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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

XIII. Scholars and Antiquaries

§ 22. Local History and Topography: Burton; Plot; Stukeley; Gordon

Following upon the pioneer labours of Leland, Stow, Camden and Speed, and the early local monographs of Lambarde, Carew and others, progress in the study of local history and topography is marked by William Burton’s Description of Leicester Shire (1622), and that model for county historians the Warwickshire of Dugdale. The second half of the seventeenth century found authors and compilers hard at work and a fever of schemes in the air; but, too often, the collector sank under the burden of his task, and the materials he amassed remained a mere mountain of notes, instead of growing into the fair and monumental edifice planned at the outset. Many of these attempts have survived in manuscript, some have been worked into later and more successful schemes, while others have served as useful quarries; and the few which achieved the distinction of print are of very varying degrees of merit and value.

One of the most extensive of these schemes was that of Robert Plot, at one time secretary to the Royal society and first keeper of the Ashmolean museum, who planned a comprehensive tour through England and Wales for the discovery and recording of antiquities, customs, and natural and artificial curiosities. So ambitious a project was, of course, never realised, but his Natural History of Oxfordshire (1677) and Natural History of Staffordshire (1686) brought him much credit, though the credulity which they display has not maintained his reputation in a more critical age. Dr. William Stukeley, antiquary and exponent of Druidism, who took an active part in the foundation of the Society of Antiquaries in 1717–8, and acted as its secretary for several years, published some of the results of his antiquarian excursions, in 1724, under the title of Itinerarium Curiosum, an account of antiquities and remarkable curiosities in nature or art observed in travels through Great Britain. Alexander Gordon’s Itinerarium Septentrionale (1726), which dealt chiefly with Roman remains, was the outcome of a similar journey in Scotland and the north of England.