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Literary Anecdotes
by [?]

It is an odd observation of Clarendon in his own life, that “Mr. Chillingworth was of a stature little superior to Mr. Hales; and it was an age in which there were many great and wonderful men of THAT SIZE.” Lord Falkland, formerly Sir Lucius Carey, was of a low stature, and smaller than most men; and of Sidney Godolphin, “There was never so great a mind and spirit contained in so little room; so that Lord Falkland used to say merrily, that he thought it was a great ingredient in his friendship for Mr. Godolphin, that he was pleased to be found in his company where he was the properer man.” This irrelevant observation of Lord Clarendon is an instance where a great mind will sometimes draw inferences from accidental coincidences, and establish them into a general principle; as if the small size of the men had even the remotest connexion with their genius and their virtues. Perhaps, too, there was in this a tincture of the superstitions of the times: whatever it was, the fact ought not to have degraded the truth and dignity of historical narrative. We have writers who cannot discover the particulars which characterise THE MAN–their souls, like damp gunpowder, cannot ignite with the spark when it falls on them.

Yet of anecdotes which appear trifling, something may be alleged in their defence. It is certainly safer for some writers to give us all they know, than to try their discernment for rejection. Let us sometimes recollect, that the page over which we toil will probably furnish materials for authors of happier talents. I would rather have a Birch, or a Hawkins, appear heavy, cold, and prolix, than that anything material which concerns a Tillotson, or a Johnson, should be lost. It must also be confessed, that an anecdote, or a circumstance, which may appear inconsequential to a reader, may bear some remote or latent connexion: a biographer who has long contemplated the character he records, sees many connexions which escape an ordinary reader. Kippis, in closing the life of the diligent Dr. Birch, has, from his own experience, no doubt, formed an apology for that minute research, which some have thought this writer carried to excess. “It may be alleged in our author’s favour, that a man who has a deep and extensive acquaintance with a subject, often sees a connexion and importance in some smaller circumstances, which may not immediately be discerned by others; and, on that account, may have reasons for inserting them, that will escape the notice of superficial minds.”