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- Many of the
works of art that represent city life in
the eighteenth century seem internally divided
between two points of view, one strongly
positive, one strongly negative. In the two
passages from Smollett's Humphry
Clinker, for instance, Matthew Bramble
describes Vauxhall as a noisy, ugly, unhealthy
Bedlam, and Lydia Melford describes it as
a beautiful place with something for everyone
to enjoy. Other works share that conflicted
- What signs of such a conflicted response do you find in poems such
as Swift's Description of the Morning and
Pope's Rape of the Lock (NAEL 8, 1.2513), and images such as
Rowlandson's Vauxhall Gardens and
Hogarth's Enraged Musician? What
might account for these divided points of view? Are citizens of London
proud of their rapidly changing city, or fearful of what the changes
- To what extent do you find similar questions raised in a slightly earlier
text, Congreve's Way of the World (NAEL 8, 1.2228)?
- Compare the attitudes in eighteenth-century works with your own attitudes
toward modern cities. Would it be possible to keep what is good in the
city while getting rid of what is bad, or are the good and bad integrally
- Crowds and
commerce fill almost all the texts and pictures
in this topic. In earlier ages, writers and
artists often aimed to please a limited number
of patrons and connoisseurs, but a larger
public seems to dominate eighteenth-century
London, and making a living is often the
subject as well as the aim of its art.
- Consider the satisfaction which Addison takes in The
Royal Exchange. Why does he love so much to visit it? Are
you persuaded that his pleasure comes from being "a great Lover
of Mankind," or is wealth itself what stimulates him?
- Many historians describe what happened in eighteenth-century England
as The Birth of a Consumer Society (the title of a 1982 book by
Neil McKendrick, John Brewer, and J. H. Plumb). According to this analysis,
the widespread pursuit of good and entertainment turned England into
the first truly modern nation, in which commercialization drives art
as well as the economy. How well does this premise account for what you
see in this topic?
- Joseph Addison
and others described the city of London in
a playfully scientific tone, as if they were
disinterested scholars or visiting anthropologists.
Such writings are examples of what can be
called proto-ethnography, of which a later
practitioner was the Victorian Henry
- What factors might account for the rise of proto-ethnography in Londoners' descriptions
of their home? When they imagine the city seen through others eyes, whose
eyes do they select and what do they hope (or fear) will be seen?
- Compare Addison as a writer on the Cries
of London and the Royal Exchange with
Addison as a writer on the "Plurality
of Worlds" and the "Scale of Being" (NAEL 8, 1.2490).
- The naïve
visitor from the country was a popular figure
of fun for London's wits. Yet while Londoners
laughed at figures like Addison's Sir
Roger and Smollett's Matthew
Bramble and Lydia Melford, they also wanted
to impress them, and worried about what they
- Consider Congreve's treatment of the country squire Sir Wilfull
Witwould in The Way of the World (NAEL 8, 1.2228). Is Sir Wilfull
simply a butt of mockery, or does he possess admirable qualities associated
with his rural life?
- How do such images of country yokels compare with the representation
of rural life in Thomas Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (NAEL
8, 1.2867), which deals with those who never made the trip to London?
there had probably been a small Jewish community
in London, even after the expulsion of Jews
from England in the thirteenth century, Jews
were officially allowed to reside in England
after the mid-seventeenth century.
- How do writers like Jordan and Addison respond
to the presence of Jews in London? Are they lumped with other foreigners,
or is there a difference?
- What parallels does Dryden in Absalom and Achitophel (NAEL 8, 1.2087) see between contemporary London and old Jerusalem? Are there any
tensions evident in his equation of the English with Jews?
- In Annus
Mirabilis (NAEL 8, 1.2085), Dryden prophesies
a glorious future for the city of London
reborn from the ashes of the great fire.
- What aspects of London's future is Dryden most eager to celebrate?
Does he imply that anything of value has been lost?
- To what extent do later observers such as Addison, Jordan, Smollett,
and Swift share Dryden's vision of London and confirm
the description of shopkeepers in The
Female Tatler with John Gower's
medieval description of the Merchant
Fraud. To what extent does The Female
Tatler seem to belong to a tradition
of anti-commercial satire? How has the perception
of shopkeepers changed since Gower's
time, and what factors might be responsible
- Compare the
image of an eighteenth-century
playhouse with the picture of an Elizabethan
playhouse (NAEL 8, volume B, A-80).
- What do differences in design suggest about the drama in these two
eras? About the interests of the audience? About the societies that built
- Do the differences in design seem to confirm Johnson's account
of the decline of English drama, and if so, how? Are there other ways
of interpreting the changes in the shape of the theater? Search the Web for more information on and images of the theater in this period.
- How did women
participate in the changing London scene?
What social roles and behaviors do Swift, Smollett, Rowlandson, Hogarth,
and the writer in The
Female Tatler allow or allot to women?
From what spheres do they seem to be excluded?
- Read an
exchange of Restoration pamphlets on the The
First English Coffeehouses, comparing
them to Thomas Jordan's News
from the Coffeehouse. What ideas
about society and politics seem to lie behind
the arguments for and against the coffeehouses?
Which side is Jordan on?