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Titles Of Books
by [?]

The Marquis of Carraccioli assumed the ambiguous title of La Jouissance de soi-meme. Seduced by the epicurean title of self-enjoyment, the sale of the work was continual with the libertines, who, however, found nothing but very tedious essays on religion and morality. In the sixth edition the marquis greatly exults in his successful contrivance; by which means he had punished the vicious curiosity of certain persons, and perhaps had persuaded some, whom otherwise his book might never have reached.

If a title be obscure, it raises a prejudice against the author; we are apt to suppose that an ambiguous title is the effect of an intricate or confused mind. Baillet censures the Ocean Macromicrocosmic of one Sachs. To understand this title, a grammarian would send an inquirer to a geographer, and he to a natural philosopher; neither would probably think of recurring to a physician, to inform one that this ambiguous title signifies the connexion which exists between the motion of the waters with that of the blood. He censures Leo Allatius for a title which appears to me not inelegantly conceived. This writer has entitled one of his books the Urban Bees; it is an account of those illustrious writers who flourished during the pontificate of one of the Barberinis. The allusion refers to the bees which were the arms of this family, and Urban VIII. is the Pope designed.

The false idea which a title conveys is alike prejudicial to the author and the reader. Titles are generally too prodigal of their promises, and their authors are contemned; but the works of modest authors, though they present more than they promise, may fail of attracting notice by their extreme simplicity. In either case, a collector of books is prejudiced; he is induced to collect what merits no attention, or he passes over those valuable works whose titles may not happen to be interesting. It is related of Pinelli, the celebrated collector of books, that the booksellers permitted him to remain hours, and sometimes days, in their shops to examine books before he purchased. He was desirous of not injuring his precious collection by useless acquisitions; but he confessed that he sometimes could not help being dazzled by magnificent titles, nor being mistaken by the simplicity of others, which had been chosen by the modesty of their authors. After all, many authors are really neither so vain, nor so honest, as they appear; for magnificent, or simple titles, have often been given from the difficulty of forming any others.

It is too often with the Titles of Books, as with those painted representations exhibited by the keepers of wild beasts; where, in general, the picture itself is made more striking and inviting to the eye, than the inclosed animal is always found to be.


[Footnote 1: Religious parody seems to have carried no sense of impropriety with it to the minds of the men of the 15th and 16th centuries. Luther was an adept in this art, and the preachers who followed him continued the practice. The sermons of divines in the following century often sought an attraction by quaint titles, such as–“Heaven ravished”–“The Blacksmith, a sermon preached at Whitehall before the King,” 1606. Beloe, in his Anecdotes of Literature, vol. 6, has recorded many of these quaint titles, among them the following:–“The Nail hit on the head, and driven into the city and cathedral wall of Norwich. By John Carter, 1644.” “The Wheel turned by a voice from the throne of glory. By John Carter, 1647.” “Two Sticks made one, or the excellence of Unity. By Matthew Mead, 1691.” “Peter’s Net let downe, or the Fisher and the Fish, both prepared towards a blessed haven. By R. Matthew, 1634.” In the middle of the last century two religious tracts were published, one bearing the alarming title, “Die and be Damned,” the other being termed, “A sure Guide to Hell.” The first was levelled against the preaching of the Methodists, and the title obtained from what the author asserts to be the words of condemnation then frequently applied by them to all who differed from their creed. The second is a satirical attack on the prevalent follies and vices of the day, which form the surest “guide,” in the opinion of the author, to the bottomless pit.]