7/25/15

John Franklin, The Burning of Old St. Paul’s

From William Henry Ainsworth’s Old St. Pauls: A Tale of the Fire and the Plague.

Old St. Paul's was not illustrated by George Cruikshank, the illustrator of many of Ainsworth's works, and this caused problems between the two. It is uncertain why Ainsworth did not choose Cruikshank, and Cruikshank criticised Ainsworth in a pamphlet titled Artist and Author (1872). Here Cruikshank claims that he originated many of Ainsworth's works, including the original idea for Old St. Paul's which Ainsworth then stole. The original edition was not illustrated, but John Franklin made 20 illustrations for the three volume edition. Cruikshank was originally offered the position of illustrator before Franklin, but he turned it down based on too many prior commitments.

The story of Old St. Paul's is spread over six books that range between April 1665 and September 1666 and details the events of the grocer Stephen Bloundel's life. Part of the story deals with the pursuit of Leonard Holt, the grocer's apprentice, in love with his master's daughter while she pursues Maurice Wyvil. This happens while a plague hits London, and St Paul's Cathedral is turned into a place to house the sick. During the plague, London is filled with the ill while many characters, including Anselm Chowles and Mother Malmaynes, go around killing and robbing the sick. Bloundel seals his house to avoid the plague. While this happens, Holt wanders alone in London and catches the plague, and Amabel Bloundel goes to marry Wyvil.

However, Wyvil, really John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester, holds a fake marriage and uses it to trick Amabel to sleep with her. When she finds out that the marriage was a fake, Amabel grows sick and soon dies. Eventually, Holt recovers from the plague and continues to wander London. While he wanders, he meets Nizza Macascree, a woman who soon falls in love with him. However, she is revealed to be Lady Isabella Argentine, which keeps Holt and Argentine from marriage. The London fires are started by a group of religious zealots. To try to prevent the fire, Holt plans to destroy buildings in the fire's path, which he does and ends up saving King Charles II's life. In return, Holt is granted a title and is able to marry Argentine. The murderous thieves, Chowles and Malmayne, are killed during the fire when they are trapped beneath St. Paul's Cathedral as the fire destroys it. Eventually, Holt witnesses the rebuilding of the Cathedral.

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