Imagining the nation in Defoe's A Tour Thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain.
But I find none has spoken of what I call the distant Glory of all these Buildings: There is a Beauty in these Things at a distance, taking them en Passant, and in Perspective, which few People value, and fewer understand; and yet here they are more truly great, than in all their private Beauties whatsoever; Here they reflect Beauty and Magnificence upon the whole Country, and give a kind of Character to the Island of Great Britain in general. . . . Take them in a remote view, the fine Seats shine among the Trees as Jewels shine in a rich Coronet; in a near sight they are meer Pictures and Paintings; at a distance they are all Nature, near hand all Art; But both in the extreamest Beauty.(1)
Although this passage has often been noted by commentators on the Tour, little attention has been paid to the prominent role of its narrator, busily constructing and then interpreting the landscape he claims merely to see. The narrator, whom I will call Defoe, claims a unique vision, the capacity to see the cumulative and metonymic significance of what other writers have only catalogued piecemeal. The meaning of the scene, according to Defoe, is fully appreciated only when it is recognized that these houses are not the centerpieces of ancient estates, but rather "Gentlemen's meer Summer-Houses, or Citizen's Country-Houses; whither they retire from the hurries of Business, and from getting Money" (1:169). "All this Variety, this Beauty, this glorious Show of Wealth and Plenty" (1:169), rightly viewed, reveals the character of "the Island of Great Britain in general": joined together, the private artifices of landless citizens form the public, naturalized landscape of the nation.
Defoe's offer to the reader of what "none has spoken of," like his claim to detect in the landscape what "few People value, and fewer understand," is elaborated throughout the Tour. Rightly viewed - that is, as only he has viewed it - the nation provides the ideal literary subject, producing in "every subsequent Year . . . new Materials, and a Variety both profitable and delightful" (2:536). Beginning with his first preface, he repeatedly exploits the fact that a progressive portrait of Britain builds in the need for constant revision and enlargement:
No Description of Great Britain can be what we call a finished Account, as no Cloaths can be made to fit a growing Child; no Picture carry the Likeness of a living Face; the Size of one, and the Countenance of the other always altering with Time. . . .
Even while the Sheets are in the Press, new Beauties appear in several Places, and almost to every Part we are oblig'd to add Appendixes, and Supplemental Accounts of fine Houses, new Undertakings, Buildings, etc. (1:4)
In other words, this vision of the nation as an organic, temporally defined being creates a readership dependent upon an up-to-date image. The plan appears to be that in reading regularly revised editions of the Tour, the reader will reassert membership in a national community, while a uniform image of that community will be reinforced.
Despite Defoe's claim that he is sketching for English readers the hitherto-unknown character of Great Britain, historians of British nationalism who look to the eighteenth century at all have tended to locate the first signs of nationalist vision in the mid-century georgic poets, in disgruntled post-Augustan intellectuals, or in the later primitivists.(2) Yet the Tour is surely significant in light of Benedict Anderson's emphasis on the role of journalistic print culture in the rise of nationalistic discourse. Anderson argues that in exploiting a notion of a simultaneous present moment, shared by each reader with all others, serial publications create a "community in anonymity."(3) Such a community downplays the importance of existing social stratification and economic inequalities, focusing on the ostensibly egalitarian participation of every individual in the whole. At every social level, therefore, the individual is encouraged to confide in what John Lucas has called "an absolute coincidence of self- and national interest."(4) Ultimately, the national community is dependent upon a shared effect of the imaginations of individual subjects.
Readers of the Tour as a literary text have written convincingly of the work's imaginative nature. They have, however, tended to assume Defoe's nationalism as though it were unproblematic and unrelated to his efforts to construct a coherent and pleasurable text.(5) My opening quotation from the Tour, with its speaker's paradoxical claim to be the only one to see what is nevertheless self-evident and true, suggests rather that Defoe is not only self-conscious in his attempt to construct a national image, but also aware of a fragile boundary between that coherent image and the potential for multiple signification, if not for complete fragmentation, of his material. In other words, the Tour indicates that this constructed nation is as much a reflection of Defoe's need to impose some organizing principle upon the chaotic detail of his (and his readers') experience of Britain as it is a confident "Whig" departure from traditional ordering structures.(6)
My reading of A Tour thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain, then, to borrow the words of Homi K. Bhabha,
investigates the nation-space in the process of the articulation of elements: where meanings may be partial because they are in medias res; and history may be half-made because it is in the process of being made; and the image of cultural authority may be ambivalent because it is caught, uncertainly, in the act of "composing" its powerful image.(7)
Defoe's text inscribes a struggle between nationalism's requirement of formal coherence and what the writer is only too able to imagine either as disorder defying any ordering vision, or as all-consuming, self-destructive form.(8) This struggle was resolved by the Tours eighteenth-century readers, who ultimately, through the consumption of increasingly smoothed-over and guidebook-like editions, naturalized this image of the fragmented, ephemeral, and private as the coherent and timeless public glory of the British nation.
