Streetwise is now a book. The printed version can be ordered by mailing to firstname.lastname@example.org and costs 65 euro (hard cover, full color 500+ pages)
this link brings you to a new concept of the book. Let us know what you think!
Streetwise is now a book. The printed version can be ordered by mailing to email@example.com and costs 65 euro (hard cover, full color 500+ pages)
this link brings you to a new concept of the book. Let us know what you think!
Strand, often called the Strand, is a major thoroughfare in Westminster running from its western origin at Trafalgar Square to its eastern end at Temple Bar, where it continues into Fleet Street, marking Westminster’s boundary with the City of London. The Old English word strand means shore, referring to the bank of the Thames before construction of the Victoria Embankment.
The name was later applied to the road itself. In Roman times the route of the Strand was part of Iter VIII on the Antonine Itinerary, the road map of Roman Britain. Part of it was known in the thirteenth century as Densemanestret (Street of Danes). Immigration has been a continuous aspect of the capital. During the Middle Ages it was the principal route between the separate settlements of the City of London (the civil and commercial centre) and the Palace of Westminster (the political centre). By then, large mansions lined the Strand, including several palaces and townhouses inhabited by bishops and royal courtiers.
Once the high and mighty had left for other parts of inner London, the character of the Strand changed fundamentally. It became synonymous with pleasure, entertainment, and artistic performance. Palaces and estates were replaced by theatres, clubs, coffee houses, taverns, and brothels. The Strand and a taste of tea are inseparable. The first tea samples reached England in the early 1650s. On 25 September 1660 Samuel Pepys enjoyed a ‘cupp of tee’ for the very first time.
John Ovington published his Essay on Tea in 1699 (containing a woodcut of the plant). Tea mania swept across the nation. Having been apprenticed to an East India merchant, Thomas Twining acquired Tom’s Coffee House at no. 216 Strand, Devereux Court, in 1706. Thanks to his enterprising efforts and hospitality, tea drinking became an everyday part of London life. Still at the same address on the Strand, the firm holds the world’s oldest company logo and is longest-standing rate-payer in the metropolis. 05 Around the same time, the Strand had become a focus of music publishing and instrument making. François [Francis] Vaillant, who had fled Saumur for London on the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, started his bookseller’s business at no. 82 Strand (opposite Southampton Street) in 1686. Specialised in foreign books, he was also involved in the sale of music and music books. There are a number of books in British libraries with a label stating: ‘London, sold by Francis Vaillant, French bookseller in the Strand, where you may be furnished with all sorts of musick’.
Thomas Cahusac (probably of French extraction as well) was a music publisher who, as early as 1755, ran his business at the sign of the ‘Two Flutes and Violin’ opposite St Clement’s Church in the Strand. After 1784 the firm moved to no. 196 Strand. His younger son William carried on the business as Cahusac & Co. up until 1819. The family did not make instruments themselves, but employed outworkers. Flutes, recorders and flageolets with their name stamped on them show a range of quality, from very cheap work to instruments made entirely from ivory. The violins carrying their name also appear to show a range of different hands. William [‘Old’] Foster set up the firm of musical instrument makers and publishers that from 1785 onwards traded at no. 348 Strand. Trumpet maker Richard Woodham resided at no. 12 Exeter Court, Strand, from 1774 until his death around 1797/8. Music printers John Preston & Son were active in the 1790s at no. 97 Strand.
In the early nineteenth century Charles Wheatstone ran an imposing music warehouse at no. 436 Strand. The most important figure at the time was music publisher and instrument maker John Walsh. Of Irish descent, he had established himself in Catherine Street, just off the Strand, by around 1690. He began publishing music in 1695, at which time he had few rivals in the trade. His firm was soon printing engraved music on a scale previously unknown in England. In addition to English composers, he published a good deal of music by foreign composers, mostly copied from Dutch editions (from 1716 onwards he worked closely together with Estienne Roger in Amsterdam).
From 1711 onwards his name became associated with Handel. Around 1730 his son John took control of the business, and was responsible for developing the firm’s relationship with Handel from that time onward. In 1739 he was granted a monopoly on Handel’s music for fourteen years. John Walsh played another part in English musical life which was totally unforeseen and yet of lasting importance. 09 Violin maker Daniel Parker is a mysterious figure. Active from around 1700 to 1725, there is no trace about his birth or background and no record can be found of any apprenticeship. The little that can be discovered about his life has to be inferred from studying his thirty or so known violins and violas and the labels and dates that some of them bear. He worked mainly for the trade in the City of London, having no retail establishment of his own. His contribution can be seen in the instruments of Edward Lewis, Barak Norman, Richard Meares and John Hare, all of whom ran music shops on the northern edge of St Paul’s Churchyard at one time or another. Prior to 1700, there were few violin makers in England and they were in the process of developing their skill. Only a precious few Amati instruments were available to study and imitate.
