Friday, February 24, 2017

British history

From the estate of a University History professor:
On why a book was titled "The Age of Equipoise"

The validity of my title, The Age of Equipoise, remains to be proved but what I sought was a generation in which the old and the new, the elements of growth, survival and decay, achieved a balance which most contemporaries regarded as satisfactory. Inevitably there are risks in using any title which includes “The Age”. Of what or of whom shall it be The Age? Sometimes a material symbol is chosen and here it might be “The Railway Age” or “The Gas-Lit Age”. Neither title would be completely indefensible. England was proud of the evidence of progress and the promise of comfort which gas-lighting and railway transport afforded. But neither of them was, by the middle of the century, a novelty. The Gas, Light and Coke Company . ‘ had been granted its charter as long ago as 1812; William Murdock, who could reasonably claim to be the pioneer of coal-gas as a source of light, had died in 1839 at the age of eighty-five. Railways no longer evoked, in the midcentury, the same degree of enthusiasm or suspicion or dislike which they had originally met with. Landowners were coming to look on them as convenient sources of profit rather than as disturbing innovations: Charles Dickens, the socially rootless man, sentimentalized the stage-coach but R. S. Surtees, in private life a Durham squire, had no regrets for its passing. Moreover, neither the gas-lamp nor the railway was omnipresent. The oil-lamp and the candle illuminated far more houses, if increasingly fewer public buildings, than gas. The horse, Whether for transport, exercise, display or sport, was still of vast importance in English life. “Carriage-folk” was a sufficiently exact description of a class in English society. With the production of elliptic springs at the beginning of the century and the improvement of roads the craft of carriage-building had flowered. They are gone now, all the carriages, gone with their forgotten names-berlin, barouche, caleche, coupĂ©, Clarence, daumont, landau, phaeton-but the age in which such craftsmanship and ingenuity were lavished on them was not the Railway Age alone. Other possible titles for such a book as this are available but each suffers from being pre-selected from a particular angle of vision. To the historian of architecture the age might be that of the neo-Gothic; to the historian of painting, that of the pre-Raphaelites; to the social historian, the Age of Drains and Sewers; to the administrative historian, the Age of the Inspector. Each title, though none is without some degree of appropriateness, is insufficiently comprehensive.

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