Defoe invokes at least four formal models for his portrait, no doubt as devices that will at once order his material and assist his reader in imagining and identifying with a coherent community. These governing images are the nation as aestheticized landscape, the nation as body, the nation as centred circle, and the nation as network. However, these images constantly overlap or fade into others, creating an impression of the nation as protean at best, dangerously unstable at worst. A circulatory system, for example, is illustrated by a criminal's escape route, a circle becomes a vortex or a bubble that bursts, and the city of London is a monster because its shape has become irregular, rather than circular.
Jo Ann T. Hackos has traced in detail the use of the garden metaphor or landscape description in the Tour to portray England as "nature methodized."(9) In repeatedly setting out distant prospects such as the one found at this paper's opening, Defoe draws on a tradition of topographical description that allows him to link aesthetic pleasure with moral imperative in a way that naturalizes and idealizes economic and political activity. More particularly, as we have seen, a traditionally organized landscape description that suggests a prosperous harmony of country, village, and city is ostentatiously re-read as a new definition of the nation's character, consisting not of ancient residences, old families, and considerable lands, but rather, of landless, profit-realizing individuals. Nature and society arrange themselves in an organic yet efficient pattern that makes manufacture as much a matter of "planting" as is the hereditary estate:
We may reasonably conclude, that this Manufacture was at first seated in this Country, or, as we may say, planted itself here at first, because of the infinite Numbers of Sheep, . . . as Gentlemen place the Mansion Houses of their Estates, and Seats of their Families, as near the pleasant Rivers, Woods, and fine Prospects as possible, for the Delight of their Living; so the first Planters of the Clothing Manufacture, doubtless, chose this delightful Vale for its Seat, because of the Neighbourhood of those Plains, which might be supposed to be a Fund of Wooll for the carrying it on. (1:282)
There are moments, however, where Defoe himself seems unable to believe that private and national interests form one harmonious landscape. Such a moment arrives during his attempt to envisage the public benefit of that pinnacle of luxurious display, Blenheim Palace. He asks the reader to interpret this brightest of the private jewels in the English coronet, not as "express[ing] the Genius and the Opulence of the Possessor," but as "represent[ing] the Bounty, the Gratitude, or what else Posterity pleases to call it, of the English Nation" (2:427). The ambiguity of the phrase "what else Posterity pleases to call it" opens wide, however, as Defoe goes on to argue at length that no other nation in history has rewarded its greatest general in this way. He must therefore insist upon retaining public ownership of this lavish self-expression, for "Nothing else can justify the vast Design":
The Magnificent Work then is a National Building, and must for ever be call'd so. Nay, the Dimensions of it will perhaps call upon us hereafter, to own it as such in order to vindicate the Discretion of the Builder, for making a Palace too big for any British Subject to fill, if he lives at his own expence. (2:427)
Like Pope's Timon, Defoe's puny individual here fails to expand to the dimensions necessary for public status.
Hackos and Alistair M. Duckworth note that Defoe's landscapes consistently include the distant city as their culminating beauty; they do not, however, comment on the intrusive suggestion that the city is simultaneously a sinister mark on the landscape.(10) At the height of his hierarchical description of the "distant Glory" of the landscape of Richmond, the narrator turns north to
behold, to crown all, a fair Prospect of the whole City of London it self; the most glorious Sight without exception, that the whole World at present can show, or perhaps ever cou'd show since the Sacking of Rome in the European, and the burning the Temple of Jerusalem in the Asian part of the World. (1:168)
Of course Defoe is deliberately situating his city not only at the head of Britain but also at the apex of history and at the confluence of Eastern and Western civilizations. But surely the reader stumbles as well into the misreading of a London placed between two spectacular conflagrations, a London that must itself become a spectacle of destruction, perhaps even of divinely ordained punishment, in order to fulfil its destiny as an even more "glorious Sight" than the burning cities of Rome and Jerusalem. After all, extending to "within Seventeen or Eighteen Miles of the Capital City" is Bagshot Heath, quite possibly "a Mark of the just resentment shew'd by Heaven upon the Englishmen's Pride; I mean the Pride they shew in boasting of their Country, its Fruitfulness, Pleasantness, Richness, the Fertility of the Soil, etc." (1:143).
