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London, the biography.



One awaits, expects, the revelation that Peter Ackroyd is the collective appellation of more than one person "likely a good many persons, so vast is the erudition er·u·di·tion  
n.
Deep, extensive learning. See Synonyms at knowledge.


Erudition of editors—Hare.

Noun 1.
, so all-encompassing the research, so prolific the output. And so varied. Ackroyd has produced works of fiction, poetry, criticism, and biography. London is another biography if one accepts the assertion of the title. And why not?

Ackroyd, among many other themes in this banquet of a book, makes a compelling case for the notion of this City/social phenomenon as a discrete, identifiable organism, and outlines its character with the same cam, accuracy and sense of journalistic immediacy one finds in his true biographies.

Ackroyd is, by turns purveyor of supple, sumptuous prose, meticulous scholar, learned and astute social observer, wry cultural archaeologist. Bard he is a master of atmospherics at·mos·pher·ics  
n.
1. (used with a sing. verb)
a. Electromagnetic radiation produced by natural phenomena such as lightning.

b. Radio interference produced by electromagnetic radiation.
, transporting the reader to eras long past "virtually dropping the reader in mid-High Street armed with the full lexicon of contemporary social context." London captures the roaring, seething seethe  
intr.v. seethed, seeth·ing, seethes
1. To churn and foam as if boiling.

2.
a. To be in a state of turmoil or ferment:
, irrepressible nature of a city unparalleled in its grandeur and squalor and brilliance and brutishness.

Matters of law and law enforcement ostensibly take up only 8 of the 79 chapters but they are recurring themes throughout the book, although not uncommonly in the context of efforts to govern the ungovernable--it is estimated that in the latter half of the 18th century, one Londoner in seven, man, woman and child alike, pursued crime as a primary occupation. The narrative resonates with the flexible morality engendered in supposedly reputable commerce by a social milieu frequently unregulated by anything other than mob-rule.

London has long personified the essence of social and commercial Darwinism and this study is a fascinating exposition of how a society "even a riotous, fluid one, by trial and error, innately develops the internal means of self-regulation essential to prevent it from disintegrating.

The development of the rule of law in London is the history of the tooth and claw Tooth and Claw could refer to:
  • Tooth and Claw (Doctor Who), a television episode
  • Tooth and Claw (short story collection), by T.C. Boyle
  • Tooth and Claw (novel), by Jo Walton
  • Tooth and Claw (1998 novel), by Stephen Moore
 interaction of oppressor OPPRESSOR. One who having public authority uses it unlawfully to tyrannize over another; as, if he keep him in prison until he shall do something which he is not lawfully bound to do.
     2. To charge a magistrate with being an oppressor, is therefore actionable.
 and oppressed op·press  
tr.v. op·pressed, op·press·ing, op·press·es
1. To keep down by severe and unjust use of force or authority: a people who were oppressed by tyranny.

2.
, seething social ferment bubbling over, progressing from insurrection to mob rule to uneasy truce, establishing a new status quo in the social order. The historical proclivity pro·cliv·i·ty  
n. pl. pro·cliv·i·ties
A natural propensity or inclination; predisposition. See Synonyms at predilection.



[Latin pr
 of London for calamity and ebullience and frequently an unholy amalgam of the two provide an ever-changing stage for the recurring spectacle to play out.

Ackroyd reminds us of the Roman origins of the medieval English law, London's re-establishment as a great city, and consequently a centre of law, under Alfred the Great Noun 1. Alfred the Great - king of Wessex; defeated the Vikings and encouraged writing in English (849-899)
Alfred
, and the relatively early development of its citizens as a politically influential force. Citizens' armies, citizens' uprisings, citizens' vigilante vigilante n. someone who takes the law into his/her own hands by trying and/or punishing another person without any legal authority. In the 1800s groups of vigilantes dispensed "frontier justice" by holding trials of accused horse-thieves, rustlers and shooters, and  groups have all had their prominent turn in directing the City's history. When desperate, doomed Newgate prisoners escaped en masse to the roof of the abomination in which they were confined, it was mobs of common citizens, not police, who fought them in pitched battle, eventually subduing them. Thus the power of the mob generating, at least to a degree, social equality (certainly not egalitarianism--this is England after all).

