The Trophies of Time: English Antiquarians of the Seventeenth Century.
The seventeenth century witnessed growing interest in Britain's antiquity. While this interest was often motivated by intellectual curiosity, scholars also looked to the records and remains of early Britain to champion legal, political, and religious causes. The Renaissance appreciation of the classical world fostered examination of Britain's Roman history, ruins, and artifacts. This interest in the Roman occupation was balanced by a strong sense of national destiny that encouraged investigation of the Saxon and prehistoric roots of British civilization. Antiquaries examined Stonehenge, monastic ruins, Roman coins, funerary urns, early texts, and other remnants of the past. Antiquarian discoveries shaped nearly every facet of seventeenth-century British culture. Church historians aimed to chronicle the arrival and spread of Christianity in Britain, while linguists recognized the Anglo-Saxon roots of English and realized that knowledge of the Anglo-Saxon language was fundamental to a proper understanding of British heritage. The revival of the past could be seen in literature as well. Jonson aimed to portray classical details accurately in his masques for King James and King Charles; Milton wrote a history of Britain; and Shakespeare turned to the legends of early British kings such as Lear and Cymbeline for his plays.
In this meticulously researched and deftly written volume, Graham Parry charts the rise and maturation of antiquarianism in seventeenth-century England. "How might one define an antiquary?" Parry asks. "The type is perhaps easier to describe than define, for the spread of scholarship they engaged in was so broad and variegated that it defies definition" (9). Because antiquarianism so thoroughly permeated British culture, Parry's thoughtful and illuminating work is a major addition to early modern studies. based on a thorough examination of voluminous materials, the book summarizes the vast contributions of antiquaries to late Renaissance British culture and seeks "to restore the antiquaries themselves to modern understanding" (21). Parry accomplishes this objective admirably and has written a book that belongs in every academic library. After a lucid introductory essay, he discusses the achievements of William Camden, whose 1586 Britannia went through several editions, stimulated antiquarian research throughout the seventeenth century, and may have precipitated the founding of the Society of Antiquaries. Individual chapters then treat Richard Verstegan; Sir Robert Cotton and his library; John Selden; James Ussher; Sir Henry Spelman and William Somner; John Weever; Sir William Dugdale; Thomas Browne, William Burton and Thomas Fuller; and John Aubrey. After discussing the antiquaries who argued the Phoenician origins of Britain, the volume closes with a look at Edmund Gibson's 1695 revision of Camden's Britannia and offers some concluding remarks. Parry mentions scores of persons who were somehow related to antiquarianism, including John Donne, Michael Drayton, Edmund Spenser, Robert Herrick, Samuel Pepys, and George Sandys - to name only a few. Unfortunately, the breadth of the study precludes detailed discussion of every topic. Parenthetical birth and death dates at the opening of each chapter, along with a time line listing historical events, cultural developments, and antiquarian activity would have provided a useful context. The work includes a select bibliography of primary and secondary sources and is well indexed. Finally, Oxford deserves praise for having professionally typeset this book at a time when other publishers sometimes shirk that responsibility, and for providing footnotes rather than less costly endnotes.
GEORGE F. BUTLER Independent Scholar
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|Author:||Butler, George F.|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 1998|
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