JF Ptak Science Books Post 286
This image has always been a little troubling to me, and one that I've never figured out. Unfortunately I cannot now find the original to get a better, deeper scan of the curious object being carried by the oldish man in the center of the picture. This is another in a series of generic topographic prints of famous churches/buildings/streets and so on, decorated with figures some of whom are just going about their daily days as well as others who are quirkily adventurous--but those quirky actions are most often buried in the smallness of their representation. sometimes almost to small to see, especially considering that they are just there for scale.
Looking at this image of St. Swithin's* and the London Stone, even a quick, noncommittal look at the people filling up the foreground reveals this most unusual character with an uncommon box, right there at stage-center.
I make this out to be a child's coffin, largely because I want it to be for the sake of the print and also because there aren't many other easy, logical choices. I remember it looking even more so in the original under 20X magnification, with the figure carrying it buckling slightly from more than just the weight of the box he was bearing. What else could be in there? A big set of engineer's scales? A precision pantograph? Legs? I don't know--its kind of too big and bulky to be a carrier for everyday work material, as tools filing the box would make it too hard to hoist to the shoulder. The figure seems sad somehow rather than burden, and the question, again, as in the other posts dealing with this subject matter, is why the artist bothered with some a complicated figure to simply people-up the street at St. Swithin. Did the artist or engraver just suffer the loss of a child and is displaying their grief, or is it a reminder of the dance of grim death just outside the doors of the church door? Or is it just some guy carrying a heavy box filled with table scraps?
* The famous "London Stone", a solid block of oolite such as used by the Romans in their buildings, is set in a large stone case, protected by an iron grille, and let into the wall on Cannon Street. It originally stood on the south side of the street opposite St Swithin's Church until it was moved and set into the wall of the church itself (in 1798). According to Camden, it was a Milliarium or Milestone from which the British high roads radiated, and from which the distance on them was reckoned, similar to the one in the forum at Rome (16th Street in Washington D.C., once upon a time named Meridian Strete, was also supposed to perform this chore. Meridian Hill Park, now renamed Malcolm X Park, is about all that is left of that idea. And it seems like a good notion lost now that the rest of the world isn't setting their timepieces to an imaginary line running right through a big desk in an oval office at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.)