Hyetographical Map of the British Isles, Prepared for the British Pollution Commission, Sixth Report, The Domestic Water Supply of Great Britain, 1874, Under the Supervision of G. J. Symons. London: Stanford, 1874.
When writers across the Atlantic thought of Britain, romantic images filled their heads. (Often, these images derived from illustrated travel narratives published and circulated in North America). Some pictured the cathedral town of Canterbury, or the two great universities, or the moors of Brontë country, or the splendid sights of London, from Westminster Abbey to the West End theatres. But many thought of England’s bodies of water, especially its beautiful rivers—visions of swans gliding down Shakespeare’s Avon; the majestic Houses of Parliament set against the Thames; undergraduates punting on the Cam, etc. As these writers discovered on arrival, however, the reality was often quite different, for the nation’s water supply was being contaminated with pollutants from industrial run-offs. In a lecture titled “The Storm Cloud of the Nineteenth Century” (1884), John Ruskin warned his audience at the London Institution about the fouling of nature by factory smoke, as evidenced in the “poisonous” look of rain clouds. Readers, too, of William Morris’s utopian fantasy, News from Nowhere (1890), first realized that the narrator had left the world of the present, when he awakened to find the Thames sparkling and pure and exclaimed, “‘How clear the water is this morning!’” Even decades earlier, meteorologists such as G. J. (George James) Symons (1838–1900), founder of the British Rainfall Organization, had begun to worry about patterns of rainfall and about the pollution of British waterways, as this map demonstrates.
Stanford’s Map of London. London: Stanford, .
For turn-of-the-century American writers inspired by their British counterparts in the Pre-Raphaelite, Arts and Crafts, and Aesthetic movements, London was more than a tourist destination; it was a place for artistic pilgrimage. Depending upon the decade and the ideological affiliations of the traveler, it offered myriad “must see” sites. Among these were the South Kensington Museum (later the Victoria and Albert Museum), with its displays of decorative arts; Liberty & Co, the department store in Regent Street, which sold aesthetic goods; the Cafe Royal, where Aesthetes and Decadents from the Yellow Book circle gathered in Piccadilly; the riverside Chelsea studio house of D. G. Rossetti; the West End theatres where Oscar Wilde’s comedies premiered; and William Morris’s Kelmscott House in Hammersmith.
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This exhibition is associated with the conference, "Useful & Beautiful: The Transatlantic Arts of William Morris and the Pre-Raphaelites," which will be held October 7–9, 2010, at the University of Delaware (Newark, DE) and at the Delaware Art Museum and the Winterthur Museum & Country Estate (Wilmington, DE).