A third feature of the Defoe landscape is its kinetic energy. In the Richmond passage, it is the writer's eye that oscillates rapidly between "a remote view" and "a near sight." But more often in "a Nation, pushing and improving" (2:535), movement is a spatial representation of the temporal march toward fulfilment, as the progressive verb tense emphasizes:
New Foundations are always laying, new Buildings always raising, Highways repairing, Churches and publick Buildings erecting, Fires and other Calamities happening, Fortunes of Families taking different Turns, new Trades are every Day erected, new Projects enterpriz'd, new Designs laid. (1:252)
Although Defoe would have his reader believe that "pushing and improving" are the essence of modern England, his difficulty in fitting his observations to this paradigm makes clear the degree to which it is the product of the writer's desire. Reading the "New Foundations" statement, with its headlong series of present participles and repetitions of the word "new", one may well rush over the "Fires and other Calamities" and the "different Turns" of family fortunes, but they remain, embedded within the rhetorical surface. This sentence is emblematic of the Tour: the discourse of improvement overrides all other rhetorics and provides the coherence Defoe needs, but intractable details remain, hinting at other temporal models that the text cannot or will not realize.
When the narrator comes to Ipswich, for example, he must act as a visionary, imagining for the reader a purposeful movement towards future growth while in the present there is only decay:
I cannot think, but that Providence, which made nothing in vain, cannot have reserv'd so useful, so convenient a Port to lie vacant in the World, but that the Time will some time or other come (especially considering the improving Temper of the present Age) when some peculiar beneficial Business may be found out, to make the Port of Ipswich as useful to the World, and the Town as flourishing, as Nature has made it proper and capable to be. (1:44-45)
Pat Rogers has argued that "for every image of growth, 'rising' towns or 'flourishing' country, there is [in the Tour] a counter-image of exhaustion - barren land or broken remains," reflecting a deliberately elegiac portrait of the nation.(11) I question the notion that the text deliberately strives for a balance of decay against growth. Rather, decay seems genuinely puzzling to Defoe as a meaningless, even godless, failure of art in its responsibility to nature. He wrestles with it in disproportionately lengthy descriptions like the one of Ipswich, as if decay were a test of faith; his later editors, uneasy, remove such passages altogether.
Defoe's image of the kinetic nation easily anthropomorphizes into one of a developing female body. He uses the adjectives "flourishing," "flowing," and "fruitful" in the second sentence of his "Preface, to the First Volume," and worries about critical portraits as the exposure of "her Nudities" (1:1-2). To the image of the nation as an organically developing whole belongs the "growing Child" reference of the first preface, cited above, as well as the claim that constant changes "make England especially shew a new and differing Face in many Places, on every Occasion of Surveying it" (2:535). Indeed, the description in the Richmond passage of gentlemen's houses as jewels shining in a coronet neatly suggests that the body of the king as the pre-modern focus of political identity has been replaced by a feminized personification of the nation.(12)
If wealthy citizens are the body's crown, London is its mouth and heart, upon which the nation is dependent "as well for the Consumption of its Produce, as the Circulation of its Trade" (1:3). The coordination of "the whole Body of the Nation" to produce the "Provisions" that satisfy London's hunger (1:59) is a source of order in Defoe's text, a theme to which he returns with self-conscious regularity.(13) Geoffrey M. Sill has pointed out that by means of this reiteration the Tour makes a "moral imperative" out of a London-centred, nation-wide marketing system, as opposed to an older ideal of local self-sufficiency.(14) The consuming mouth, however, draws Defoe towards the shadow side of this image: the monster's engulfing maw, the "Supply of [whose] Demand," he worries, ". . . is great enough to exhaust a whole Nation" (1:284). In the midst of his analysis of the decay of the town of Ipswich, we encounter the unsettling admission, "but the neighbourhood of London, which sucks the Vitals of Trade in this Island to itself, is the chief Reason of any decay of Business in this Place" (1:43). Defoe's "monstrous" London (1:318, 1:325) has in fact "swallow'd up" "many good Sea-Ports and large Towns" (1:43).
As this discussion of the structuring images of landscape and body has already suggested, the Tour consistently inscribes both Defoe's love of order and a concomitant fear of disorder. In his narrative, the travel structure provides a valuable discipline: he must speak of a district's towns "in their Order; at present, as I took a different Circuit in my Riding, I must do so in my Account of it also, or else if my Pen does not follow my Foot, I shall wander rather than travel" (2:546). It is the Tour's circuit structure, then, that most obviously represents space as "something mastered, easily comprehensible, already named and measured."(15) In fact, the first tour opens with the promise that the circle will be closed successfully: "I began my Travels, where I Purpose to End them, viz. At the City of London, and therefore my Account of the City itself will come last" (1:5). The work as a whole records the struggle to order recalcitrant material into the form of an "Account contracted into as narrow a Compass, as, considering the Extent of Ground pass'd over, . . . could be reasonably expected" (2:535).
