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The twin approach to this blog is to track the development of the street- and cityscape through the history of Western painting and identify as many urban themes in art, literature, photography and film as can be managed within the structure of this undertaking. As is clear from the sequence of previous entries, the cosmopolitan nature of the metropolis provided a wide variety of images for artists. Themes of urban entertainment for example are rooted in French nineteenth century art. Circus, theatre, ballet, cabaret and café-concert became part of a rich patchwork of subjects ranging from Manet’s interest in the audience and spectators to Toulouse- Lautrec’s obsession with outcasts such prostitutes, clowns and bohemians. By the 1920s, Berlin had become the entertainment capital of the world and mass culture played an important role in distracting a society traumatized by war and humiliation. Artists depicted scenes of leisure, entertainment and city life at night. By portraying the city’s seedy underbelly, they broke down the wall between serious art and popular culture. Cityscape and urban entertainment are beautifully fused to be discussed in this wide-ranging overview.

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Broadway equals showbiz. The avenue runs through almost the entire length of Manhattan Island and continues northward through the Bronx. It is the oldest north-south thoroughfare in the city. Broadway was originally the Wickquasgeck Trail which, mapped out by Native Americans, snaked through swamps and rocks. Upon the arrival of the Dutch, the trail soon became the main road through the island from ‘Nieuw Amsterdam’ at its southern tip. The name Broadway is a literal translation of ‘Breede Weg’. Today, a stretch of Broadway is known worldwide as the heart of the theatre industry. The name of the avenue appears in an endless number of poems and songs.

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Born in the Dutch provincial town of Amersfoort in 1872, Pieter Cornelis Mondriaan grew up in a strict Protestant household. His father often neglected his family in favour of service to the church. His mother was sickly, and it fell to Mondrian’s elder sister to take charge of her four brothers. His miserable childhood and unstable life at home made the future artist introspective and bitter. Art became for Mondrian a way to escape day-to-day reality and immerse himself in the world of his imagination. Young Mondriaan (between 1905 and 1907 he changed the spelling of his name into Mondrian) painted traditional subjects in an increasingly non-representational style. In 1911, he attended a Georges Braque exhibition. The work of the Cubist painter impressed him greatly, as it paralleled much of what he had been experimenting with on his own. Fascinated by the artistic innovations being introduced in Paris, he decided to pay a visit to the French capital. However, arriving there in the winter of the same year, the artist made no attempt to contact any of the local modernists. Though he followed the development of their art and theory, he had no wish to enter their circles. Instead, Mondrian rented a small studio and went on with his experimentation in private. He was and remained an outsider. Socially, Mondrian tended to distance himself from other people and he enjoyed few lasting relationships. He did make one attempt to settle down. In 1914, he became engaged to Greet Heybroek and the two married soon afterwards. The relationship lasted only three years. Mondrian was not made for marriage.

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The Dutch review De Stijl was founded in 1917 by Theo van Doesburg, and the name has come to represent the common aims and utopian vision of a loose affiliation of Dutch and international artists and architects. Mondrian soon became one of the central figures of De Stijl. The idea underlying De Stijl’s utopian program was the creation of a universal aesthetic language based in part on a rejection of the decorative excesses of Art Nouveau in favour of a style that emphasized construction and function, one that would be appropriate for every aspect of modern life. It was posited on the fundamental principle of the geometry of the straight line, the square, and the rectangle, combined with a strong asymmetricality; the predominant use of pure primary colours with black and white; and the relationship between positive and negative elements in an arrangement of non-objective forms and lines. Mondrian adopted a totally abstract motif, employing an irregular checkerboard drawn with black lines, and with the spaces paints mostly white or sometimes in the primary colours of blue, red and yellow. Between 1917 and 1944 he created some 250 abstract paintings. He named his style ‘neo-plasticism’ (from the Dutch ‘nieuwe beelding’ meaning new image). In 1938, as the political situation in Europe began to grow tense, Mondrian abandoned the Continent for London where he stayed with the British artists Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth. In 1940, with France fallen to Nazi Germany, and England suffering daily air raids, the artist took a ship to New York, despite the risk of U-boats.

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Mondrian settled in New York where he spent the last four years of his life. He held a number of exhibitions together with other European abstract artists who had escaped the war and the brutal Nazi regime that viewed modern art as an aberration. The metropolis, its size, scale and exuberance, fascinated him and inspired his ‘New York, New York’ (1941/2). His subsequent creation ‘New York City I’ (1942) can be read as an elegant abstraction of the Manhattan gridiron whereby streets are represented in primary colours (red, blue, yellow) and blocks in white. Another interpretation of this painting is an abstracted ‘snapshot’ of built form in Manhattan, whereby primary colours represent vertical construction elements (post, beams and/or floors) and white represents the space or window framed within these load-bearing elements. In his final painting ‘Broadway Boogie Woogie’ (1943) the checkerboard lines, previously black, are now painted blue, gray, red and yellow (inspired by New York’s Yellow cabs).

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The craze for boogie-woogie (the etymology of the term is unclear) in New York had reached fever point in those years. In 1938 and 1939 producer John Hammond promoted the ‘From Spirituals to Swing’ concerts at Carnegie Hall. The success of these events inspired many swing bands (Tom Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Will Bradley) to incorporate the boogie-woogie beat into some of their music. The Andrew Sisters sang boogies. The floodgates had opened. Every big band included boogie numbers in their repertoire, as the dancers were learning to jitterbug (derived from the slang term ‘jitters’ or delirium tremens – an American critic of the exploding jazz scene had made the observation that ‘just when they made delirium tremens unconstitutional, jazz came along and gave us dancing tremens’) and do the Harlem inspired Lindy Hop.

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Critics consider ‘Broadway Boogie Woogie’ to be Mondrian’s masterpiece, and a culmination of his aesthetic. Compared to his earlier work, the canvas is divided into a much larger number of squares. The painting was inspired by the city grid of Manhattan, and the jazz music to which the artist loved to dance. New York painter and printmaker Robert Motherwell grasped the essence of this remarkable painting and its significance in the history of the cityscape: ‘The Modern City! Precise, rectangular, squared, whether seen from above, below, or on the side; bright lights and sterilized life; Broadway, whites and blacks; and boogie-woogie; the underground music of the at once resigned and rebellious’.

Mondrian was a man of complex contrasts. Artistically he was a precise technician and the creator of austere pictures, in life he was a chaotic dreamer and a withdrawn romantic. He was a lucid intellectual who, at the same time, was attracted to the mysticism of Mme Blavatsky, Annie Besant and Rudolf Steiner. He joined the Theosophical Society in 1909. In Art and Act Peter Gay locates Mondrian’s creative impulse not in some rational aesthetic concept of pictorial form, but in the artist’s flight from sentiment and sensuality, in his dread of desire. For Mondrian – as was the case for Albert Einstein – creativity was partly motivated by a desire to escape from day to day reality in order to find a harmony and balance that he could not find in private life. Withdrawn, anxious, and fastidious to the point of obsession, Piet Mondrian painted cool geometric abstractions for intensely personal reasons. No sentiment, no curves, no touching – that is how he lived and that is what his abstract paintings proclaim. Beauty was wrested from anxiety. That gives such significance to the title and execution of Mondrian’s last painting which contrasts the square severity of Broadway with the nerve and restlessness of jazz as an expression of modern life.

 

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Mondrian’s boogie woogie supplies a rhythmic finale to this festival of street art. This does not mean that Mondrian stands at the end of a tradition or that the possibilities of further developing this genre have been exhausted. It certainly is a fact that during the twentieth century attention was largely focused on abstract and conceptual art. The interest in cityscapes declined as a result of that development. The revival of figurative art at the end of the century however heralded a revaluation of the urban landscape. Gerhard Richter’s townscapes – and those of Milan in particular – have been influential. An important contribution to the genre was made by photo-realist painters. An already classic example is the view of Madrid’s ‘Gran Via’ which Spanish artist Antonio López painted from life during innumerable sessions across a seven years period (1974/81). Since his arrival in 1980, Martin Kostler has produced some fine cityscapes of Washington DC. Richard Estes is based in New York. His 2010 painting ‘Broadway Bus Stop’ has given the genre a new impetus. Over the years, Leon Kossoff has produced a number of splendid London landscapes. Some of the most intriguing post-war cityscapes have been created by Frank Auerbach. As a youngster he was sent to England from his home city, Berlin, shortly before his eighth birthday and the outbreak of war. Both his Jewish parents were killed in the concentration camps and Auerbach made London his new home where from 1947 to 1952 he was an art student. The capital at the time was badly scarred by war wounds. The Blitz had levelled whole areas of the metropolis and left numerous buildings severely damaged. During the post-war years large numbers of workmen were involved in clearing the debris and excavating new foundations. Once again, London was in the process of transforming itself. For Auerbach, this changing urban landscape made the most compelling of contemporary subjects. He remembered London after the war as a ‘marvellous landscape with precipice and mountains and crags, full of drama’.

(c) Frank Auerbach; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

His uncompromising painting ‘Building Site, Earls Court Road: Winter’ is one of an extraordinary group of paintings of post-war London building sites. This series of fourteen works was created in the decade between 1952 and 1962 and are among the most profound responses made by any artist to the post-war urban landscape. The painful irony is that the Blitz – like the Great Fire had done previously – offered London the opportunity for renewed ‘planning’. It either had damaged poor districts and shabby property in need of redevelopment, or opened up hidden architectural treasures that once again could be made visible. Bomb damage was the spur to reconstruction. London’s post-war revival is not only proof of the urban resilience in overcoming disaster, but also of the creative potential to harness and maintain its distinctive character.

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Early urban culture and the invention of the printing press are intertwined. The diffusion of this technology encouraged activity in the city and stimulated commercial and intellectual pursuits. Printing was the catalyst. It made a huge impact on business skill and performance (bookkeeping and the calculation of exchange and interest rates for example) and allowed for the social ascent of new professional classes such as merchants, lawyers, officials, doctors, and teachers.

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The Arte dell’abbaco (known as the ‘Treviso arithmetic’), the earliest known printed book on mathematics, is a textbook in commercial arithmetic written in vernacular Venetian and published in Treviso in 1478. It is significant that early places of printing excellence were either commercial centres (Venice, Bruges), university towns (Mainz, Louvain), or both (Leiden). The early modern city was a meeting place of traders, bankers, printers and intellectuals.

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The city-state (civitas) of Rome has been the inspiration to our notions of civilization and ‘civility’ (literally, the way of life that belongs to the city). The Latin term ‘urbs’ implies a tradition of ‘urbanity’ in a sense of refined social intercourse. A history of Western civilization is largely a tale of urban development within Europe. Basel is one of those cities that take pride in a strong intellectual tradition. Scholars have always enjoyed considerable prestige here. John Foxe worked on his history of the persecutions suffered by the Reformers while in exile in Basel; Jacob Burckhardt, who was born in the city, became the celebrated historian of the Italian Renaissance; Nietzsche taught Greek philology at Basel University and wrote some of his philosophical works there; Jung studied medicine at the University; and Theodor Herzl addressed the first Zionist Congress in the old Municipal Casino.

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At present, the city is home to a number of famous schools and museums and constitutes an international marketplace for art and antiquities. Totengässlein, located in the heart of historic Basel (the name translates as Little Lane of the Dead), houses the Pharmazie-Historisches Museum which was founded in 1925. Dedicated to pharmaceutical history, it holds one of the world’s largest collections on the subject that includes notable books such as Der Gart der Gesundheyt by Johann de Cuba (Augsburg, 1488) and New Kreüterbuch by Leonhart Fuchs (Basel, 1543).

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The museum is located in the historical house ‘Zum Vorderen Sessel’ which dates back to the thirteenth century. The building once housed an important printing press owned by Johann Amerbach who had arrived in Basel from Germany in 1475. In 1507 the property, consisting of several houses and a yard, was bought from him by his pupil Johann Froben. Here, in 1514, a meeting took place that would shape the course of Europe’s intellectual history. 06 In 1499, Erasmus of Rotterdam paid his first visit to England as guest of William Blount, his former pupil in Paris and the future Lord Mountjoy, who encouraged the Dutch scholar to compile his Adagia. During his stay Erasmus met Thomas More and the two became lifelong friends. Apparently, their very first meeting took place at the Lord Mayor’s table. They were seated opposite each other. Their debate was lively. Each was so impressed by the other’s wit that Erasmus exclaimed, ‘Aut tu es Morus, aut nullus’ (Either you are More, or no one), and More replied, ‘Aut tu es Erasmus, aut diabolus’ (You are either Erasmus, or the devil). Whilst on a second visit in 1505, Erasmus was joined by Thomas More and together they worked on the translation of Lucian’s satires from Greek into Latin (published in Paris, 1506).

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In 1509 Erasmus visited England for a third time. During his stay he wrote Encomium Moriae (In Praise of Folly) which he dedicated to Thomas, jokingly including More’s name in the title. The meeting between Erasmus and Johannes Froben took place five years after the former’s 1509 visit to England. Froben was a printer in Basel who established the greatest Swiss publishing firm of the early sixteenth century. A scholar himself, a master printer, and a successful businessman, he recognized the vitality of humanistic thinking. Froben had originally worked in Nuremberg, before moving to Basel in 1490. Three years later, he entered a partnership with Johannes Petri and the leading Basel printer of the preceding generation, Johannes Amerbach.

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A fine 1513 reprint of Aldus’s edition of Erasmus’s Adagia had drawn the humanist’s attention to the superb skills of the Basel printer. Moreover, Erasmus was intrigued by the work that was undertaken by Amerbach and Froben for an edition of the writings of Saint Jerome. Erasmus admired this early scholar and had been busy himself translating his epistles. His plan to restore the books of Jerome and add a commentary had been frustrated by a variety of problems. Basel offered the opportunity of joining a group of editors who were working on the same subject. In July 1514, he set out to meet Froben. He carried his notes on Jerome with him. After the death of his partners, Froben took full control of the press. In 1500 he married the daughter of the bookseller Wolfgang Lachner, who entered into a partnership with him. She ran the commercial side of the business, while Froben handled the authors and editors and the process of production. By 1510 his press had become the centre of a large circle of mostly German and Swiss humanist scholars. The inclusion of Erasmus meant a major turning point for the firm. From about 1515, Froben was the main publisher used by Erasmus. In 1521, the latter moved from the Netherlands to Basel.

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It was Froben’s fine printing and humanistic scholarship that made him decide to make the move. It turned out to be a happy meeting of minds and skills. The greatest period of Froben’s work as a printer coincided with the years of his friendship with the celebrated scholar, the ‘prince of humanists’. Erasmus himself was delighted with the new environment in which he had settled. In a letter to Joannes Sapidus, he described his stay in Basel as ‘living in some charming sanctuary of the Muses, where a multitude of learned persons, and learned in no common fashion, appears a thing of course’. The vibrant intellectual climate and captivating atmosphere of the city inspired his finest work. The wandering scholar had found his home.

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Froben could teach contemporary publishers a lesson or two. He was alert enough to offer Erasmus a fixed annual income of 200 gulden for his services and a fair share in the profits of the books produced. The two men entered into a proper business partnership. Working closely together, this relationship turned into a close friendship. What did these services consist of? Printing ancient texts demanded expert assistance. Manuscripts had to be obtained in the first place. When acquired, they needed to be evaluated (manuscripts were often in a poor state and before the invention of printing editors had not been particular careful with their texts), collated, and emendated. This task demanded scholarship of the highest level. Erasmus became the most eminent of ‘learned correctors’ at Froben’s publishing house. We think of Erasmus first and foremost as an author. Where did he gain his editorial skills? Before moving to Basel, Erasmus had spent nine months in Venice with Aldus Manutius, the most famous printer in Europe. It was Aldus’s ambition to rescue from oblivion the work of the classical, especially Greek, writers. To this end he edited and printed those works for which workable manuscripts could be procured. His firm, named Ne-academia Nostra, employed many scholars who were involved with the deciphering of ancient manuscripts. Erasmus stayed with Aldus from January to September 1508. It was there that he learned the editorial trade by preparing an impressive number of texts, including editions of Plautus, Seneca, Terence, and Plutarch.

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In December 1516, Louvain-based printer Dirk Martens had published one of the lasting highlights of European literature. It was Thomas More’s Utopia. Whilst on a trade mission in the Low Countries in 1515, the author had entrusted the publication of his book to Erasmus and to Pieter Gillis (Petrus Aegidius in Latin or Peter Giles in English), a town councillor (‘griffier’) in Antwerp. The delightful introductory letter to the text itself is addressed to my ‘right heartily beloved friend Peter’ [Giles]. The book depicts the society of a fictional island and its religious, political and social customs. The quasi-Platonic debate in the first part of Utopia, in which a critique of a corrupt contemporary society is formulated, stands at the beginning of a long subsequent tradition of European socio-cultural criticism. A Paris edition was published in 1517, embellished with supportive letters from leading humanists to whom Erasmus had sent copies of the manuscript. That same year painter Quinten Massys completed his famous portrait of Erasmus which was commissioned with a pendant portrait of Pieter Gillis, to be sent as a gift to Thomas More. In presenting themselves surrounded by their books, both men must have hoped these portraits would seal their bonds of intellect and friendship with a like-minded thinker.

