The London Books Continue To Pile Up…

London, Reading & Writing

This week I have Mark Ford’s immense (700+ pps) volume ‘London: A History In Verse’, starting in the 14th century and finishing around yesterday, with every possible aspect of the city covered. Lovely stuff from Pope’s ‘Dunciad’, terrifically filthy accounts from the Earl of Rochester walking in St James’ Park at night, WE Henley on London busdrivers (‘At all the smarter housemaids winks his court, and taps them for half-crowns; being stony-broke, Lives lustily; is ever on the make; And hath, I fear, no other Gods but Fake.’) some overwrought Victorian stuff about sunsets over bridges, and a couple of the late poets (born after 1985) proving forgivably awful, proving that the best poems are lustily pre-Victorian and usually about Londoners themselves.

If I have a cavil it’s this; that often London poetry is too much on buildings and not enough on people. In some ways, the smaller ‘Ode To London’ collection mentioned in a past post is an ideal purchase, if not in range, then in warmth.

Fiona Rule has concentrated very much on people in ‘London’s Labyrinth’, which makes her take on the underground city fresh and different. Crimes, bombs and tragic human stories bring this netherworld to life in a way that other authors have missed. I thought I knew all the stories about what went on beneath the city streets, but Rule has found plenty of fascinating new material, and it’s a good buy.

‘The Moving Pageant’ is a literary sourcebook of London street life, rich in trivia, packed with tramps beating cats and falling out of filthy gin shops, rowdy theatres and low taverns, efforts by well-meaning Christians to improve the poor, street ballads, music hall songs, riots, pageants and executions – I’d recommend it to anyone thinking of writing something with a period setting.

Finally here’s the surprise I turned up at a bookstall in Russell Square; Mr Gay’s London is a selection by AP Herbert of dodgy plaintiffs, unreliable witnesses, drunk suspects and hopeless liars turning up before the beak in the desperate hope that they will escape pokey, the cases culled from the Newgate accounts in 1732, and considering these cases come from a time when you could be hanged for nicking a bit of rice pudding, they’re hilarious. Even the juries felt the system was too harsh and found ways to trick judges into lesser sentences. I felt guilty paying the fifty pence asking price and proffered a quid for the book. Out of print, of course!

6 comments on “The London Books Continue To Pile Up…”

  1. Ben Aaronovitch says:

    You’re killing me with these London books – to the amazon mobile – awaaay!

  2. Ben Aaronovitch says:

    Ha. Just nabbed a copy of Mr Gay’s London from eBay – phew that was close.

  3. admin says:

    You’re going to love it, Ben!

  4. Dan Terrell says: has a long list of the book: orginals for a steep price, new paperbacks for under $15.00, and digitalized versions, too. It appears to have gone through at least five editions. It also appears to have been expanded, into the rural, by John Gay, so it must have been a bestseller “back in the day.”
    Most of the books carry a longer and more – seemingly – riskee title: Trivia: Walking the Streets of London.
    Well, you did it again Admin and I soon will be even more backed up! All over the house at night I can hear papery whispers: read us, hurry it up, please read us, come back you started me last year.
    Dispatched by Amazon Prime, so it will be here this week.

  5. Matthew Davis says:

    I suspect there may be a little confusion here. “Trivia” (1716) was the mock pastoral by the 18th century poet John Gay, friend of Swift and Pope, and author of “The beggar’s Opera”. The poem is an ironical tour of London, how the city changes in the seasons, its different areas, inhabitants, past-times and some mock mythology. A good read in itself.

    A.P.Herbert’s “Gay’s London” is a selection of 18th century London trial cases.

  6. Dan Terrell says:

    Matthew: Thanks, I will cancel immediately.

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