MURRAY £10.99 (400PP)
Paperbacks: London Lights, by James Hamilton
Friday 08 August 2008
Around 1800, Richard Porson was regularly found under the table in the Cider Cellar, a subterranean drinking den in Covent Garden. The decline of this ragged, hopeless drunk would scarcely be worthy of mention if Porson wasn't also Regius Professor of Greek at Cambridge and "an intellectual literary giant".
Packed with memorable figures ranging from the bustling Faraday to the grouchy Turner (Constable described him as "Lord over all"), Hamilton's account of London's transformation to "undisputed capital of the world" in the decades leading up to 1850 is an exceptional example of literary time travel. We're plunged into a city made filthy by 500,000 chimneys that produced, in Byron's phrase, "a sea-coal canopy" (the "tons of coal" in the cellars of the British Museum generated gases "perfectly composed to destroy the collections"), while the streets were jammed in familiar fashion. Someone counted 10,000 vehicles on Ludgate Hill in a single day in 1842. Hamilton takes us to rackety coaching inns (there were 135 departure points in the city), a vast flour mill "resembling a grand country house" at the southern end of Blackfriars that inspired Blake's "dark, satanic mills" when it burnt down in 1791 and, appropriately given the publisher of this book, the social breakfasts held by John Murray. Such parties often stretched into the afternoon, "an apparently endless path of fun"
Threat of 'catastrophic cascade of collisions' must be averted, warn scientists
Arts & Ents blogs
Cheryl Cole to return as an X Factor judge in £1.5m deal
What are the best first lines in fiction?
Russell Crowe's Noah banned in three Arab countries before worldwide premiere
Sharknado 2: Former WWE wrestler Kurt Angle to fight second wave of flying sharks
Call The Midwife: Jessica Raine leaves in series three finale
Britain's top vet sparks controversy with call for ban on slashing animals' throats in 'ritual' slaughters for halal and kosher meat products
Poor 'live like animals' says Boris's privately educated sister after going on 'poverty safari'
Exclusive: Impact of immigrants on British workers ‘negligible’
Vince Cable: Teachers 'know absolutely nothing' about the world of work
Ukraine crisis: Russia pledges to 'retaliate against sanctions' as Ukrainian president says Crimea vote will not be recognised
The quiet diplomat: Catherine Ashton - recognised and admired in all the world’s troubled countries, yet ridiculed at home
- 1 Australian man Rod Sommerville reacts to bite from deadly snake by reaching for cold beer
- 2 Pakistan vs Paul Smith: Sandal-wearers bemused by famed British designer's attempts to sell traditional Peshawari chappal-style shoes for the distinctly untraditional sum of £300
- 3 North Korea elections: Kim Jong-un wins 100% of the vote
- 4 Grace Dent: Who cares if she spells it Barraco Barner? Gemma Worrall is more employable than some bookish arts graduate
- 5 Sharknado 2: Former WWE wrestler Kurt Angle to fight second wave of flying sharks