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The Trophies of Time: English Antiquarians…

The Trophies of Time: English Antiquarians of the Seventeenth Century (1995)

by Graham Parry

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34. [The Trophies of Time : English Antiquarians of the Seventeenth Century] by Graham Parry (1995, 376 pages, read mainly July 9-31)

I’m worried where I might go writing about this. It’s probably a bad sign that I want to start by talking about the book I read four years ago, which led me to this one. That book was Stonehenge by Rosemary Hill, part of Harvard University series of short books called Wonders of the World. It worked because Hill didn’t explain Stonehenge, but instead wrote about the history of the cultural response and study of it. It turned out to be, for me, a fascinating intro in the history of science in England, with the clear highlights being the English antiquarians, especially John Aubrey and William Stukely. And that led to this book...although I can’t explain the four year delay.

Graham Parry’s The Trophies of Time is maybe the book to start with to learn about 17th-century antiquarians. The first chapter is on William Camden, the author of Britannia, which was such a wonderful failure it inspired the whole English antiquarian movement. (The father of antiquarian study in England, was apparently John Leland, but he is not covered here, except in a passing comment). It was a failure because it was supposed to be a chapter written as a contribution in someone else's book (a world atlas by Ortelius) and it was supposed to be about Roman Britain. But Camden got carried away discovering sources and history, he spent most of his efforts trying to bring light into the tribes of pre-Roman Britain. His book covers the whole island, and making efforts to locate every recorded Roman town. It was only after he published the first edition that he fully began to realize and appreciate that the Anglo-Saxon contributions to the English were far more significant than the British Celts.

This was terrific and inspiring start to the book, which the immediately dissolves into a lot of dry detail on various famous, semi-famous and really obscure antiquarians. His biographical information is brief, but Parry summarize and analyzes, in some detail, all the major 17th-century antiquarian works, moving from author to author. If you want to know about :

- Richard Verstegan
- Sir Robert Cotton and his most magnificent library (which had the only existing copies of Beowolf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight...but Cotton didn't know that. The Antiquarians weren’t interested in literature)
- The purely secular and possibly atheist John Selden - the “learnedest man on earth” (I don’t recall the book addressing Isaac Casaubon) who wrote against the divine right of kings during the reign of James I. Selden managed this by presenting the arguments in the form of documented historical facts which naturally lead to his conclusions, but not actually making any kind of conclusion or explanation...making his books almost unreadable today. (He was eventually jailed for his assistance in writing a constitution for the Virginia Company)
- James Ussher - who dated creation to Oct 23, 4004 BC, but was a serious scholar who Parry calls, along with Selden, the leading antiquarian scholar
- Sir Henry Spelman - who linked the fall of England landed families to something like a curse on them for taking church land after the English Reformation, but who also did a great deal of serious research into Anglo-Saxon records and language. (The landed families really did fall in large numbers in the 16th and 17th centuries. The cause was apparently the change in the English economy from land-based to money-based)
- the Anglo-Saxon expert William Somner
- John Weever, the quirky recorder of funeral monuments
- Sir William Dugdale and his tour de force of antiquarian publications
- or Roget Dodsworth, Dugdale's major and unpublished source
- Thomas Brown’s "Roman" urns (they were Anglo-Saxon)
- William Burton's commentary on the Roman Antonine Itinerary
- Thomas Fuller's Church-History of Britain
- or John Aubrey, the books other gem across from Camden

then this is your book to start with.

And you will also find short sections on Irish antiquarian James Ware, on Robert Plot, the quirky and pathetic Aylett Sammes (who was probably right, by accident, in that the Phoenicians probably did reach Britain and use the Islands as a source for tin), Charles Leigh, Edmund Gibson, the driving force behind the translation of Camden's Britannia from Latin to English along with commentary, additions and updates, Edward Lhwyd, who had the best contributions to this Britannia translation, on Wales, and William Stukely.

For those still reading...The antiquarians were the first to do serious research of the ancient history in England. They saw themselves in a race against time, as the main record holders were the Catholic churches and monasteries, which were getting torn down and neglected after the English Reformation in the 16th-century. Much of what they recorded was otherwise lost in their lifetime, sometimes by chance. William Dugdale published his history and description of ancient St. Paul's Cathedral in 1658; it would burn down in London fire of 1666 (to be replaced by Christopher's Wren's creation). In a way they led directly to the scientific revolution, with John Aubrey fitting in as something like a link. The Royal Society was founded in 1662, and Aubrey joined in 1663. I can get a little carried away with Aubrey…Unlike every other antiquarian, Aubrey hated reading through the written records. He was the first to turn to the field work, the first to write up an archeological treatise in English (on Stonehenge and unpublished). Apparently something like the ADD antiquarian, he wrote on soil types, marine fossils, Stonehenge & Averbury, on rural folk customs and folk tales, on the chronology of architecture, on the history of noble costumes, on the history of the changing shape of family shields and tombs, on the change of Saxon hand writing over time, and his Miscellanies, which was actually published, in 1695, on the paranormal and dreams. Each of these included many original finds. But Aubrey was so out there, and so everywhere, that he never figured out how to organize his field work-based research and his work was mostly unpublished. Aubrey leads to Edward Lhwyd, the poorly known Welsh antiquarian who constantly travelled to do more field work, collecting folk tales and even studying the rocks and fossils in Wales. Lhwyd did publish some, but most of his work was unpublished and lost after his death.

Parry’s book is great stuff for those interested and willing to risk being inundated by so many names, titles etc. of the period.

(review posted on my LT thread here: http://www.librarything.com/talktopic.php?topic=154187#4301410 ) ( )
3 vote dchaikin | Sep 28, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0199234272, Paperback)

In Britain throughout the period there was a persistent curiosity about the origins of the nation and its institutions, inspired initially by the publication in 1586 of Camden's Britannia. A remarkable campaign of scholarship developed, which attempted to imagine the vanished societies that had once flourished there. What could be known of prehistoric Britain from its monuments and language? Could the lay-out of Roman Britain be recovered? Was it possible somehow to retrieve the language, religion, and laws of Saxon England? The answers to these questions often had a bearing on contemporary issues of church and state and also enabled citizens to gain a new insight into the character and identity of their nation. Many of the most learned men of the age addressed themselves to antiquarian enquiry and this book presents lively and fascinating portraits of Camden, Cotton, Selden, Spelman, Ussher, Dugdale, Aubrey, and many other lesser-known scholars.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:59 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

The recovery of the various pasts of Britain - prehistoric, Roman, and Saxon - was one of the most remarkable achievements of seventeenth-century scholarship, carried out by some of the most learned men of the age. The Trophies of Time offers the first comprehensive review of the heroic phase of antiquarian studies, when history was being disengaged from fable, and the modern sense of the remote past was being securely established. - ;The Trophies of Time presents the first comprehensive survey of the English antiquarians of the seventeenth century. In Britain throughout the period there was a.… (more)

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