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On 25 August 1517 Erasmus sent a letter from Louvain to Johannes Froben in Basel. In it, he recommended the publication of More’s Utopia in combination with the Prolusions (the works were published together in two 1518 – March and November – editions by Froben). If you think fit, Erasmus wrote, ‘let them go forth to the world and to posterity with the recommendation of being printed by you. For such is the reputation of your press that for a book to have been published by Froben, is a passport to the approbation of the learned’. Froben employed Hans Holbein to supply the woodcut borders to his edition. This border takes the form of a Renaissance niche flanked by columns in which putti play around a shield showing Froben’s printer’s mark with a bird perched on top. Holbein’s brother Ambrosius designed the alphabet letter within the text. The book proved to be an overwhelming success. By the middle of the century translations of the original Latin had appeared in German, Italian, French, and English. The first translation into Dutch entitled De Utopie van Thomas Morus, in zijn tijden Cancellier van Enghelant was printed by Hans de Laet in Antwerp in 1553. Within a time span of three decades the whole of Europe had taken notice of Thomas More’s masterpiece. Quality travels fast – even in those early days. 13 The close personal relationship between Froben and Erasmus is perhaps unparalleled in the history of authors and their publishers, although it was surely in keeping with the climate and ideals of the time. It was Renaissance humanism in its most perfect form. With the death of Froben in 1527, Erasmus expressed his personal loss and sorrow. His grief for the death of his close friend was more distressing than that which he had felt for the loss of his own brother. The world of ‘studia humanitatis’ was in mourning.

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The Enlightenment, with its emphasis on rationality and inquiry, and its belief in human ‘perfectibility’, disturbed the religious and cultural underpinning of the European socio-political order. Voltaire and Diderot in France, like David Hume and Jeremy Bentham in Britain, explored the human and secural bases of governmental power. These thinkers prepared the ground for the emergence of democracy as a viable system of government. Others rejected universal suffrage as a first step towards fragmentation. Awareness of disintegration in the workplace was raised when Adam Smith introduced the term and concept of division of labour in The Wealth of Nations (1776).

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Adam Ferguson warned of the dangers implicit in the system. While Smith feared the effect of specialization on the individual, Ferguson argued that excessive division of labour would strain the social ties that bind society together. Progress would deteriorate into a process of atomization. Specialization also affected science and the arts. Already in his day, Goethe complained that the sciences were pigeon-holed. Universities created a multitude of disciplines without offering an integrated world-view. Too many specialisms caused the part to obscure the whole, and information to replace wisdom. Once divorced from architecture, the arts that were traditionally tied to building (sculpture, painting, and even music) developed into independent branches of creative endeavour. This particularization divorced them from their social purpose. The demand of originality dealt a final blow to stylistic unity or continuity within the creative domain that splintered into a plenitude of aggresively combative groups or -isms succeeding each other at an ever accelerating rate. Time and again critics applied phrases such as ‘cultural anarchy’ or ‘decadence’ to describe the perceived state of fragmentation into which the creative domain had fallen. Subjectivity was seen as the hallmark of disintegration.

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These observations were made at the same time that an unstoppable process of centralization took place in Europe. All roads and railways led from the provinces to the capital. Napoleon was a key figure in pushing the development towards a single authority of law- and policymaking forward. The French Revolution had swept away most remaining medieval and feudal laws. A truly national law code was established. Paris is the cause of the destruction of all the old bounds of provinces and jurisdictions, ecclesiastical and secular, Edmund Burke observed in Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). The ‘strength of Paris thus formed, will appear a system of general weakness’. Critics such as Mme de Staël or Alphonse de Lamartine claimed that centralization would be disastrous from a cultural perpective. They hailed the vibrancy of Italian or German cities competing to emulate and outdo each other in artistic achievements, or, as Hippolyte Taine put it in 1866, in Renaissance Italy, ‘[une] cité était une élite, et non, comme chez nous, une multitude’. It was widely feared that individual regions would forfeit their cultural traditions and the consequent loss of regional identities would undermine the nation’s strength as a whole.

04That is why George Eliot insisted in Middlemarch (1871/2) that an intelligent provincial man with a grain of public spirit, should do what he can ‘to resist the rush of everything that is a little better than common towards London. Any valid professional aims may often find a freer, if not a richer field, in the provinces’. Cities may be centres of innovation and knowledge transfer, but over-centralization or the coming together of all cultural facilities in one place, carries the dangers of homogenizing art (and language) and killing off diversity. Many of our standard handbooks of literature and art seem to suggest that outside the metropolis cultural life is stagnant or non-existent. The attitude is summarized by the figure of Sir Ernold in François de Neufchâteau’s comedy Pamela, ou La vertue recompense (1795): ‘Hors de Paris, vraiment, le goût n’existe pas’. That, of course, is an outrageous statement.

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Like it was the case for a number of other European cities, Rouen’s modern history has been a painful one. During the nineteenth century its main industry was textile and cotton. Manufacturies were established in the Cailly and Robec valleys as well as on the left bank of the Seine. Endless rows of brick houses were built to lodge the influx of migrant workers. The poor living conditions of the working classes caused social unrest. In April 1848 the city was full of barricades although the insurrection was quickly and brutally put down. During the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, Rouen was occupied by the Prussians. During the First World War the city was a support base for the front line and saw the arrival of many refugees from Northern France and Belgium, before the landing and stationing of British troops. World War ii brought serious suffering to the city. The Germans entered Rouen on the 9 June 1940. The area of the city most affected by combat was located between the cathedral and the river which burned for a week as the Germans refused to allow the fire service access. Rouen was to remain under Nazi control for four long years during which time the city was bombed regularly and recklessly. The worst Allied attack took place during the week from 30 May to 5 June 1944 when 400 bombs hit Rouen killing 1,500 people, damaging the Cathedral, Saint-Maclou and the Palais de Justice and completely destroying a large part of the left bank.

06When the Canadians liberated Rouen on the 30 August 1944 they entered a devastated city. Cityscapes and photographs now serve as a memory of old Rouen. One of the streets obliterated by bombing during the war was Rue de l’Épicerie, literally: street of grocery stores, a bustling market street near to the cathedral. French artist Marcel Augis (pseudonym of Henri Dupont) was one a number of First World War French and Belgian artists that trod the Western Front during the Great War. They recorded the devastation of the battlefields and the areas that contained Allied troops. Many of these etchings/aquatints would have been sold to soldiers returning home after the War or subsequently purchased on battlefield remembrance tours that took place in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1916/7 Augis produced five or six scenes of Rouen. The etching of ‘La Rue de l’Épicerie, Rouen’ dates from 1917 shows a street full of grocery speciality shops of spices from the Far East with the cathedral is in the background.

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The city is associated with three major artistic movements, namely Realism in literature and Romanticism and Impressionism in painting. From a literary point of view, Rouen is first and foremost associated with novelist Gustave Flaubert. The author was born in the city on 12 December 1821 and educated at the Lycée Pierre Corneille (the dramatist was also born in Rouen). In 1840 he went to Paris to study law, but hated the legal profession and found the city distasteful. From 1846 to 1854, Flaubert had a relationship with the poet Louise Colet. After leaving Paris, he returned to Croisset, near the Seine and close to Rouen, and lived with his mother in their home for the rest of his life. He never married. The affair with Louise was his only serious relationship.

08His 1856 novel Madame Bovary is set in the sleepy town of Tostes (now Tôtes), near Rouen, and focuses on a doctor’s wife, Emma Bovary, who has adulterous affairs and lives beyond her means in order to escape the emptiness of provincial life. Trapped in a banal marriage to Charles Bovary, a man without drive or ambition, and living in provincial surroundings, infidelity and Rouen are her only means of escape. To her, Paris represents the culmination of all dreams. Her reality however is life in a dull town, an existence of bitterness and discontent. The town of Tôtes also figures in another classic of French literature, Guy de Maupassant’s Boule de Suif. Set during the Franco-Prussian War, the story tells the cowardly betrayal of prostitute Elisabeth Rousset by a group of upright citizens from Rouen in order to save their own skins. De Maupassant himself was educated at a boarding school in the city. 09 Nestling in a meander of the river, the capital of Normandy has always held a fascination for artists. A number of English painters found inspiration in the old town. Richard Parkes Bonington, an Anglo-French painter of coastal scenes with a fine handling of light and atmosphere, painted the famous Rue du Gros-Horloge. Critics consider this work a masterpiece of Romantic lithography.

Turner created a well-known watercolour of Rouen Cathedral and, like Pissarro would do many years later, he compared the city to Venice. Paul Huet painted his splendid ‘Vue générale de Rouen, prise du Mont-aux-Malades’ in 1831. During three trips to Normandy in 1829, 1830 and 1833, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot produced various views of and landscapes around the Seine as seen from Rouen. Théodore Géricault was born and educated in Rouen before settling in Paris. From a historical perspective, a dramatic moment in the turn from Neoclassicism to Romanticism was the exhibition of one of Géricault’s paintings at the Salon of 1819 in Paris. In June 1816, the French frigate ‘Méduse’ had departed from Rochefort bound for Senegal. The ship drifted off course and ran aground on a sandbank off the West African coast. Passengers and crew tried to travel the sixty miles to the African coast in the frigate’s six boats. Although she was carrying 400 people, there was space for just about 250 of them in the boats. The others were piled onto a hastily-built raft. For sustenance the crew had no more than a bag of ship’s biscuits and two casks of water. The journey carried the survivors to the edge of human experience. Crazed and starved, they slaughtered mutineers, ate their dead companions, and killed the weakest amongst them. After thirteen days at sea, the raft was rescued. Fifteen men were still alive. The others had been thrown overboard, died of starvation, or drowned themselves in despair.

