1621 and All That. "Literary Culture in Jacobean England: Reading 1621" by Paul Salzman. [review]
A crucial difference between Salzman's work and more conventional literary histories is its privileging of reading over writing: he aims to cover what was readable in 1621, not simply what was written then. His book begins with a map of the mental horizon of a paradigmatic late-Jacobean reader in his account of John Chamberlain, a gentleman, information-gatherer and letter-writer who immersed himself in the news of his own culture and recirculated its currents. He is interested, promiscuously, in feasting and masquing and gossiping; he interprets what he sees and hears, whether it is trivial and playful or serious and political. For Salzman, Chamberlain stands 'as the exemplar of a method that will endeavour to allow nothing to pass unnoted.' It is hard for a reviewer to resist this as a characterisation of Salzman's own book, which is long, learned and enlightening. It adds a great deal to our sense of the detail of this rich period of literary history, even if it leaves the traditional contours of the bigger picture firmly in place.