When I set up this blog, I swore never to post about family vacations, dinners, or funny cat videos. I’m sorry to say but I am going to break this rule and write about fish tacos, San Diego, street names, and historians. For those who expected cat videos, I express my sincerest apologies, I continue to stick to the “no cat videos” –rule. Instead, I offer you holiday greetings from a San Diego neighborhood where streets were named after authors a century ago. At that time the distinction between an author and a historian was rather blurred, and therefore these “author streets,” as they are called today, also honor Victorian historians. Lonely Planet, Eyewitness Guide, and Fodor are sadly deficient about this highly significant historical attraction, and only an accidental encounter with Froude Street in Google maps when searching for directions to Mike’s Taco Club saved me from missing out this experience. I guess I should thank Mike not just for great tacos, but also for guiding me to this dream come true destination for all historiography buffs.
There’s little information available online about the author streets and their becoming. Looking at the historical maps at hand, the hilly and picturesque neighborhood of Loma Portal seems to go back to the first decades of the twentieth century. The 1938 Thomas Brothers map shows the area pretty much complete and the streets running from Addison to Zola, and then again from Alcott to Lytton. As such there is nothing extraordinary in naming streets after famous authors and historians (there’s no shortage of Macaulay Streets and Avenues in England), or arranging street names thematically. Nevertheless, liberally mixing novelists, poets, essayists, journalists, and historians as well as men and women, Irish, French, American, and English speaks for the diverse reading habits and unprejudiced mind of the city fathers. Margaret Oliphant rubs shoulders with Robert Henry Newell and Edgar Allan Poe, and L. M. Alcott with Zola and Browning. Mostly the streets are named after nineteenth-century authors, but the rigid alphabetical order forced the city planners occasionally to dig further back in time and to introduce authors such as Fénelon and Xenophon.
The historians that are honored in Loma Portal could be described as amateurs whose literary production entailed a range of genres from fact to fiction attracting wide audiences both in Britain and overseas. Thomas Babington Macaulay was a prominent man of letters, essayist and an author of the best-selling History of England. Charlotte Yonge produced popular children’s histories, historical novels, and textbook histories. Charles Kingsley, although a Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge, wrote historical novels and polemical essays, rather than conducted historical research in the more scholarly sense of the word. He was heavily ridiculed and criticized by the fourth and last historian who has earned a street in this neighborhood: Edward Augustus Freeman.
Or, at least if we assume that Freeman Street is named after Edward Freeman, the historian, and not after any of the more obscure writers who share his last name. Freeman identified himself with the emerging professional school of history. Nevertheless, he was better known for his popular histories and essays than for his scholarly contributions. When he visited America in early 1880’s, he reported that his Old English History for Children was well-known also on this side of the Ocean. Hence, it is not completely impossible that Freeman Street was named after him. It is highly doubtful, though, that he would have taken pleasure in sharing the honor with historians such as Kingsley, Macaulay, and Yonge – all of whom he disregarded as historians.
Further away from Loma Portal and towards Ocean Beach are located two other streets that similarly have been named after nineteenth-century historians. Even here Freeman would feel uncomfortable as one of them is called Froude Street after his nemesis James Anthony Froude. The other one venerates the nineteenth-century French historian François Guizot. In case of Froude, the choice is not wholly unreasonable. Froude was known in America – in good and bad. In 1872, he had been forced to cut short his American lecture tour because his hostile opinions about Ireland, Irish in general, and Irish-Americans in particular, had caused fury among the Irish immigrants. He visited America again in 1885 when returning from a trip to Australia and New Zeeland. This time he arrived in San Francisco and the famous writer and historian of Tudor England immediately caught the attention of the local press which covered in detail every aspect of his brief stay.