Initially, the form of encompassing circuits would seem to be a means of establishing the borders of the nation, a project theorists have emphasized as central to the shift from the pre-modern to the modem state. Defoe does indeed draw on the importance of Britain's insularity to its sense of identity, describing the outlines of the coast in detail, and celebrating the resistance of the nation's naval installations. However, the island's chief external enemy is no European power, but rather the "devour[ing]" sea, threatening whole towns with "a fatal Immersion" (1:130; 1:55).(16) Ultimately, Defoe's vision in the Tour is inward-looking; an initial plan to encompass the nation by means of a coastal sea-voyage is referred to only in passing (1:254-55). His actual itinerary of a series of circuits is attractive because it allows him to trace the main transportation arteries of the nation as evidence of its internal organic coherence.
Thus the "circuits" of the first half of the Tour all begin and/or end in London. Since the Tour is to model for the reader the order that is England, Letter 5 of the ten letters about England describes London, beginning, "As I am now near the Center of this Work, so I am to describe the great Center of England, the City of London, and Parts adjacent" (1:316). Here the narrator's repeatedly stated goal is to enclose the city within a "narrow Compass" (1:316); he in fact sets out to describe the city by tracing a line around it, a line that is figured by the text's linear form and by columns of numbers as he lists the buildings that mark the line. We have already encountered Defoe's description of London as the vortex or swallowing mouth of England's economy, an image that disturbs the equilibrium and timeless stability associated with a centered circle. Again in this case, the enterprise quickly becomes more an imposition of form than a description of it. As the narrator admits from the start, unregulated individual initiative has resulted in a formless mass:
It is the Disaster of London, as to the Beauty of its Figure, that it is thus stretched out in Buildings, just at the Pleasure of every Builder, or Undertaker of Buildings, and as the Convenience of the People directs, whether for Trade, or otherwise; and this has spread the Face of it in a most straggling, confus'd Manner, out of all Shape, uncompact, and unequal; neither long or broad, round or square. (1:316-17)(17)
Thus he fails in his task before he begins: he will be "obliged to leave a great many whole Streets out of my Line," and asks fearfully, "Whither will this monstrous City then extend? and where must a Circumvallation or Communication Line of it be placed?" (1:318). When he comes to "the Shipping and the Pool," he admits defeat: "in what Manner can any Writer go about it, to bring it into any reasonable Compass? The Thing is a kind of Infinite, and the Parts to be separated from one another in such a Description, are so many, that it is hard to know where to begin" (1:349).
The Tour's act of enclosure parallels the "regular and well-ordered Government" of the City (1:324) in both its assertion and its lapse. In the Bank, for example,
Business is dispatch'd with such Exactness, and such Expedition and so much of it too, that it is really prodigious; no Confusion, nobody, is either denied or delayed Payment, the Merchants who keep their Cash there, are sure to have their Bills always paid, . . . . No Accounts in the World are more exactly kept, no Place in the World has so much Business done, with so much Ease. (1:342)
The Excise Office, the Penny Post, the Custom House, even the system for measurement of corn and coal, are celebrated in turn for their "exquisite" regularity and honesty (1:342-44). Defoe continues, however, "There are in London, and the far extended Bounds, which I now call so, notwithstanding we are a Nation of Liberty, more publick and private Prisons, and Houses of Confinement, than any City in Europe, perhaps as many as in all the Capital Cities of Europe put together" (1:355). Worse, in these places of confinement "Extortion," "Rudeness," "Avarice," and "Oppression" prevail, despite longstanding complaints (1:356). Regulation has its price and its abuses, as Defoe knows to his cost.
Through much of the Tour, however, Defoe celebrates rather an increasing freedom of movement; in particular, he praises the turnpike system that, "for the Honour of the present Age" (2:521), has made of the nation a network. He enthuses, "certainly no publick Edifice, Almshouse, Hospital, or Nobleman's Palace, can be of equal Value to the Country with this" (2:524). Ralph Allen, of postal-service fame, has been described as Pope's and Fielding's nationalistic symbol of the private man whose economic activities contribute to public coherence.(18) Defoe's fascination seems rather to be with Swift Nicks, the legendary highwayman who robs a man near Gravesend, then ferries and rides across the country to establish an alibi with the Lord Major of York the same evening, thus emblematizing the potential for physical and social mobility in the new England (1.104-05). Swift Nicks is a kind of criminal mirror-image of the travelling narrator tracking the movements of commerce throughout the nation - recalling the intimate link between criminal and legitimate uses of London streets and country roads in Moll Flanders and suggesting an ambivalent view of modern transportation networks.(19) Similarly, Defoe's analysis of how the rumour that the Irish had come "to cut every bodies Throats" during the Glorious Revolution could cause a "universal Alarm that [would] spread over the whole Kingdom (almost at the same Time)" (1:295), is at least as detailed as his explication of the movement of turkeys from Suffolk and Norfolk to London (1:59-60) or of the network of hops trading centered at the Sturbridge Fair (1:82-84).
