“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 In his Dictionary Samuel Johnson defined the term as “something yet unpublished; secret history”. During the 18th century and 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 (qq.v) at that time. During the second half of the 18th century 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 Curiosities of Literature, consisting of Anecdotes, Characters, Sketches, and Observations, Literary, Historical, and Critical. These he followed with other collections: Calamities of Authors (1812-1813) 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 Century. Such works remained popular during the Victorian period. Nor is the appetite for collections of anecdotes assuaged. In 1975 there was The Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes.”
Excerpted from: Cuddon, J.A. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. New York: Penguin, 1992.