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The disaster inspired Théodore Géricault to create ‘Le radeau de la Méduse’. The painting depicts the moment that survivors view a ship approaching from a distance. The artist was obsessed by the subject-matter. He undertook extensive research, interviewed survivors, and constructed a scale model of the raft. His efforts took him to morgues and hospitals where he could view the dying and dead. He was said to be spellbound with the stiffness of corpses. He brought severed limbs back to his studio to investigate their decay, and stored a severed head borrowed from a lunatic asylum on his studio roof. Despite their drudging reputation, fixed routines are an indispensable tool to artists of all kinds. The creative process demands discipline. Géricault drove this awareness to the extreme. During the eight months of creation, the painter lived a monastic existence, working in methodical fashion and complete silence. The painting established the artist’s international reputation and the disturbing image became an icon of French Romanticism.

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Johan Barthold Jongkind visited Paris in 1860 where his Dutch watercolours of land- and seascapes enjoyed enormous successs. He decided to stay and paintings such as a ‘Vue de Rouen’ or ‘La Seine près de Rouen’ (both paintings date from 1865) which record the mood and atmospherics of the moment became influential in the push towards new aesthetic ideals. The Impressionists were regular visitors to Rouen. In fact, it was in Normandy that Claude Monet in 1872 painted his famous ‘Impression, soleil levant’, a painting that gave the movement its name. It would, however, be another twenty years before the artist turned his attention to Rouen’s Gothic Cathédrale Notre-Dame. Painted from the first floor of a ladies’ lingerie shop, he worked on up to fourteen canvases at a time, determined to capture each and every atmospheric detail. The final result consists of twenty-eight views of the impressive facade which includes ‘La Rue de l’Épicerie à Rouen’ (1892).

13Monet finished the works in his studio at Giverny, carefully adjusting the pictures both independently and in relation to each other. In 1895, he successfully exhibited twenty of his cathedral pictures at Durand-Ruel’s gallery in Paris. In the autumn of 1883, Paul Gauguin moved his family from Paris to Rouen. In desperate financial trouble, he combined painting with selling life insurances and other part-time jobs in order to survive before moving to Copenhagen where his Danish wife Mette tried to keep the family afloat by teaching French to Danish students. During his short spell in Rouen, Gauguin painted a number of street- and city-scenes which includes ‘Rue Jouvenet à Rouen’ (Rouen-born Jean Jouvenet was appointed to the post of Director of the Royal Acadamy in 1705).

14Léon-Jules Lemaître produced some stunning paintings of the area. In his oil painting ‘Palais de Justice de Rouen’ Lemaître masterly captures the atmosphere of the Law Courts’ Renaissance courtyard. His 1890 painting of the Rouen’s Gros Horloge, one of Europe’s oldest working medieval clocks, is an outstanding example of his interest in the cityscape. Lemaître is one of a handful of a group of artists that became known as the ‘École de Rouen’. The term was coined in 1902 by the French critic Arsène Alexandre and refers to a group of post-Impressionist artists who followed in the footsteps of Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, and Alfred Sisley. The members of the School of Rouen were drawn to the city as an escape from the strict academic attitudes found in the salons and galleries of Paris at the time. Their efforts culminated in two legendary exhibitions: the first, held in 1907, brought together works by Fauvist artists such as Dufy, Matisse and Braque; the second, organised on the Ile Lacroix in 1912, was addressed by Apollinaire who gave a lecture on ‘Orphic Cubism’.

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Pissarro was famous for his portrayal of Rouen, a city he once described ‘as beautiful as Venice’. He first worked there in 1883. An admirer of Monet’s Rouen Cathedral series, he painted several views of the quays along the Seine. He tended to work at the spot to capture the atmosphere and activity there and then. In 1893, following treatment on an eye, his doctor warned him not to expose himself to dusty conditions. He returned to Rouen in 1896 and in 1898 for three extended painting campaigns. By working from an elevated position, Pissarro found a perfect solution to the problem of capturing the hustle and bustle of the city, its linear and aerial perspectives, without the impracticalities of installing himself in the street. From the third floor of his room at the Hôtel de Paris which overlooked the Seine, he painted different views of the Pont Boïeldieu, at sunset, on an overcast day, in the fog. The bridge joined the old Gothic city in the north with the new southern industrial areas of Sainte-Sever. On the far bank we see boats docking and unloading cargo, with the urban landscape in the distance. It is this juxtaposition of mist and smoke, of the industrial and the historical, that gives his cityscapes its intriguing character. An exhibition of his work at Paul Durand-Ruel’s gallery in Paris in April/May 1896 included eleven Rouen paintings which were critically appreciated and found buyers giving him financial security at last. It allowed him to return to Rouen in September 1896. This time he stayed at the Hôtel d’Angleterre on the other side of the bridge, where his fifth-floor room offered panoramas of the city’s three bridges. In 1898 he travelled to Rouen for a fourth time, painting more views of the bridges, as well as of the Gare d’Orléans and the Quai de la Bourse.

16On 19 August 1898, Pissarro wrote to his son Lucien that he had found an excellent place from which to paint the Rue de l’Épicerie and the Friday market in the Place de la Haute-Vieille-Tour. He made various paintings of the street under different atmospheric conditions, be it in bright sunshine or on a grey morning. Like fellow Impressionists he liked to experiment with the effects of light. Depicting light and the play of shadow has always been a challenge to painters. The Impressionists abolished the traditional use of neutral tones and black and grays for creating shadow by applying purples and yellows instead to suggest coloured shadows and reflected light. Pissarro’s paintings of the old street are a reminder of the cruel damage World War ii had inflicted on Europe’s heritage. His views of Rouen total a number of forty-seven. They vastly exceed the numbers of any other series he created. Cityscapes dominate his oeuvre. Rouen’s rich artistic history in the meantime shows that there is life outside the capital after all.

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Bishopsgate was anciently divided into Bishopsgate Street Within (i.e. within the walls of London) and Bishopsgate Street Without, and derives its name from an ancient gate in the city walls which is attributed to Erkenwald, elected Bishop of London in 675. Throughout its history this street in Camden has been one of the City’s main commercial centres. A specific nineteenth century addition to the history of city- and streetscapes is the dimension of industrial and commercial activity. This, the age in which religion was replaced by economics, opened up an urban imagery of ports, docks, industrial sites, smoke stacks, factories and shop fronts in painting, poetry and fiction.

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Walter Riddle may not be a household name in the annals of English painting, but the Guildhall Art Gallery holds a few interesting canvases by him. One of these paintings, created in 1872, is entitled ‘Bishopsgate in 1871’. The image shows a busy commercial street with in the centre the warehouse of Moore & Moore, pianoforte manufacturers. The firm started production in London in 1837 and was taken over by the Kemble group in 1933. Whatever the quality of their pianos may have been, the firm was part of a lively history of making musical instruments in the capital.

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Having arrived from Switzerland in 1718 as a simple journeyman joiner, Burkat Shudi set up his own workshop as a harpsichord maker in 1728. It was the foundation of the famous business now known as John Broadwood & Sons. Some time in the 1720s Burkat Shudi became apprenticed to Hermann Tabel, a Fleming who had learned the art of harpsichord making in the famous Antwerp house of the Ruckers dynasty of instrument makers. He was the first person who built harpsichords in London where he resided between 1680 and 1720. Little is known about Tabel, but a harpsichord made by him is in the possession of Helena, Countess of Radnor, and bears the inscription ‘Hermannus Tabel fecit Londini, 1721’. Another London pupil of Tabel was the German immigrant Jacob Kirkman, who set up a rival workshop producing harpsichords of equal quality to those of Shudi. Later, both Broadwood and Kirkman became leading manufacturers of pianos (between 1771 and 1851 no fewer than 103,750 pianos were produced by Broadwood, one of the main London employers at the time).

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The piano was first demonstrated in London by the multi-talented Charles Dibdin (composer, singer, actor, novelist), who is most famous for his sea songs. Between the acts of a performance of The Beggar’s Opera at Covent Garden, on 16 May 1767, he accompanied Miss Bricklet on the ‘new pianoforte’. Dibden lived in Arlington Road, Camden Town, and it was there that the piano industry blossomed. Camden was a suitable centre for its manufacture. Transport conditions by water and rail were ideal. By the middle of the century, London had over two hundred piano making firms, three quarters of them north of the river. Some firms made instruments on a mass production system, as Collard & Collard (originally established as Longman & Broderip in 1767) did in their famous circular factory in Oval Road. Others were merely small assembly shops. Besides manufacturers there were part makers, such as piano key makers; wrench pin makers; hammer coverers; truss carvers; gilders; marquetry workers; veneer, timber and ivory suppliers; makers of piano castors; piano stool makers, piano-back makers; piano tuners and others. All these professionals found a living in and around Bishopsgate.

