Anecdotes of Enlightenment is the first literary history of the anecdote in English. In this wide-ranging account, James Robert Wood explores the animating effects anecdotes had on intellectual and literary cultures over the long eighteenth century. Drawing on extensive archival research and emphasizing the anecdote as a way of thinking, he shows that an intimate relationship developed between the anecdote and the Enlightenment concept of human nature. Anecdotes drew attention to odd phenomena on the peripheries of human life and human history. Enlightenment writers developed new and often contentious ideas of human nature through their efforts to explain these anomalies. They challenged each other's ideas by reinterpreting each other's anecdotes and by telling new anecdotes in turn.
Anecdotes of Enlightenment features careful readings of the philosophy of John Locke and David Hume; the periodical essays of Joseph Addison, Richard Steele, and Eliza Haywood; the travel narratives of Joseph Banks, James Cook, and James Boswell; the poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth; and Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy. Written in an engaging style and spotlighting the eccentric aspects of Enlightenment thought, this fascinating book will appeal to historians, philosophers, and literary critics interested in the intellectual culture of the long eighteenth century.