A number of the early instrument makers were immigrants. Jacob Rayman was born in Füssen, Bavaria, in about 1596. He arrived in London in 1620, having come from s’Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands according to court papers of the time. He settled first at Blackman Street, then at Bell Yard, Southwark. Rayman was active till about 1650. He was not the first violin maker in this country. Various craftsmen were busy making violins amongst all sorts of other instruments by the end of the sixteenth century. However, no actual surviving work earlier than Rayman’s has been securely identified. His violins maintain many of the characteristics of Jacob Stainer’s Tyrolean design, tending to be rough on the exterior, with flat arching, and a fine varnish, all contributing to a dark sound.
The skill level was raised dramatically in the first decade of the eighteenth century. What caused this sudden progress? Virtuoso violinist and composer Gasparo Visconti was born in Cremona in January 1683 into a noble family. Details of his life and career are sketchy. He was a dilettante who pursued a musical career not out of economic necessity, but for its artistic delights. He had been, according to his own testimony, a pupil of Arcangelo Corelli for five years. The Corellian manner of his first published music, the six violin sonatas of Opus 1 (Amsterdam: Estienne Roger, 1703), appears to bear out the truth of that claim. He resided in London from 1702 to 1705, where he regularly performed as a solo violinist or together with his friend the French flautist Jacques Paisible. His sonatas for violin and flute were widely appreciated in England. His compositions were published by John Walsh who had connections with the violin trade and apparently with Daniel Parker himself. Visconti also had a scientific interest in the sound of the violin and is almost certain to have come to England with knowledge Stradivari’s working methods. In London he assisted Frederick and Christian Steffkin, the prominent viol players at the Royal Court, in acoustical demonstrations in July 1705 at the Royal Society. Since the Fire of London, meetings of the Royal Society took place at Arundel House, London home of the Dukes of Norfolk in the Strand near St Clement Danes (in 1710, under the Presidency of Isaac Newton, the Society acquired its own base in Crane Court, off the Strand). 11 In 1704 Visconti married Christina Steffkin. To celebrate the marriage, he commissioned a violin from Stradivari for his wife, and the original template for the neck of this instrument remains in the Stradivari museum in Cremona, inscribed with her name.
Parker presumably gained access to the Visconti violin and was the first craftsman to realise the high quality of the workmanship of Stradivari. He made patterns of the instrument, and from then on his violins were firmly rooted in Stradivari’s work of the period 1690-1700. The Cremonese model became the central inspiration for a new generation of English violin makers who were located around St Paul’s Churchyard. Whatever happened to Visconti after 1705 is poorly documented. It is certain that he returned to his native city by 1713, the year his daughter was born. He was the teacher of the violinist and composer Carlo Zuccari which indicates that he continued to be active in Cremona during the late 1710s and early 1720s (Zuccari left for Vienna in 1723). Parker’s standing in the meantime was established during his lifetime. The last known violin by Daniel Parker is a fine example of collaboration with Barak Norman, dated 1723. Norman died in the following year, and the once-populous community of instrument makers in St Paul’s Churchyard dwindled as Piccadilly became the new focus for English musical culture. His legacy was confirmed when Fritz Kreisler at the end of his 1910/11 tour of Britain (when he premiered the violin concerto that Edward Elgar had written for and dedicated to him) bought one of violins from W.E. Hill & Sons. Made in the early eighteenth century, its modelling and construction showed that Parker had grasped the Stradivarian principles of instrument making. Kreisler played the violin frequently during his career and referred to it as his ‘Parker Strad’.
