NEWS FROM THE PAST—edited & compiled by Yvonne ffrench—Viking ($2.75).
News lives vividly for a day, fades quickly into staleness, fossilizes eventually into history. But most of it is simply forgotten: it lies abandoned in old newspaper files like heaps of dried lavender. Gradually, with the passage of years, its mustiness changes to a delicate old-fashioned odor. Editor ffrench,* a rummager rather than a historian, followed her nose through dusty English newspaper files (1805-87), pasted her miscellaneous finds into this 650-page album, calls it "the autobiography of the 19th Century." Erudite historians may find nothing startling in News from the Past, but 20th Century readers, if they have not lost their sense of smell, will sniff its pages with delight.
1805.—The London Times, reporting the news of Trafalgar: "There was not a man who did not think that the life of the Hero of the Nile was too great a price for the capture and destruction of twenty sail of French and Spanish men of war. No ebullitions of popular transport, no demonstrations of public joy, marked this great and important event."
1806.—A Mrs. Bennet accompanied the inventor of a diving machine under water, remained there 40 minutes, "was greeted on her ascent by the cheering plaudits of a very numerous concourse of people. Mrs. Bennet is now generally known as the diving belle."
1808.—"The Prince of WALES'S morning-dress is either a chestnut-brown, or a bottle-green cloth coat, with a fancy-stripe waistcoat, and light stone-colour musquito pantaloons. The coat is made short in the waist and the skirts, without pockets or flaps, with a silk or covered button of the same colour; the cape or collar is made to sit close around the neck, with a becoming fall in front, which shows a small portion only of the waistcoat. The lower part of the lappel is not cut in the usual vulgar manner, but forms an elegant slope, the outline of which was FURNISHED BY THE PRINCE HIMSELF. No part of the waistcoat is to be seen beneath the lappel. No silk facings to the coat, nor slashed sleeves. Shoes and strings."
1822.—"It is estimated that more than a million of bushels of human and inhuman bones were imported last year from the continent of Europe into the port of Hull. The neighbourhood of Leipsic, Austerlitz, Waterloo, and of all the places where, during the late bloody war, the principal battles were fought, have been swept alike of the bones of the hero and of the horse which he rode . . . thence forwarded to the Yorkshire bone grinders . . . sold to the farmers to manure their lands."
1823.—"It is said, that Mr. M'Adam's [father of macadamizing] plan for converting the paved streets of the metropolis into roadways, will be tried in St. James's-square and on Westminster-bridge."