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From The Humorous Poetry of the English Language from Chaucer to Saxe, with Notes, Explanatory and Biographical, by James Parton; Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1884; pp. 667-668.


C A T A L O G U E   O F    S O U R C E S.

ANONYMOUS — To Punch’s Almanac, for 1856, we are indebted for an account of this prolific writer:

“Of ANON,” says Punch, “but little is known, though his works are excessively numerous. He has dabbled in every thing. Prose and Poetry are alike familiar to his pen. One moment he will be up the highest flights of philosophy, and the next he will be down in some kitchen garden of literature, culling an Enormous Gooseberry, to present it to the columns of some provincial newspaper. His contributions are scattered wherever the English language is read. Open any volume of Miscellanies at any place you will, and you are sure to fall upon some choice little bit signed by ‘Anon.’ What a mind his must have been! It took in every thing like a pawnbroker’s shop. Nothing was too trifling for its grasp. Now he was hanging on to the trunk of an elephant and explaining to you how it was more elastic than a pair of India-rubber braces; and next he would be constructing a suspension bridge with a series of monkey’s tails, tying them together as they do pocket-handkerchiefs in the gallery of a theatre when they want to fish up a bonnet that has fallen into the pit.

“Anon is one of our greatest authors. If all the things which are signed with Anon’s name were collected on rows of shelves, he would require a British Museum all to himself. And yet of this great man so little is known that we are not even acquainted with his Christian name. There is no certificate of baptism, no moldy tombstone, no musty washing-bill in the world on which we can hook the smallest line of speculation whether it was John, or James, 668 or Joshua, or Tom, or Dick, or Billy Anon. Shame that a man should write so much, and yet be known so little. Oblivion uses its snuffers, sometimes, very unjustly. On second thoughts, perhaps, it is as well that the works of Anon were not collected together. His reputation for consistency would not probably be increased by the collection. It would be found that frequently he had contradicted himself — that in many instances when he had been warmly upholding the Christian white of a question he had afterward turned round, and maintained with equal warmth the Pagan black of it. He might often be discovered on both sides of a truth, jumping boldly from the right side over to the wrong, and flinging big stones at any one who dared to assail him in either position. Such double-sidedness would not be pretty, and yet we should be lenient to such inconsistencies. With one who had written so many thousand volumes, who had twirled his thoughts as with a mop on every possible subject, how was it possible to expect any thing like consistency? How was it likely that he could recollect every little atom out of the innumerable atoms his pen had heaped up?

“Anon ought to have been rich, but he lived in an age when piracy was the fashion, and when booksellers walked about, as it were, like Indian chiefs, with the skulls of the authors they had slain, hung round their necks. No wonder, therefore, that we know nothing of the wealth of Anon. Doubtless he died in a garret, like many other kindred spirits, Death being the only score out of the many knocking at his door that he could pay. But to his immortal credit let it be said that he has filled more libraries than the most generous patrons of literature. The volumes that formed the fuel of the barbarians’ bonfire at Alexandria, would be but a small book-stall by the side of the octavos, quartos, and duodecimos he has pyramidized on our book-shelves. Look through any catalogue you will, and you will find that a large proportion of the works in it have been contributed by Anon. The only author who can in the least compete with him in fecundity is Ibid.” See pp. 569, 570, 571, 572, 584, 587, p. 646.

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