The art of performing string instruments in England in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century was also refined by the arrival of immigrants from Italy. Once again, the Strand figures in the narrative. Violinist and composer Nicola Matteis was of Neapolitan descent, describing himself as ‘Napolitano’ in several of his works. Nothing is known about his origins or education. He arrived in London in the early 1670s. On 20 November 1674 John Evelyn made an enthusiastic note in his diary. He had dined at the Strand home of Henry Slingsby, Master of the Mint, and was treated to a private concert in which Nicola Matteis excelled (a Frenchman played the lute, an Italian the harpsichord, and a German the viol d’amore: music in London was largely a Continental experience). The violinist was actively supported by such eminent men as Roger L’Estrange, William Waldegrave and William Bridgeman, all of whom had strong interests in music (and were sympathetic to the Roman Church). He became the earliest notable Italian Baroque violinist active in the capital. Initially very much his own promoter, Matteis published his Arie diverse per il violin in 1676, a collection of 120 pieces for solo violin and continuo bass. A second edition with an English title-page together with a second part containing a further seventy pieces appeared two years later. These self-published volumes helped establish in England the skill and technology of engraving music. In 1685, he published the third and fourth parts of the Ayres for the Violin, which was followed two years later by an expanded second edition. His portrait was painted by Godfrey Kneller in 1682. Matteis teamed up with John Walsh in 1696 enjoying great artistic and commercial success with his published music. He married a rich widow in 1700 and retired from the London musical scene. Having squandered his wealth, he died in poverty sometime after 1713. Matteis is credited with changing the English taste for violin playing from the French to the Italian style. Burney stressed his importance in the English history of violin playing, stating that the virtuoso ‘had polished and refined our ears, and made them fit and eager for the sonatas of Corelli’.
Stradivari’s reputation in Britain was cemented in the Strand. A veritable cult of Cremona would follow. The Stradivarius violin became a metaphor for perfection attained by individual genius, consummate skill, and close attention to details. Little is known about Antonio Stradivari’s life. Contemporaries did not deem it necessary to eulogise a productive craftsman and chronicle his deeds as was done for Renaissance painters or sculptors. No authentic portrait has survived. After all, he was only a craftsman. It only contributed to nineteenth century myth making (the most persistent and prominent one is that of the ‘secret’ and ‘lost’ varnish recipe). In literature it led to the creation of a new leading role, that of the craftsman-hero. Painter Edgar Bundy specialised in historical paintings in oil and watercolour, usually in a very detailed and narrative style, a genre that was popular amongst the Edwardians. In 1893 he produced Antonio Stradivari at work in his studio, a painting that typifies the mystique surrounding the figure of the violin maker. It is the kind of sugar pill Romanticism which created many nonsensical notions about the artist, his craft and the creative process that have remained in circulation to this day. Such was the Stradivari hero-worship that in 1902 the three Hill brothers, owners of a violin and bow-making firm in New Bond Street and leading experts on the work of Stradivari, published a detailed study of the master’s work and productivity. According to their figures Stradivari produced a total of 1,116 instruments, most of which were violins – 540 violins, 50 cellos, and 12 violas could be accounted for. They went out their way to separate the legend from the reality of the workshop. The Hills were emphatic in asserting that Stradivari had no individual secrets in the craft of violin making. He was just a gifted and diligent artisan. It was the skill factor – not the genius, divine inspiration, or any other claptrap – that Daniel Parker recognised in the Stradivari’s craftsmanship. He used the master’s work as a starting point, developing his own results from a set of ideas that were familiar to Cremonese instrument makers without sacrificing useful elements which he had acquired during his traditional London training.
Dear readers of this Blog – you will have noticed that we have not published a single entry for some time now. Busy with our London Immigrants and with our first publication.
Streetwise has become a Book with everything that makes a book more interesting than a blog: a new and different sequence that gives the content a new and – we think – interesting rhythm of its own.
It is a digital book that you can read and download here: http://issuu.com/bookhistory/docs/streetwise_f53b04df393fff. It is free and we think it is fun. Download it, read it, give it as a present on a memorystick to people you love or like. It deserves it. And tell us what you think of it.
The printed book is not dead, nor will it die. We believe in the book as a real book: something you can keep in your hands. And so we are going to have this book printed and bound in a hardcover. We think that you will love it and hope of course that you will buy it for 65 dollar / euro. If so please contact Paul Dijstelberge firstname.lastname@example.org.
The first print run will be ready by the end of July. It will be delivered to you by one of the foremost Dutch booksellers. We have not yet figured out how much the postage will be, but as soon as we know what it weights, we will add that information here.
We are now going to continue with Streetwise and we hope that you will enjoy our new series
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
That 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.
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.
When 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.
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.
His 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.
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.
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).
Monet 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).
Léon-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’.
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.
On 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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.