- The Time Traveler's Guide to Restoration Britain: A Handbook for Visitors to the Seventeenth Century: 1660-1700 by Ian Mortimer
The Time Traveler's Guide to Restoration Britain is an impressive and prolifically detailed history of Restoration Britain. Unlike traditional histories that largely focus on important events, Mortimer argues "the past is best viewed up close and personally" and centers his history around his readers who allegedly have access to a time machine and are preparing for a journey to the seventeenth century (3). This trope allows Mortimer to offer a popular history of the period that thrusts readers into the daily pursuits and exploits of Restoration Britons. He alternates between referencing first-person accounts from diarists—such as Samuel Pepys, John Evelyn, and Celia Fiennes—and historical facts, which he seamlessly synthesizes into a cogent narrative. The combination of sources allows him to describe [End Page 114] the persons, places, things, and manners that constitute British society and the impact of historical events, such as the Great Fire and the Glorious Revolution, in exceptional detail. As a result, the guide would be of interest to both academic and non-academic audiences.
In keeping with the time-travelling trope, Mortimer draws on and blends the genres of travel and how-to literature. Chapters are organized effectively by categories of information needed to navigate Restoration Britain: London; Beyond London; The People; Character; Basic Essentials; What to Wear; Traveling; Where to Stay; What to Eat, Drink, and Smoke; Health and Hygiene; Law and Disorder; and Entertainment. Mortimer writes, for the most part, in the second person, a refreshing feature that allows for full immersion in concrete historical details and that does, indeed, make history seem more personal. For example, the first chapter, which describes London, opens with a description intended to draw in the reader:
It is Sunday, 2 June 1661—and it is raining hard. Water trickles into puddles in the muddy alleys and swells in the drains that flow down the middle of the cobbled streets. Most people have returned from church to eat their dinner, peering out through windows spattered with raindrops as the church clocks of the city chime a dull midday. The few who are still braving the weather stride along beneath the overhanging jetties of the houses, hunched in their bedraggled hats and cloaks. They glance up at you as you approach: those gentlemen who are worried about their expensive clothes turn their shoulders to the wall to keep the driest path, forcing you to step away from it.(9)
Later, Mortimer even positions himself as a fellow time-traveller, claiming to be writing from the home of weaver Thomas Mardon who has an annual income of £25 and lives in a town thirteen miles west of Exeter called Morehampstead (71).
In this persona, he advises readers on what regional foods to taste (Cheddar cheese and Warfleet oysters), drinks to consume (not water, but certainly the new wine, champagne, if one's income allows), medications for gout (colchicum), plays to see (anything by Congreve), sports to play (bowling), museums to visit (the Ashmolean), artistic works to purchase (Rubens), medical practitioners to call depending on your income (the old women in your village, or in case of emergency, a physician), country estates to visit (Chatsworth), and accessories to purchase (a muff is a must). He instructs readers on how to eat without a fork, post letters, tell time, and use a Julian and Gregorian calendar. He also includes advice for navigating the Little Ice Age, negotiating Britain's many court systems, and avoiding the Earl of Rochester's tricks.
At the heart of this time-travelling trope are historiographical questions about the Restoration period. In the introduction, Mortimer writes, "A well respected historian [Peter Laslett] once declared that 'the changes in English society that affected England between the reign of Elizabeth and the reign of Anne were not revolutionary'" (7-8). Mortimer's guide contradicts this statement by focusing on the day-to-day actions...