J. F. Merritt, ed. Imagining Early Modern London: Perceptions and Portrayals of the City from Stow to Strype, 1598-1720. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. xii + 305 pp. $59.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-521-77346-1.
Reviewed by Barrett Beer (Department of History, Kent State University)
Published on H-Albion (June, 2002)
London in the Age of Stow and Strype
London in the Age of Stow and Strype
Imagining Early Modern London is a collection of papers presented at a conference held at the Institute of Historical Research in 1998. The editor contributed the introduction and a paper, "The Reshaping of Stow's Survey: Munday, Strype, and the Protestant City." Nine other papers--written by Patrick Collinson, Ian Archer, Vanessa Harding, Robert Shoemaker, Tim Hitchcock, Laura Williams, Peter Lake, Tim Harris, and Nigel Smith--focus on three basic historical questions. The first is the issue of continuity: "to what extent did contemporaries perceive a disjunction between the physical size, culture, and social relationships of London past and present?" The second question relates to the nature of metropolitan experience while the third examines the evaluation of London's urbanization. The editor argues that London's moral impact on its citizens was embedded in many contemporary assessments of the city.
One of the most valuable contributions is the editor's examination of the reshaping of Stow's Survey from its first publication until John Strype's major revision and enlargement in 1720. While C. L. Kingsford studied the two editions produced by John Stow, the subsequent revisions have received less critical study. The paper concentrates on the ways Anthony Munday and Strype revised Stow's text to reflect a developing city committed to the Protestant religion. Munday could hardly have been more different from his friend Stow; a prolific writer, poet, and playwright who specialized in vitriolic anti-Catholic polemic, Munday produced new editions of the Survey in 1618 and 1633. He added details of Londoners who were devoted to Protestantism and carefully recorded their bequests to divinity students at Oxford and Cambridge, godly preachers and lecturers, and poor prisoners who were neither atheists nor papists. Munday's second edition (1633) was further enlarged with accounts of Jacobean and pre-Laudian church building, especially new construction, repairs, and recently erected monuments. Although his work never enjoyed the prestige of Stow, he "did undertake his own research and sought to set his own personal stamp on the edition" (p. 55).
In 1720 Strype produced a substantial edition of the Survey in two large folio volumes complete with high-quality engravings of London landmarks, maps, as well as a wealth of new material. Priced at more than six guineas, Strype's work was available only to the wealthiest readers. He sought first to identify Stow's text and separate it from the additions of Munday and then bring the work up to date. With broader interests than Stow, Strype added statistics and tables reflective of the new political arithmetic as well as discussion of overseas trade and the Bank of England. However, as an Anglican clergyman and ecclesiastical historian, Strype joined Munday in celebrating the triumph of the English Reformation. Strype's support of the Revolution of 1688 led to his appointment as rural dean of Barking and lecturer in the parish of Hackney. His religious sentiments, "fiercely anti-Jacobite, anti-Catholic, disapproving of Dissenters, and passionately committed to the established church," strongly influenced his edition of the Survey (p. 77). The Civil War era challenged Strype's fundamental loyalty to the crown, and he responded to the contradictions of the conflict of 1640-60 with "as little direct comment as possible" (p. 81). But Strype's edition was nothing less than a resounding success, and it re-established Stow as "the hero of the metropolis, and a Londoner for all seasons" (p. 88).
Regrettably Stow, who is presented as little more than a nostalgic antiquarian, is less well-served in this book than his continuators. Part of the problem lies in a misreading of an article that I published in 1985 dealing with Stow's understanding of the Reformation and a failure to consider more recent work. As a layman who lacked a university education, Stow was an outsider to the Reformation compared with the clergy, theologians, and biblical scholars who shaped the Church of England. While he carefully noted the destruction of ecclesiastical buildings in London and other external aspects of the Reformation, he reveals little interest in more complex issues such as the doctrine of salvation by faith alone, the authority of the Bible, and transubstantiation. Stow also lacked the Protestant enthusiasm of John Foxe and Munday, and was probably a better man for it. Moreover, his attitude toward Jews and religious radicals compares favorably with most of his contemporaries. Other problems include a failure to note Stow's important manuscript text, British Library, Harl. MS 542, describing the murder of Thomas Arden of Faversham (p. 236) and the curious suggestion that a few selected titles in Stow's large collection of books constitute "bedside reading" (p. 43) and demonstrate strong sympathy for Roman Catholicism.
Several papers touch on spatial issues as the rapidly growing city affected the lives of its inhabitants. It is argued that it was virtually impossible for people to have first-hand knowledge of the whole metropolis at the end of the seventeenth century, but little attention is given to the actual geographical size of the city. Harding's valuable paper considers the itineraries of Nehemiah Wallington, Samuel Pepys, and Richard Smyth, the last of whom left an obituary list that allows her to trace his path through London. Shoemaker examines mobility on the basis of class and gender. Middle-class wives running businesses as milliners, haberdashers, and drapers, traveled more than their husbands. Elizabeth Knepp, a friend of Pepys, traveled without her husband to locations from Tower Hill to Chelsea and Kensington. The poorest Londoners were forced to travel extensively in search of employment, poor relief, and accommodation.
The arts and acts of memorialization in London are studied by Archer in a useful paper, while Hitchcock reminds us that poverty and begging were fundamental parts of metropolitan culture from the era of Stow to Strype and beyond. Taken as a whole, this volume includes papers that will be invaluable to all students of London history.
. Beer, "John Stow and the English Reformation, 1547-1559," Sixteenth Century Journal 16, 2 (1985): 257-71. More recent works include idem, Tudor England Observed: The World of John Stow (Stroud: Sutton Publishing, 1998) and "John Stow's Historical Notes (1500-1605): The Craft of a Citizen Historian," Manuscripta 41, 1 (1997): 38-52; and D. R. Woolf, Reading History in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).
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Barrett Beer. Review of Merritt, J. F., ed., Imagining Early Modern London: Perceptions and Portrayals of the City from Stow to Strype, 1598-1720.
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