After much tinkering, we finally uploaded the video of our performance of a few early scenes from Henry Fielding’s comedy, The Author’s Farce (the relevant post is here). Apologies in advance for the sometimes iffy sound quality, but then, to some degree, that was exactly the point of the exercise: to find out how difficult it was for actors to make themselves heard on the eighteenth-century stage, and to experience something of the hubbub and chaos (certainly when compared to most performances today) of theaters in eighteenth-century Britain. We hope you enjoy the short video!
History of religious abolitionism
“‘Am I not a man and a brother?’”
This legendary quote forms the inscription of a popular, eighteenth century anti-slavery medallion produced by the nonconformist lawyer Josiah Wedgewood. This relic delivers, together with the contemporary abolitionist literature, a testimony of the abolitionist movement during the eighteenth and nineteenth century within the world’s most dominant colonial power: Britain. This anti-slavery movement was instigated by economic, social, political and – remarkably – by religious incentives. During the abolitionist movement, various biblical arguments were used by abolitionists to illustrate that both slavery and the slave trade were immoral practices which could not be justified on Christian grounds. According to their religious discourse, Africans were made in the image of the Christian God, and were thus equal to any man on earth. Additionally, in their struggle against the slave trade they also pointed out that Africa could trade with Europe in products, instead of human beings. Nonetheless, we must also remark that, according to European colonizers and clergymen, specific interpretations of Biblical passages also justified the enslavement of African people.
Even before the peak of the abolitionist movement during the nineteenth century, the first anti-slavery voices could be heard loud and clear by a religious group known as the Quakers, in 1688. These seventeenth century Christian abolitionist Quakers were the first to denounce the use of African-American population as slaves, and this through the Germantown Quaker Petition Against Slavery. This petition was drafted in Pennsylvania by Francis Daniel Pastorius and was subsequently signed by three fellow Quakers. Their opposition to slavery was founded by religious motives, as they perceived slavery as an unjust practice which did not align with their religious doctrine. Consequently, slave-trade was seen as an un-Christian practice too. Thus, it may be argued that, as slavery went against all the Quakers firmly believed in, their abolitionist opinions were founded by their religious beliefs. This stands in contrast to the Somerset Case (1772) for example, in which English slavery was argued to be illegal within England and Wales on judiciary grounds. Although the accused James Somerset eventually obtained his freedom through the court’s final verdict, the slavery practice would not be abolished. Moreover, it would take about thirty-five years before the slave trade was officially abolished within nineteenth century Britain. In 1807, a bill was officially passed in Parliament for the abolition of slave trade, the slave trafficking still continued until the British slaves ultimately obtained their freedom in 1838, due to the efforts of the anti-slavery society, which was established by William Wiberforce. It is interesting to note that Wiberforce believed that he had been called by the Christian God to put an end to the slave trade. In accordance with the Quakers, Wedgewood’s abolitionist views were also clearly grounded on Christian beliefs.
In this post, we will try to provide you with an overview on how abolitionist writers such as Hannah More and William Blake expressed themselves against the slave trade and slavery with the help of religious, and more specifically Christian arguments. Next to abolitionist poetry we are about to discuss, Wedgewood’s popular anti-slavery medallion, for as this attribute also contained a clear Christian message. In other words, this blog post will draw on the arguments of religious abolitionism against slavery and the slave trade in particular, embedded in literature and abolitionist symbols.
“Am I not a man and a brother?” (The British Museum)
This phrase is a well-known and at the time widely popular inscription on anti-slavery medallions. Slavery was a commonly accepted phenomenon during the eighteenth century. There was a growing awareness, however, of the violence which accompanied slave-trade and the treatment of slaves in general. Gradually, protest arose against the exploitation of slaves. Granville Sharp and Thomas Clarkson set up the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, supported by the Quaker movement and Josiah Wedgwood. The use of media was very important to reach as many people as possible. Clarkson used pamphlets to spread the word, he collected evidence from the brutality of slavery and the horrible violence the slaves were treated with and published this information in a pamphlet. Josiah Wedgewood published the medallion in the eighteenth century. The medallion was designed not only to spread the message to abolish slavery, but also to encourage people to share their ideals. The medal depicts a shackled slave, on his knees, with the inscription “Am I not a man and a brother”, and the reverse side with “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them”. The Christian message of equality is clearly present here, as it resembles the passage Matthew 12:7 “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” and Luke 6:31 “Do to others as you would have them do to you”. The medallions were immensely popular during the eighteenth century, in fact, they became a real fashion statement. Ladies would wear them in a bracelet, in a hair pin or some other sort of jewellery. The image was also printed on plates, boxes and other baubles. It became a fashion statement but even so, it promoted the cause of abolishing slavery and creating equal rights for enslaved people. The medium of jewellery is one you would perhaps not expect, but it was quite effective in its purpose of spreading the message. However, despite their best efforts, slavery in Britain was not abolished until 1833.
Hannah More’s “The Sorrows of Yamba or, The Negro Woman’s Lamentation”.
In the discussion of abolitionist poetry, we would like to begin with Hannah More’s “The Sorrows of Yamba or, The Negro Woman’s Lamentation”. It is a prime textual example of religious abolitionism. This poem was published in the Cheap Repository of Moral and Religious Tracts, a series of 114 texts which were aimed at the lower classes. (Damrosch 2002, 239) With this series, More wanted to “improve the habits, and raise the principles of the common people, at a time when their dangers and temptations, moral and political, were multiplied beyond the example of any former period” (More 2010, 6). Four of the Cheap Repository’s tracts promote the abolition of slavery from an Evangelical background. “The Sorrows of Yamba” is one of these four and very clearly tries to convey an Evangelical message next to an abolitionist one. For the purpose of this blog post, we will only deal with the Evangelical angle.
About halfway through the poem (the 21st stanza out of 47), the titular Yamba is on the verge of committing suicide when:
There I met upon the Strand
English Missionary Good;
He had Bible book in hand,
Which poor me no understood. (lines 81-84)
Before this meeting, Yamba had been abducted from her African homeland to serve as a slave for a cruel master in St. Lucia. During the voyage, she had been subjected to extremely degrading atrocities and her child had died of the harsh conditions. Unsurprisingly, she thought all white men were like this, and in such a world she did not want to live any longer. The missionary man was also white, however he saved her and “Soothed and pitied all my woe.” (94) He then taught Yamba how to endure this world, “Talk’d of state when life is o’er, / All from Bible good and true.” (91-92) Once she is converted, Yamba spreads the evangelical message herself:
O ye slaves whom Massas beat,
Ye are stained with guilt within;
As ye hope for Mercy sweet,
So forgive your Massas’ sin. (113-116)
With the help of her newfound religion, Yamba is able to forgive her master for his cruelty and thus finds the strength to live on.