Exploiting the literal circulatory system of waterways and roads as fully as do the narrator, Swift Nicks, and Moll, the complex and abstract networks of trade and its financing provide conceptual fiber for Defoe's portrait of the nation. Trade and population are linked in "a Chain of Trading Consequences" (2:726); from this perspective, different social classes are equally significant links in a chain of production rather than adversaries in a system that yokes some with the chains of economic slavery. Thus Defoe's references to a social spectrum are designed not to convey a sense of conflict, but to detail a shared state of gain or loss. The production of Spanish medley cloth in Somersetshire and Wiltshire, for example, is notable because it not only clothes "all the Gentlemen and Persons of any Fashion in England," but also "maintains and supports so many poor Families, and makes so many rich ones"; in its interweaving of private economic interests, it becomes a symbol of "the Publick Wealth of the Kingdom" (1:271, 285).
Statements such as these illustrate the intimacy between the interests of industrial efficiency and the nationalist image of all individuals as participants in the collective good.(20) Even the decay of a great market such as that of Farnham, from this perspective, "is of no consideration in the Case; for, if the Market at London is supply'd, the coming by Sea from Chichester is every jot as much a publick good, as the encouraging of Farnham Market" (1:135). Many of the trading families whose wealth is used to symbolize the luxurious harmony of the nation in the "distant Glory" landscape have in fact been "overthrow[n]" by the South-Sea Bubble "after they have thought their Houses establish'd" - "all which I chuse to have forgotten, as no doubt they desire to be, in Recording the Wealth and Opulence of this Part of England," Defoe concludes rather lamely (1:169). It appears that the individual must expect not only to blend into the landscape, but to be purged from it if necessary for the good of the nation.
In the awkwardness of such comments, however, Defoe shows himself as self-consciously uneasy about the costs of this new interdependence as a Swift or a Pope. In some cases, the problem is one of imbalance; so that in Sudbury, for example, "the Number of the Poor is almost ready to eat up the Rich" (1:48). Describing the City's business, Defoe is drawn to condemn stock-jobbing for the "terrible Infatuation" of the Bubble, and he notes fearfully that it is "still a Negotiation, which is so vast in its Extent, that almost all the Men of Substance in England are more or less concerned in it" (1:338). He foresees that the inevitable end of the public debt must result in the collapse of this network as the nobility and gentry leave the city, but he stops deliberately short of envisaging the implications for the city's economy: "What will be the Condition of this overgrown City in such a Case, I must leave to Time"; again, "What will be the Fate then of all the fine Buildings in the Out Parts, in such a Case, let any one judge" (1:339). At best, the objective seer of the nation's prospects appears to have lost his vision.
Defoe's concern with internal coherence is evident as well in the care with which he pushes borders beyond what is English to what is British in the aftermath of the 1707 Act of Union. In a move that exemplifies what Tom Nairn has identified as the European Enlightenment's myth of "an even and progressive development," Defoe places Scotland and England in a progressive historical sequence, in which the Scottish "are where we were, I mean as to the Improvement of their Country and Commerce; and they may be where we are" (2:690). Nairn argues that in spite of the myth, "real, uneven development has invariably generated an imperialism of the centre over the periphery."(21) Indeed, Defoe's neatly temporal means of assimilating the other is apparently unable to control the destabilizing fact that the Union has made of Scotland a hinterland of London, and he shifts to describing a conditional mode of existence, offering "to shew . . . what [Scotland] really is, what it might be, and what, perhaps, it would much sooner have been, if some People's Engagements were made good to them, which were lustily promis'd a little before the late Union" (2:691).