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The London Tavern was once situated at the western side of Bishopsgate Street. The house was destroyed during a terrifying blaze that took place on 7 November 1765. The fire broke out at a peruque-maker’s shop opposite. The flames were carried by a high wind across the street to the property immediately adjoining the tavern, quickly spreading to other streets. Fifty houses and buildings were destroyed or damaged. The new London Tavern was designed by architect Richard Jupp and re-opened in September 1768. The size of the place was phenomenal. The dining room, known as the ‘Pillar Room’ for its Corinthian columns, was decorated with medallions and garlands. At the top of the building there was a ballroom that extended over the full length of the structure which, if laid out as a banqueting area, offered room to hundreds of people. The walls were covered with paintings. The cellars occupied the whole basement of the building. They were filled with barrels of porter, pipes of port, and butts of sherry. At any time some 1,200 bottles of champagne were kept in store, in addition to six or seven hundred bottles of claret and ‘floods’ of other wines. The original purpose of the tavern was not so much to create a venue for feasting, but to offer space for public meetings.

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In 1817, Robert Owen was determined to publicize his conversion from philanthropic cotton prince to socialist campaigner. He spent much of his time in London organizing public meetings. On 14 August he made his most notable address before an audience of hundreds of politicians, intellectuals, and followers at the London Tavern. The new religion of terrestrial paradise was promised in the tavern. In 1848, the London Chest Hospital was founded here at a meeting held by a group of nineteen City merchants and philanthropic bankers (which at the time was not a contradiction in terms), thirteen of whom were Quakers. Tuberculosis or consumption was then the major endemic killing disease, accounting for twenty per cent of all fatal illnesses. Charles Dickens presided here at the 1851 annual dinner for the General Theatrical Fund. Especially during the spring season meetings were numerous and these often concluded with a sumptuous dinner and entertainment. The London Tavern employed an army of sixty to seventy servants at any time. The majority of City companies held there banquets there; there were la large number of annual balls; Masonic Lodges met in the London Tavern, etc. Business was booming.

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The London Tavern holds a niche in the history of English late eighteenth century music. Dublin-born John Field was the eldest son of violinist Robert Field. He studied first with his father and his grandfather, John Field, a church organist. In 1793, the family moved to London where John Field entered an apprenticeship for seven years with Muzio Clementi, the Italian composer, pianist, and publisher who had settled in the capital. John’s first public appearance in England took place at the London Tavern on 12 December 1793, when he played a ‘Lesson on the new Grand Piano Forte’ at a benefit concert under the patronage of the Prince of Wales. In return for his instruction, Field had to work as a salesman-demonstrator in Clementi’s piano warehouse (the latter had created a successful association with the Collard family under the name of Clementi & Company; Munzio retired in 1815 after which the firm was called Collard & Collard). Field’s early talent as a composer was put to use by his Clementi who published several of young John’s piano pieces anonymously. Field’s professional career as a composer was launched on 7 February 1799 with the performance of his Piano Concerto No. 1 at the King’s Theatre. His apprenticeship expired shortly thereafter, and for the next two years he was in great demand as a concert pianist. Field’s Opus 1 Piano Sonatas was published in 1801. It was dedicated to Clementi. Field’s creation of the ‘Nocturne’ as a genre is his substantial contribution to music. Having experimented with titles such as Pastorale, Serenade, and Romance, he settled on the name when Nocturne No. 1 was published in 1812. In conception and style, Field anticipated Chopin by nearly two decades. Liszt, Mendelssohn, and other composers were influenced by the Nocturnes. These pieces strengthened the Romantic belief that music is the language of emotion that begins where words fail. They were the first ‘songs without words’. Celestial music for piano found its first expression in the London Tavern.

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A successful undertaking as the London Tavern depended heavily on master chefs and cooks. And management hired the best. John Farley is a figure about whom little is known apart from his best-selling book, The London Art of Cookery published in 1783 (it went into twelve editions by 1811). His claim to fame rests on this book, although ninety per cent of the text was compiled – ‘stolen’ – from two culinary best-sellers of the eighteenth century, Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1747) and Elizabeth Raffald’s The Experienced English Housekeeper (1769). In 1792 Farley was listed as being cook at the London Tavern.

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What about the food at the famous tavern? The house was above all appreciated for its turtle soup. There were a number of London outlets where turtles were presented as a speciality. Of specific interest in this context is the Ship and Turtle tavern in Leadenhall Street. It has been claimed that the house dated back to 1377. The tavern was the meeting place of numerous Masonic lodges and a sought-after venue for corporation and companies’ livery dinners. Inevitably, management prided itself upon the quality of its turtle soup. Another house was the Queens Arms Tavern at St Paul’s Churchyard which was popular with City politicians and booksellers. Great numbers of turtles of differing sizes were being dressed at the tavern. In 1787, the New, Complete and Universal Body, or System, of Natural History describes three turtles being prepared at the tavern, ‘two of which together did not weigh three ounces, and the other exceeded nine hundred pounds in weight’. The London Tavern however enjoyed a supreme reputation when it came to turtles.

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For a long time turtle had been considered synonymous with filth. The word ‘tortoise’ (tartarus) means ‘resident of hell’. Turtle was not considered fit for food. The shell however was used for medicinal purposes and promoted as an aphrodisiac. At sea it was a different matter altogether. During the seventeenth century, the edibility of the giant sea turtle had been exploited by mariners and whalers. Turtles were stored on deck and would remain alive for up to a year without feeding, thus providing fresh meat for long voyages. During the nineteenth century however turtle meat developed into a delicacy wreaking havoc on the species from which it has never fully recovered. Soup was made from the green cartilage that lines the shell of the turtle. These reptiles were kept in massive tanks, which occupied a whole vault. Gastronomical wisdom at the time dictated that turtles will live well in cellars for three months as long as they were kept in the same water in which they had been transported. Changing the water would lessen the weight of the turtle and affect is flavour. An estimated 15,000 turtles were imported to London yearly. When, as a consequence, the turtle became rarer as a species, soup prices shot up dramatically to a level of imported luxuries like truffles or caviar today.

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Mock turtle soup was introduced by the early 1800s. This was a consommé with a calf’s head and maybe a calf’s foot, hooves or tail, and root vegetables like turnips and carrots. The non-muscular meat was used to imitate that of the turtle. This is why the John Tenniel’s illustration of ‘Alice with the Mock Turtle and the Gryphon’ in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is depicted as a collection of creatures that make up the ingredients of mock turtle soup. The illustration shows the Mock Turtle with the body of a turtle, and the head, hooves, and tail of a calf. ’Turtle Soup’, as sung by the Mock Turtle in the story, makes it clear that special pots were created for this soup:

Beautiful soup, so rich and green,
Waiting in a hot tureen!
Who for such dainties would not stoop?
Soup of the evening, beautiful soup!

A turtle soup tureen could hold up to six litres of soup in its body. Interestingly, ‘Mockturtlesuppe’ is a traditional meal in Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen). In 1714 the House of Hanover had succeeded the House of Stuart as monarchs of Great Britain and Ireland. Up to 1837 the Kingdom of Hanover and Britain were joined in a personal union, thus sharing the same person as their respective head of state. The union was ended when different succession laws resulted in Queen Victoria ascending the British throne and her uncle Ernest Augustus that of Hanover. During that period of close contact both the recipe and the name for the dish were transported from England to the northern part of Germany. Did mock turtle soup enhance the mutual understanding of the two nations? It certainly is a challenging question for socio-political researchers to answer. History is a lady with a wicked sense of humour.

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A particular aspect of urban psychological history is a continuous fascination with crime. City dwellers are obsessed with acts of violence. Every age has expressed worries about escalating evil. The issue of law and order has always been a concern. Politicians make a career out of such anxieties. And yet, at the same time, we devour crime stories, real or fictional, in whatever form these are presented. Crime is a never-ceasing attraction to the public at large. It dominates television programming, ‘good stories’ sell newspapers, and the thriller remains the most popular literary genre. From early civilization onwards acts of cruelty have been recorded in the annals of mankind, be it the Celtic sacrificial ritual of head-hunting or the medieval visions of hell.

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Death in early history was violent – not a blissful transition from life to heaven, but an event of pain and horror, either through some form of epidemic disease or through the continuous evils of war and armed conflict. Murder and theft were rampant. Punishment was brutal, but did not stop villainy. Paradoxically, out of this mixture of fear and fascination a new figure arose – that of the criminal folk legend. Robin Hood is the best known outlaw in English folklore and the first criminal to be acclaimed a hero by poets and artists. Stories about crime during the seventeenth century seemed to address the insecurities of the age. Printed ballads, periodicals, reports of crimes, pamphlets taking the side of defendants or prosecutors, last dying speeches, accounts of executions, all became popular literature. By the early eighteenth century, these genres had contributed to the development of criminal biographies, the novel and satirical print. The market for criminal accounts was buoyant. It was not unusual for a condemned person to sell his biography to the highest-bidding prospective author. The expansion of detailed information about cases of wrongdoing meant that more sensationalist accounts became increasingly implausible as readers could compare these tales with more explicit accounts in newspapers and elsewhere. Changing standards of morality led to a toning down of the more lurid sexual details found in early publications and by the 1770s some of the more racy publications were in decline. Even so, throughout the nineteenth century terror continued to be an audience-puller. However, there was crime and there was the myth of crime and the two are often difficult to separate.