As we have stated, “The Sorrows of Yamba” is an abolitionist poem. While the Evangelical angle may at first seem to defend slavery and teach slaves how to endure it, the last eight stanzas disprove this entirely. Yamba’s greatest wish is “that Afric might be free,” (160) which will only be achieved if the colonisers stop their exploitation:
Cease, ye British Sons of murder!
Cease from forging Afric’s chain:
Mock your Saviour’s name no further,
Cease your savage lust of gain. (161-164)
As Yamba has learned the Christian ways, she understands that the slave trade and exploitation of her homeland violate the rules of this religion. Thus, Christianity is used as an argument against slavery.
William Blake’s “The Little Black Boy”
William Blake’s “The Little Black Boy” may also be perceived as an abolitionist poem, Richard M. Kain and Wylie Sypher most certainly did. They both only shortly mention the poem in its abolitionist context, but it is most certainly worth noting that Kain calls the poem “the finest poem of the abolitionist movement” (111) and Sypher mentions it in a list of the “few unquestionably beautiful poems [that] were written in the anti-slavery tradition” (157). Why is it that these authors regard “The Little Black Boy” as an abolitionist poem? Well, let us first look at the content of the poem. It tells the story of a black child, who struggles with his identity, in the first stanza he says that “I am black, but O! my soul is white;” (2), and “But I am black as if bereav’d of light” (4). This emphasizes that the little boy realises there is a difference between races, and that being black carries a negative connotation. He thinks he will only be loved once he is of the same skin colour as the white English boy, when he says “And be like him, and he will then love me” (28). The little boy feels he is not loved because of his being different. But the boy’s mother said to him that underneath God’s light, everyone and everything receives “comfort in morning, joy in the noonday” (12). Everyone is equal underneath His light, and He does consider those with a dark complexion any less than those with a white one. Skin colours “are but a cloud, and like a shady grove” (16). The poem continues with saying that, when the boys will go to heaven, the clouds will vanish and they will be alike. “When I from black, and he from white cloud free” (23) implies that, in heaven and with God, skin-colour is of no importance, the outside is of no importance and everyone will be alike.
When one looks at this text from an abolitionist point of view, one can say that Blake considers everyone to be alike and equal, in a typical Christian point of view. In that train of thought, one can argue that he consequently disapproves of the use of black slaves because they are not in any way inferior to others, thus may not be exploited as if they were inferior and savage. In the eyes of God, everyone is the same, and everyone should be thus treated. With neighbourly love, and respect.
In conclusion, we can state that Wedgewood’s popular anti-slavery medallion was designed not only to spread the message to abolish slavery, but also to encourage people to share their ideals in public. The inscriptions “Am I not a man and a brother” and “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” of this popular attribute clearly show that Wedgewood – in his fight against slavery and the slave trade – was inspired by the Christian ideal of equality. Similarly, Hannah More’s “The Sorrows of Yamba or, The Negro Woman’s Lamentation” also contains a religious abolitionist message, as the converted slave Yamba – who is the main character of this abolitionist poem – articulates the idea that both the slave trade and exploitation of her homeland actually violate the rules of the Christian religion. In accordance with More’s poem, there is also a strong suggestion that William Blake’s view within “The Little Black Boy” also aligned with that of contemporary abolitionists for he strongly supported the Christian ideal of equality amongst all human beings. Subsequently, Blake might thus have disapproved of the exploitation of African slaves on a Christian ground.
We all had great pleasure participating in this course. By way of thanks for all the interesting lectures and the chance to share thoughts and discussions on eighteenth-century subjects, we would like to end on a humorous note:
AN. Bible Geocoding. Openbible.info. Web. Last accessed 15 December 2012. <www.openbible.info>
Blake, William. Songs of Innocence and of Experience. Project Gutenberg. Web. Last accessed 12 December 2012 <http://www.gutenberg.org/catalog/world/readfile?fk_files=1058254&pageno=1>
Damrosch, David; Dettmar, Kevin J.H.; Henderson Heather; Baswell, Christopher. Perspectives: the abolition of slavery and the slave trade. in: The Longman
Anthology of British Literature: Volume 2: Romantics to 20th Century, New York: Longman, 2002.
Kain, Richard M . The Problem of Civilization in English Abolition Literature, 1772-1808. in: Philological Quarterly 15 (1936), pp.103-25.
National Archives, The. Slavery Abolition Act 1833. The Official Home of revised enacted UK Legislation. Web. Last accessed 15 December 2012. <http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Will4/3-4/73>
More, Hannah. The Shepherd of Salisbury Plain and Other Tales. Project Gutenberg. Web. Last accessed 7 December 2012. <http://www.gutenberg.org/files/31697/31697- h/31697 h.htm#the_shepherd_of_salisbury_plain>
Powers, E. The Newsworthy Somerset Case: Repercussions in Virginia. Research History.org. Web. Last accessed 13 December 2012. <http://research.history.org/Historical_Research/Research_Themes/ThemeEnslave/Somerset.cfm>
Reddie, Richard. Atlantic slave trade and abolition. BBC.CO.UK. Web. Last accessed 14 December 2012. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/history/slavery_1.shtml>
Sypher, Wylie . Guinea’s Captive Kings: British Anti-Slavery Literature of the Eighteenth Century. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1942.
This week we have reached Richardson’s novel Pamela, or virtue rewarded, the sole novel on this course’s reading list. For those who have not gone through the reading experience themselves, we will first introduce you shortly to the main narrative and the most important themes in this novel. A few key elements will be more elaborately discussed further and we hope we can convince every one of the novel’s highly dubious status concerning its moral.
The protagonist of Pamela, or virtue rewarded is Pamela, a fifteen year old servant who shares her life-story through letters and diary entries. The main narrative deals with Mr B who tries to seduce Pamela, but she shows determination to refuse him. The novel is correctional and Mr B evolves to finally propose marriage to Pamela, thus having gained an interest in both her mind and body, rather than merely her body. Pamela then attempts to adapt to high society and builds up a successful relationship with her husband. There are a number of themes we can distinguish in the novel, the most important ones are love, virtue, money, gender and class distinctions.
Different notions of love are distinguished in this ‘love story’. Pamela engages in familial love towards her parents, in her letters and continuously throughout her writing. Sisterly love is found between Pamela and Mrs Jervis, who share a deep friendship. The false love of Mr B for Pamela finally transforms into true love hereby granting a ‘fairy-tale-ending’.
Pamela is above all very much concerned with the preservation of her virtue, which she keeps on repeating constantly. While Mr B wants to fulfil his ‘needs’, Pamela continues to refuse any offers of money or goods in exchange for sexual pleasures, therefore keeping herself virtuous. The moral of the novel would be that this virtuous behaviour turns out to be rewarded, since Mr B loves Pamela all the more for her consistency in the end.
The notion of money in the novel is very ambiguous. We most certainly link this to Mr B who tries to persuade Pamela to give up her virtue in return for money, clothes and jewellery, and furthermore bribes and manipulates everyone else around him. However, Pamela’s attitude towards money and material objects in general is not always straightforward.
