AN AMERICAN LOOKS AT LONDON ARCHITECTURE

A new critical review of the publick buildings, statues and ornaments, in and about London and Westminster. With some reflections on the use of sepulchral monuments; as also a scheme shewing the dimensions of St. Peter’s Church at Rome and St. Paul’s Cathedral at London; and a preface, being an Essay on Taste. To all which is added, an appendix … The second edition, corrected.

London, printed by C. Ackers … for J. Clarke …, 1736.

12mo, pp. [6], vi, 91, [5], with large folding table; final leaf with contemporary ink drawing of half finished window; a clean and crisp copy in contemporary mottled calf, modest gilt spine with red label. Engraved contemporary armorial bookplate of George Mercer, with some mss. notes presumably in his hand querying the word ‘piazza’ in the text (p. 3); book label and mss. pencil ownership inscription of Marshall Sisson (d. 1978), architect and architectural consultant to the Royal Academy; from the library of Peter Foster (1919-2010), architect and Surveyor of Westminster Abbey (the 18th since Christopher Wren) and in charge of its restoration from 1973-1988, with his mss. pencil notes on the author and indication on which page Westminster Abbey is discussed.

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Second edition of the earliest piece of architectural criticism in English, and the first book which gives a favourable account of English Palladian architecture as typified by Lord Burlington inspired recent buildings. This is an influential book, despite the hostility it encountered on publication. This second edition was enlarged by an appendix which reprinted an attack on the book published in the Weekly Miscellany and Ralph’s responses. The original edition had appeared in 1734. Ralph dedicated the book to Lord Burlington, although he was not associated with him. The new critical Review could also be used as an architectural guide book to buildings in and around London. It is in immensely entertaining read. Ralph’s ideas about architecture are all his own; Hawksmoore’s churches at Limehouse, Spitalfields, and Bloomsbury are castigated as ‘mere Gothique heaps of stone’ (p. 4). ‘It is his uncompromising demand for vistas and prospects, rather than high architectural standards that makes him unexpectedly hypercritical of some buildings and pleased with other’ (Harris).

James Ralph (1705-1762) was born in America; he was a friend of Benjamin Franklin with whom he came to England in 1725. He was a journalist, critic and a playwright, who counted Henry Fielding, and the painters Elly and William Hogarth amongst his friends. He quarrelled with Pope who effectively ended his ambitions to become a poet.

Harris, no. 728 (pp. 381-385); not in Millard, not in RIBA, not in Fowler.

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