Defoe is equally frustrated by the apparent resistance of the Scots to penetration by English trading vigour. In describing the town of Kirkubright this frustration inspires in him a sorrowful eloquence:
Here is a pleasant Situation, and et nothing pleasant to be seen. Here is a Harbour without Ships, a Port without Trade, a Fishery without Nets, a People without Business; and, that which is worse than all, they do not seem to desire Business, much less do they understand it. . . In a Word, it is to me the Wonder of all the Towns of North-Britain; especially, being so near England, that it has all the Invitations to Trade that Nature can give them, but they take no Notice of it. (2:733-34)
The rather forced invocation of the term "North-Britain" here underscores the problem of the Scottish portion of the Tour: England and Scotland never quite become Britain, because Scotland has not succeeded in becoming England; or, in other words, because Defoe's image of "Britain" is in fact one of England.(22) This resistance to the rhetoric of coherence is reflected in the formal distinctness of the Scottish section, beginning with a separate introduction after the letters on England and Wales. The section takes the form of three final letters that upset the ten-letter symmetry noted earlier, while the last of these simply drifts from northern Scotland off to the Western Islands, with no rhetorical gesture towards closure of the circuit. In this way the end of the Tour illustrates Bhabha's observation that when the nation is written, the problem of closure shared by all representations becomes legible.(23)
Although Defoe earnestly recommends to readers his vision of "a Nation, pushing and improving," these raw edges and unruly images remain. The rhetorical difficulties in which Defoe finds himself reveal to what degree his eye produces the structures it purports merely to detect. Defoe's attempts to naturalize his landscape, to portray individual display as the sign of national economic health, to trace organic growth in change, and to decipher the hidden logic of commercial networks, only just manage to override images of London's shapeless sprawl and tyranny over the nation's economy, of self-serving greed, of inexplicable decay, and of criminal motion. Whatever Defoe's public vision of the nation is, there seems to be a nightmare hidden in the shadows behind it.
Nevertheless, as self-appointed imagist of the nation, Defoe must discredit any rival vision as a threat to his own genuine portrait. Unlike satirists, "ill friends to England, who strive to write a History of [England's] Nudities, and expose, much less recommend her wicked Part to Posterity," he has "endeavour'd to do her Justice in those things which recommend her, and humbly to move a Reformation of those, which he thinks do not" (1:2). Beginning with this prefatory comparison, the Tour implies that the writers of texts that discover an alternative national character are somehow traitorous. If the satirists are "ill Friends to England," foreign travellers, afraid their readers will "be in Love with" England, have "carried Abroad a very ill Report of the Land" (1:3-4). The "Pastoral Trumpery" of poets cannot capture the real prosperity represented by the numerous flocks of sheep on Salisbury Plain (1:218). Rather, the modern nation must be spoken of in "a more Masculine Manner, more to the Dignity of the Subject, and also more to their [the readers'] Satisfaction" than any other manner could be (1:174) - in other words, in a rhetoric that rationalizes, refigures, and orders, while claiming unmediated transparency. At the same time, Defoe reveals clearly the ill-fitting space within which the nationalist (imaginative, constructive) and rationalist (objective, journalistic) writer is situated: speaking of himself as the "Author," he says that his combination of moralization and description "shall best pay the Debt of a just and native Writer, who, in regard to the Reader, should conceal nothing which ought to be known, and in regard to his Country, expose nothing which ought to be conceal'd" (1:2).
The effectiveness of Defoe's tenuous vision depends on its enlisting a wide range of readers in its imagined community. Unlike another contemporary travel writer, John Macky, Defoe does not create for his text an intimate and exclusive audience of landowning families; rather, he addresses himself to the entire book-buying public, including the reader less privileged as a traveller, who wishes "to discourse of [our Country], as one that had a tolerable Knowledge of it, tho' he stay'd at Home" (1:252).(24) Despite his obvious "Londonocentrism" (in his London letter he addresses himself to the reader as one "who is supposed be on the Spot, or near it" [1:325]), Defoe offers his portrait of England as anything but idiosyncratic or partisan, claiming in Letter 5 to eschew "Discourse [that] seems too Political to belong to this Work" (1:324).
Thus, despite the claims to unique vision and the imaginative effort that are so fundamental to A Tour thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain, Defoe asks the reader to accept it as a publicly owned and objectively verifiable portrait of contemporary Britain. And the publishing history of the Tour suggests that it was indeed appropriated as the public property Defoe represented it to be: Rogers tells us that it went through nine editions in fifty-odd years and was revised constantly and virtually anonymously.(25) However, Defoe's eighteenth-century readership appears not to have shared his fascination with what he describes as a moment of "particular and remarkable Crisis, singular to those who write in this Age, and very much to our Advantage in Writing" (1:326). The third edition (1742), apparently edited by Samuel Richardson, smoothes over precisely those wrinkles in the text that I have discussed here, omitting, for example, Defoe's foregrounding of form in the first sentence of Letter 1 (quoted above - "I began my Travels, where I Purpose to End them, viz. At the City of London"); his attempt to order change in discussing the causes of the decay of Ipswich; his ambiguous colouring of the sea that is "resolved to disown" Orford (1:54); and his lament over the decay of Dunwich as more disturbing than the ruins of Carthage, Jerusalem, and Rome. Similarly, while the 1742 "London, as to its Figure," must still "be owned to be very irregular," this is no longer a "Disaster . . . to the Beauty" of the city."(26)
While removing the traces of Defoe's anxiety, the 1742 Tour drastically retouches the portrait of the nation, subduing its economic tints while embellishing the descriptions of country houses, antiquities, and the architecture of various towns, matter more appealing to tourist tastes.(27) As a traveller's guidebook, the revised Tour participates with other eighteenth-century literature of domestic travel in what Carole Fabricant has described as "reinforc[ing] the paradoxical situation in which the accumulation of more and more land in the hands of fewer and fewer was accompanied by the dispersion of ownership, as psychological and aesthetic (or more precisely tourist) experience, throughout widening areas of society."(28) Accepting the notion that "private Beauties" are the "Character" of the nation, the Tour's later readers use the argument of the original text against itself, erasing the discussions of economic structure that located each of them in the whole, in favor of the naturalized portraits of wealthy private individuals and their estates.