Pamela is continuously stressing how poor her parents are which supposedly prides her. This sharply distinguishes her from her master, who is evidently better off. Between the two there is an enormous gap, since their class differences separate them. The gender difference complicates their relationship even further since Pamela is powerless in comparison to her master.
Preface: by the editor
The first two editions of Pamela were published anonymously. The title page stated Richardson to be the printer of the book – he was a successful printer and printed all his own novels – but the letters were supposedly found and edited by an anonymous editor. This contributed to the alleged authenticity of the letters as a “found manuscript” and constituted the figure of Pamela as a soap opera-like character that people could really identify with. Since she was put forward to be an example of good behaviour and virtue, it was necessary that as many readers as possible could identify with her. When Pamela was first published, however, it not only evoked a wave of admiration and swooning amongst its esteemed readers, it also inspired a series of parodies and what were, according to Samuel Richardson, misreadings of the novel. Richardson was unpleased to learn that part of his audience doubted Pamela’s good intentions, her sincerity and even her virtue. Highly upset about these interpretations of his work, Richardson edited the next editions of Pamela. He continuously attempted to guide the reader through the novel and control the conclusions that he thought should be drawn after reading this work. He added a preface that stated which moral values the reader should read into Pamela. He also enclosed a summary of the letters that the book consists of, stressing the main issues they touch upon.Additionally, he altered the manner of speech of the protagonist, Pamela, after having received comments that since she was to be an example for young ladies, she should speak and write in a way that was to be admired by everyone. All his attempts at controlling the readers’ interpretations were in vain: the interpretation of the novel remains a controversial topic today.
Pamela’s letters serve as a catalyst to reform both the character of Mr B and the reader of the novel, who is supposed to evolve with Mr B as he reads them. Within the novel, these letters provide Pamela with a means to pour out her heart and seek the much-needed guidance of her parents. She uses her letters as a platform to record her true feelings and her version of the encounters between herself and her master. To Mr B the letters are items of both frustration and admiration. He increasingly values Pamela, who wrote the letters, but is at the same time slightly tormented by the fact that he cannot control what she writes. When she is imprisoned, the letters evolve into diary entries. This symbolises how she increasingly loses freedom and is therefore forced to rely upon herself as an authoritative figure more and more.
Pamela’s virtue revealed
Pamela was intended to function as a communal code of conduct or, at least, provide guidelines in terms of letter-writing. There seem to be a number of problems in Pamela’s behaviour that indicate multiple possible interpretations of the novel’s moral, therefore many works have been written as a response to Richardson’s. Some of the works inspired by Pamela were probabilistic sequels, whereas others gave proof of a mocking undertone. A well-known work in this respect is An Apology for the Life of Mrs Shamela Andrews, written by Henry Fielding. Shamela was published less than a year after Richardson’s Pamela and offers a satirical version of the latter. It represents the self-proclaimed real account of the events which took place in the novel by Richardson. Shamela, which is Pamela’s so-called real name, is said to be the actual seducer instead of Squire Booby, who represents the character of Mr B, such as is illustrated in the next section:
(…) ‘thank your Honour for your good Opinion,’ says I and then he took me by the Hand, and I pretended to be shy: ‘Laud,’ says I, ‘Sir, I hope you don’t intend to be rude'; ‘no’, says he, ‘my Dear’, and then he kissed me, ’till he took away my breath—-and I pretended to be Angry (…) [Fielding, eBook]
By rewriting Richardson’s novel, Fielding reveals his frustrations with the hypocrisy of the main female character. Pamela is represented as the very essence of chastity and humility, but as becomes clear in Shamela, her behaviour is nothing but false pretence. She projects a virtuous image of herself in order to seduce Squire Booby and climb the social ladder. In the introduction to Shamela, Fielding explains what inspired him to write a satire:
An apology for the life of Mrs Shamela Andrews. In which, the many notorious falsehoods and misrepresentations of a book called ‘Pamela’ are exposed and refuted; and all the matchless arts of that young politician, set in a true and just light. [Fielding, eBook]
Pamela repeatedly feels the need to express her pride in respect to her parents’ poverty and her own virtuousness. According to her, poor living conditions are to be preferred above selling one’s virtue to the highest bidder. What is strange, however, is the frequency at which she repeats this matter over and over. She regularly inserts people’s words of praise for herself and at times this comes across as presumptuous such as the section below, which originates from one of Pamela’s letters, illustrates:
She told me I was a pretty wench, and that every body gave me a very good character, and loved me; and bid me take care to keep the fellows at a distance; and said, that I might do, and be more valued for it, even by themselves. [Richardson, 12]
Another example of Pamela’s need to justify her actions and acquire praise for them occurs at the moment when she is allowed to leave the house of her late mistress. With her future life in mind, she divides her belongings into three piles. One pile is consecrated to gifts of her former mistress, a second one consists of the luxurious presents her master offered her and the final pile contains her own personal belongings. Almost dramatically Pamela declares that she cannot take any objects from the first two piles with her and strongly emphasizes to be proud of her poor origins. Despite her affirmed pride, she does take a few gifts with her for so-called practical reasons. The reason why Pamela does not take more presents with her seems to be her concern for what other people might think: ‘(…) for poor folks are envious as well as rich (…)’ [Richardson, 63]. Furthermore, Pamela proves to be very materialistic throughout the novel. She constantly stresses that here poor origins and low status are something to be proud of, it appears as if she needs to convince herself of that exactly. Her materialistic attitude is apparent in her behaviour regarding clothes and appearance in general. On all occasions Pamela tries her very best to wear the nicest clothes she thinks suitable for the occasion. Not only nowadays do we consider her interestin fine clothing to be not so virtuous and innocent at all, but Mr B implies that in those days her attitude was ambiguous too:
‘who is it you put your tricks upon? I was resolved never to honour you again with my notice; and so you must disguise yourself, to attract me, and yet pretend, like an [sic] hypocrite as you are-’ ‘I beseech you sir,’ said I, ‘do not impute disguise and hypocrisy to me. I have put on no disguise.’ ‘What a plague’ said he, for that was his word, ‘do you mean then by this dress?’ [Richardson, 90].
The main cause of Pamela’s virtuous behaviour is her Christian upbringing. God appears to be the only higher power to which she submits. Pamela claims that her main concern is to remain chaste, so that her soul would not be lost. She resolutely wards off Mr B.’s impure intentions, which ultimately results in him asking for her hand in marriage. However, as indicated there are some serious flaws in Pamela’s behaviour that clash with religious ideals.
