The book consists entirely of the comments of authors on other authors and is a fund of acerbic deprecation, encomia, mockery and persiflage.
Some are drawn from a merciful obscurity to be given a verbal drubbing. Elkanah Settle (1648 - 1742) is thus described by Dryden.
He’s an animal of a most deplored understanding, without reading and conversation. His being is in a twilight of sense and some glimmering of thought which he never can fashion into wit or English. His style is boisterous and rough-hewn, his rhyme incorrigibly lewd, and his numbers perpetually harsh and ill sounding. The little talent which he has is fancy. He sometimes labours with a thought; but with the pudder he makes to bring it into the world, ‘tis comonly still-born; so that for want of learning and elocution he will never be able to express anything either naturally or justly.
They did not get on. He likewise took a dim view of Jeremy Collier (1650 - 1726):
I will not say, the zeal of God’s house has eaten him up; but I am sure it has devoured some part of his good manners and civility.
I openly admit that I never had heard of William Clark Russell till I came across this book but Wikipedia
William Clark Russelltells me that he was very popular in his lifetime and that his novel The Wreck of The Grosvenor was read right into the middle of the last century. It’s there on his Internet Archive
W.C.Russellcollection along with The Book of Authors.
The Wreck of the Grosvenor seems a nice tidy seafaring yarn, nothing to worry Conrad but workmanlike.
The interior of the cabin looked like some old Dutch painting, for the plain mahogany wood-work gave the place an antique air. The lamps were alight, for it was dusk here, though daylight was still abroad upon the sea; and the lamplight imparted a grave, old-fashioned coloring to the things it shone upon. The skipper sat near the mizzen-mast, stirring the sugar in a cup of tea. He looked better without than with his hat; his forehead was high, though rather peaked, and his iron-gray hair, parted amidships and brushed carelessly over his ears, gave him a look of dignityi The coarse little pilot was eating bread and butter voraciously, his great whiskers moving as he worked his jaws.
Mouldy ship’s biscuit, foul tea and stinking pork have started the men muttering. The chief mate is a bully. Now read on.