Friday, July 10, 2009

Google Books redux

I have in front of me a Google Book. It was published in 1814 in its second edition, and was authored by J. P. Malcolm. The full title of the book is "Excursions in the Counties of Kent, Gloucester, Hereford, Monmouth, and Somerset, in the years 1802, 1803, and 1805; illustrated by Descriptive Sketches of the Most Interesting Places and Buildings; particularly the cathedrals of Canterbury, Gloucester, Hereford, and Bristol. With Delineations of Character in different Ranks of Life". It is, according to the title page, "Embellished with Twenty-Two Highly-Finished Plates".

Why were Regency authors of non-fiction so enamoured of long titles? What was there to gain by adding so many details--specific audiences, wider readership? Did the title replace the back cover blurbs we love? Or was it just a more leisured time? A quick and catchy title wasn't needed; there was time to savour details, even in a book title.

Whatever the reason this is a very interesting book. When studying the Regency, particularly its locations--towns, villages and countryside--we can only see it in our own time. Even the best re-creation is just that--a facsimile. And too often it is prepared with the tourist in mind, so it is picture pretty and photo-perfect. The reality of early 19th century England was less idyllic and Mr. Malcolm, who wrote this book and traveled these counties, was not backward about pointing out their shortcomings.

He waxed enthusiastic about the picturesque countryside, in keeping with the new enthusiasm for nature and naturalistic harmony, but he could be scathing about towns. And this is the information Regency lovers need--reality.

About Bath, he says: "Were a stranger to walk directly through this city, he would observe that the High-street consists of a narrow avenue of churches, palaces, inns, ale-houses, shops, and the worst description of habitations strangely interwoven, with a pavement calculated to break the heads of those who jolt over it, in coaches and other vehicles, amidst a constant noise and rattle of wheels.
Every church in Bath appears to have been purposely placed in disgraceful situations."

The frontispiece from Malcolm's book shows some ruins in Bath, picturesque perhaps, but also, in his opinion, discreditable.

In Bristol Malcolm is interested in the Temple Church, and Temple-street. "The Temple fair is held in and near Temple-street, on the South side of the Avon; where it must unquestionably greatly impede the communication with the London-road. Temple-street, generally filthy, and badly built, derived its name from the Temple church, on the North-east side; … The inducement to visit Temple church proceeds from the very singular inclination of the tower to the West, evidently occasioned by the insecurity of the marshy earth which supports the foundation on that side." The church appears handsome enough in this engraving, and the tower's lean is not obvious!

Dover is much more favoured by the author. He likes the situation, is impressed by the cliffs, the sun on the sea, and the very necessary army encampments and naval fortifications of the harbour. But he does comment "Dover commences in a long street, far from being well built. This however improves after passing the market-place; …"

He describes taking in this view in detail, and his engraving shows his delight in it.

Mr. J. P. Malcolm, F.S.A. (I don't know what this designation stands for) writes in a pedantic, ponderous style, but he is not impenetrable. And the information he gives on Kent, Gloucester, Hereford,, Monmouth and Somerset in the early years of the 19th century is invaluable to any writer or historian. Once again I am blessing Google Books; how wonderful to have such research material available.

Till next time,



Linda Banche said...

Wow, Lesley-Anne, what a great blog and website you have! Lots of wonderful Regency information. I'm glad I read that email from Coffee Time Romance.

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

I'm so glad you found me, Linda! It's always nice to meet another Regency author.

I hope you find some things of interest on my website and my blog. Please stay in touch...