The moral lesson to be deduced seems to be that chaste behaviour leads to a marriage with a wealthy man. Pamela’s virtue is rewarded, because her master realises the errors of his ways after reading her letters and starts developing romantic feelings for her instead of mere lust. Nevertheless, the implied guidelines are far from those in Christian faith. In Pamela the ultimate achievement seems to be a beneficial marriage, whereas, in terms of religion, it would be to obtain a place in heaven. Therefore it could be said that the intended morality of the story is somewhat overshadowed by a materialistic fairy-tale-style ending, like Cinderella but with a touch of Beauty and the Beast. Another anti-Christian element in Pamela is to be found in a not always subtle sexual undertone. The sole purpose of Mr B.’s flirtatious actions towards his servant is to lure her into profligate behaviour and despite the didactic purpose of inserting such behaviour, its presence would be disapproved of by religious standards. According to Christianity, the body is to be erased until marriage, after which sexuality should solely serve as a means to procreation. To make matters worse, Pamela seems to be highly concerned with wearing fine clothes in order to please her master, whom she still occasionally compliments despite his initial vile behaviour. In short, the intended morality in Pamela is at times ambiguous, because the authority of Pamela as an example for virtue is repeatedly undermined. The faith she invests in God is not represented in her strong wish to be accepted by members of the higher social classes, nor in her materialistic tendencies.
Fielding, Henry. An apology for the life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews: In which, the many notorious falsehoods and misrepresentations [sic] of a book called Pamela, are exposed and refuted; and all the matchless arts of that young politician, set in a true … light. …Oxford: Printed for A. Dodd, 1741. Print. digitalized: 3 Oct. 2007.
Hammerschmidt, Sören. “Week 11 The Media Event.” Ghent University. Auditorium M, Rozier. 5 Dec. 2012. Lecture.
Richardson, Samuel. Pamela, or virtue rewarded. New York: Penguin, 1980. Print.
As a nine year old, William Blake claimed he saw a “tree filled with angels”, moreover, he never outgrew or denounced these visions. His favourite artists were those unappreciated in their time, such as Michelangelo. So it is rather obvious that William Blake was not one likely to conform to the norm. William Blake was a true artistic rebel, commenting on contemporary society and placing himself deliberately outside of the literary scene. In the eighteenth century, most authors had very little control of their works as they were printed and sold. William Blake, however, decided to create his own illustrations and print his own works, as a result he kept full control.
The process of creation followed by production was very important to Blake, bearing in mind that he created a concept, for which there had to be a balance between writing and illustrations. The entire work had to be his, as he envisioned a concept and not a mere book. His name on the frontispiece functioned as a signature, similar to a painter signing his work. He was printer and author, thus explicitly stating he was sole creator of this work. William Blake produced his books as a form of art, very luxurious pieces, they were not intended for the book market.
The fact that his books were not meant for the book market, is also made clear by how they were printed. The most economical method of printing at that time was typesetting, for which woodcuts were used. Ink was poured on top of the woodcuts, on the raised letters, then it was pressed on the paper. This form was mostly used by printers at that time. However, there was a different manner, which was more laborious. Copperplates were engraved with a design, poured over with ink and after the ink had been wiped off, it was pressed on paper. The indentations left their mark on the paper. Copperplate-printing enabled the printer to add a lot more detail.
William Blake even invented a new form of copperplate printing. He sought to improve the intaglio manner, in which the design was scratched onto a waxed surface before being engraved deeper or a needle was used to map it out into an acid-resistant coating before pouring acid onto the plate. Therefore, he came up with relief etching, whereby the design is painted onto the copperplate with acid-resistant varnish, leaving the unpainted surface to be eaten away and the rest in relief to be printed. Moreover, this had to be done in mirror image. So, it is clear that this was a very laborious process, which could not be done for mass production. Each page had to be etched separately into a copperplate, that lasted only for about 1000 copies. Therefore, Blake focused on producing individual copies for individual and rich patrons.
Blake made the work even more laborious and time consuming by making extensive use of colours which had to be printed consecutively and separately. True to his nature of a media transcending artist mixing artist categories like painter, printer and poet (cf. supra), themes found within his poetic word sculpting in his poems also shine trough in each individually conceptualised and realised edition where the coloration is used as a supplementary tool to further the themes addressed by and in his works. Corroborating this is a comparison of differences between several editions of The songs of Innocence where coloration differences can be seen to signify the real world interplay between the major themes addressed within the work.
Where the French Revolution was first hailed by British poets, this quickly shifted after the rise of Maximilien Robespierre and the Jacobins in France, where the so called Reign of Terror was responsible for the mass killings of thousands. A reflection of this can be seen in editions realised around that time where first, in line with the positive way the revolution was seen, bright colours overflowed the title page. But when times changed and the French Revolution totally became synonymous with the Age of the Guillotine and all ideals seemed to be unrealised, dark colours start taking over the title page.
As a true multidisciplinary Blake takes to heart a role frequently envisioned by poets and other artists alike; not solely portraying and representing but by their works alerting people to the world around them.
Importance of Blake’s illustrations for specific poems
The Clod and the Pebble
“The Clod and the Pebble”, a poem from Songs of Experience, is not part of an obvious pair of poems. Moreover, it seems to incorporate both innocence and experience, and demonstrates Blake’s typical contrasting values in one poem.
At first the poem seems to balance both points of view, as the clod and the pebble get an equal amount of lines to express their opinion. The word “but” in line 6 is the turning point from the Clod’s argument to that of the Pebble. The clod expresses an argument of innocence, while the pebble utters a more experienced view. The fact that Blake selects the latter to end the debate with may show his tendency to lean towards favoring that argument, but he may just as well be respecting the chronology (first innocence, then experience – within the different versions of these books, poems sometimes were moved around). However, as both concluding lines of the arguments seem rather balanced, he is as well forcing the reader to make up his own mind.
At the same time, Blake was not just giving textual clues, but visual clues as well. Since Blake was responsible for the engravings illuminating his poems, he could easily “guide” the reader to one opinion or another trough, for instance, meticulous selection of the colours used.
As for the imagery illustrating this poem, it is the environment in which the clod and the pebble find themselves which is depicted here, the clod nor the pebble can be found. The fact that neither of them are shown could imply that they are merely representing abstract ideas.
Blake shows us quite a peaceful scenery, the cattle drinking, and the frogs playing in the brook. Even though the pebble utters quite pessimistic thoughts, there is no explicit visual show of a thread whatsoever.
In other versions, the colours change, this is shown most explicitely in a 1795 version:
Only by changing towards more dark colours, the poem gets a much more gloomy feel to it, leaving the reader with the idea that, even though the stanzas are balanced, the pebble’s judgement is the one favoured by the author (in contrast to the 1794 version shown above, with its more lively and light colours, which seems to emphasize the clod’s opinion of love.)
Later versions, such as a 1825 version:
Once again show a more peaceful and balanced imagery. Blake constantly played around with the colours of his images, switching from light to dark and back, and as such adding more possible interpretations every time he finished another edition.
