English Eccentrics and Eccentricities was written by John Timbs and published first in two volumes by Richard Bentley in New Burlington Street, London, in 1866. It remains both entertaining light reading and a source of biographical incident, sometimes rarely repeated on unusual people of the late 18th and early 19th century, from celebrities to recluses, religious notables to country astrologers, pop authors to tragedians.
As Timbs lays out his purpose in his preface:
"GENTLE READER, a few words before we introduce you to our MODERN ECCENTRICS. They may be odd company: yet, how often do we find eccentricity in the minds of persons of good understanding. Their sayings and doings, it is true, may not rank as high among the delicacies of intellectual epicures as the Strasburg pies among the dishes described in the Almanack des Gourmands; but they possess attractions in proportion to the degree in which 'man favours wonders.' Swift has remarked, that 'a little grain of the romance is no ill ingredient to preserve and exalt the dignity of human nature, without which it is apt to degenerate into everything that is sordid, vicious, and low.' Into the latter extremes Eccentricity is occasionally apt to run, somewhat like certain fermenting liquors which cannot be checked in their acidifying courses.
"Into such headlong excesses our Eccentrics rarely stray; and one of our objects in sketching their ways, is to show that with oddity of character may co-exist much goodness of heart; and your strange fellow, though, according to the lexicographer, he be outlandish, odd, queer, and eccentric, may possess claims to our notice which the man who is ever studying the fitness of things would not so readily present.
"Many books of character have been published which have recorded the acts, sayings, and fortunes of Eccentrics. The instances in the present Work are, for the most part, drawn from our own time, so as to present points of novelty which could not so reasonably be expected in portraits of older date. They are motley-minded and grotesque in many instances; and from their rare accidents may be gathered many a lesson of thrift, as well as many a scene of humour to laugh at; while some realize the well remembered couplet on the near alliance of wits to madness.
"A glance at the accompanying Table of Contents, and the Index to each volume, will, it is hoped, convey a fair idea of the number and variety of characters and incidents to be found in this gallery of MODERN ECCENTRICS.
"It should be added, that in the preparation of this Work, the Author has availed himself of the most trustworthy materials for the staple of his narratives, which, in certain cases, he has preferred giving ipsissimis verbis of his authorities to "re-writing" them, as it is termed; a process which rarely adds to the veracity of story-telling, but, on the other hand, often gives a colour to the incidents which the original narrator never intended to convey. The object has been to render the book truthful as well as entertaining."