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Description - Shows of London by Richard D. Altick

A berserk elephant gunned down in the heart of London, a machine for composing Latin hexameters, and the original rock band (1841) these are but three of the sights that London curiosity seekers from every walk of life paid to see from the Elizabethan era to the mid Victorian period. Examining hundreds of the wonderfully varied exhibitions that culminated in the Crystal Palace of 1851, this generously illustrated book sheds light on a vast and colorful expanse of English social history that has thus far remained wholly unsurveyed.Drawing on a wealth of never-before-used information, Mr. Altick traces London exhibitions as they evolved from the display of relics in pre-Reformation churches, through the collections of eighteenth-century virtuosi, to the first science museums and public art galleries. He also narrates for the first time the history of the panorama and diorama as an influential genre of nineteenth-century popular art. At every point, the London shows are linked to the prevailing intellectual atmosphere and to trends in public taste.The material is fresh and fascinating; the range--from freaks to popular science, from the funeral effigies at Westminster Abbey to Madame Tussaud's waxworks--impressive. Like the exhibitions that best served the Victorian ideal of mass culture, "The Shows of London" is both entertaining and informative."

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780674807310
ISBN-10: 0674807316
Format: Hardback
(254mm x 254mm x 41mm)
Pages: 568
Imprint: Harvard University Press
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Publish Date: 7-Jun-1978
Country of Publication: United States

Book Reviews - Shows of London by Richard D. Altick

US Kirkus Review » Once in a great while a vast work of apparently arcane/1978 scholarship turns out to be devilishly well-written, capable of infecting non-specialists with enthusiasm, and filled with reverberations that jump across centuries. Altick's chronicle (1600-1860) of London's shows" - not live performances, but visual treats, freak shows, zoos, gardens, monuments, and other public exhibitions - is one of those rare pleasures. "What Londoners paid to gaze at" is what Altick recreates in vivid, witty detail, beginning with the Renaissance's shift of interest from religious relics to scientific and historical bric-a-brac (the Restoration's much-ridiculed "virtuosi" and their private "cabinets" of curiosities foreshadowed the public museum) and leading up, show by show, craze by craze, to the inexhaustible Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851. Peepshows, waxworks, magic-lantern shows, "The Wonderful Pig," mechanical toys (like the gilded-copper duck or the harpsichord-playing automaton), water tricks, moving panoramas and illumined dioramas (the common man's "fine art"), dissolving views, the Scotch giant, the "What Is It," Napoleon's carriage, the Egyptian Hall, noble savages, the Tower of London. . . . These and hundreds of other escapes from the growing, crowded city's "constriction of horizons" are textured with the smooth interweaving of literary and social references to reflect the "age of exhibitions" (preceding the age of public museums), when mass education and mass amusement were usually one and the same. (By 1850, however, "unadulterated, sedate instruction was not good box office.") And, along the handsomely illustrated way, timeless matters - like commercialism, public taste vs. elitism, entertainment vs. instruction, and the fickleness of novelty-mad audiences - bob gently to the surface. Altick's own moving panorama may be of primary interest to Victorian-watchers, and it may be too long and rangy to be called a good read; but it is nonetheless a thoroughly engaging triumph of personality over academicism. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Author Biography - Richard D. Altick

Richard D. Altick was Regents' Professor of English at Ohio State University. Among his numerous previously published works are The Scholar Adventurers, The English Common Reader, and Victorian People and Ideas.

Books By Richard D. Altick

Ring the Book by Richard D. Altick
Paperback, January 1999
Past and Present by Richard D. Altick
Paperback, December 1977
Literary History of England by Richard D. Altick
Paperback, March 1959