Ironically, then, the public participation that Defoe invites in imagining Great Britain leads in fact to the dissolution of his vision. Both the promised portrait of the child in its maturity and the image of the monster that is also part of its potential have in fact been replaced by a bag of bones, a politically reactionary, ostensibly static collection of country houses and antiquities. In this respect the publishing history of the Tour supports the arguments of historians that any British nationalism born in the seventeenth century was in the process of compromising itself during the Tour's heyday because of the acquiescent absorption of the middling classes into the old elite model of social organization.(29) The monstrous shadow cast by the coherent image that Defoe worked so hard to draw for his readers may have been more visible to his audience than he or they were willing to admit; at any rate, the portrait of the all-consuming, ruthlessly public nation is never fully realized, its outline dissolving into private particulars once again.(30)
Simon Fraser University
1 Daniel Defoe, A Tour thro' the Whole Island of Great-Britain, 2 vols. ed. G. D. H. Cole (London: Peter Davies, 1927), 1:167-68. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text.
2 John Lucas reads mid-century georgic poetry as identifying individual and public interests in order to further nationalist economics (England and Englishness: Ideas of Nationhood in English Poetry 1688-1900 [London: Hogarth, 1990], ch. 2); Gerald Newman notes the anti-cosmopolitan protests of post-Augustans led by William Hogarth as "patron saint" (The Rise of English Nationalism: A Cultural History 1740-1830 [New York: St. Martin's, 1987], ch. 4); Anne Janowitz discusses the ruin poem of the latter part of the century as a locus in which "the opposition of art and nature" was refigured so that "the nation came to be understood as nature" (England's Ruins: Poetic Purpose and the National Landscape [Cambridge: Blackwell, 1990], 5).
3 Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1983), 28-40.
4 Lucas (note 2), 4.
5 See especially Pat Rogers, "Literary Art in Defoe's Tour: The Rhetoric of Growth and Decay," Eighteenth-Century Studies 6 (1972-73): 153-85; Jo Ann T. Hackos, "The Metaphor of the Garden in Defoe's A Tour thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain," Papers on Language and Literature 15 (1979): 247-62; Alistair M. Duckworth, "'Whig' Landscapes in Defoe's Tour," Philological Quarterly 61 (1982): 453-65. While my paper examines the Tour's contribution to the discourse of nationalism as a matter these writers have not discussed, the insightful readings of Pat Rogers, in particular, have been instrumental in stimulating criticism on the Tour, including my own.
6 See Duckworth's argument that Defoe's "settings and landscapes, . . . taken as a whole, signify an outlook that is 'whig,' modern, and expressive of bourgeois confidence" (453).
7 Homi K. Babha, "Introduction," Nation and Narration, ed. Bhabha (London: Routledge, 1990), 3. While Newman (note 2) claims that nationalist ideology "provides an integrative structure both assisting and easing the shocks of modernization in all its facets" (54), a good number of the "shocks" are still to be felt in the Tour.
8 It is perhaps because "Great Britain" is Defoe's declared subject in the Tour that its image appears fragile and strained. Whereas visions of declining trade and of London's cancerous growth are what Defoe is concerned to refute in A Plan of the English Commerce (1728) and The Complete English Tradesman (1726), respectively, the travel-narrative structure and the emphasis on process in the Tour cause these positions to be voiced by Defoe himself. One is reminded of the similar effect of Moll Flanders' autobiographical narration, where the seesaw, qualifying effect of Defoe's style produces a remarkably dynamic, yet ambiguous, voice.
9 Hackos (note 5), 247.
10 Hackos, 251; Duckworth (note 5), 455-56.
11 Pat Rogers, ed., "Introduction," A Tour thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain (New York: Penguin, 1971), 30; see also "Defoe and Virgil: The Georgic Element in A Tour thro' Great Britain," English Miscellany 22 (1971): 93-106.
