An anecdote is a brief account of or a story about an individual or an incident. The anecdotal digression is a common feature of narrative in prose and verse. In the history of English literature and of literary characters the anecdote has a specific importance.
In his Dictionary, Johnson defined the term as ‘something yet unpublished; secret history’. During the 18th c. an interest in secret histories increased steadily, and no doubt there is some connection between this and the growing popularity of -ana, table-talk, and biography at that time. During the second half of the 18th c. there was almost a ‘craze’ for ‘secret’ histories. In the last thirty years of it over a hundred books of anecdotage were published in England.
Isaac Disraeli, father of Benjamin, became one of the best-known and most assiduous gleaners of anecdotes. In 1791 he published three volumes titled Curiousities of Literature, consisting of Anecdotes, Characters, Sketches, and Observations, Literary, Historical and Critical. These he followed with other collections: Calamities of Authors (1812–13) in two volumes, and Quarrels of Authors (1814) in three volumes. In 1812 John Nichols published the first of nine volumes in a series titled Literary Anecdotes of the 18th c. Such works remained popular during the Victorian period. In 1975 there was The Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes.