickenham, soon after the death of Mr. Pope, and joined in lamenting bis death, and celebrating his praises, Dr. Warburton said he intended to write his life; on
which Mr. Spence, with his usual modesty and condescension, said that he also had the same intention; and had from time to time collected from Mr. Pope's own mouth, various particulars of his life, pursuits, and studies ; but would readily give up to Dr. Warburton all his collections on this subject, and accordingly communicated them to him immediately."
“Warburton (says Mr. Tyers) was entangled by late friendships et recentibus odiis. His prospects of elevation in the church, made him every day too great for his subject. He did nothing on this occasion ; but thirty years afterwards he assisted Ruffhead, and revised the life, as written by his locum tenens, sheet by sheet.” This is no doubt a true account of the transaction, for in 1761, Warburton says to his friend Hurd, “I have sometimes thought of collecting my scattered anecdotes, and critical observations together, for the foundation of a Life of Pope, which the booksellers teaze me for, you could help me nobly to fill up the canvas.” This hint does not appear to have been seized by Hurd with the avidity that was perhaps expected, and the Life of Pope did not make its appearance until the year 1769. Owen Ruffhead seems to have been a dull plodding lawyer, and all that is of value in this ponderous performance, must be attributed to Warburton, whose hand may be traced upon every important topic in the book. Almost every anecdote of interest in that Life of Pope is derived from this collection, and always without acknowledgment. It is remarkable that it should not be published until the year after Spence's death, as if there was some consciousness of this appropriation.- Warburton affected to speak contemptuously of Spence; had he any intimation that Spence had ever spoken, as he has written, that “Warburton was, thirty years since, an attorney at Newark, and got into orders by spitting in a nobleman's face at an election!”
Dr. Warton lived in habits of friendship with Spence, and has enlivened his delightful Essay on the Genius and Writings of Pope, with many particulars derived from these anecdotes; and makes the following grateful acknowledgment, which is of the greater value, as it came too late to flatter the living ear of his friend. After mentioning Spence's Essay on the Odyssey as a work of the truest taste, he says: “I am indebted to this learned and amiable man, on whose friendship. I set the greatest, value, for most of the anecdotes relating to Pope, mentioned in this work, which he gave me, when I was making him a visit at Byfleet, in 1754.”
When Dr. Johnson was engaged to write the Lives of the Poets, application was made to the Duke of Newcastle, by Sir Lucas Pepys, for the loan of his manuscript, and it was conceded to his use in the most liberal manner. He acknowledges the “great assistance” he derived from it, and says: “I consider the communication as a favour worthy of public acknowledgment,” but does not mention to whom he was obliged for it.
These anecdotes were indeed almost the sole documents he had for the life of Pope, and they will enable the admirers of that capital specimen of critical biography to appreciate his skill in forming so interesting and eloquent a narrative from such slight materials. In the lives of Addison, Tickell, and others, he has also made use of the information they con
At a subsequent period, the late Mr. Malone was favoured with the free use of the anecdotes, when engaged in writing the Life of Dryden, and he availed himself of the privilege of making a complete transcript for his own use; in doing this, he has not observed the chronological order of the original, but has classed the anecdotes, bringing all that related to Pope under one class, which he has called “Popiana ;" disposing the others under their re