12 Hans Kohn, in Nationalism: Its Meaning and History, revised ed. (Princeton: Van Nostrand, 1965), identifies the shift in the center of political order and loyalty from the monarch to the abstract entity of the nation as significant in the rise of modern British nationalism (15).
13 See 1:3, 1:12, 1:114, 1:153, 1:265-66, 1:270-71, 1:284-85, 2:452, 2:488, 2:659.
14 Geoffrey M. Sill, "Defoe's Tour: Literary Art or Moral Imperative?" Eighteenth-Century Studies 11 (1977): 82-83.
15 Pat Rogers, "Speaking within Compass: The Ground Covered in Two Works by Defoe," Studies in the Literary Imagination 15.2 (1982): 109. Defoe's exploitation of the circle image as a means of ordering large-scale, intangible structures is similarly visible in his Preface to A Plan of the English Commerce.
16 See also 1:2, 1:34, 2:654.
17 Gerald Hill, "Circling Defoe," Ariel 21.4 (1990), notes that "In London, more explicitly than anywhere else in his narrative, Defoe plays the ring-master, the circler, the drawer of lines that both include and exclude" (74). The implications of self-consciousness and artifice in Hill's observation are those I wish to emphasize. Max Byrd has discussed the ambivalence of Defoe's images of London in London Transformed: Images of the City in the Eighteenth Century (New Haven: Yale, 1978), ch. 1.
18 Simon During, "Literature - Nationalism's Other? The Case for Revision," in Bhabha (note 7), 142.
19 See in particular Moll's escape routes after stealing the child's necklace in London and the Dutch merchant's portmanteau in Harwich (Moll Flanders, ed. George A. Starr [London: Oxford, 1971], 194, 265-68).
20 Defoe elaborates on these ideas in The Complete English Tradesman, especially eh. 26.
21 Tom Nairn, The Break-Up of Britain: Crisis and Neo-Nationalism (London: New Left Books, 1977), 336, 340.
22 Robert Crawford, in Devolving English Literature (Oxford: Clarendon, 1992), has pointed out that "Britain" in early eighteenth-century English literature generally means "England" (45). Nevertheless, Defoe's position as what Crawford calls "the only major eighteenth-century English writer," other than Johnson, "to devote detailed attention to the Scottish part of Britain" (80), together with his reluctance to write of English victories over the Scots, which would be to "throw the English, as it were, in their Faces" (2:707), reveals the unifying effort characteristic of the Tour.
23 Bhabha (note 7), 2.
24 See, for example, Macky's claim to be writing for "the Young Nobility and Gentry of Great-Britain" who are on the Grand Tour, promising a work that "gives a full Idea of [your] own Country, and prepares [you] to make suitable Parallels, in [your] Travels through other Nations" (A Journey through England. In Familiar Letters, 2 vols. [London: J. Hooke, 1723], 1:1-2).
25 Rogers, "Introduction" (note 11), 16-17.
26 For these parallel passages in Richardson's edition see A Tour Thro' Great Britain 1742, in Richardsoniana, 25 vols. (New York: Garland, 1975), 16:1; 16:2324; 16:40-42; 17:85.
27 See Cole (note 1), vi; Rogers, "Introduction" (note 11), 16-17.
28 Carole Fabricant, "The Literature of Domestic Tourism and the Public Consumption of Private Property," in The New Eighteenth Century. Theory, Politics, English Literature, ed. Felicity Nussbaum and Laura Brown (New York: Methuen, 1987), 259.
29 See, for example, Nairn (note 21), ch. 1. More specifically, Nairn points to an alliance between patrician and bourgeois interests in overseas expansion and capitalist economics. "The result," he argues, "was a particularly powerful inter-class nationalism - a sense of underlying insular identity and common fate, which both recognized and yet easily transcended marked class and regional divisions" (43). Although Newman (note 2) is in apparent disagreement with Nairn in the historically climactic position the former assigns to the radicalism of the early 1780s, his language of "the sudden lethargy of the radicals" in 1785, of a patriotism "now being assimilated to the support of the king and his prime minister," and of "the institutionalization of the nationalist takeover under an English king, prime minister, and parliamentary majority" (220-21) suggests that Newman is not so far from Nairn in his assessment of the trajectory of English nationalism as might first appear.
30 I wish to thank Leith Davis for her discussions of English nationalism with me, and both Leith Davis and June Sturrock for their insightful readings of this paper in progress.
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|Title Annotation:||author Daniel Defoe|
|Author:||Schellenberg, Betty A.|
|Date:||Jun 22, 1995|
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