Rosemary Hill

Rosemary Hill’s most recent book is Time’s Witness: History in the Age of Romanticism. Her four-part series, The Lives of Stonehenge, can be found on the LRB Podcast. She is a contributing editor at the LRB. Having dismissed Constable, she is still pondering the subject of her next book.


Rosemary Hill, 5 December 1991

The woods around London offered some curious sights in the 1840s. To the north in Epping Forest the infant William Morris could be seen riding out in a toy suit of armour, while down in Surrey, in the Tillingbourne Valley, little Gertrude Jekyll was learning to make gunpowder. In the event it was Morris who became the political revolutionary and Gertrude Jekyll who withdrew into a secluded world of romance in the house and garden she created at Munstead Wood. Yet such extremes of public and private life were essential elements in what might be called the Arts and Crafts temperament: a mixture of idealism, sentimental fantasy and Victorian middle-class confidence.

In memory of Lydia Dwight

Rosemary Hill, 9 April 1992

In the early Eighties an Italian family in North London was successfully prosecuted and fined £100 for putting flowers on a relative’s grave in contravention of cemetery regulations: they had impeded the cutting of council grass. The grim reaper had, it seemed, finally given way to the municipal mower as ultimate authority. It is hard to imagine the bewilderment and unhappiness the family must have felt, and impossible not to be ashamed of the nadir in English culture that this episode represents. It has become a commonplace that we no longer know how to deal with death, that it is the modern taboo about which we dissimulate as much, and in similar ways, as the Victorians did about sex.

Into the Gulf

Rosemary Hill, 17 December 1992

No one ever failed more completely to be the hero of his own life than the painter Benjamin Robert Haydon, for whom heroism was an obsession. He used his own head as a model for Christ, Solomon, Alexander and Marcus Curtius and believed that heroic history painting was the highest form of art. Today his only generally remembered work is a portrait of Wordsworth. In his lifetime Haydon was well-known and not without admirers but he was dogged increasingly by ridicule and failure. In 1846, after his designs for frescos in the Houses of Parliament had been rejected, he exhibited two of his massive historical paintings in the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly. The public flocked to the building, but to see the midget, General Tom Thumb, who was being shown downstairs. On the first day Haydon attracted only four visitors. ‘I would not have believed it of the English people,’ he wrote in his journal, with that absence of insight or humour that makes him such a sad, and at the same time such a tiresome figure.


Humble Pie

17 December 1992

Having taken the authors of London: World City to task for getting a date wrong it was particularly unfortunate that I promptly did the same myself (LRB, 17 December 1992). The Palace of Westminster was destroyed by fire in 1834 not 1835 – apologies and humble pie all round.


Rosemary Hill, 2 December 1993

By 1815 London was the biggest city anyone had ever seen. It was the most stable and prosperous Western metropolis and had been enriched further by a flood of Continental refugees and by works of art similarly cast loose on a tide of war and revolution. There was now an interest in European painting among the British unequalled since the days of Charles I, and despite the war, English art and architecture, in particular the Gothic and the landscape garden, had many admirers in France and Germany. Napoleon himself ordered Gothic furnishings from London. In the years after Waterloo it was inevitable that cultural tourists should flock to Britain to see at first hand what they had for so long been reading about.

Leave me my illusions: Antiquarianism

Nicholas Penny, 29 July 2021

Moonlight on broken stone tracery is a common motif; dark interiors provide a foil for stained glass and for white satin and deep blue velvet. The men must be away on the crusades. Young women are sobbing...

Read more reviews

Very Pointed: Pugin

Dinah Birch, 20 September 2007

Modern lives look prim beside the turbulent existence of Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin. Distractions and misfortunes proliferated throughout his career: shipwreck (he was in his own boat,...

Read more reviews

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences