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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

XIV. Some Political and Social Aspects of the Later Elizabethan and Earlier Stewart Period

§ 24. Growth of London and its causes

Except in the fields, now narrowing rather than expanding, of purely academical scholarship and religious education, London had more than ever become the centre of the life of the community. Here, alone, politics, society and intellectual pursuits and diversions of all kinds were at the full height of activity; and here was the great market for the supply of the luxuries, as well as of the necessaries, of existence. The influx of population into London was very notable. The overgrowth of the population of the city was, indeed, arrested by drastic provisions, dating from 1580; but London beyond the walls increased with extraordinary rapidity, and, in the century after the accession of Elizabeth, the total of the London population probably at least quintupled—and this, notwithstanding the ravages of the plague, which, at times, decimated—and even decimated twice over—the number of inhabitants. But it was not numbers only which gave to London its supremacy. The pulse of life beat more rapidly here than elsewhere; character and talent—individuality, in short—here had the best chance of asserting itself. This was largely due, as has been seen, to the court and, in the same connection, to the great houses of the nobility built along the pleasant Strand, with the river, London’s great highway, running by the side of fields and gardens on the way to Westminster. It was due, in the second place, to the city as the centre and representative of the mercantile and industrial life of the nation, with Cheapside, and Goldsmiths’ row on its southern frontage, displaying the magnificence of that life to an admiring world. But it was also due to the various colleges of law and physic, as well as to cathedral and abbey, and the great schools.