I’ve previously commented on some of the difficulties with the voluminous digital archives available on the web. Google Books and archive.org offer an extraordinary amount of material, but the curation – meaning the organization and metadata – is often deficient. Finding a complete series of a publication, or just a specific volume, is far more difficult than it should be; choosing the best digitization from the many copies turns the labyrinth into a maze.
Sifting and sorting documents is part and parcel of the historian’s task. I hope that sharing the results will become standard practice too, for not only does a gift produce a rosy glow, but it prevents an arduous task becoming a repetitive one.
This post is the first of three such siftings, dealing with Narcissus Luttrell’s Brief Historical Relation of State Affairs. (To come are The Harleian Miscellany and The Statutes At Large.) Luttrell was a minor political figure, being an MP twice, a JP. His posthumous importance is due to his book collecting and political diary-keeping, the Brief Historical Relation…., first published very posthumously in 1857, being a product of both.
It is a somewhat chaotic compilation of news from home and abroad, jumbling up accounts of military campaigns, political manoeuvres, criminal charges and births, deaths and marriages. One thing follows another, the only connection being the date. A single page carries news of the Ottoman Empire and Flanders, the sailing of the West India fleet, a patent for the preservation of “fish or foul a considerable time after ’tis killed”, a bookseller sent to Newgate for publishing libels, and more besides. But it gives a sense of the great business of government, sometimes has information unavailable elsewhere, and is useful for establishing chronologies.
I’ve put links to both the Archive.org and Google Books versions as each has its own advantages. Google has more reliable search and better OCR, but Archive.org offers more formats and has a better online presentation. I hope I have found the cleanest and clearest versions, but cannot say I’ve checked every page.