12mo (141 x 81 mm). , 168, [2 blank] pages. Additional engraved title (A1). Printing error obscuring a few letters on last page. Marginal tear to frontispiece, small tear in E1 with loss to a couple of letters, slight marginal browning. Contemporary blind-panelled sheep, edges red-stained (rebacked, scrapes). Provenance: effaced old signature on title; S. J. Coventry, later signature; Robert S. Pirie, bookplate, bibliographical and purchase notes (purchased July 1962). ***
First Edition of the collected “wit and wisdom” of five often rather somber public figures: King James I, King Charles I, Henry Somerset, 1st Marquess of Worcester, Francis Bacon, and Thomas More (presented in that nonchronological order), whose cartouche portraits appear on the additional engraved title. Each gentleman’s pearls are distilled into numbered paragraphs, from 31 paragraphs for More’s reflections from prison, to 184 for Bacon, the others each containing around 50 paragraphs. Mixing anecdotal accounts with reported speech, brief witticisms, and moralistic vignettes from the classics, the florilegium covers a diverting variety of subjects, including women, sex, marriage, politics, poetry, cosmology, necromancy, alchemy, drunkenness and death.
The earliest modern “table talk,” or tidbits of wisdom collected from the lips of the great, may have been Martin Luther’s Tischreden, first published in 1566. “Apophthegms” or sentences were a rather stiffer version of this genre (later known as “-ana”). Bayly’s is a characteristic collection. ”The man whose table talk was most persistently reported in collection after collection and edition after edition was the Solomon of Great Britain, James I” (Wilson, p. 40). But the text is derivative on several levels: Bayly borrowed from earlier publications, including his own compilation of Worcester’s Witty Sayings, published in 1650, Bacon’s Apophthegmes new and old (1626), and Ben Agar’s King James, his apopthegmes (1643).
ESTC R 204091; Wing (2nd ed.) W3236; Gibson, Bacon, A Bibliography (1950) 159; Grolier Wither to Prior 1077. Cf. F. P. Wilson, “Table Talk,” Huntington Library Quarterly, Vol. 4, No. 1 (1940): 27-46. Item #2773c