This work is part of the "Book-Lovers Library" series which was edited by Henry B. Wheatley (1838 - 1917). Wheatley was a historian, librarian and scholar of repute and editor of the Book-Lovers Library series. Quoted from the author's "Preface."
"If a secret history of books could be written," said Thackeray, "and the author's private thoughts and meanings noted down alongside of his story, how many insipid volumes would become interesting, and dull tales excite the reader!" It was this suggestive remark of the
great novelist that prompted the present attempt to group together the following notes and incidents illustrative of this subject. These notes have been garnered from a somewhat desultory though extended course of reading and research; yet they are far from being exhaustive of the subject. They are necessarily brief, but should they, in any instance, be regarded as insufficient, the remark attributed to an eminent French writer may possibly be urged as apologetic: he said, "The multiplicity of facts and writings has become so great, that everything soon will have to be reduced to extracts." It has been also urged that "so great
is the mass of our book-heritage, that it is absolutely impossible for anyone to make himself acquainted with even the hundredth part of it: so that our choice lies for the most part between ignorance of much that we would like to know, and that kind of acquaintance which is to be acquired only by desultory reading." And since it has been affirmed that "he is the best author who gives the reader the most knowledge and takes from him the least time," these claims have not been ignored, it is believed, in the preparation of the following pages.
Everett has remarked that "many of the best books have been written by persons who at the time of writing them had no intention of becoming authors," — as in the instance of Pope's
"Rape of the Lock" and Rogers's "Pleasures of Memory." Locke, when he began his work on the "Human Understanding," thought it would not exceed a few sheets. Often the consciousness of talents and abilities for such work seems to have been concealed from their possessors until some incident has proved the occasion of their development. Besides this, there is a joy in writing which none but writers know — "a pleasure in poetic pains;" and in this consists their genius. Montaigne evidently wrote from such an impulse, since his writings are not only in the manner but in the spirit of a monologue. Many other writers might be added to the category, — Lamb, Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt, De Quincey, and others. In many instances the birth of a book may be traceable to some exciting incident, like many of our discoveries in art and science. Again, it seems as if an inspiration came to the mind,---
"Great thoughts, great feelings came to them,
Like instincts, unawares!"