(Stewart, John)

Critical observations on the buildings and improvements of London.

London, J.Dodsley 1771.

Reference: 13172
Price: £1,850 [convert currency]

Full Description

4to. (4) + 51 + (1)pp, incl engraved vignette on title leaf. Nineteenth century quarter calf, marbled boards. Half title leaf soiled, with minor strengthening at top right hand blank corner. A little minor browning elsewhere. Contemporary ink inscription “from the author” on half title leaf. Also pencil ownership inscription of Arthur Cates FRIBA (1829-1901), assistant in the office of Sir James Pennethorne, and subsequently Architect to the Land Revenues of the Crown. Subsequently in the library of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (with bookplate recording that it was a gift from Cates).

A presentation copy of the first and only edition of this particularly acute and well-written commentary on contemporary building and urban planning in London. Although no author’s name appears on the title leaf, it was remembered in the nineteenth century that it had been written by an author named Stewart or Stuart, and it was therefore supposed that it might have been have been written by the celebrated architect James Stuart (author with Nicholas Revett of The Antiquities of Athens). This attribution never seemed particularly convincing, and in 1981 the present cataloguer noticed a copy in a sale at Sotheby’s Hodgson’s Rooms, which carried both a contemporary ink inscription “from the author” and a contemporary ink inscription in another hand reading “George Dempster a gift from my friend John Stewart”. The evidence of this copy, now in the Canadian Centre for Architecture, suggested that the author was most probably a John Stewart, and at the time the only John Stewart who seemed to be a plausible candidate as author was John Stewart (c.1723-1781), a London businessman and MP for Arundel in 1771-4 (see Colvin, 1995 edn., p.940). More recently, in our firm’s Catalogue 27, issued in 1997, we drew attention to the possibility that the author might alternatively have been another John Stewart (d.1778), who was Judge-Advocate of Bengal 1771-5, and whose gift with words can be glimpsed from a letter first printed in a 1956 article by Lucy Sutherland (The Indian Archives x, pp 1-12). The case for this John Stewart as having been the author can now be enhanced by a hitherto unnoticed paragraph in the Gentleman’s Magazine, 1819, vol.ii, p.482, in which a correspondent J.H. records that the present publication “has been associated with Mr Horace Walpole ; but … was supposed to have been written by Mr Stewart, a young gentleman who, in 1771, was going to India in the Company’s service”. The supposition that this “Mr Stewart” was “a young gentleman” and that he went out to India in 1771 accords very much better with his being the John Stewart who left England in 1771 to become Judge Advocate of Bengal than with his being the MP for Arundel, who was an older man and who did not leave England in 1771. Indeed, the known facts of the Judge Advocate of Bengal’s career – imprisonment in the King’s Bench prison for debt, fathering four children on a termagant mistress, performing a confidential mission to Corsica for Lord Shelburne, applying (unsuccessfully) for the post of Secretary to the Society of Arts, and hovering round such other politicians as Edmund Burke and Lord Rockingham – accord very neatly with the sprightly and cosmopolitan tone of the present text. At all events, the author was a shrewd architectural critic and was especially interested in the most recent architect-designed private houses and squares in the West End of London, expressing particular approval of St.James’s Square and of Cavendish Square, and looking forward to Oxford Street becoming “the noblest street in Europe”. The present copy, like the CCA copy, carries an ink presentation inscription “from the author” on its half-title leaf. BAL Cat 744 ; Harris/Savage 152.