- The Cambridge Guide to the Arts in Britain. Volume 6: Romantics to Early Victorians; Volume 7: The Later Victorian Age edited by Boris Ford (review)
- Victorian Review
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 17, Number 2, Winter 1991
- pp. 76-78
- View Citation
- Additional Information
76Victorian Review Societies devoted to gardening sprang up: the Horticultural Society of London in 1804, which became the Royal Horticultural Society in 1861. John Claudius Loudon, a Scotsman, published the Encyclopedia of Gardening in 1822, which saw eight editions in twelve years and continued to be reprinted into the 1870s. The Victorian garden enthusiast may well regard this as the definitive work on nineteenth-century horticulture. Rosemary T. VanArsdel University ofPuget Sound Boris Ford, ed. The Cambridge Guide to the Arts in Britain. Volume 6: Romantics to Early Victorians; Volume 7: The Later Victorian Age. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1990. These twovolumes belong to a nine-volume set extending fromPrehistoric, Roman, and Early Medieval to Since the Second World War, and the initial problem is to know for whom they are intended. The jacket blurb, with the incurable optimism that seems inseparable from the genre, speaks of "general readers and specialists," but specialists will find little that is unfamiliar and individual readers of any kind may be deterred by the price: nearly £300 or US$540 for the set. Libraries may think it a worthwhile investment, but it is not really a work of reference, since each volume contains a series of essays presumably intended for continuous reading; anyone wanting to check a fact—who wrote LiberAmoris, say, or what are the dates of Gilbert Scott—can do so much more quickly and conveniently elsewhere. Apart from surveying "the Arts" and not just literature and having lots of pictures, the Guide adopts a similar format to Boris Ford's well-established Pelican Guide to English Literature, which appeared in the 1950s and was revamped as the New Pelican Guide a decade ago. But the volumes in that series are priced within the range of students and are small and light enough to read on the train or in bed. It is difficult to imagine the precise circumstances in which anyone might take down from the shelves a volume of this latest Guide and peruse one of the essays therein. The essays themselves vary considerably in length and are of two main kinds: broad surveys of a large historical or aesthetic topic (for example, later Victorian architecture or literature) and shorter accounts ofa specific ReviewsTJ subject: the public park, the city of Glasgow, the Athenaeum club, the Eisteddfod. (As some of these examples suggest there is a rather dogged attempt to justify the "Britain" of the title.) The problem with the latter is that the choice of subjects suffers from a certain arbitrariness. Alexandra Wedgwood's short essay on the Athenaeum is interesting (though she is incorrect in stating that Trollope "overheard two bishops" criticizing Mrs. Proudie)—but a more general account of the rise of the gentleman's club would have been more valuable. There are accounts of the growth of Glasgow and Edinburgh—but why, devolutionary zeal apart, not Birmingham and Manchester? Perhaps inevitably, the more general accounts go to the other extreme. The editor has enlisted the services of some distinguished contributors, including Asa Briggs on the historical background, John Summerson on architecture, H. C. Robbins Landon on music, and (favoring, as some might think, a Cambridge point ofview) John Beer and John Holloway on literature; but all have to work*within severe constraints of space. Under the accommodating heading of Tendencies and trends," for instance, Lord Briggs dispatches "Cities and countryside," The provinces," "London," "Communications," and "Political change" in eight pages. It is hard to resist the feeling that anyone wishing to understand the later Victorian age in somewhat greater depth would do better to go to one of the author's earlier publications—and even that this is perilously close to a Reader's Digest approach to cultural history. This does not mean, of course, that the contributions do not contain many striking and pithy observations. But the nagging question intrudes again: who needs this kind of thing? Those who know Keats's odes will probably want something more than Professor Beer's expert short exposition; those who do not will not get much out of it and would do better to spend their time reading Keats. This is, as publishers say, a lavishly illustrated guide, with...