Posts Tagged ‘Dr johnson’

A rare sighting of Grub Street

June 6, 2015
London's 18th century Grub Street as part of illustration showing literary hack

London’s 18th century Grub Street in a Robert Spence illustration showing a literary hack at work

I reviewed the book Revolutions from Grub Street last year for the Financial Times and on this blog, but it’s rare to come across the term Grub Street except in academic circles. I saw it in this column title for ‘From London Town’ in the first edition of Northern Counties Magazine, an issue that dates back to 1900.

Grub Street was a real London road near the present-day Barbican. It was where aspiring writers lived and plied their trade – Samuel Johnson among them until he went up in the world and became a hack living just off Fleet Street in Gough Square.

The romantic poet Thomas Chatterton dead in his Grub Street garret with a view of St Paul's - centre of England's publishing industry - through the window The Pre-Raphaelite painting ‘The Death of Chatterton’ by Henry Wallis, used as the cover to Peter Ackroyd’s Chatterton, gives an idea of the sort of lodgings such hacks would have had. It was painted in a garret in Gray’s Inn with a view of St Paul’s – centre of England’s publishing industry not far from both Grub Street and Brooke Street, where the Romantic poet committed suicide with arsenic in 1770.

The term Grub Street would have been known to Thomas Chatterton. The Oxford English Dictionary has it in use by 1630, and gives the following explanation:

The name of a street near Moorfields in London (now Milton-street), ‘much inhabited by writers of small histories, dictionaries, and temporary poems’; hence used allusively for the tribe of mean and needy authors, or literary hacks.

The Northern Counties engraving by RS – Robert Spence – shows one of these ‘mean and needy authors’ scribbling away with a quill pen while two men about town peruse his books. The engraving portrays the building as built of stone, which is unlikely. The Tipperary pub in Fleet Street claims to be the oldest building around there because it was built of stone and so did not go up in flames in the 1666 Great Fire of London like the rest of the area. It also seems unlikely that Grub Street would have been cobbled. Note the unusual typeface with its extravagant swashes.




From GQ ancestor to E pluribus unum

October 6, 2009
US seal on Wikipedia

US seal on Wikipedia

Trivia of the day from a 2003 book review from the Financial Times:

Who would have thought, for instance, that E pluribus unum, the Latin motto on the Great Seal of the US, should have been taken from the title page of a magazine that eventually became GQ, that bible to men’s fashion?

A new one on me, but the writer and cricket aficionado, Philip Coggan (who later went off become Bagehot at the Economist) must have got it from the book he was writing about, Greenback: The almighty dollar and the invention of history by Jason Goodwin (Hamish Hamilton).

Wikipedia has several derivations, one involving a magazine. Though how you trace a line from the British title  The Gentleman’s Magazine at the time of the US revolution to
Condé Nast’s GQ, launched in 1927, looks a tad tricky. Others have made the motto link too.

Edward Cave is credited with creating the first modern magazine model in 1731 with The Gentleman’s Magazine – mainly because he is credited in Dr Johnson’s dictionary with coining the word ‘magazine’ to describe a periodical (Johnson wrote for the magazine). However, Cave copied much of his concept from an earlier periodical, The Gentleman’s Journal of Motteux, published by Peter Motteux, from 1692-4. And alongside the concept and the type, one of things he took from Motteux was his motto – E pluribus unum.

You can still visit the building where Cave worked, and see a copy of his magazine, at St John’s Gate in London’s Clerkenwell.