Owls in the early modern imagination: Ominous omens and pitiable sages

By Haylie Swenson

Owls were bad omens for Shakespeare and his contemporaries, but the prophecy and wisdom they symbolized also made them objects of satire.

Owls were bad omens for Shakespeare and his contemporaries. The general of the French forces, facing an English emissary in Henry VI, Part 1, calls him “Thou ominous and fearful owl of death, / Or nation’s terror and their bloody scourge!” (4.2.15) Similarly, when Richard III receives bad news on the battlefield, he reacts by shouting “Out on you, owls! Nothing but songs of death” and striking the messenger: “There, take thou that till thou bring better news” (4.4.536-537). When in King Henry VI, Part 3 the titular king wants to wound Richard, he says “The owl shrieked at thy birth, an evil sign” (5.6.36). Continue reading

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Book review: Divine Images

JASON WHITTAKER | University of Chicago Press

Although relatively obscure during his lifetime, William Blake has become one of the most popular English artists and writers, through poems such as “The Tyger” and “Jerusalem,” and images including The Ancient of Days. Less well-known is Blake’s radical religious and political temperament and that his visionary art was created to express a personal mythology that sought to recreate an entirely new approach to philosophy and art. This book examines both Blake’s visual and poetic work over his long career, from early engravings and poems to his final illustrations, to Dante and the Book of Job. Divine Images further explores Blake’s immense popular appeal and influence after his death, offering an inspirational look at a pioneering figure.

Source: Divine Images

Top 10 books about Londoners

From its Roman foundation to the 21st century, London has always been a city of migrants, as these rich histories, memoirs and novels show

The people of London have always been settlers from around the world, beginning with the Roman invaders who founded the city. While the growth of the imperial capital until 1945 largely depended on migrants from other parts of Britain, it also included Europeans, especially Jews, Germans, and, above all the Irish.

The multicultural capital that exists today has continued to depend on Europeans but people from the wider world. My own parents moved to the heart of empire in its dying days, from Cyprus, and my interest evolved from this connection to a still great global capital.

Those who have written about the people of London, especially its ethnic diversity, have included authors telling their own life stories, countless novelists, journalists and other observers, a selection of whom I outline below. Collectively, they reveal the modern history of London, providing an insight into its ethnic and social diversity.

1. Memoirs of the Life of Daniel Mendoza (1816)
London has acted as home to countless sportsmen, especially fighters and footballers, many of who have produced autobiographies. Daniel Mendoza, born in Aldgate in 1765, wrote this pioneering account of his life, which involved punching his way out of the Jewish East End to become British champion in an era when Jewish boxers became well-known celebrities, with Mendoza developing something of a cult, partly due to his ability to publicise his activities, especially through his biography.

2. London Labour and the London Poor by Henry Mayhew (1861)
It proves impossible to understand the evolution of modern London without reading Henry Mayhew, who interviewed people in the early Victorian streets involved in all types of work and, above all, allowed them to speak for themselves, making him a pioneer both in the history of journalism, as his pieces first appeared in the Morning Chronicle, and in social science research. Mayhew’s interviewees and the detailed research which he carried out, provide us with information on all manner of lower-class occupations, especially on the hawkers selling everything from recycled tea bags to fried fish. Mayhew offers a panorama of working-class life largely as told by the people of London themselves.

3. Life and Labour of the People in London by Charles Booth (1892)
Much more academic in tone and not providing the people of London with the same opportunity as Mayhew does to speak for themselves, anybody trying to understand late Victorian London has to at least dip into this multi-volume survey of the capital, the first research project which used a large team, including Beatrice Potter, to provide a scientific account of the population of London, complete with numerous maps outlining the income of the different areas of the capital, as well as providing an insight into ethnicity and work.

a room at the newly Museum of London, showing Charles Booth’s Map Descriptive of London Poverty in 1891.
 A room at the Museum of London, showing Charles Booth’s 1891 Descriptive Map of London Poverty. Photograph: Sarah Lee/the Guardian


4. Living London, edited by George R Sims (1902-3)
While those interested in Victorian London will certainly know the work of Mayhew and Booth, they may not have come across the magnificent Continue reading