Spence’s Anecdotes was apparently published twice on the same day in 1820 by different publishers under different titles. My Sentimental Library recounts the story. Joseph Spence (1699-1768) was Professor of Poetry, and Regius Professor of History at the University of Oxford. Just why his literary reminiscences should have been is such demand is somewhat mysterious.
It all seems to be a matter of the author’s fatally delaying delivery of the manuscript to his publisher. After his death Spence’s executors decided that the “time had not yet arrived when the anecdotes could be safely published” even though there was a contract with the bookseller James Dodsley. The manuscript, or a part of it, was given to the Duke of Newcastle, an ex-pupil of the author’s, and eventually some editing was started on it by Edmund Malone (of Shakespeare fame) for John Murray. Dr Johnson was given access to the manuscript for use in the writing of his Lives of the Poets. After Malone’s death further desultory work was done on the editing, but not much came of this until S. W. Singer’s announcement that his edition was about to be published. At this point Murray rushed out the material they had, managing to publish simultaneously.
There do appear to have been differences in the content as well as the title. The edition edited by Samuel Welles Singer contains more material than that done by Malone. The Literary Gazette reviewed them both and was dismissive of the rag-bag quality of Murray’s book.