Recent TLS Reviews

Posted in books, reviews by Editor on August 21, 2013

The eighteenth century in The Times Literary Supplement (16 & 23 August 2013). . .

Paula Findlen, “Man of the Museum: Review of Michael Hunter, Alison Walker, and Arthur MacGregor, eds., From Books to Bezoars: Sir Hans Sloane and His Collections (British Library, 2012),” p. 27.

The story of the founding of the British Museum has been told many times. Less often discussed is the man behind the museum. Who was Hans Sloane, and how did he become Britain’s greatest collector? The twenty essays in Alison Walker, Arthur MacGregor and Michael Hunter’s From Books to Bezoars, written by leading scholars and curators and accompanied by a modern transcription of Thomas Birch’s Memoirs relating to the life of Sir Hans Sloane, offer us a preliminary answer. They are the result of recent efforts to reconstruct Sloane’s collections from surviving materials in the main repositories established (or partly established) by his bequest: the British Museum, the British Library, and the Museum of Natural History. . .

The contributors to From Books to Bezoars repeatedly invite us to return to Sloane’s lists and catalogues as a guide through the original collection. They urge us to pull out the drawers of his cabinets, contemplating his collections of shoes, weapons, musical instruments, tobacco pipes and pouches, and many other things such as a Caribbean dugout canoe. . .

In the past two decades, museums and libraries have become ever more conscious of the importance of reconstructing their pasts. This volume cannot answer all our questions about why and how Hans Sloane built his collection, or how an eighteenth-century public embraced and satirized it, but it paints a vivid picture of the man. It also lays the groundwork for a new history of the origins of the British Museum, and prompts us to consider how that history might inform the presentation of its artefacts.

The full review is available here (subscription required)

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Jennifer Potter, “Before Arcadia: Review of Gordon Campbell, The Hermit in the Garden: From Imperial Rome to Ornamental Gnome (Oxford University Press, 2013),” p. 31.

Ornamental hermits, like garden gnomes, are great dividers of taste. Dorothy and William Wordsworth sneered at the “distressingly puerile” theatrics of an Ossian-inspired hermitage in the rugged landscapes of Perthshire. Horace Walpole, despite his architectural predilection for Strawberry Hill Gothic, poked fun at the notion of setting aside a quarter of one’s garden in which to be melancholy. Even Gordon Campbell, in The Hermit in the Garden, describes his subject as “Pythonesque.” Yet the story of how Georgian Britain peopled its gardens with real, imaginary and occasionally stuffed hermits of a secular rather than religious nature is one he rightly wills us to take seriously.

As defined by Campbell, the British craze for keeping a pet hermit in your garden began at Richmond with William Kent’s ornamental hermitages for Queen Caroline, consort to George II (first a ruined hermitage, begun in 1730, and then a druidic Merlin’s cave). It ended a century later with the death of George IV, although a venal, fortune-telling hermit lingered on in London’s pleasure gardens at Vauxhall. Casting his eye beyond Britain’s shores, Campbell looks first for origins and antecedents, principally religious garden hermits in Renaissance Italy, northern France, Spain and Bohemia; and garden retreats of Europe’s rulers, starting with Emperor Hadrian’s island pavilion at his magnificent villa complex near Rome, the Villa Adriana, where so much of garden history began. While the Reformation swept away England’s religious hermits for three centuries or more, secular hermits emerged with the transitional figure of Thomas Bushell, a mining engineer and one-time secretary to Francis Bacon. . .

The full review is available here (subscription required)

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