John Cannon, 10 May 1990
The publication of the first volume of the New Oxford History of England series, under the general editorship of J.M. Roberts, is something of an awesome event. Generations of schoolchildren and students thumbed their way through their predecessors, Davies and Clark, Woodward and Ensor, and it must be an agreeable thought to the new authors that their books will be selling deep into the 21st century. Paul Langford’s volume invites comparison with Basil Williams’s The Whig Supremacy, which appeared exactly fifty years ago. In many respects the new volume has the edge. It is quite beautifully produced, with some excellent illustrations and charming little engravings at the end of chapters. The writing is lively and spirited, with glimpses and vignettes of people who do not always turn up in textbooks: Mary Tofts, ‘the rabbit woman’; the Rev. William Dodd, forger; Elizabeth Brownrigg, murderess; the Rev. Augustus Toplady, Evangelical; Elizabeth Chudleigh, duchess and bigamist, and the like. The straight political content is considerably reduced, but there is more on manners and morals, travel, entertainment and crime.