Gerald MacLean, Donna Landry, and Joseph P. Ward, eds. The Country and the City Revisited: England and the Politics of Culture, 1550-1850. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999. xiv+258pp. Includes 15 b&w illustrations. ISBN 0 521 59201 1.
Bryan N.S. Gooch
University of Victoria

Gooch, Bryan N.S. "Review of The Country and the City Revisited." Early Modern Literary Studies 6.1 (May, 2000):20.1-7 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/06-1/goochrev.htm>.

  1. There can be no doubt as to the continuing importance and influence of Raymond Williams' The Country and the City (London: Chatto & Windus, 1973) [not Oxford, 1973, as stated in the volume under review]; however, as Gerald MacLean, Donna Landry, and Joseph Ward point out in their introduction to their collection of essays The Country and the City Revisited, recent scholarship has had much to offer regarding the social, financial, and cultural currents at work, some of which have tended to blur apparently convenient boundaries and to reshape thinking about the nature of place and space. They review some of that scholarship and observe that country and city are not really separate entities, suggesting that lines of division are artificial and, obviously, "permeable" (4). They go on to consider the placement of country estates near towns, the links between colonies (e.g., the flow of goods and people) and English townsfolk, population growth and demographic shifts, the problem of workers' depressed wages, the fact that changes conventionally associated with the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were actually initiated much earlier (by 1700 only one-quarter of the enclosures remained to be established), and issues relating to the agricultural revolution. The introduction concludes with a useful survey of pieces included in the volume.

  2. Thirteen well-documented essays follow the introductory piece (in broadly chronological sequence), the first of which is Joseph Ward's "Imagining the metropolis in Elizabethan and Stuart London," which offers an intriguing look at the development of -- and relations and traffic between -- London and its suburbs. Ward considers, for instance, the unenviable reputation and economy of the latter, livery companies, the situation of workers beyond the Lord Mayor's jurisdiction, the effect of the Civil War in bringing the city and its outer districts closer together, the growing traffic in people and goods, and the move towards the notion of a metropolis. Andrew McRae's "The peripatetic muse: internal travel and the cultural production of space in pre-Revolutionary England" delivers what its title promises, drawing on a wide range of sources (including Michael Drayton, Thomas Dekker, Thomas Tusser, et al.) in its examination of mobility, of vagabonds, and of the increasing travel which inevitably redefined the idea of space. Robert Tittler's "The Cookes and the Brookes: uses of portraiture in the town and country before the Civil War" reflects on the appropriated and indigenous bases of civic culture, focusing on two contrasting portraits, the courtly depiction of William Brooke, ninth Baron Cobham (1527-1597), and his family, and the revealing though, in artistic terms, clearly less compelling posthumous rendering of John Cooke (c.1450-1528), twice Sheriff and four times mayor of Gloucester, and his wife, who as a couple were also notable benefactors of that city. As Tittler observes, the commissioning of the Cooke picture itself suggests a growth in "civic memory" (67) and the application of aristocratic convention (the painting of likenesses for posterity) to the enhancement of civic pride.

  3. David Loewenstein's "Digger writing and rural dissent in the English revolution: representing England as a common treasury" follows, illustrating a fusion of writing and social concerns in the short-lived efforts by Gerrard Winstanley and his supporters to survive through communal living (1649-1650) on common land at Walton-on-Thames and, after harassment and destruction of their dwellings, at Cobham. The attempts by the Diggers were a clear challenge to the Commonwealth regime, which was instrumental in their suppression. The writings of Winstanley, et al. (e.g., The True Levellers Standard Advanced [1649] and A New-Yeers Gift Sent to the Parliament and Armie [1650]), protesting against governmental oppression, figure conspicuously and properly in the discussion, as does Winstanley's rather free reading of Biblical text in justifying his essentially communistic agrarian/social views. Robert Markley's "'Gulfs, Deserts, Precipices, Stone': Marvell's 'Upon Appleton House' and the contradictions of 'nature'" offers not only a reflective consideration of Marvell's poem, pointing out its essential concerns with the environment and the problem of timber shortages, but also a look at the history of the estate of Nunappleton, which was finally sold (in 1710, by the fifth Lord Fairfax's widow) to pay off debts: that event in itself is an indication of changing aristocratic fortunes and, hence, control of space, for as Markley notes (102), the purchaser was a Leeds alderman, William Milner. New money -- not for the first time -- would secure establishment and blur aristocratic/country/civic boundaries. Along the way Markley's observations about the increases in population and prices of commodities and the savage felling of trees to meet the demand for timber (with a consequent need for replanting and silviculture) are particularly telling in the present age. The reading of Marvell's poem within the socio-economic context is useful, and while art needs to stand on its own (as is frequently argued), to see it devoid of the context which it both draws upon and informs is often to miss the critical bus.

