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The Book of Table-Talk
By Charles MacFarlane in two volumes (1836)


When man puts his faculties on the strut and the stretch, he builds pyramids, founds empires, wages wars, circumnavigates the globe, writes epic poems, histories, and dictionaries, and delivers speeches and lectures. In short, it is doubtless by this stiffening of himself, this straining and striving, that he achieves most of those things which get him what is called a name? But, very well as all this may be in its way, it would make a weary world if we had nothing else. Therefore, as Sancho Panza, in his honest natural horror at the idea of constant movement and exertion, invoked blessings on the man who invented sleep, we are grateful also for the existence of that pleasant middle region which lies between the scene of public display and struggle and absolute slumber-land. It is here we would stray at our ease in the present book. This Book of Table-talk, we hope, will have little in it of what is trivial, any more than of what is dull; but, admonished by the title we have just written, and keeping in remembrance that a festive board is neither a class-room nor a church, and that a talk is not, or at least ought not to be, either a sermon or a lecture, we shall especially endeavour to avoid the fatiguing and the long-winded.

This last word alone, indeed, gives us nearly a complete definition of all that a book of table-talk should not be. There is scarcely anything capable of being put into a book of which it may not contain a little. The acts, and sayings, and fortunes of individuals; public events; the manners and customs of different ages, and nations, and states of society; curious and interesting facts in all the departments of natural knowledge; the wonders of science and of art; all the turnings and windings of human opinion; sagacious maxims for .the conduct of life; even ingenious thoughts in speculative philosophy;—all things, in short, that have either wit or humour in them, or a finer intellectual life and spirit of any other kind, may here enter as ingredients, and be mixed up together in rich variety:

“Quicquid agunt homines, votum, timor, ira, voluptas,
Gaudia, discursus, nostri est farrago libelli.”

A book of table-talk, like the actual conversation poured forth at a social meeting of accomplished and well-furnished minds, should be a distillation of whatever is most ethereal in all the wealth of life and of books.

Volume 1  |  Volume 2


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