London: Printed for Thomas Tegg; R. Griffin and Co., Glasgow; Westley and Tyrrell, Dublin; and M. Baudry, Paris, 1826. 8vo. iv, 330,  pp. FIRST EDITION. With frontispiece entitled “The dwarf and the peacock.” Modern quarter calf over marbled boards, new endpapers; very minor browning, overall an excellent copy of a scarce work. Item #14755
First edition of this particular collection of biographical anecdotes focusing on men and woman of particular note (as much for their deeds as for their peculiarities). William Hogarth, Jonathan Swift, Samuel Foote, and the civil engineer John Metcalf are all featured here, as are lesser known characters like Thomas Roberts: “He was perfect to his elbows and knees, but without either arms or legs.” A curious and rather delightful read.
The Victorian interest in eccentricity, and thus biographies of those considered eccentric, spanned the entirety of the nineteenth century. Examples are G. H. Wilson’s compendium of brief memoirs of sensational characters or bodies, which was first published in 1806-1807, and Henry Wilson’s similar (indeed derivative) collection, first published in 1821. These works enjoyed several British and American editions throughout the rest of the century. Though perhaps neglected by scholars, this was no minor sub-genre of collective biography, for in the period from 1790 to 1901, eccentric biography included almost sixty works, comprising periodicals, single works, and multi-volume books.
Where prefaced, the genre was briefly justified by asserting that the proper study of man was man (perhaps quoting Pope), claiming an exemplary or moralistic role for the narratives, presenting them as natural amusement and models for writers. But some, including our copy here, after a title page and frontispiece displaying an engraved portrait of an eccentric (or a montage of several eccentrics), launched directly into their collection of brief biographies--lives which were often introduced and concluded with moralistic comment.
see Gregory’s “Eccentric Biography and the Victorian” in Biography Magazine, June, 2007.