Wednesday 29 May 2024

Under the Glass: He Who is Tired of London...

 

My least favourite Johnson quote is also perhaps his most quoted. I’m not sure if it’s my least favourite because it’s my least favourite - a form of quote overplay. It is of course; “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.”

The quote was on the wall of the Museum of London, on the sign outside Dr Johnson’s House, on a range of fridge magnets and Oyster card holders - and on dozens and dozens of quaint pictures and ‘quotes’ images.


More completely, Johnson said; “you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford."


Well, intellectual or not, I’m leaving London. I’m even willing. Not just willing, but looking forward to it.


I moved to London almost twenty years ago to pursue a Masters in writing. I’d actually got confused over which university had accepted me and found myself living quite the distance from the university. Not that it mattered much, I only went one day a week. The rest of the time I was working thirteen-hour shifts at The White Swan, a Wetherspoons just outside Highbury and Islington Tube station (and a few minutes walk from both Kit Smart and Goldsmith’s retreat in Cannonbury - but I didn’t know about them yet).


I kept a letter to the local newspaper about the place. 

“If anyone required encouragement to give up smoking and excessive drinking, I suggest they walk past the White Swan at Highbury Corner any day of the week. Never have I seen such an unpleasant looking and miserable group of people as those gathered outside - their features and demeanour showing the ravages of a lifetime of alcohol and tobacco abuse. It really does serve as an excellent deterrent.” Seems a bit harsh.


Whilst still doing my Masters, I got a job at The Big Bus Company as a Tour Guide. Learning the huge amount of information during a beautiful May fortnight was a wonderful thing. It was helped that the person training me was the very talented Miles Tredinnick. The experience of actually being an tour guide on an open top bus was less enjoyable. Whilst May had been glorious, the summer itself was a bit of a washout, the teams on the pavement kept filling the bus with customers who didn’t speak the same language as me and I got into an argument about some time off I’d booked four months in advance.


It was then I lived in Putney. I was the lodger of a ninety-four year old Hungarian Jewish lady who’d survived the Nazis and the Soviets and claimed to have invented those shirts with the stripy bodies but solid collar and cuffs. She was now an artist, a member of the Royal Academy. She was also a lifeline to me when I lost the bus job and was in a long period of unemployment before I got a job at Whittard’s Coffee and Tea, until it went under two months later. 


The next job I had was at ‘The London Bridge Experience and Tombs’. I was essentially a barker, trying to get people who were on their way to work to come into a shitty rip off of The London Dungeons. I was dressed in a ripped suit with white face and black eyes, blood made from corn syrup was smeared over me. Once I had to wash some windows with a seven foot tall man and a little person. The owners never remembered my name and called me Christopher Biggens. They essentially dropped me when I was off with Swine Flu, which I caught on my birthday.


I’ve only been mugged once. Not long after, some people tried to break into the house but I scared them away with lots of noise - these both happened when I lived in the posh area of Putney. In all the supposed rough (idiots would say ‘no-go’) areas I’ve lived, I’ve been safe. Only in Putney was I ever threatened.


There was the time in the house in Harlesden when a dead body showed up on the lawn. He’d got drunk and decided to get home by climbing over all the fences, bashed his head and died from the head injury in our garden while we were asleep. That was an eventful house. For a time, I lived with a rickshaw driver/drug dealer who’d be full of ecstasy and come onto me when I was getting ready for work. For a time, the house filled up with vets and sick animals. A Charlie Chaplin impersonator lived down the street and would walk to work swinging his cane.


Then there was the bad flat. I rented it off a man and it wasn’t his flat. The owner turned up one day demanding to know who I was. The boiler didn’t work for three months. Everything was filthy. There was a man running a pirate radio station and every plugged in speaker in the flat gently played the sounds of reggae, even if not actually turned on. I did have one lovely Saturday chatting with a guy and drinking pints of chilled vodka. 


This place has been much cosier, though oddness still seeps in. I’ve gained a relative financial security for the first time in my adult life and, thanks to Dr Johnson’s House and The Reviews Hub, I’ve been able to got to all sorts of cultural, theatrical and other events for free. 


There really is all life can afford in London, but frequently, the only life I can afford are the difficult, uncomfortable and scrabbly bits. The fact is, Johnson is right, London is wonderful and contains a bit of everything. It’s just, for those not blessed with a yearly pension from the monarch, the sides of life it most often shows are the sides that tire you out eventually. He seems to forget it’s the same city he wrote about in his younger days where you had to make a will before stepping out the door. I have loved my life in London, I reckon I’ve squeezed about as many drops out of it as a poor person can, and I’m looking forward to building a new life somewhere a little smaller, more comfortable and cheaper.




Wednesday 22 May 2024

Review: Johnsonian Gleanings X: Johnson’s Early Life: The Final Narrative by Aleyn Lyell Reade


 Johnsonian Gleanings X: Johnson’s Early Life: The Final Narrative is a bit of a victory lap for Aleyn Lyell Reade. In this volume, he retells Johnson’s early life with all the details he’d discovered in the previous nine. 

in the preface he talks about how his journey started in 1903, when he started researching his own family tree and found all sorts of Johnson connections. In 1906 he self-published the account of his family with an addenda about Johnson’s family connections - an addenda that rather overwhelmed the original account and, as he said, “the tail wagged the dog.” From then on he dove into Johnson’s family history, finding connections, new stories and fixing old suppositions and mistakes. In 1915 his researches were interuppted, not just because of the shortage of paper but also because he served for three years “disguised as a private soldier”. The 1920s were a productive time for the Gleanings but stopped again for world war. This volume came out in 1946.


Reade intends Volume X to be a summary of all the work so far into a book more readable to the general public, who are less likely to have the stamina to trawl through the works prior. He hopes that it will be useful to future biographers - as it undoubtedly was.


He also presents the book free of footnotes, and largely trimmed of the raw material and evidence he used to arrive at the story he does. He hopes the book is not pedantic, though he is aware that he is prone to that “humourless fault.” He assures that every decision he has made in telling Johnson’s early life is carefully weighed up, analysed and based on the firm evidence presented in other volumes of the Gleanings. He describes that work as the scaffolding that this one is based on but that “the sweat and tears that went to the erection of that scaffolding have been wiped away.” 


He semi-apologises that chunks of the story have a genealogical basis, but that is the way he came into the subject and how he researched it. He also apologises for the title of ‘gleanings’, feeling that it doesn’t cover the “scope and serious intention of the work.” He then thanks many people, one of them being a Mr Laithwaite, I presume the same one who wrote The History of the Conduit Lands Trust.


As someone who has read three previous volumes of Gleanings and James L Cliffords rewrite of this work, The Young Sam Johnson, I wasn’t expecting to come across much I hadn’t already read. I mainly read this because I was interested to see how this project ended (the next volumes are an index) but also because I’ve been finding it useful to refresh myself with the early events of Johnson’s life, in preparation in writing a novel about it. I still found myself writing twelve pages of notes. 


I found out a little more about Michael Johnson, the streets he lived in as he grew up and the fact he moved so often suggested his early poverty. I was also informed of an interesting link between one of his publications, The Happy Sinner, and ‘The Queen of Hungary’s Water”, an over-the-counter medication that he sold in his shop. In the book, the ‘happy sinner’ of the title, a convicted murderer bequeathed the recipe of the water to the country. Incidentally, The Queen of Hungary’s Water is a distillation of rosemary and alcohol and still available at eye-watering prices.


Reade also clears up the issue of the apprenticeship of Michael’s brother, Andrew. First as a cobbler and later as a bookseller, being in the unenviable position of having served two apprenticeships. He gives a useful list of all of Michael’s civic positions, clears up a lot of the confusion about his parchment business and lists the books he published by himself. These books are determined by Reade to be “hardly on the gay side”, reaffirming his serious nature.


For someone planning a novel about the young Samuel Johnson (or more particularly, his brother) there were some very useful titbits. He and his brother slept in separate bedrooms that both contained fireplaces which were very likely rarely lit. The family occupied pew 34 in St Mary’s Church. Johnson was fond of a ham and cheese cob, loved a strawberry and snacked on dry oats. There’s a comprehensive chapter of all of Samuel’s probable classmates, the records of the school having been lost. Annoyingly, he doesn’t speculate whether his brother, Nathaniel was one of them.


Now unleashed to offer his opinions, Reade has many interesting ideas about the Johnson family. He supposes that Samuel and Michael were quite alike, that they bore a considerable resemblance to each other both physically and mentally. He wishes he could go back in time and reassure Michael that Samuel would not only do well but become a huge success. He’s harder on Sarah Johnson, declaring, “great men are usually supposed to owe their character to their mother, but we look in vain for signs of mental or moral distinction from Mrs Johnson.” He also describes her as a nagger. Yet, she was extremely popular, a “conspicuously amiable woman who won the complete affection of her children and her neighbours held her in high esteem,” being described later by a Lichfield resident as “blessed with good understanding.” As bad as Samuel remembered his parents’ relationship, Reade reckons that, “to the world they probably appeared, and some would even say they were, an ordinarily happy couple.”


He is also one of very few writers to say nice things about Tetty. That she was a woman of shrewd judgement and a satirical sense of humour. What’s more, he described Samuel’s friends at the time reckoning that he was punching above his weight. She was also from a pretty privileged background and one of her ancestors was the brilliantly named Sir Marmaduke Darrell.


The book finishes with an interesting conclusion. For many people, Samuel Johnson is a Londoner but Reade re-enforces his provincial background. Johnson was enmeshed in connections, both friendly and familiar spread all around the Midlands. He came from a Midlands town, married a Midlands wife and his closest connection in London were from the Midlands. It wasn’t until his late 30s that he fully let go any ambition to be a teacher in the Midlands and became a London writer. It’s an important part of who he was and a part often forgotten. 


I’m so glad for these books, and this volume is definitely the most accessible of them. I think it’s probably required reading for any serious Johnson-dorks, but I’d understand why the more casual Johnsonian may give it a miss. 






Wednesday 15 May 2024

Review: The History of the Lichfield Conduit Lands Trust by Percy Laithwaite

 I saw the Lichfield Press’s reprint of Percy Laithwaite’s The History of the Lichfield Conduit Lands Trust in the bookshop in Dr Johnson’s Birthplace and I thought it might provide some useful context for representing the town in the novel I’m currently planning. I didn’t buy it though, finding the little volume a bit too expensive and wondering whether the subject matter might be a little too anoracky, even for me. Then I saw a copy cheaper at the Oxfam bookshop three doors down and got it. (Incidentally, the road between The George Inn and Johnson’s Birthplace is festooned with cheap book-buying options).

I was not expecting this book to be so enjoyable.


On the 3rd of January 1546, the laster master of the Lichfield Guild, Hector Beane gave the guild’s lands and privileges to a group of people who became the Lichfield Conduit Lands Trust. This was done in a document called a feeoffment, and the eight people now in charge of it were called feeoffees. The task given to this group was to secure clean and cheap water to be available for the people of Lichfield and to use any excess money or profits for the good of the city. 


Like a lot of these early charities, there was a physical chest where the money belonged, still in possession of the trust today. The chest has three keyholes, with the keys given out to three officers who needed to be quorate to open the chest. I once had a similar system with a friend when we bought an expensive bottle of whisky. We kept it in his cupboard, which was locked by a key I held, ensuring we could only drink it when we were together.





The first part of the book is about the water conduits themselves. It boasts how quickly Lichfield secured itself with public sources of water, earlier than London even, and how the trust developed the system to ensure that the city had the cleanest, cheapest water of anywhere around. There were a number of conduits around the city, where people collected this clean water. The conduits themselves were decorated and kept in goo repair, being known as “our special ornaments.” Essentially being the civic version of water-coolers, they were where people game to gossip, and sometimes fight. There was even a rhyme about it;

  “At the conduits, striving for their turn

  The quarrel it grows great

  That up in arms they are at last

   And one another beat.”


Another problem was that people used to wash their underwear in the conduits and special laundry points established.


After a while, some people wanted their own private water supply. The first to ask for it was the headmaster of the grammar school in 1707. Creating this private supply was a lot of work, because the house is up a small hill but it was achieved, with the headmaster having to pay for the work. As the eighteenth century went on, private water supplies became more common, with Johnson’s step-daughter, Lucy Porter getting her own tap in 1772. One negative effect of people having access to their own water is that they grew wasteful of it and citizens had to be reminded not to waste water.


The trust did more than look after water though. They were instrumental in shaping Lichfield, paving it, giving it lights, funding its famous grammar school and giving charity. Samuel Johnson’s grandmother was giving charity by the Trust, his father’s apprenticeship was a bookseller was due to the Trust’s charity and Johnson’s own education was free, thanks to the Conduit Trust. Michael was later to serve on the trust as a warden. His job would have been collecting the rents from the lands owned by the trust, as well as checking the pipes and conduits. Every year there was an audit meal, where the accounts were double checked and a slap up meal was held, which he was eligible to attend even when he had retired from it.


The Conduit Lands Trust was very proud of their fire-fighting capacities. Unlike many places, they had a fire-engine nicknamed ‘The Indian’. By 1711 they also had fire engines called ‘The Batchelor’s Engine’, ‘The Great Engine”, “The Force Engine” and “The Virgin’s Engine.” Such was the civic pride, that on the feast days of Holy Thursday, Whit-Monday and the 5th of November, it was a requirement to ‘play’ the fire engines around town. Each engine needed 12 operators and they were paid in beer. The 1741 meal offered; “a round of beef, boiled, a large pudding, 2 geese roasted, 2 fowls boiled with bacon, 2 fowls roasted, 2 couple of ducks roasted and 1 turkey roasted.” This was the small meal, the feeoffees were blessed with even more. 


Also, in the winter, from Michaelmas to Lady Day, there were a group of four watchmen, who went from 11pm, to 4am and who had to wake everybody up twice a night - presumably this was to check that fire was regulated in the house. If the local church bells rang than all able-bodied men in the area were expected to get up and lend a hand.


The Trust also involved itself in law and order, building the guild hall, with it’s cells underneath and, in 1666, buying the city its own scold’s bridal and cucking stool. Considering these were both torture devices used to keep women in line, the charitable status of them is on shaky ground.


The final brilliant story is about the clock tower the Trust had built. There were a number of designs, some of them ridiculous but they settled on a fairly solid four-sided structure with Norma arches. It was a problem from the beginning and later moved from where it had been built and was blocking the streets. The town ordered a clock to be built for the tower. The one they were expected would need to be wound every 8 days, the one they recieved needed to be wound every 5, so they had to double the pay of the person whose job was to wind it. What’s more, the clock wasn’t all that accurate and the clock-keeper had to pop down the train station every day to get an accurate time to fix the town clock with. It seems a very British farce.


While I found this book both useful and entertaining, my favourite element of it was a strange little quirk of the writer. Whenever he wanted to pick a town that Lichfield was cleaner than, safer than, more protected from fire than, less prone to cholera than, better educated that - he always picked Coventry. Each time, it seemed like he was simply picking a town relatively near but as it built up, it felt very much like a running joke and a personal grudge. As a very reluctant four-year resident of Cov, I appreciated it a lot.


The History of the Lichfield Conduit Lands Trust is a surprisingly brilliant book. For a copy you could write to Lichfield Press, who have the email lichfieldpresd@hushmail.com - an email company that sounds like it was created for blackmailers. 




Wednesday 8 May 2024

Review: The Time-Thief by Patience Agbabi

 I picked up The Time-Thief by Patience Agbabi from the library, having heard her on a BBC podcast talking about Samuel Johnson and his fictional depiction in this book. It’s the second book of four, so some of the difficulties I had with the book may have been covered in the first - I presumed, as a children’s book, I’d pick the world up as I went along.

The books is about leaplings, a tiny subsection of people born on the 29th February who have the ability to jump backwards and forwards in time. The protagonist, Elle is one such person who is also a member of a secret group called Infinity. Their job is to secure the future against unscrupulous leaplings known as the Vicious Circle and headed by the evil Millenia. In this book, an item is stolen from the Museum of Past, Present and Future and her friend is framed. She must go back in time to learn about the item so she can clear her friend’s name. 


Luckily for me, as a Johnson fanatic, the item was an hourglass given by Samuel Johnson to Francis Barber, so Elle meets Johnson, Barber and Anna Williams when they are living at Gough Square in 1752. It’s partly this provenance that makes the hour glass worth so much, as anything Johnson related is worth three times as much in the leapling world.


Elle doesn’t go back until the middle of the book and the first person she meets in Johnson’s household is Anna. She’s incredibly rude and slams the door on them but eventually opens it up and apologies. Elle understands, she’s told that Anna is almost blind and sympathises with how difficult she must find things in a world that ignores her needs. Indeed, when Johnson lived at Bolt Court later in life, neighbours found it irritating how many people asked them for directions to Samuel’s place.


In the acknowledgements at the end, Agbabi thanks Helen Woollison, former Deputy Curator at Dr Johnson’s House. I went to many events run by her and also volunteered in the house under her supervision for a while and she is a knowledgeable and helpful person. It’s clear she helped Agbabi, the description of the garret on page 96 is really good, depicting the long table with teetering piles of books. Describing the books as being a little shabby, rather like Johnson’s clothes and marvelling at all the little slips of paper. She talks with an amanuensis about how Johnson is using quotations, including poetry to define the words and bring them to life. It’s a really nice moment.


I also liked a lot of how Johnson himself is portrayed. Many people, when writing him, choose to make him speak Boswell quotes at all times. This relieves them of the pressure of having to invent something Johnson might say but it is rather jarring to someone who knows that those quotes happened years apart. While there are some nods to some quotes, Agbabi writes her Johnson whole and makes him a figure who is strange and a little alarming at first but ultimately warm and likeable. He might not always sound like the Johnson we know, but at least he’s not just a Bozzy-spouting automaton. 


One of the first things Elle notes about him is the smell of his sweat, then his shabby clothes and constant movements. She wonders if he’s stimming, a concept we were giving a page-length description of earlier, when a person repeats a repetitive action (such as rocking, clapping or blinking) to self-soothe. She’s later informed that Johnson has Tourette’s, that his movements are not a balm to him but an impulse he can’t repress. The person informing her then says, 

  “His supreme intellect and extreme challenge stem from the same source.” It’s an interesting idea, and one I recently read discussed in Robert DeMaria Jr’s The Life of Samuel Johnson: A Critical Biography. While I am very wary of attributing Johnson’s exceptional qualities to his (probable) neurodivergence, I am interested in how that helped shaped him.


The character of young Francis Barber is also handled well. It’s clear that Agbabi has read Michael Buncdock’s The Fortunes of Francis Barber, as it reveals his real name, Quarshy, and talks about how he was Colonel Cathcart’s slave in Jamaica but was now in a strange, in-between state, living with Johnson. I liked the little jokes about how he was officially a servant who didn’t do all that much servanting and the chance to see him as a free-spirited young man.


One big element of this book I haven’t much touched on is autism. Maybe it was explained in the first, but the 0.007% of people born on 29th February who can leap in time are all neurodivergent in some way or another. There are six characters with autism, one non-verbal, one character with ADHD and then Johnson with his possible Tourettes. Is it diversity if almost everyone in the book is autistic? The book frequently stops to describe some aspect of autism, sometimes it’s just the narration that stops to explain it but sometimes the whole narrative itself.


At one point, Elle and her fellow autistic leapling, Big Ben, almost fail to jump in time and follow the bad guys because they worry their disguises might be too itchy. Elle herself is a character who shuts down because she is over-stimulated if offered food any other colour than white, but finds the strength to cope with London in 1752. The lovely description of the dictionary garret then goes into a paragraph about how Big Ben is dyslexic and would find the handwritten notes difficult to read - but he doesn’t need to read them. Elle sympathises with Anna Williams’s blindness because, “she must find everything tricky if she’s blind just like I find things challenging because I’m autistic.” It’s about a hundred pages in at this point, we know.


Ultimately, I did not enjoy The Time-Thief because I really didn’t like the writing. Occasionally it flowed but generally it was stiff and awkward. Whenever Elle had been on a little adventure, she’d return to her friends and retell exactly what the reader had already read and then told the reader all the implications of the new information. Everything was stated and re-stated, plainly, baldly and obviously. They talk about an alibi, so then need to have a few sentences explaining, plain, clear and boringly what an alibi is. This is partly why the references to autism became such a hurdle to the telling of the story, because the book wouldn’t let something play out without a flat explanation of it. A character couldn’t stim without the narrator giving a flat description of what stimming is. She couldn’t shut down without explaining what a shut down was and why she was doing it. 


This is an especial problem when the book is supposed to be a fast-paced, time travelling mystery adventure. The book would describe an event happening, then state what had happened and then a character would come up and restate it and another restate it upon that. Then, later on, the character would have to restate that event again in case we’d forgotten before another would state the significance of that restating. 


I’ll end with a quote. Francis Barber, Elle and Big Ben are walking through London in 1752. They see people in sedan chairs and Elle asks if the occupants are disabled. This is Francis’s completely natural reply;

   “No they are not, The sedan chair is a common transportation for hire but take note: those adorned with gold and brocade belong to the monied class who wish to be seen but contribute little to society.”


   Right on with the anti-rich people sentiment, shame about the prose.





Wednesday 1 May 2024

Review: Sketches of Some Booksellers in the Time of Doctor Johnson by Edward Marston

 


It feels odd to call a book cute, but Edward Marston’s Sketches of Some Booksellers in the Time of Doctor Johnson is just that. It’s a dinky little volume with a clumsily large title that tries to do little else but give the reader some biographical sketches of a number of booksellers. The main sources for the book are Boswell’s Life, and John Nichols’s Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century.

It starts with the bookseller closest to Samuel Johnson, his father. Most of the information about him is taken from Boswell, so it presents him as a melancholy man who struggled his whole life as a provincial bookseller. It also quotes Michael’s own sales copy, where Micheal wishes his public ‘to be pleased’ and himself ‘a good sale’. The most interesting part of this chapter was the fact this book came out in 1902, and Johnson’s birthplace had become a public museum in 1901. There’s obviously a lot of hope and pride at this opening, and a wish that Lichfield will become the new Stratford-Upon-Avon, full of literary tourists. Birkbeck Hill (of Miscellanies fame) dedicated the museum, which was opened on 6th July - the day before my birthday. One speech given on the day hoped that Johnson’s “works, character and genius would be as well known 117 years hence.” That year was 2019, and although Samuel Johnson may not be as widely known as he was in 1901, there are still many that know of him, and those that do love him a little more.


The next is Andrew Millar, who Johnson said “raised the price of literature.” He clearly had a good eye, publishing Thompson’s Seasons, as well as all of Henry Fielding’s novels, Joseph Andrews, Tom Jones and Amelia. for the Johnsonian, he may be best known as the printer who uttered a sigh of relief when The Dictionary was finally gone and thanked God he was done with Samuel Johnson. When Johnson heard this, he said he was glad Millar thanked God for something.


The next bookseller was Thomas Davies. He owned the bookshop near Covent Garden where Johnson and Boswell met, and most of the chapter is taken up with Boswell’s description of the event. He seems an interesting sort of person, described as less a bookseller than “a gentleman who dealt with books”. He had also dabbled in writing himself and for much of his career had been a mediocre actor. Marston says that;

  “In none of these callings was he particularly successful in a commercial sense … but he always retained the esteem and affection of his many friends.” - and his wife was apparently quite the looker.


Thomas Osbourne was the man most famous for being beaten up by Samuel Johnson. Described by Marston as arrogant, ignorant and insolent, he used to boast that he’d made £40,000 from his bookselling endeavours. He had the business practice of paying eye-watering sums for whole libraries and then selling them off piecemeal using a catalogue, which cost 5 shillings in itself. He said that book lovers would either pay the 5 shillings or they would miss out. He paid £13,000 for the Earl of Oxford’s book collection, saying that the binding alone was worth £18,000. Then he put two anonymous hacks on the job of creating the catalogue, one of them Samuel Johnson. When he berated Samuel about the speed of his work, Samuel picked up a large folio, knocked him to the floor and then trod on him and told him exactly what he thought of his employer. Most wonderfully, the book in question was noted down, it was Biblio Graeca Septuaginta (aka, a large, Greek Old Testament) printed in 1594 in Frankfurt. 


The book goes on, talking a bit about the Lintots, father and son, and a number of other booksellers. There’s a particularly nice chapter about Dodders, Robert Dodsley. Originally a stocking weaver, he became a footman and then parlayed his leaving bonus into setting up as bookseller. He was never ashamed of his working class roots and sometimes gave literary anecdotes about famous writers from the point-of-view of below stairs. 


I also learnt that Edward Cave, Johnson’s first employer on The Gentleman’s Magazine was the son of a cobbler and kicked out of his free place at Rugby School after he was accused of stealing a chicken. Despite going to London and putting together the first magazine, he was still known as ‘Ned the Cobbler’ in his home town. Rugby, incidentally was where my train suddenly stopped when I was trying to get home to London from Lichfield. Cave was a stickler for details, and even when his magazine was selling 10,000 copies a month, worried if he lost one subscriber. He’s encourage his writers to give it their all and ‘put something good in next month.”


This is a little book, and fairly limited in it’s scope, there’s not much original research but what is there is packaged nicely and told well. It’s also notably missing any women booksellers, of which there were many, except a mention of Sarah, Samuel Johnson’s mother not being allowed to mind the shop on cold days because her family didn’t want her to get cold. The book is charming, enjoyable and most of all … cute.