The publishing history of this little non-fiction book, or series of books, is complicated, and would justify a scholarly monograph of its own. But as far as I can disentangle the facts from the catalogue of the British Library (BL), it goes as follows.
The BL records an undated LPS publication entitled Some Trivia; I suspect it was a privately published venture.
Then, in 1902, we have Trivia, published by the Chiswick Press. A mere 66 pages, and described as being 'Printed from the papers of A. Woodhouse, Esq. [or, rather, written] by Logan Pearsall Smith.' The bit in square brackets is presumably a BL insertion, and, equally presumably, the first book of trivia was written anonymously, or semi-so. Anthony Woodhouse, by the way, is described as being 'of Orchard Wheelhouse'.
Another edition of Trivia appears in 1918, this time published by Constable, an ancient and honourable firm which still, just about, exists, under the name of Constable & Robinson. This was stretched to 152 pages. And there is no mention of Woodhouse, with LPS being identified as the author.
Trivia was reissued by Constable in 1921, and More Trivia followed in 1922. Afterthoughts appeared in 1931 (83 pages), and in 1933 we get a combined volume called All Trivia. That is the version of LPS's trivia which I have been reading, and it claims to contain the contents of the earlier Trivia, More Trivia, and Afterthoughts. It also claims to contain Last Words, but as far as I can discover the last words never had independent existence: scarcely surprising, because they run to only eight pages.
The 1933 collection of All Trivia was reprinted several times, most recently in 1986, with a foreword by Gore Vidal; whom the BL, unaccountably, lists as Gove Vidas.
So, what on earth is All Trivia about?
It is, in fact, quite unlike any other book that I've ever read. It consists, for the most part, of very short fragments of prose, two, three, or four to a page, each with a descriptive title. Some can properly be described as pensees, and others as vignettes. Either way, they're short. Here is one, in its entirety, picked more or less at random:
LPS, as you may have gathered, came from Quaker stock.
THE POPES OF ROME
I love to lie in bed and read the lives of the Popes of Rome. I think I could read for ever the biographies of those Pontiffs. For while I am absorbed in the goings-on of one Innocent or Pius, the Pope before him fades away; the earlier Vicars of Christ have all vanished from my failing memory; I am ready to read anew, with ever-renewed astonishment, the outrageous doings of those holy and obstinate men.
What we have here then is a long (and yet short) series of thoughts, glimpses of people in the street, reflections, scraps of scholarship, gossip, catty remarks, complaints about going bald, getting old... and so forth. At the risk of being indelicate, I think I can say that this is the perfect bathroom book, to be dipped into while waiting.
When I reviewed LPS's A Treasury of English Aphorisms, back in August, I noted that, despite appearing to be a typically English man of letters, LPS was actually an American. Well, since then I've discovered a New York Times essay, from 1984, which tells you far more than I ever could about his background; and a fascinating story it is too. (Such are the wonders of the web, by the way. With a click of the mouse I can find a learned essay which would once, even twenty years ago, have required enormous labour to locate.)
Once he arrived in England, LPS seems to have known everyone. His sister married Bertrand Russell; Cyril Connolly was his secretary; he thought that A.L. Rowse 'might grow more mellow with the years' (but he didn't, of course).
My favourite trivial passages are, I think, those which one could properly classify as aphorisms, and which are contained in Afterthoughts. Here, to conclude, are a few of the afterthoughts which are, perhaps, relevant to the world of writing and publishing:
There are two things to aim at in life: first, to get what you want; and, after that, to enjoy it. Only the wisest of mankind achieve the second.And finally, I believe, it is worth including LPS's epilogue in full. The reference to great writers, I think we can safely conclude, is largely, but not entirely, ironic.
How many of our daydreams would darken into nightmares, were there a danger of their coming true!
If you want to be thought a liar, always tell the truth.
When we find it amusing to shock people, we forget how shocking the experience it is.
A best-seller is the gilded tomb of a mediocre talent.
If you are losing your leisure, look out! You may be losing your soul.
Every author, however modest, keeps a most outrageous vanity chained like a madman in the padded cell of his breast.
People say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading.
It is the misery of young people that they have to read each other's
The denunciation of the young is a necessary part of the hygiene of older people, and greatly assists the circulation of their blood.
Give me a bed and a book and I am happy.
'What funny coats you wear, dear Readers! And your hats! The thought of your hats does make me laugh.' Thus across the great gulf of Time I send, with a wave of my hand, a greeting to that quaint people we call Posterity, whom I, like other great writers, claim as my readers -- urging them to hurry up and get born, that they may have the pleasure of reading TRIVIA.