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‘The history of the world, my sweet – is who gets eaten and who get to eat’, is an often quoted line from Sweeney Todd in discussion with Mrs Lovett. Anxiety of crime was a dominant aspect of metropolitan life during the nineteenth century, but the red spectre of revolution was an almost obsessive fear. During the 1790s cannibal and eating imagery became part of the English artistic and literary iconography in response to the French Revolution. In Europe it was widely alleged that the Jacobins and the Terrors of the 1790s had plunged Europe into collective savagery. Rejecting Rousseau’s theory of natural man, critics declared that primitive man is a ferocious brute. The aim of civilization, contrary to all revolutionary beliefs, was not a return to the state of nature but to escape from it. The Jacobins had destroyed all social restraints and transformed society into a barbarian horde.

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After the massacres of September 1792, James Gillray portrayed a family of Paris ‘sansculottes’ feasting upon dismembered bodies. Radical Tory journalists associated with Fraser’s Magazine adopted this set of images and gave it new social meaning during the restless 1830s and 1840s. Thomas Carlyle was closely connected to the magazine. He made its imagery his own. Thomas Malthus had introduced the unnerving notion of food scarcity into contemporary thinking, but he did not project the spectre of cannibalism when he outlined imminent struggles for survival. In Sartor Resartus (1831) Carlyle introduces a character named Heuschrecke, an apostle of Malthus, who suggests the prospect of cannibalism. Carlyle depicts a world ‘by its too dense inhabitants, famished into delirium, universally eating one another’.

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The Rue de la Harpe is a quiet cobblestoned and residential street in the Latin Quarter of Paris, running in a south-easterly direction between the Rue de la Huchette and the Rue Saint-Séverin. Only a few buildings that date from before the Haussmann era have survived. During the nineteenth century the name of the street send shivers down people’s spine. It was associated with crime and cannibalism.
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In 1800, Minister of Police Joseph Fouché supposedly documented a series of murders undertaken in the street by a local barber and baker. The two are cited as the first serial killers. Becque would murder his victims for the contents of their pockets and Mornay disposed of the bodies by mincing and cooking them in his meat pies that were renowned throughout Paris for their flavour. The men were tried and found guilty at the Palais de Justice in 1801. In a punishment seen to fit the crime, they were torn to pieces on the rack rather than executed by guillotine. Their fate influenced the tale of barber Sweeney Todd of Fleet Street and his baker accomplice Mrs Lovett. In 1825, Tell-Tale Magazine published ‘A Terrible Story of the Rue de la Harpe’. In this tale, the barber murders a country gentleman and steals a string of pearls before delivering the corpse to his mistress, a chef renowned for her delicious ‘pâtés en croûte’. The duo are discovered when the victim’s dog leads the police to a cellar heaped with the skeletal remains of three hundred people. On 21 November 1846 The People’s Periodical and Family Library began serializing Edward Lloyd’s eight-part story entitled ‘The String of Pearls’ which was set in 1785 and concerned Sweeney Todd, a barber in Fleet Street who murdered wealthy clients for their valuables by throwing them through a trapdoor into a cellar. His neighbour Mrs Lovett cut up the bodies and turned them into tasty pies.
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Todd apparently tried to murder Mark Ingestre for a string of pearls, but the latter survived and Sweeney Todd confessed his crimes. Before the serial had ended, a stage version of the story dramatized by the playwright George Dibdin Pitt began a long run at the Britannia Theatre, Hoxton. In that version Todd gained his stage catchphrase: ‘I’ve polished him off’.The phrase has entered the English language. In 1850, Edward Lloyd published an enlarged The String of Pearls as a stand-alone ‘penny-blood’ serial. Both the preface to the 1850 edition and the bills for Pitt’s play insisted that the Todd story was based on fact. A further serial was published by Charles Fox in 1878, by which time Todd had become the ‘Demon Barber of Fleet Street’.
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The legend gained further embellishments. No. 186 Fleet Street became established as Todd’s residence, an identification encouraged by the discovery of human bones under the cellar during building work in the late nineteenth century, supposedly those of Todd’s victims. Todd remained part of popular culture in the twentieth century and was the subject of several films. By the 1930s ‘The Sweeney’ had become Cockney rhyming slang for the Metropolitan Police’s flying squad, and in the 1970s it provided the name for a famous television drama series. The original French story, however, smacks of being an urban myth and the supposed book by Fouché is impossible to trace.

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Rue de la Harpe has made its presence felt in the history of the Revolution, or more precisely: in the annals of the revolutionary press. Paris bookseller Antoine-François Momoro was thirty-three years old when the Revolution began. He had arrived in Paris from his native Besançon in 1780. He was one of many small Parisian book dealers with little hope of advancement under the restrictive Old Regime. With the declaration of the freedom of the press in August 1789, however, his prospects looked a lot brighter. Embracing the revolutionary movement, he opened a printing shop at no. 171 Rue de la Harpe and declared himself the ‘First Printer of National Liberty’. In 1793, he composed and published a treatise on printing, the Traité élémentaire de l’imprimerie, which was intended to put the practical knowledge of printing within the reach of a broad audience. To this day, it remains the most complete source of eighteenth-century printing shop slang. Momoro used his press to launch a career in radical revolutionary politics, soon becoming the official ‘Printer for the Cordeliers Club’. When he was arrested in February 1794, the police made an inventory of his stock which consisted exclusively of pamphlets, handbills and posters. His business was totally devoted to the printed ephemera that sustained the Revolution. Economically, he made a good living out of his activities. The Revolutionary Tribunal heard repeated depictions of Momoro as a greedy opportunist who was notorious for shady dealings. In the first four years of the Revolution his business in printing revolutionary propaganda expanded perhaps as much as twofold. His career, however, was not untypical.

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In 1789 Parisian printing exploded. The Revolution triggered an unprecedented political discourse throughout the country which was reflected in a substantial increase in published materials. During the first few years of the Revolution the industry was overrun by a new generation of little printers, most of them former printing-shop workers or small book dealers, amounting to something like a four-fold increase in the number of printers and a tripling of the number of booksellers and/or publishers. They seized the cultural space opened by the declaration of freedom of the press, and through the production of political ephemera took part in recording and shaping revolutionary events. Paris suddenly became the world’s largest centre of newspaper production. The Revolution was also a revolution of the press. Printing became an essential part in the struggle over public opinion which contributed to the formation of a new democratic political culture. Just as the press served as more than just a chronicle of events, the position of the journalist was transformed as well. He took up the role of critic, denouncer, and commentator. He was an engaged participant, actor, and witness, fuelling the course of events. The link between Revolution and the development towards democratization of the printed word is further emphasized by the career of typographer and encyclopaedist Pierre Leroux, who was the inventor of the term ‘socialism’.
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Born in 1797, Leroux attended the École Polytechnique, before joining a printshop and start a career in publishing. He founded the Globe newspaper in 1824 and, with George Sand, the Revue Indépendante in 1841. Moving to Boussac, he set up his own publishing house and attracted a small community of disciples and readers. He was elected to the Constituent Assembly in 1848, and formally honoured by the Commune upon his death in 1871. To combat ignorance was one of the main aspirations of nineteenth century socialism to which general access to printing and publishing was of crucial importance. Socialism was born with a printers’ tag around its neck. Momoro had used his press as a call to arms and an instrument for the expression of subversive criticism. Pierre Leroux, using print as his medium, spoke words of liberation and spread ideas of democracy and social justice. Newspapers and pamphlets to him were a source for political education and instruction.

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John Baskerville came from a different angle, a non-conformist and atheist he was above all interested in the presentation of the text, the quality of the letter, and the layout of the page. Ironically, it was the French Revolution that safeguarded his legacy. He settled in Birmingham in 1726. Having made his fortune in the lucrative ‘japanning’ business (an early form of enamelling), he secured a lease on eight acres ground to the north-east of the city which he named Easy Hill, and built himself the house in which he lived for the rest of his life. At some point before 1757, he was joined there by Sarah Eaves (née Ruston), a married woman with a son and two daughters whose husband Richard had fled the country because of fraud. About 1750 Baskerville began his career as a printer and type-founder. Influenced by the work of Italian Renaissance printers, his guiding principles were simplicity and clarity. His page layouts were minimalist, they tended to be completely typographic, allowing his letterforms to stand on their own. Baskerville died at his house at Easy Hill in January 1775. Sarah Eaves was a resourceful character in her own right. For a number of years she managed the type-foundry herself. In December 1779 she concluded a sale of the printing firm with the cosmopolitan figure of Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, a principal participant in the Société Typographique et Littéraire which was established in order to produce the complete works of Voltaire at a printing office set up for this purpose at Kehl, a German town located on the right bank of the Rhine directly opposite the city of Strasbourg. To the edition of Voltaire in eighty-five volumes (issued in 1784/89) was added one of the works of Rousseau.
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The news that Baskerville’s types were being used at Kehl attracted the attention of Piedmont dramatist Vittorio Alfieri, the ‘founder’ of Italian tragedy. Alfieri, like Lord Byron, was both an aristocrat and a revolutionary. A friend of Beaumarchais, he was in many ways typical of the eighteenth century enlightened cosmopolitan European. His plays communicate an intense hatred of tyranny and despotism. Inevitably, he became a proponent of the French Revolution and enthusiastically embraced the American cause for independence. Baskerville would have been delighted to learn that Alfieri ordered from Beaumarchais the printing of several of his works.

