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  • John Stow and the Making of the English Past (1525-1605)
  • Curtis Perry
Ian Gadd and Alexandra Gillespie , eds. John Stow and the Making of the English Past (1525–1605). Studies in Early Modern Culture and the History of the Book. London: The British Library, 2004. xiv + 192 pp. index. illus. map. bibl. $60. ISBN: 0–7123–4864–6.

John Stow emerges from the pages of this handsome and lavishly illustrated collection as a kind of antiquarian polymath, a figure whose engagement with the making of the English past sprawls across disciplinary boundaries. He was, as Ian Archer and Alfred Hiatt demonstrate, an active (and sometimes contentious) participant in the evolution of sixteenth-century historiography. Moreover, as Ian Gadd and Meraud Grant Ferguson show, Stow's place in the competitive marketplace for printed chronicle histories makes him an interesting figure in the early history of the London book trade. He was also a well-connected antiquarian whose collection of books and manuscripts (Oliver Harris argues) became an important focal point for other researchers.

In addition to his work compiling national histories, Stow's Survey of London (1598, expanded in 1603) is an important repository of London history. Stow is best known today for this book, and it is approached from several angles in this collection. Alexandra Gillespie discusses the Survey's relationship to earlier kinds of London chronicles that Stow had access to in manuscript. Anthony Bale discusses its interest in London's Jewry. Angela Stock offers some speculations on contemporary attitudes toward Stow's civic project, primarily via a reading of William Haughton's play Englishmen For My Money (1598). And Andrew Gordon contrasts the Survey's depiction of urban space with the more abstract spatial politics implicit in chorographical writings by William Lambarde, John Norden, and William Camden. Gordon argues that Stow's book, by virtue of its insistence upon the real experience of walking and upon the way communal spaces emerge out of shared memory, is aggressively nostalgic, a rebuttal to increasingly abstract conceptualizations of community and space in contemporary writing and surveying practices. Helen Moore examines the Survey's afterlife in Anthony Munday's Jacobean continuation .

Stow's interest in the English past also extended into literary matters, and several of the essays in this collection explore his role as a collector, annotator, and editor of medieval texts. Of particular interest here is an essay by Derek Pearsall [End Page 296] that discusses Stow's contributions to two sixteenth century editions of Chaucer (those of 1561 and 1598) and that reveals the class prejudices implicit in the way they were conceptualized. As Chaucer came to be packaged as a classical author, the manuscript-based editorial contributions of the non-gentle Stow were obscured in favor of a humanist style of editorial commentary favored by the university-trained elite. Joseph A. Dane approaches the 1561 Chaucer from a different angle, examining the problems that must attend any attempt to arrive at a stable bibliographical account of Stow's work. Other essays (by A. S. G. Edwards and Jane Griffiths, respectively) discuss Stow's interest in John Lydgate and his editorial work on an edition of Skelton. Martha W. Driver traces the afterlives of some of Stow's literary manuscripts.

These essays are all quite brief — they range from eight to twelve pages each. Most of them, moreover, are densely packed with positivist research and so have insufficient space left over for authors to contextualize their findings more broadly or to speculate about the larger significance of the specific points they have made (honorable exceptions here include the essays by Gordon, Hiatt, and Pearsall, each of which manages both a concrete argument and a cogent larger framework despite their brevity). Reading the book from cover to cover is therefore a bit frustrating for a reader who, like me, is interested broadly in the making of the English past without having a specific previous interest in more narrowly construed questions about Stow's work. One wants to know, too, how the various arguments presented in successive chapters might be made to speak to each other. How do Stow's literary tastes dovetail with the values implicit in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1935-0236
Print ISSN
0034-4338
Pages
pp. 296-297
Launched on MUSE
2008-03-27
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived 2009
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