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Titles Of Books
by [?]

Were it inquired of an ingenious writer what page of his work had occasioned him most perplexity, he would often point to the title-page. The curiosity which we there would excite, is, however, most fastidious to gratify.

Among those who appear to have felt this irksome situation, are most of our periodical writers. The “Tatler” and the “Spectator,” enjoying priority of conception, have adopted titles with characteristic felicity; but perhaps the invention of the authors begins to fail in the “Reader,” the “Lover,” and the “Theatre!” Succeeding writers were as unfortunate in their titles, as their works; such are the “Universal Spectator,” and the “Lay Monastery.” The copious mind of Johnson could not discover an appropriate title, and indeed in the first “Idler” acknowledged his despair. The “Rambler” was so little understood, at the time of its appearance, that a French journalist has translated it as “Le Chevalier Errant;” and when it was corrected to L’Errant, a foreigner drank Johnson’s health one day, by innocently addressing him by the appellation of Mr. “Vagabond!” The “Adventurer” cannot be considered as a fortunate title; it is not appropriate to those pleasing miscellanies, for any writer is an adventurer. The “Lounger,” the “Mirror,” and even the “Connoisseur,” if examined accurately, present nothing in the titles descriptive of the works. As for the “World,” it could only have been given by the fashionable egotism of its authors, who considered the world as merely a circuit round St. James’s Street. When the celebrated father of reviews, Le Journal des Scavans, was first published, the very title repulsed the public. The author was obliged in his succeeding volumes to soften it down, by explaining its general tendency. He there assures the curious, that not only men of learning and taste, but the humblest mechanic, may find a profitable amusement. An English novel, published with the title of “The Champion of Virtue,” could find no readers; but afterwards passed through several editions under the happier invitation of “The Old English Baron.” “The Concubine,” a poem by Mickle, could never find purchasers, till it assumed the more delicate title of “Sir Martyn.”

As a subject of literary curiosity, some amusement may be gathered from a glance at what has been doing in the world, concerning this important portion of every book.

The Jewish and many oriental authors were fond of allegorical titles, which always indicate the most puerile age of taste. The titles were usually adapted to their obscure works. It might exercise an able enigmatist to explain their allusions; for we must understand by “The Heart of Aaron,” that it is a commentary on several of the prophets. “The Bones of Joseph” is an introduction to the Talmud. “The Garden of Nuts,” and “The Golden Apples,” are theological questions; and “The Pomegranate with its Flower,” is a treatise of ceremonies, not any more practised. Jortin gives a title, which he says of all the fantastical titles he can recollect is one of the prettiest. A rabbin published a catalogue of rabbinical writers, and called it Labia Dormientium, from Cantic. vii. 9. “Like the best wine of my beloved that goeth down sweetly, causing the lips of those that are asleep to speak.” It hath a double meaning, of which he was not aware, for most of his rabbinical brethren talk very much like men in their sleep.

Almost all their works bear such titles as bread–gold–silver–roses–eyes, etc. in a word, anything that signifies nothing.

Affected title-pages were not peculiar to the orientals: the Greeks and the Romans have shown a finer taste. They had their Cornucopias, or horns of abundance–Limones, or meadows–Pinakidions, or tablets–Pancarpes, or all sorts of fruits; titles not unhappily adapted for the miscellanists. The nine books of Herodotus, and the nine epistles of AEschines, were respectively honoured by the name of a Muse; and three orations of the latter, by those of the Graces.