Unknown London: Early Modernist Visions of the Metropolis, 1815-45

By Newey, Katherine | Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview
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Unknown London: Early Modernist Visions of the Metropolis, 1815-45


Newey, Katherine, Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film


John Marriott, ed., Unknown London: Early Modernist Visions of the Metropolis, 1815-45. Consulting editors: Masaie Matsumura and Judith Walkowitz. London: Pickering & Chatto, 2000.6 volume set. £495.

Unknown London, carefully edited by John Marriott, and well produced by Pickering & Chatto, is a series of facsimile versions of key documents about London. But that bland description does not do justice to such a varied collection, one that signals the extent of the merging of the disciplines of social history, economic history, popular literature, and theatre in nineteenth-century studies. Contemporary scholars in all these disciplines will find much that is useful in these volumes. Here are both familiar materials and new documents - or perhaps new combinations for reading. The selected texts are set within a provocative editorial argument about the essential modernity of early nineteenth-century journalism, fiction, and drama centred on London.

The contents of this six-volume set make available to scholars and students a range of sources not usually held outside of large, long established (or wealthy) research libraries. A full list of what Marriott includes is worth recounting here - if only to help readers of Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film persuade their local libraries that the rather steep price is well worth it for the opportunity to provide a compact, impeccably-researched collection of otherwise rare materials, in a form robust enough to withstand generations of use. Marriott reprints, in facsimile versions, in Volume 1, The London Guide (anonymously published by John Badcock), and Tom and]erry, W. T. Moncrieff's adaptation of Pierce Egan's hugely popular Life in London - this last in a Dick's Standard Plays edition, complete with the illustration supposedly drawn from the Adelphi Theatre's production in 1822, and cast and costume descriptions. Volume 2 is entirely given over to the text of Egan's Life in London (1821), the importance of which, writes Marriott in his short introduction to Egan's fictional journalism, "[I]t is difficult to overstate" (2: vii). The reprinting in Volume 3 of George Smeeton's Doings in London (1828) provides an opportunity to compare and contrast these key 'fictional' versions of London. Smeeton was clearly attempting to revise Egan's comic tour of the city. The combination of texts in Volume 4 indicates the richness of Marriott's editorial philosophy in this collection: it includes a further work by John Badcock (publishing pseudonymously as Jon Bee), A Living Picture of London (1828); George Cruikshank's comic cuts, Scraps and Sketches (1828-32), as well as his My Sketch Book (1834-6) - which includes that well-known arrangement of London social classes into theatre seats, "Pit, Boxes & Gallery"; Robert Seymour's drawings ( 134-6), published with a miscellany of stories and poems written by 'Crowquill' in Seymour's Humorous Sketches (1866); and two plays, each dealing with the lives of London in different ways - W.T. Moncrieff's Newgate play, The Heart of London (1830), and Douglas Jerrold's domestic drama, Martha Willis (1831). Volume 5 contains a similarly eclectic mix of source materials, representative of the struggles of life in London in the late 1820s, with its frauds, 'universal scramble for money,' speculation and swindling (Marriott, 5:1): How to Live in London, Anonymous (1828), George Cruikshank's Sunday in London (1833), John Buncombe's The Dens of London Exposed (1835), A. C. Campbell's play The London Banker (1844), and two additional plays by the ubiquitous W.T. Moncrieff - Sam Weller (1837) and The Scamps of London (1843). All focus on the documentary realities of poverty in London. The final volume is taken up with the rather more serious and less sensationalist account of London by James Grant, Sketches in London (1838), and an index - both name and subject - to all six volumes, an addition which makes the whole collection quickly usable.

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