The Chimney Sweeper
In The Chimney Sweeper, Blake talks about little children –they were the only ones small enough- that had to sweep out chimneys. This sort of child labor was actually very common in 18th and 19th century England. The Chimney Sweeper in Songs of Innocence (1789) has a first person narration, the viewpoint is that of a little child sweeper. The ‘weep! weep! weep! weep!’ of the third line evokes a very strong sympathetic feeling with the narrator. “But just because the misery is so concretely realized, the affirmation of visionary joy is more triumphant than in any other poem of the series.” (E.D. Hirsch: 1964)
Blake is definitely a man of contrasts (already indicated in the subtitle: “Shewing the two contrary states of the human soul”) and his mastership in making them ‘work’ becomes apparent in this poem. The poem derives its Songs of Innocence copy B, 1789, 1794 (British Museum): genius and strength from the contrast between the woeful, horrible job in real life and the joyful bliss in the dream. It is the latter part that Blake focused on when he made the illustration that accompanies The Chimney Sweeper. Underneath the actual words one can see the ‘Angel’ figure (line 13) that is pulling a boy (probably ‘Tom Dacre’: line 5) from the earth (or ‘coffin’: line 14) and thus setting him free to go ‘down a green plain, leaping, laughing’. It is this dreamlike setting that fills the young boy with warmth when he has to get up in the morning. Although the child sweeper has a pitiful existence (his mother is dead and he has a horrible job), the poem is eventually one of hope; this feeling is definitely enhanced by the illustration.
The Chimney Sweeper from The Songs of Experience (1794) seems less hopeful. Here the narrator asks the sweep to tell him his story. So, again, most of the poem is told from the child’s point of view. Unlike in the previous poem, the mother here is still alive. Still, the child is all alone in the snow, because its parents “are up to the church to pray” (line 4). This scene of loneliness is brilliantly evoked by Blake’s illustration: one can see “A little black thing among the snow” (line 1) and apart from the snow and the houses, there’s no one else, the streets are completely deserted. The child, then, is all alone “to sing the notes of woe” (line 8).
This poem is, in our opinion, directed against the rigid hierarchy of the Anglican church: “God & his priest & King”(line 11) “make up a heaven of our misery”. The authoritative figures tell the less fortunate they have to grateful for the life God has given them, moreover, they ‘soothe’ the poor by explaining that they will achieve heaven if they work hard enough. The sweeper is, in fact, happy, but not because of the comforting lies the churchmen tells it: “what makes the sweep happy in his misery is not that sinister delusion, Heaven, but the strength of life that is in him.” (E.D. Hirsch: 1964). This is explained in the second stanza.
Again, the illustration of the dirty, gritty sweeper full of soot with is mouth open, seemingly crying “weep, weep” (line 2) is an enhancement of the ideas formulated in the poem itself.
Hence, it is clear that “[t]o read a Blake poem without the pictures is to miss something important: Blake places words and images in a relationship that is sometimes mutually enlightening and sometimes turbulent, and that relationship is an aspect of the poem’s argument.” (Norton Anthology)
Eaves, M. & Essick, R.N. & Viscomi, J. (2012) Works in the William Blake Archive. Viewed on 29/11/2012, http://www.blakearchive.org/blake/indexworks.htm?java=yes
Greenblatt, S. (2006) The Norton Anthology: English Literature Volume D. London: W.W. Norton & Company Ltd.
Hagstrum, J.H. (1964). William Blake Poet and Painter. London: William Clowes and Sons.
Hirsch, E.D. (1964). Innocence and Experience: An Introduction to Blake. Clinton: The Colonial Press
Thomson, James (1700–1748), poet, was born on 11 September 1700 in the village of Ednam, Roxburghshire, the son of Thomas Thomson (c.1666–1716), a Presbyterian minister, and Beatrix Trotter (d. 1725), who was distantly related to the noble house of Hume. James was the fourth child of Thomas and Beatrix, in a family of four boys and five girls. Eight weeks after his birth his father was admitted minister of Southdean, close to the English–Scottish border. Here the future poet of The Seasons received his first impressions of nature.
Thomson perhaps attended the parish school in Southdean before being sent, about 1712, to the ancient grammar school that was housed in a transept of the abbey church at Jedburgh. He was a mediocre scholar, but began to write poetry under the encouragement of two men—the scholar, poet, farmer, and Presbyterian minister Robert Riccaltoun (1691–1769), and Sir William Bennet (d. 1729), a whig laird who was also a patron of Allan Ramsay (1686–1758). In autumn 1715 Thomson entered the College of Edinburgh. He completed his arts course at Edinburgh (Latin, Greek, logic, metaphysics, ethics, and natural science) by 1719, but did not choose to graduate. He entered Divinity Hall, Edinburgh, as a candidate for the Presbyterian ministry, supported by bursaries from the Jedburgh presbytery from 1720 to 1724. Thomson’s first published poems appeared in the Edinburgh Miscellany (January 1720); one of them, ‘Of a Country Life’, a short georgic distantly modelled on John Gay’s Rural Sports, anticipates in little The Seasons.
To London: Winter, Summer
Thomson went to London almost certainly with literary ambitions, thinking of English ordination only as a last resort, but his first employment was as tutor to the four-year-old son of the poet Charles Hamilton, Lord Binning (1697–1732. He soon made the acquaintance of English poets, including Richard Savage, Aaron Hill, John Dyer, and Alexander Pope, and influential expatriate Scots. The most notable works from his first year in England were early versions of a ‘Hymn on Solitude’ and Winter, a blank-verse poem of nature description with devotional overtones
Winter was published in April 1726 by John Millan, who, it was said, paid 3 guineas for the copy; it was dedicated to Sir Spencer Compton, speaker of the House of Commons, who tardily gave the author a present of 20 guineas. In June a second, revised and enlarged edition appeared, with a preface in which Thomson disparages satire and advocates sublime verse on lofty themes. By then he was writing Summer and had left Lord Binning’s household in order to act as tutor to a young gentleman at Watts’s academy in Little Tower Street. Summer was published in February 1727 and was dedicated to George Bubb Dodington—like Compton, a prominent whig politician, but a far more generous and enduring patron.
Shortly afterwards Thomson left Watts’s academy, hoping to live by his pen. He acquired more patrons, notably Frances Seymour, countess of Hertford, and Thomas Rundle, future bishop of Derry, who introduced him to Charles Talbot (1685–1737), solicitor-general. From 1727 Thomson was a regular summer guest at the country seats of Dodington, Talbot, and Lord and Lady Hertford. On his first visit to Eastbury, Dodington’s mansion in Dorset, he met Voltaire, who later wrote of Thomson, ‘I discovered in him a great genius and a great Simplicity, I liked in him the poet and the true philosopher, I mean the Lover of Mankind’ (McKillop, 212).