  4. The volume moves to a somewhat consistently later period with Nigel Smith's "Enthusiasm and Enlightenment: of food, filth, and slavery," advancing the notion that the enlightenment was not incompatible with enthusiasm. (Would some thought about Voltaire's article in the Dictionnaire philosophique not have been helpful here?) Smith's focus is on the militant, radical vegetarian Thomas Tryon (1634-1704) who, eschewing both meat and sugar, produces in his writings what Smith terms "… the elaboration of a radical Puritan agenda" (115) -- Tryon's experiences in Barbados also raise questions regarding slavery, brutality, the diet of menials, and so forth. This essay is followed by Eliga Gould's "'What is the country?': patriotism and the language of popularity during the English militia reform of 1757," which explores William Pitt's clumsy attempt to reconstruct the territorial element of the British army just before the onset of the Seven Years War: patriotic inclinations invoked to support national service (on the basis of a ballot) were hardly inclined to gain favour and, though the need for additional forces was obvious and acute, fell on somewhat hostile ears with often violent results. Country spirit was not easily yoked to a metropolitan political agenda even, one might say, by the ears. Richard Quaintance in "Who's making the scene? Real people in eighteenth-century topographical prints" examines the representation of country estates/scenes, particularly in terms of the work and influence of Jacques Rigaud. The depictions of Stowe Park as designed by Charles Bridegeman are central examples here, offering interesting commentaries not only on architecture and landscape design but also on the nature of illustrative prospects, the positioning of identifiable figures within the engravings, and the invitation to the affluent in society to expand their own space by visiting estates which, despite new money, they could not venture to purchase: herein is a phase of the growth of guides and tour-books suggesting a growing mobility and curiosity among the well-to-do. (Jane Austen's later portrayal in Pride and Prejudice of the Lucas family, with its civic derivation in commerce, and Elizabeth Bennet's visit to Darcy's Pemberley come easily to mind.) Quaintance's references to Pope's Moral Essays are entirely to the point. Other country and even civic locations also prompt comment, for instance, Thomas Pelham-Holles, Duke of Newcastle's Claremont (with work by Vanbrugh) and John Donowell's illustration of the Grand Walk in Marylebone Gardens.

  5. Karen O'Brien's "Imperial georgic, 1660-1789" moves the reader to more literary issues, to a re-examination of city/country boundaries within the realm of georgic poetry; her position is clearly inclined towards integration of civic, rural, and imperial arenas. The work of John Dryden (i.e., his 1697 translation of Virgil's Georgics, with its imperial agenda) and others (including James Thomson, John Dyer, Richard Jago, James Grainger, Edward Long, John Singleton, and George Heriot) comes into play here as the reader's view is shifted again to the country beyond the seas, that is, to the distant and potentially separate, pastoral world of the colonies. Here the reader may be reminded of the earlier theoretical separation of city and country and that, in the latter, bucolic idealism was ultimately as false a cover for the harsh reality of existence, and that isolation, because of burgeoning traffic and trade, which are necessary functions of empire, would surely decrease over the years. Elizabeth Bohls's 'The gentleman planter and the metropole: Long's History of Jamaica (1774)" extends the discourse on the colonial environment through a detailed discussion of Edward Long's three volumes, which, in their support of slavery, are designed to attract settlers even if, in the latter part of the eighteenth century, casual tourism is beyond easy contemplation. Long's work is both sociological and descriptive, and the second volume in particular, with its review of Jamaica by parish, celebrates agricultural and natural beauty, while the third offers an insight into meteorology and natural history: this, given Long's view, is the desirable pastoral destination for the English country gentleman with an eye to an easeful retreat. Bohls's comments on the eighteenth-century georgic are important and provide links to earlier essays in the volume. Elizabeth Heckendozn Cook's "Crown forests and female georgic: Frances Burney and the reconstruction of Britishness" takes up the georgic genre again with its consideration of Burney's visit within the entourage of George III, remaking his image into that of a paternalistic, kindly land lord ("Farmer George," as he was called), to the New Forest in 1789 and thence to Weymouth. The sojourn in the New Forest provides an opportunity for a discussion of the Forest laws and management and also a springboard for a detailed look at Burney's later use of her experiences in The Wanderer, especially Books 8 and 9, with their emphasis on the special nature of woodland life and details of rural escape, poaching, industry of British folk, and so on -- essentially, though, a paternal domain as a backcloth for the recovery of female identity. Anne Janowitz's "'Wild outcasts of society': the transit of Gypsies in Romantic period poetry'" continues the rural theme, noting parallels between the Gypsy and the Wandering Jew, taking into account, for instance, works by William Wordsworth, George Crabbe, Samuel Rogers, Walter Scott, John Clare, and Percy Bysshe Shelley, in a useful overview which offers an organised context for a review of individual pieces, separating to a helpful extent myth from reality, and bringing the reader into at least a portion of the nineteenth-century rural/civic world.

  6. John Barrell's effective "Afterword: moving stories, still lives" concludes the volume, not only referring to preceding essays but commenting in some detail on The Life and Adventures of Bampfylde - Moore Carew (1745 -- by Carew?); the central figure became King of the Gypsies (or Beggars on Mendicants). He also discusses Carew's activities, which reached as far as the New World, and John Dyer's The Fleece and his incomplete "Commercial Map of England" which details places, resources, lines of communication, etc., cartographically reducing/breaking the divisions between city and country and arguing for improved communications and for a less fluctuating/moving industrial scene; to Barrell it seems "…like a textbook example of 'the production of capitalist space'…"(240). Here is a new map set on ancient underpinnings: Dyer's references to the old roads which drew the country and the towns together after the Roman conquest are inescapable.

  7. The Country and the City Revisited is a wide-ranging collection of papers, certainly, despite its general focus. One could argue for greater inclusiveness, for still more comment, for instance, on art and architecture, on the place and influence of established and new money (derived from commercial endeavour, for example) in the English countryside, on the effect of enclosures and clearings, and on the results of industrial reforms and the consequent demographic shifts. However, those issues are treated - often, in extenso - elsewhere, and this book, substantial in its own way, is clearly a helpful contribution to the larger picture. Each of the essays carries its own set of notes (with bibliographic detail, though names of publishers are unfortunately omitted); though an index concludes the volume there is, one regrets, no single comprehensive bibliography. The volume is successful, in the end, and marks the way in which scholars can review established concepts in order to reassess established facts - always a healthy process.

Work Cited

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.

© 1999-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).