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Charles-Joseph Panckoucke was one of the most successful newspaper editors and publishers of his age; among his authors were such distinguished figures as Voltaire, Rousseau, and Buffon. At the outbreak of the Revolution, Panckoucke’s newspapers were virtually the only ones with the privilege of publishing political news. On 24 November 1789, he founded the Gazette Nationale ou Le Moniteur Universal, a daily newspaper which became the official journal of the French Revolution. Baskerville’s association with Enlightenment radicalism is emphasized by the fact that his types were used to print the Moniteur. For some years the journal’s imprint read, ‘imprimé … avec les caractères de Baskerville’. From his base in Birmingham, Baskerville provided the Revolution with a letter of liberation.

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In early modern Europe, prevention of large blazes engendered more municipal regulation than almost any other problem of urban habitation. Almost every major city has endured a ‘Great Fire’ at one time or another, starting with the Great Fire of Rome which took hold of the city on 19 July 64 AD for which Nero blamed and persecuted the Christians (it is not unusual to look for scapegoats after a disaster: Londoners blamed the Dutch or the French for their Great Fire of 1666).

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Fires occurred for a variety of reasons, most commonly human error or carelessness. Records show that their social and economic impact was often devastating. Regular fire-fighting forces did not appear until the creation of voluntary societies in the nineteenth century. However, urban rebirth in the aftermath of great fires offered a chance to shape the future and rebuild the city. Residents and planners created sweeping changes in the methods of constructing buildings, planning city streets, engineering water distribution systems, underwriting fire insurance, and fire-fighting itself. A key development in the modernization of fire-fighting in Europe occurred in seventeenth-century Amsterdam: the invention of the fire engine and fire hose.

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Multi-talented Dutch painter Jan van der Heyden executed a number of landscapes and still lifes, but was chiefly a painter of townscapes, which stand out for their exceptionally detailed handling. Imaginary views, anticipating the capricci of eighteenth-century Venetian painters, are common among his works (in 1668 Cosimo II de’ Medici had bought one of his Amsterdam town hall views). Van der Heyden was a native of Gorinchem, though his family had moved to Amsterdam by 1650. He was trained as a glass painter. Before 1661 he travelled extensively in the southern Netherlands and in Germany, making drawings later used in his paintings. When he married in 1661, he lived on the most fashionable canal in Amsterdam, the Herengracht.
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His splendid oil on canvas ‘Gezicht op de [view of the] Herengracht’ dates from circa 1670. This, ‘Patricians Canal’, is the first of the three major canals in the city centre which were dug in the seventeenth century and form concentric belts around the city. It is named after the ‘Heren’ who governed the city at the time. As a skilled architectural draughtsman, Van der Heyden seldom turned his hand to the delineation of anything but brick houses and churches in streets and squares. A well-travelled artist he has painted urban scenes in a variety of cities, Utrecht, Veere, Delft, Düsseldorf, Cologne, Brussels, and London.

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However, Van der Heyden was the Amsterdam painter par excellence. His views of the city with its churches and canals are numerous, the Herengracht, Keizersgracht, Martelaarsgracht, de Nieuwezijds and Oudezijds Voorburgwal, de Dam, de Westerkerk, the new town hall, etc. His reported inability to draw figures may have been tied to his lack of formal artistic schooling. He painted in partnership with Adriaen van de Velde, who populated his architectural scenes with figures and landscape effects. His most important works were painted in the years between 1660 and 1670, most notably views of the Amsterdam town hall, the Amsterdam exchange, the London exchange, and views of Cologne.

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After Van de Velde’s death in 1672 he received assistance from Johannes Lingelbach and Eglon van der Neer. Van der Heyden was a contemporary of the landscape painters Hobbema and Jacob van Ruysdael. This was a time in which artists competed in a market where too many paintings were produced. Many artists starved or were forced to take on additional activities. Van der Heyden was a practical and versatile mind who combined painting with the study of mechanics. From the late 1660s onwards he was engaged in projects to improve street lighting and fire-fighting in Amsterdam.
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As a youngster, Van der Heyden had witnessed the fire in the old city town-hall which made a deep impression on him. He later would describe or draw some eighty fires in almost any neighbourhood of Amsterdam. Together with his brother Nicolaes, a hydraulic engineer, he improved the fire-hose in 1672. He modified manual fire engines and re-organized the volunteer fire brigade. He wrote and illustrated the first fire-fighting manual, Brandspuiten-boek (The Fire Engine Book), published in 1690. His comprehensive scheme for street lighting which lasted from 1669 until 1840 was adopted as a model by many other towns. Van der Heyden’s impact was felt in London.

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The psychological scars of the Great Fire were deep. Fire prevention was placed high on the political agenda. London desperately needed an organized and well-equipped fire brigade. Insurance companies were granted charters to provide fire assurances. It was in their interest to train professional fire fighters and make sure that the proper equipment was available to them. Assurance companies initially formed their own, often competing, fire brigades. It was not until 1833 that the London Fire Engine Establishment came into being. In 1689 a patent (no.263) was granted to a Dutch merchant and manufacturer of engines named John Lofting for the sole making and selling of an ‘engine for quenching fire, the like never seen before in this Kingdom’. Lofting’s fire engine was the first in England to use a wired suction hose to throw water as high as 400 feet and force the water ‘in a continued Stream into Alleys, Yards, Back houses, Stair-Cases; and other obscure places, where other Engines are useless’, according to a contemporary observer in 1694. The engines were employed at several palaces and their usefulness was praised by Christopher Wren himself. Lofting later recorded that he had lived for seven years in Amsterdam with one of the masters of the fire engines there. The master was Jan van der Heyden.

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Over time great cities remain largely the same and are always changing. Streetscapes are continually remodelled. In architecture everything gives way and nothing stays fixed. Every new generation is eager to tinker with the aesthetics of urban space and to create its own city. At times, however, major change is forced upon an urban community by unforeseen circumstances. Many cities have suffered calamities such as fires, earthquakes, mudslides, tsunamis, riots, revolutions, explosions, industrial accidents, suicide bombers – not to mention fashionable architects. Disasters fall into the two categories of man-made and natural calamities. Natural disasters, like the Lisbon earthquake, are ‘acts of God’. Man-made disasters happen as a result of negligence, error or hubris. Industrial society had to learn to cope with such catastrophes.

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On 12 January 1807, late in the afternoon, Leiden was hit by a calamity which became known as the gunpowder disaster. Early that morning a mercantile vessel had moored at the Rapenburg, not far removed from the University, carrying several thousand pounds of gunpowder. When a spark reached it inadvertently hell broke loose. The whole neighbourhood was shattered, 218 buildings ruined, and 151 citizens – among them a number of academics, including Jean Luzac, Professor in Greek and History, and editor of the highly influential Gazette de Leyde – had lost their lives. The scene of the disaster and was painted by Carel Lodewijk Hansen. This is a strange picture. A group of sightseers are gathered on the bridge to view the destruction. Further along, people are busy clearing the wreckage. Looking at this image is like reading a disaster novel, a genre that would become popular later in the century.

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Apocalyptic fiction is concerned with the end of civilization due to a man-made catastrophe. The genre gained in popularity after World War II when the possibility of global annihilation by nuclear weapons entered the public consciousness, but apocalyptic novels have existed at least since the first quarter of the nineteenth century, when Mary Shelley published The Last Man (1826). In 1885, Richard Jefferies published his novel After London. The story tells of an unspecified catastrophe that has depopulated England. The countryside reverts to nature, and the few survivors are forced back into a primitive way of life. London is turned into a poisonous swampland. The cataclysm genre was continued by H.G. Wells and would, in the twentieth century, be adopted by the film industry. In art, apocalypse is a city named London, but Hansen had set a precedent with his view of devastated Leiden.

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Man-made or natural disasters have scarred the face of numerous places, be it the Great Fire of London, the Great Lisbon Earthquake, or the Great Florence Flooding. Some streets have disappeared from the map altogether. Paternoster Row is one of those. An early claim to fame for the Row was Dolly’s Chop-house. It had Dolly the cook for its sign which was probably painted by Thomas Gainsborough who was a regular customer there. The original house was built on a site once owned by Elizabethan comic actor and innkeeper Richard Tarleton.

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Although details about his early life are scarce, it is certain that he arrived in London as a provincial immigrant. Dressed as a rustic clown in a russet suit and buttoned cap, he stamped his enduring image on the city. The role enabled him to speak for many uprooted countrymen who had to come to terms with the urban environment in which they found themselves. Landlords of public houses cashed in on his popularity by using his portrait as a sign. The main feature of Dolly’s establishment which succeeded Tarleton’s tavern was the excellence of its beef-steaks. These were enjoyed in combination with gill ale (flavoured with ground ivy which has a balsamic smell and bitter taste) and were served fresh from the grill, a fact which is accentuated by the allusion which Scottish novelist Tobias Smollett makes in one of Jery Melford’s letters to Sir Watkin Phillips in Humphry Clinker (1771).