In London, as a pure function of demographics, a poor man or woman could by dint of cunning, ferocity, enterprise, and grassroots populism rise to wealth and a measure of social distinction.

London has always had a tendency to celebrate its rogues, especially those with derring-do verve. The same notoriety was accorded their executioners, some of whom elevated their craft to a science--the cargo-handling derrick derived its name from the early 17th century hangman HANGMAN. The name usually given to a man employed by the sheriff to put a man to death, according to law, in pursuance of a judgment of a competent court, and lawful warrant. The same as executioner. (q.v.)  who originally devised it "... as an ingenious structure, like a crane, upon which twenty-three condemned could be hanged together". Derrick was outdone out·do  
tr.v. out·did , out·done , out·do·ing, out·does
To do more or better than in performance or action. See Synonyms at excel.
 in the 1670s by Jack Ketch whose triple tree gallows could simultaneously dispatch a full two dozen.

In the tale of Jack Ketch, one has cause to reflect on the ambiguity the great mass of the London population has always felt about its criminals. Some of this no doubt derived from the harshness of an English law, ever more preoccupied with the protection of the propertied prop·er·tied  
adj.
Owning land or securities as a principal source of revenue.

Adj. 1. propertied - owning land or securities as a principal source of revenue
property-owning
 classes, which eventually numbered in the range of 350 capital offences. But does this fully explain the Kray kray (krī) [Rus.,=edge], administrative and territorial unit of Russia. There are seven krays, or territories, within Russia. They are: Altai Territory, Khabarovsk Territory, Krasnodar Territory, Krasnoyarsk Territory, Maritime Territory, Perm  Brothers being truly bigger than the Beatles in 1960s East London? As Ackroyd observes in the coda of a chapter entitled Horrible Murder ... in London mythology, the greatest heroes are often the greatest criminals. And so it was with Ketch ketch, fore-and-aft-rigged sailing vessel with a mainmast forward carrying a mainsail and jibs. It has a mizzenmast aft, stepped forward of the rudder post. In the United States, ketch-rigged vessels are widely used today as yachts. . Tracts, pamphlets, allegories, street ballads--a creativity so vast as to constitute a cottage industry in itself--all broadcast in the grimy streets, all devoted to the vilification of Ketch, whose prolificity at dispatching unlucky folk heroes to eternity made him universally despised, and generated a public appetite for accounts of his misfortunes, real or imagined (apparently a long-held precept An order, writ, warrant, or process. An order or direction, emanating from authority, to an officer or body of officers, commanding that officer or those officers to do some act within the scope of their powers. Rule imposing a standard of conduct or action.  of a certain strain of London journalism--never let the facts get in the way of a good story).

As usual, it appears Ackroyd analyzes the social phenomenon correctly, and one can conclude no better than with one final quotation: "There was always the hope or expectation that something might go wrong--that the condemned man might fight for his liberty or the engine of death might not function satisfactorily. Charles White, condemned for arson in 1832, sprang forward at the exact moment the trap was opened and balanced on its edge while 'the crowd roared their encouragement as he struggled furiously with the executioner and his assistants. He was eventually thrown down the drop with the hangman clinging to his legs. In these instances, the sympathy of the London crowd flooded instinctively to the condemned, as if they were watching their own selves in the act of being dispatched by the authorities of the state."

Brian Lannan is a lawyer practising in Iqaluit, Nunavut.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Legal Resource Centre of Alberta Ltd.
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Title Annotation:Law And literature
Author:Lannan, Brian
Publication:LawNow
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Feb 1, 2004
Words:938
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