London in the Eighteenth Century: A Great and Monstrous Thing by Jerry White - review by Leslie Mitchell

Leslie Mitchell

Capital Gains

London in the Eighteenth Century: A Great and Monstrous Thing


The Bodley Head 682pp £25

In January 1758, the publisher Robert Dodsley had a problem with one of the more promising poets on his list. For some inexplicable reason, his client affected to find life in the country more agreeable than life in London. In order to coax him back to a saner view, Dodsley set out the capital’s attractions:

Come to Town, therefore, if not for our sakes at least for your own. The Piazzas of Covent Garden afford in January a better shelter than any Grove in Christendom; and what are your mossy banks and purling streams in the Country, to a sparkling bowl & a downy bed at the Hummums? Your Naiads, your dryads & your Hamadryads are enough to starve a man to death; but with ye Nymphs of Drury [Lane] you may be as warm as your heart can wish.

Dodsley’s message was clear. He agreed with Dr Johnson that ‘when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life’.

In the eighteenth century, everyone had to have an opinion about London. For some it was ‘this great and monstrous Thing’. For others it was ‘no better than a Wen or Excrescence in the body politic’. What it could not be was ignored. By 1800, London may well have been

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