Spring and The Seasons
In January 1728 Thomson issued proposals to publish The Seasons by subscription. This did not prevent him from publishing Spring, dedicated to Lady Hertford, on his own account in June 1728, apparently with little success, because in January 1729 the bookseller Andrew Millar bought up remainder copies and reissued them over his own imprint.
The queen headed a glittering list of subscribers to The Seasons in June 1730. The subscription quarto edition, which was also sold to the public through the trade, was printed by Thomson’s friend Samuel Richardson and illustrated by engravings after William Kent. The poem now included ‘Autumn’, dedicated to Arthur Onslow, Compton’s successor as speaker, and a concluding ‘Hymn’, as well as revised, enlarged texts of the three previously published ‘Seasons’. The general tendency of the revisions, despite the addition of a pantheistic ‘Hymn’, is to make the poem more secular; it is more excursive, patriotic, and overtly whiggish than the earlier texts.
By the middle of 1730, five years after leaving Scotland, Thomson had achieved a measure of fame and fortune. He had received royal notice as playwright and poet, he enjoyed the friendship and respect of men of wit, and the support of some discriminating patrons; his Seasons had attracted 457 subscriptions at 1 guinea or more each.
Having overheated himself walking one summer evening from central London to Hammersmith, he took a boat for the rest of the journey to Kew and caught a chill, from which he had not fully recovered before he exposed himself once more to the evening dews. This brought on a tertian fever and then a malignant nervous fever, from which he died on 27 August 1748, at his house in Kew Foot Lane. Thomson’s remains were buried under a plain stone in the north-west corner of St Mary’s Church, Richmond, on 29 August.
The Seasons is considered by many to be Thomson’s masterpiece, it was hugely popular both back in 1730 and even still today. The Seasons celebrates the magnificence and harmony of nature as a manifestation of the Supreme Being. It embodies literary, philosophical, and theological ideas characteristic of the eighteenth century, yet it also prefigures the Romantic movement of the nineteenth century, particularly in its depictions of storms and wilderness. It enjoyed extraordinary popularity and influence in both centuries, and its impressive, picturesque landscapes made it a favorite text for illustration.The most popular illustration perhaps is the scene of Amelia’s death in Thonson’s ‘Summer’. This image has been produced time and time again, it is full of raw emotion, Celadon has just had his love struck down by thunder.
During the eighteenth century there was a move away from context and toward the texts that accompanied the a literary piece. Book covers could be read as a text in themselves, the book trade really took off in the eighteenth century. It was at this time booksellers began to collaborate so that they could publish better illustrated books and more impressive covers. Why did booksellers collaborate? To put it simply, money, they wanted to make more unique copies so they could sell more and charge more.
This is the kind of illustration you would find in the earlier publishing’s that would accompany the texts. This was a very costly process, the correct kind plate must be purchased, it must be brought to a specialist engraver, the brought to a printer, and could only be printed so many times before the plate would break. The whole process would cost about six hundred pounds today.
Some illustrations would be produced independent of the text. This picture for example is bigger than an A1 page. Far to big to be put with the text even though it still represents the Amelia’s death. A painting like this could cost upward of ten thousand pounds today.
Sixty years after The Seasons was published it was still incredibly popular and it was still being reproduced, republished illustrations still being made, but now color had been produced and this opened a whole new range of colored illustrations to accompany the texts. These were extremely expensive, an illustrated copy could cost anywhere in the region of twenty five thousand pounds. The Seasons had a massive influence on the consumer market at the time, pocket watches, dresses, hats, even cups would have the illustrations from The Seasons on them. There were ballets, recitals and even instrumentals dedicated to the Thomson’s work.
- “The Seasons.” Masterplots, Fourth Edition. Ed. Laurence W. Mazzeno. Salem Press, Inc., 2010. eNotes.com. 21 Nov, 2012 http://www.enotes.com/seasons-salem/
- Chapman, T. “”The Seasons: By James Thomson; with His Life, an Index, and Glossary. . and Notes to The .” Archive.org. Ed. T Chapman. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2012. <http://archive.org/stream/seasonsbyjamest00thomgoog/seasonsbyjamest00thomgoog_djvu.txt>.
- Hilbert H. Campbell, James Thomson (1700-1748): An Annotated Bibliography of Selected Editions and the Important Criticism (New York: Garland, 1976).
- McKillop, The Background of Thomson’s “Seasons” (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1942).
- Cohen, The Unfolding of “The Seasons” (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1970).
Tintern Abbey captured the attention of multiple artists in the eighteenth century. It is a ruined church which can be found on the bank of the river Wye in Monmouthshire. Wordsworth rendered Tintern Abbey famously in his poem, but the picturesque qualities of the Wye Valley also lead to paintings by Gilpin and Turner. Some centuries later, the abbey still manages to attract artists: the American poet Allen Ginsberg wrote his poem Wales Visitation at Tintern Abbey, after dropping some acid. The Wye Valley, and the pure, unspoiled nature in general, caused a great influence on artists. In different arts, going from poetry till the art of painting, nature is one of the most important themes in the eighteenth century. First of all, the role nature will be discussed, and more precisely that of the Wye Valley, in the writings of the Wordsworths. Following that, we will find out how nature is represented in some famous eighteenth century paintings, focusing on the painter John Constable.
“Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798”
In his poem “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a tour, July 13, 1798” Wordsworth returns after five years with his sister, Dorothy, from a trip remembering his previous excursions to this area that meant so much to him. He reflects back on the emotional feelings he experienced during that first time and how he enjoyed the landscape. However, during this last visit, he realizes he has matured and cannot go back to that moment in the past. That is why he makes a mirror image of his younger sister Dorothy, as he teaches her how to look at nature the way he used to look at it. In doing so, he provides himself with those past joyous feelings as he fondly remembers them now, while thanking his sister for bringing him to his former place of residence and student years once more.
Tintern Abbey is one of Wordsworth’s most famous poems. The poem can be seen as a record of the different stages in his poetic career. In the poem, the speaker sees Tintern Abbey and the surrounding valley from a hill. The reader is confronted with a sense of overview. The conception of nature and the composition of the landscape in it, can be compared with that of Constable, a contemporary painter, who will be discussed a bit further. In the poem, Wordsworth connects the human world with the divine world through the world of Nature. He finds the unity of the universe in the Wye valley. In this stage of Wordsworth’s life, he conceptualises nature as some sort of religion, and ‘the universal human malady in mind and heart could be cured only by Nature’s “holy plan”’. This higher power attributed to nature is clearly visible in the following lines (l. 107-110):
Of eye, and ear,–both what they half create,
And what perceive; well pleased to recognise
In nature and the language of the sense,
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being.
In the poem, there are only traces of people, but not people itself. That lack of figures is part of the motive of representing the landscape as wild, untouched and desolate. The traces (hedge-rows, farms, smoke) are visible in the next few lines (l. 11-19):
These plots of cottage-ground, these orchard-tufts,
Which at this season, with their unripe fruits,
Are clad in one green hue, and lose themselves
‘Mid groves and copses. Once again I see
These hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows, little lines
Of sportive wood run wild: these pastoral farms,
Green to the very door; and wreaths of smoke
Sent up, in silence, from among the trees!
