Dr. Johnson's London: Life in London, 1740-1770

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9780297842187: Dr. Johnson's London: Life in London, 1740-1770
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Like its popular and acclaimed predecessor Restoration London, this book is the result of the author's passionate interest in the practical details of the everyday life of our ancestors, so often ignored in more conventional history books. Based on every possible contemporary source - diaries, almanacs, newspapers, advice books, memoirs, government papers and reports - Liza Picard examines every aspect of life in London: the streets, houses and gardens; cooking, housework, laundry and shopping; clothes and jewellery, cosmetics and hairdressing; medicine, sex, hobbies, education and etiquette; religion and popular beliefs; law and crime. This book spans the years 1740 to 1770, starting when the gin craze was gaining ground and ending when the east coast of America was still British.

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Review:

Liza Picard certainly isn't tired of London. The lives that once thronged its streets are the stuff of her books, and Dr Johnson's London updates her 1997 volume, Restoration London, by one hundred years or so. Samuel Pepys gives way to Samuel Johnson and James Boswell, though, entertainingly, she shows no affection for the pair. She pursues them solely for their era, stretching 30 years from 1740 to 1770, pivoted on the publication of Johnson's Dictionary in 1755. Starting with a "virtual" sedan-chair tour of the city, she proceeds to elucidate every aspect of urban life, with particular attention paid to the poor, and the "middling sort", a fledgling middle class. This goes some way to redressing a balance which historically has tended to favour the rich and famous, who left behind the majority of buildings and ephemera.

Picard's conversational style, as bursting with rhetorical questions as a primary teacher, belies the breadth of her reading and research. Her informality breathes life into dry descriptions, and her sharp eye lends itself to shrewd selection from source passages. The familiarity of this Blackadder-esque London is borne out by its physical dimensions, with parks, hospitals and even bridges already starting to become recognisable to a contemporary eye, as well as its phenomena, such as lottery tickets and road rage. Although Picard sways between tenses with a giddy ease, adding a sprinkling of her own curious observations, her assimilation of information renders her prose sprightly, whether she be observing a meal in "real time", or delighting in the medical remedies, often involving quite the worst ingredients (though it's useful to know that powdered roast mouse is a reliable cure for incontinence). Saving the best to last, the concluding pages offer a cost of living index, which, as Picard admits, almost renders the book redundant. From a 1/2d half-loaf of bread to a £64,000 reward, it evocatively summarises the victuals and commodities of the time, and closes a bustling, collective portrait of the city not just of Johnson, but also of Henry Fielding, Tobias Smollett and William Hogarth.--David Vincent

Review:

At last, a riveting history book with no wars, few dates and minimal references to the King ... Picard has an unerring eye for picking out the most vivid phrase, the most apt memory or pithiest description from the wealth of contemporary information that exists (Ruth Cowen Sunday Express)

There are fascinating disquisitions on do-it-yourself decorating, on male and female underwear, on funerals, and on the language of fans ... Dr Johnson's London is a Baedeker of the past ... It is absorbing and revealing in equal measure (Peter Ackroyd The Times)

In this new survey of Johnson's London, which spans the years 1740 to 1770, Liza Picard reveals what it was that proved so compelling about the monstrous metropolis ... With her keen eye for human quirks and human weakness, Picard brings the age's tortuous splendours and profound murkiness vividly to life, and does so with great verve and originality (Henry Hitchings Observer)

Picard's exploration of life in the mid-eighteenth century succeeds in being both accessible and vivid. Her curiosity and enthusiasm are infectious, and she has an instinct for what will interest the lay reader (Victoria Lane Daily Telegraph)

This book sweeps across the London of 1740 to 1770 like a flying magnifying glass. [Picard's] dry humour and eagle eye make her a superb guide. It opens with a sedan chair tour around George II's London and along the river. I can only say it is brilliant (Illtyd Harrington Camden New Journal)

This wonderful book drops us right in the noisy, dirty, dung-ridden heart of mid-eighteenth-century London ... Picard's street-level approach builds up a compelling, all-encompassing picture of how Londoners, from commoners to kings, lived and died (Glasgow Herald)

Read Liza Picard's book, wrap yourself in the atmosphere of the past, and you'll emerge with a gulp of relief to be living now, not then (Miranda Seymour Sunday Times)

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Other Popular Editions of the Same Title

9781842127292: Dr Johnson's London: Everyday Life in London in the Mid 18th Century (Life of London)

Featured Edition

ISBN 10:  1842127292 ISBN 13:  9781842127292
Publisher: W&N, 2004
Softcover

9780312276652: Dr. Johnson's London: Coffee-Houses and Climbing Boys, Medicine, Toothpaste and Gin, Poverty and Press-Gangs, Freakshows and Female Educatio

St. Ma..., 2001
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9780312291532: Dr. Johnson's London: Coffee-Houses and Climbing Boys, Medicine, Toothpaste and Gin, Poverty and Press-Gangs, Freak Shows and Female Education

St. Ma..., 2002
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9781842124376: Dr Johnson's London: Everyday Life in London in the Mid 18th Century

Orion, 2001
Softcover

9780753811405: Dr Johnson's London: Everyday Life in London in the Mid 18th Century

Phoenix, 2003
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