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The Chop House had a literary clientèle which included Swift, Defoe, Fielding, Pope, and Dryden. Händel’s enormous appetite was also catered for at Dolly’s. From 1784 to 1789 Thomas Jefferson, author of the ‘Declaration of Independence’, who would later be elected the third President of the United States, had been posted in France. During a visit to London he spent Saturday night 25 March 1786 in the company of two American friends at this steak house. In the early hours of Sunday morning, in high spirits no doubt, they produced a fragment of doggerel (fourteen lines) that begins as follows: ‘One among our many follies / Was calling in for steaks at Dolly’s’.

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A regular client at Dolly’s was Aberdeen-born physician George Fordyce, a noted epicurean of the eighteenth century. He dined daily there at four o’clock in the afternoon. For starters, he consumed a dish of chicken or fish. This was followed by a solid prime steak accompanied by strong ale drunk from his personal silver tankard, a quarter pint of brandy and a bottle of port. Having enjoyed the meal, he slowly stumbled to his house in Essex Street where he received his pupils and gave a six o’clock lecture on chemistry. Fordyce has been described as a coarse man, a poor lecturer, a lousy doctor, and an alcoholic.

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Cooking, religious practice and printing are traditionally interconnected, so it is hardly surprising that these particular activities dominated the street-scene of Paternoster Row. The clergy of the medieval St Paul’s Cathedral would walk here while chanting the Lord’s Prayer. The Row was ecclesiastical in character. Stationers and publishers sold religious books there, as well as alphabets, paternosters, aves, creeds, and graces. Paternoster Row, to the north of the cathedral, and Paternoster Square to the west, became the literary heart of London. Its history was bound up with that of the great publishing firms and the great literary enterprises of that period. Here was issued, among a host of other well-known ventures, the London Magazine, the Annual Register, and the Encyclopaedia of Ephraim Chambers. Trübner & Co. was one of the publishing companies on Paternoster Row. Longmans had their immense offices there with its fourteen windows in front.

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The first Longman, born in Bristol in 1699, was the son of a soap and sugar merchant. Apprenticed in London, he purchased in the early 1720s the business of William Taylor, the publisher of Robinson Crusoe, and his first venture was the philosophical works of Robert Boyle. Later on Bristol bookseller Owen Rees was taken on as a partner. Before the close of the eighteenth century the house of Longman & Rees had become one of the largest in the City, both as publishers and book-merchants. The ‘lake poets’ proved a valuable acquisition. Wordsworth came first to them, then Coleridge, and lastly Southey.

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Next to Longmans were the premises of Whittaker & Co., extending half way down Ave Maria Lane which, since 1670, is home to the famous livery hall of the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers. By the mid-nineteenth century London was the greatest market for books in the world. Some 15,000 persons were employed in the printing, binding and the sale of books. Paternoster Row boasted that an edition of a thousand copies in octavo required no more than ten or twelve hours for the binding. Unfortunately, and in spite of its pious past, the Row was devastated by aerial bombardment during the Blitz in the night raid of 29/30 December 1940. It was later characterized as the Second Great Fire of London. In a period of twelve hours, more than 24,000 high explosive bombs and 100,000 incendiary missiles were dropped.

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The raid and the subsequent fire destroyed many famous Livery Halls and gutted part of the medieval Guildhall. The area destroyed was greater than that of the 1666 Fire of London. Over 1,500 fires were started. A famous photograph ‘St Paul’s Survives’, taken by Herbert Mason from the roof of the former Daily Mail building, shows the dome of the Cathedral rising above clouds of black smoke. The editor of the paper cropped the photo to remove the destroyed houses from the foreground. During the war, Frederick C.W. Cook held the official position of fireman-artist. The Imperial War Museum later purchased nine of his oil paintings for the nation, including an image of the devastation at ‘Paternoster Row’ (oil on canvas, 1944). With the destruction of the Row an estimated five million books were lost in the fire.

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Paternoster Row was indirectly connected with another, less catastrophic loss of books. Early in 1780, Irish-born chemist and mineralogist Richard Kirwan became resident at no. 11 Newman Street, near Oxford Street. His home soon became a meeting place for scientists and prominent thinkers. From 1780, a philosophical society under his leadership started to meet regularly at the Chapter Coffee House in Paternoster Row.

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The Chapter Coffee House Society, officially nameless but called after is principal meeting place, met regularly for seven years. A set of rules of order established governance (chairman, secretary, dues, membership, and attendance), the appropriate topics of discussion (natural philosophy and technology), and the formal proceedings (for example, members were not required to stand up on the entry of a fellow member no matter his social position). Members chose topics of deliberation, papers were presented, and discussion followed. They brought to society meetings the fruits of correspondence and interactions with fellow philosophers and scientists, and they encouraged conversations about relevant news. Developments in the research of chemistry and pneumatics were regular subjects.

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Kirwan was somewhat of an awkward character. In later life he developed a morbid fear of catching a cold. Sidney, Lady Morgan (née Owenson), author of the controversial book The Wild Irish Girl, described how, one fine spring evening, she was received by the scientist dressed in a cloak, shawl, and slouch hat. He was sitting on a sofa, shivering, and surrounded by a large screen, while a red hot fire blazed on the hearth. He died at his home on 1 June 1812. His library was bequeathed to the Royal Irish Academy – or at least what was left of his library. What had happened to a large number of volumes he once owned, reads like an Irish short story.

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Beverly, in Essex County, Massachusetts, is a rival of Marblehead for the title of being the birthplace of the U.S. Navy. The place gained a reputation for the number of privateers it sent out to attack and capture enemy vessels during the last decades of the eighteenth century. A privateer is a person or vessel authorized by a government to attack foreign shipping during wartime. This authorization was made by a so-called ‘letter of marque’. For their lucrative efforts the crew was paid ‘prize money’. Cruising for prizes was considered a noble calling that combined patriotism and profit, in contrast to unlicensed piracy, which was universally reviled and severely punished. The advantage to the authorities was that they could mobilize armed ships and professional sailors without having to spend public money or commit naval officers. The goal of privateering was to capture ships rather than to destroy them.

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American privateers are thought to have seized up to three hundred British ships during the war. And many of them sailed from Beverly. Arguably the most successful privateer vessel departing from there was the Pilgrim. In September 1778 Hugh Hill was commissioned Commander of the ship. Born at Carrickfergus in Ireland, he had emigrated to Massachusetts and settled in Marblehead. A huge man, wild, courageous, and not burdened by too many scruples, he was the stereotype privateer captain. He had a number of encounters with English vessels. On 24 March 1780 Hill was succeeded by Joseph Robinson, a resident of Salem. Under his command the Pilgrim was as effective a fighting ship as it had been under Hugh Hill. In October 1782 she was finally chased down by the English frigate Chatham and destroyed. The Pilgrim is remembered as the most profitable ship of all Revolutionary privateers, capturing a total of some fifty prizes.

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One of those prizes was the English Duke of Gloucester. On 5 September 1781 the ship was captured in the Irish Channel by Robinson and his crew. Amongst its cargo they found Richard Kirwan’s personal collection of books. After his election as a Fellow of the Royal Society he had decided to re-locate indefinitely from his family estate Castle Cregg in County Galway to London. His library of 116 volumes was loaded aboard the Duke of Gloucester to make the journey through the Irish Channel from Galway to the English capital. Once captured, the books were transferred to the Pilgrim and subsequently sold at an auction in Salem on 12 April 1781. Reverend and academic Joseph Willard, pastor of the First Congregational Church in Beverly (and later President of Harvard University), learned of the Kirwan collection and organized the purchase of the lot. The Salem Philosophical Library was founded that same year. An earlier library, known as Salem’s Social Library had been founded in 1760. By 1810, the two bodies were merged to create the Salem Athenaeum. When the new institution was founded, the relatively small town counted more libraries than mighty Boston.

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Salem represented the American Enlightenment and, at the same time, was haunted by its past. The history of the town had been stained by the Salem witch trials, a series of hearings and prosecutions of people accused of witchcraft that took place between June and September 1692. Nineteen men and women, all having been convicted of witchcraft, were carted to Gallows Hill, a barren slope near Salem Village, for hanging. Another man of over eighty years was pressed to death under heavy stones for refusing to submit to a trial on witchcraft charges. Hundreds of others faced accusations of witchcraft; dozens languished in jail for months without trials until the hysteria that swept through Puritan Massachusetts subsided. The memory of these dark events motivated members of the Athenaeum to strive for the spread of knowledge and understanding.

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Nathaniel Hawthorne was one the most famous patrons of the institution. Today the Athenaeum’s core mission remains unchanged: to enrich the lives of the community by lending, preserving, and adding to its collection of books and documents. The survival of the Kirwan collection proves the argument that privateering was less harmful than other naval encounters. Privateers engaged in battle for prize and profit, for anything that could be sold or auctioned – the less destruction, the greater the prize. Even books were safe in their hands.

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