Daily Archives: June 3, 2008


[UPDATE: where I worked, in the new manuscripts portion, built ca. 1974]

This is where I’m working this week–the Guildhall Library–so that I can spend some more time unraveling the complicated legal fortunes of John Wilkes between 1762 and 1771.  These records, convoluted as they are, are definitely giving me more respect for Wilkes, who single-handedly evaded all the Government’s attempts to silence him (though not to jail him) during this period.  In fact, jailing him just made him more popular, so the Government essentially gave it up and contented itself with jailing or harassing his associates.

I must say that manuscript work of this type feels more exhausting than any other kind of research, because deciphering even a single letter can take ages, and Wilkes is a peculiarly well-documented indvidual with volume after volume of papers collected about him.

While reading these papers, along with the political periodicals Wilkes worked on, I was struck at the discrepancy between the political circumstances–which were highly mutable yet inconclusive–and the rigidity of the political discourse–which felt absolutely stereotyped.  It was a huge relief to find a speech of Edmund Burke’s, which perfectly diagnosed the causes of the discontents.  Yet it was equally clear that Burke’s eloquence was having little effect on his fellow-politicians.  It’s a good example of a period where the participants seem more than usually blind to the significance of what they’re doing. 


[and this is the old Guildhall building]