Wordsworth also mentions the Hermit. The Hermit can be regarded as a symbol for solitude and the integration of the human presence in the landscape (l. 22-23):
Or of some Hermit’s cave, where by his fire
The Hermit sits alone.
Wordsworth writings clearly reflect his love for nature and his relation with her. Most often his writings notify the beauty of nature as opposed to the horror of nature, in a few of his writings. The poet seems to have a particular affection towards nature and therefore presumable uses many adjectives to vividly describe all his perceptions of nature.
It is pleasurable to read Wordsworth’s poetry as the poet acquaints the reader with the beauty of nature. Wordsworth considered nature to be more than a collection of trees, bushes, hills, streams […] to him nature has personality, almost similar to humans with a power to poetically inspire those who love her. He considers nature as a friend, teacher and guide and claims that he could feel the presence of spirituality in nature like no other poet could.
P.B. Shelley, in his poem To Wordsworth, calls Wordsworth ‘Poet of Nature,’ as William Hazlitt calls him poet of the mountains, and both these appellations are very appropriate for Wordsworth, because Wordsworth both got his poetic inspiration and materials for his poems from nature. Right from the poems which he wrote in his early years, we find that his poems are suffused with the beauty and descriptions of nature, as if nature followed him like a shadow. (Sarker, 2003: 300)
However, as William spent most of his life living with his sister, Dorothy, it might be reasonable to acknowledge she might have had a considerable influence on his life and writings. Her love and passion for nature is similarly reflected in her writings and as Coleridge puts a strain on her as “her eye watchful in minutest observation of nature”. Both Wordsworth family members seem to find peace and understanding in nature as Dorothy mentions “It was a sight that I could call to mind at any time it was so distinct.” referring to nature in which she could be herself. As William Wordsworth took nature to be his truest friend, so did Dorothy too.
Nature in Constable’s paintings
As Wordsworth describes and admires nature in all its glory and aspects in his poem, so has it also been done in the art of painting. John Constable (1776-1837) was one of the first English painters who started painting in the countryside, always trying to capture the landscape of his native region in that one moment. He was not very successful in his own country, but in France he had some following. One of his most known paintings The Hay Wain has had quite an influence on French artists. It has inspired painters such as Eugène Delacroix. Together with William Turner (1775-1851), Constable is acknowledged for his innovation in painting landscapes.
Constable is particularly known for his depiction of clouds that symbolize the sublime in his paintings. Wordsworth connects to the divine world through his verbal descriptions of nature, while Constable does this by painting the clouds and pastoral nature that surrounds him. Such as in Branch Hill Pond he presents an everyday image of the Hampstead Heath in which the landscape looks rustic and picturesque. The human entities such as the farm and the cart with the labourers are nestled into the landscape. There is a symbiotic relationship present between nature and humanity. Later on he focused more and more on the ever-changing weather, shown in his extensive collection of cloud studies and landscapes.In Chain Pier for example, Constable makes the weather more dynamic and expressive. It is as if it is possible to feel the wind and rain coming out of the painting. Often there are humans present in Constable’s paintings, or at least traces of human existence, yet nature and landscape are always the biggest entity in the paintings. The humans presence adds to the landscape but never overpowers/controls it.
Wordsworth’s poetry reflects the thematic characteristics of the Romantic period perfectly. Following Rousseau’s conviction that in nature ‘the essential passions of the heart’ could be found in their purest form, his poems show the same interest in nature and escaping to it. However, his poetry is more than just describing nature. He places himself in the landscapes he describes and talks about his own observations and emotions. His poetry is both spontaneous and controlled, comparable with nature itself. Wordsworth believed that the naturalistic state of a person is tranquility and should not be overwhelmed by society. Therefore, nature could be an escape for him.
“An Analysis of Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey”. Freehelpstoenglishliterature. Web. 15 November 2012. <http://freehelpstoenglishliterature.blogspot.be/2008/12/analysis-of-wordsworths-tintern-abbey.html>
Barker, Elizabeth E. “John Constable”. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Web. 15 November 2012. <http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/jcns/hd_jcns.htm>
Clucas, Thomas. “Ars Gratia Artis”. Exposition. Oxford University, 2010. Web. 15 November 2012. < http://expositionmagazine.com/?p=411>
Constable, John. Branch Hill Pond. 1825. Artstore Slide Gallery. Web. 15 November 2012.
Constable, John. Dedham Vale. 1828. Artstore Slide Gallery. Web. 15 November 2012.
Constable John. The Chain Pier. 1827. Artstore Slide Gallery. Web. 15 November 2012.
Greenblatt, S., et al. The Northon Anthology English Literature: Volume D. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. 2005. Print.
Heughebaert, H., et al. Artistieke Opvoeding. Wommelgem: Uitgeverij Den Gulden Engel, 1988. Print.
Sarker, Sunil Kumar. A companion to Wordsworth. Delhi: Nice Printing Press. 300-302. 2003. Print.
Teifidancer. “Allen Ginsberg’s – Wales Visitation”. Teifidancerblog. Web. 15 November 2012. <http://teifidancer-teifidancer.blogspot.be/2010/01/allen-ginsbergs-wales-visitation.html>
“Tintern Abbey”. Photograph. The Tintern Village Website. Web. 15 November 2012. <http://www.tintern.org.uk/abbey2.htm>
The Citadelpark, Ghent’s most well-known public garden, is a perfect combination of ‘natural’ and cultural elements. On a stroll through, you can find statues, Roman-inspired buildings, columns, and a kiosk, but also waterfalls, a lake, trees, ancient ruins and a grotto. The latter may seem natural, but are in fact carefully designed, artificially made, with a watchful eye for detail and variety. The park is a great nineteenth century example of the popular English garden that has its origins in the eighteenth century. However, where the Citadelpark today mostly provides a pleasurable stroll, the gardens in the eighteenth century were much more than that.
The eighteenth-century garden
At that time, Great Britain was already one of the world’s most influential powers. Most of its revenue came from the colonies with materials such as mining resources, cotton and gold. In the eighteenth century, the British aristocracy started to invest in trading, and consequently gained more money. With these profits they felt an urge to rebuild their estates. To reflect Britain’s new role as a powerful empire, they looked back to ancient Rome and Greece, therefore implying that Britain was the new Rome (Beulens and Claes, 2012). The English garden became true landscapes, with breathtaking open vistas with triumphal arches and winding roads with pleasant shades and small rivers.
The first to successfully mix the Roman style with the contemporary tastes was Andrea Palladio, an Italian architect. He based his work on the Vitruvian principle that architecture should be solid, useful and beautiful. His design is characterized by classical elements such as frontons, columns, symmetry, and friezes, with emphasis on simplicity and geometrical patterns. This type of architecture became known as the Palladian style and was dominant in Europe for the next two centuries. Inigo Jones was the pioneer in England to use Palladio’s design in his architecture and stage designs. The same principles were used to rebuild several cities such as Edinburgh and the City of London (designed by Christopher Wren when the City burned down in 1666).
When the British aristocracy started to redesign their estates, they were also inspired by the Palladian style. Many of them were friends of Alexander Pope, who was not only a poet but also a source of inspiration for landscape designers, being a fervent gardener himself. Pope, being a Catholic, was not allowed to own property in London, so he bought an estate, Twickenham, just outside the city along the river Thames. His garden was famous and greatly admired. Many people asked him for advice and wanted to contribute to his garden by sending in stones, fossils and minerals from all over Britain. After his death, these things were often stolen by visitors and were kept as souvenirs. Hence, not much of the actual splendour of the garden remains; the only thing left is the Grotto, which is also a pale image of what it used to be.
Pope’s opinion on gardening
Pope is the perfect representative of Augustan poetry, and he uses the same principles when it comes to landscape gardening. The Augustan style takes its inspiration from ancient Rome and Greece, emphasizing elegance, harmony, balance, formal strictness, simplicity and being capable of using Sense (thinking rationally and keeping your emotions under control) (Beulens and Claes, 2012). In his poem Epistle to Richard Boyle, Earl of Burlington, he explains these principles to describe what a perfect garden should be like. He illustrates this by contrasting it with a bad example: the garden of Timon.
“At Timon’s Villa let us pass a day,
Where all cry out, ‘What sums are thrown away!’
So proud, so grand, of that stupendous air,
Soft and Agreeable come never there.” (l. 99-102)
There are three main things that bother Pope about his garden. First of all, a garden should be balanced, which means that people should treat a garden like a “modest fair, nor over-dress, nor leave her wholly bare” (l. 51-52). This means that there should be an equal amount of the ‘natural’ and the cultural. However, the natural is mostly artificial since it is manipulated to make it seem as if it was not man-made. A good designer respects the materials he is working with, and his goal is to improve what is already there. Secondly, a garden needs variety; behind every corner you should find something new that keeps you stimulated. Too much of the same can overwhelm or bore you:
“On ev’ry side you look, behold the Wall!
No pleasing Intricacies intervene,
No artful wilderness to perplex the scene;
Grove nods at grove, each Alley has a brother,
And half the platform just reflects the other.” (l. 114-118)
Thirdly, a walk through the garden should be a pleasant experience, something which Timon did not achieve, due to a lack of variety. There are, for example, too many slopes, too few places to rest, too little shade, too many open vistas, and too many Roman ornaments:
“The suff’ring eye inverted Nature sees,
Trees cut to Statues, Statues thick as trees,
With here a Fountain, never to be play’d,
And there a Summer-house, that knows no shade.” (l. 119-122)
In short, Timon failed to respect the original natural scenery. His garden is dominated by cultural objects, and too many of the same patterns and decorations. In all of this, he has forgotten to include the natural, which results in a pompous and ostentatious impression.
Function of the garden
As mentioned in the introduction, the garden in the 18th century was aesthetic, but also functional. A walk in a garden was more than just a walk; it was a true experience. Visitors actively participated in the garden, smelling, touching, hearing and watching the scenery change as they walked along the paths. People read poetry to each other, music was played, and fruits or vegetables were cultivated (Bell 1990).
In Windsor Forest, Pope describes another important aspect of garden design. The garden reflects the abilities of its owner; if it is well-proportioned, it means that the owner is capable of Sense. This person knows how to take the golden middle-path: he is rational and balanced in his designs. Windsor Forest is a royal estate and therefore the king or queen should be as balanced and reasonable as his garden. A good land owner makes a good governor.
The poem celebrates the beauty of Windsor Forest, which is a reflection of the golden reign of Queen Anne. With each new king or queen, the garden changed according to his or her political abilities. In times of political disturbance, the garden was imbalanced and chaotic. Queen Anne’s reign, however, was peaceful, balanced, moderate and prosperous.
“Rich Industry sits smiling on the plains,
and Peace and Plenty tell a STUART Reigns. “ (l. 41-42)
Because Queen Anne is moderate and balanced, Windsor Forest has all the qualities of the perfect garden as Pope describes it. Moderation is key to running things the right way, not only in the garden but also in the nation.
“Here earth and water seem to strive again,
Not chaos like together crushed and bruised,
But as the world, harmoniously confused:
Where order in variety we see,
And where, though all things differ, all agree.” (l. 12-16)
Hunting was an important activity in Windsor Forest, which was exclusively practiced by the royal family. This might be interpreted as a reflection of British colonialism, as Pope cautiously suggests in lines 105-110:
“Thus (if small things we may with great compare)
When Albion sends her eager sons to war,
Some thoughtless town, with ease and plenty blessed,
Near, and more near, the closing lines invest;
Sudden they seize th’amazed, defenseless prize
And high in air Britannia’s standard flies” (l. 105-110)
Colonialism was associated with bringing civilization and improvement to the world. Being able to improve your garden is transferred to improving an entire country. However, the colonizer is associated with a hunter here, and there is a certain aspect of violence in Pope’s description of the hunt. Pope may have questioned colonial violence, but we cannot be completely sure of this.
“See! From the brake the whirring pheasant springs,
And mounts exulting on triumphant wings;
Short is his joy! He feels the fiery wound,
Flutters in blood, and panting beats the ground.” (l. 111-114)
In this quote, it does seem like Pope makes a strong association between the native Americans, the victims of the British colonization, and the pheasant, the victim of the hunt, by mentioning the colourful feathers and even moving to the metallic colour of gold, which was mined in Peru for example.
“Ah! What avail his glossy, varying dyes,
His purple crest, and scarlet-circled eyes,
The vivid green his shining plumes unfold;
His painted wings, and breast that flames with gold?” (l. 115-118)
However, this could also mean that he actually approves of the colonization. The native Americans have a lot of luxurious things, but do not seem to make use of them. According to Pope, a good land owner makes full use of the land’s resources.
In short, the poem describes how a good monarch should try to improve his or her nation, like he or she improves his garden. Queen Anne is a good land owner and therefore a good ruler. However, the hunting extract does raise some interesting questions about Pope’s opinion on colonialism.
We can conclude that, in the eighteenth century, gardening involved much more than just the aesthetic aspect, since the structure of the garden was interpreted as a direct reflection of the owner’s morality. On a larger scale, however, the new garden-structures represented the politics of that time. The renewed balance and harmony between nature and culture in the garden illustrated the restored peace and the glorious reign of Queen Anne after a long period of war and chaos. Alexander Pope was one of the leading figures to express this renewed peace and harmony, not only through his poems, but also literally through the structure of his garden and his ideas about garden landscaping.
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