Travel and the British Country House: Cultures, Critiques and Consumption in the Long Eighteenth Century.
In recent years, scholars have been increasingly drawn to the multifaceted social, material, imperial, and political histories of the British country house. In their heyday of the long eighteenth century, these grand estates demonstrated the tastes of their owners, hosted elite gatherings, acted as local administrative centers, and showcased works of art and other forms of material splendor. In this edited volume, Jon Stobart sets out to highlight how travel not only shaped perceptions of the country house but also aided the development of architecture and collection assembly during this period. Ten essays, written by historians and art historians, examine patterns of consumption, elite self-fashioning, taste formation, and domestic and international tourism, alongside more pragmatic concerns. The authors draw on a range of sources, from diaries and household accounts to published guidebooks and personal correspondence, to demonstrate how the country house fit within systems of tourism and transportation. The essays' principal themes are the motivations and practices of travel, its practicalities, and the "multidirectional movement of ideas," both within Britain and outside it (11).
The volume begins with the familiar territory of the Grand Tour and its impact on collections and gardens in the British Isles. Nevertheless, as Rebecca Campion demonstrates in her essay on the Irish houses of Frederick Hervey, the Earl Bishop, the relationship was remarkably symbiotic: Building activities at home could shape journeys taken abroad (36). As tourism grew as an industry in the eighteenth century, visitors traveled to country houses for various reasons. Interest in critical comparison, as well as seeking sources of inspiration, motivated some Dutch and Hungarian tourists to visit famous houses in Britain, such as Wilton, Stowe, or Blenheim. As Rosie MacArthur describes, some domestic visitors would have had more practical concerns in mind, scrutinizing locks, doors, and water supplies since they were planning construction improvements to their own houses. The appreciation of art collections was not limited to the genteel elite. Jocelyn Anderson's essay on Arthur Young's published descriptions of estates shows how the reading public engaged with their collections, making the houses "critical cultural sites in the public sphere" (141).
Two essays provide fresh perspective by focusing on how travel and transportation were themselves forms of conspicuous consumption for country house owners. Stobart provides one illuminating example in Sir Roger Newdigate, who, between 1747 and 1796, spent an extraordinary (but not exceptional) [pounds sterling]21,906 on his horses and stables, journeys, and transportation of goods to and from his Midlands home, which was more than double his expenses for silver, furnishings, and books (170).
Travel demonstrably impacted every aspect of the country house, so much so that the essays in this volume feel disparate at times. In the final essay, Ellen Filor describes Mary Mackenzie's travel from the Scottish castle of Brahan to India and back again. Haggis dinners in Madras and Indian cabinets put on display in Scotland speak to the ways in which the expanding empire intertwined with the country house. This reviewer felt that this theme--and, indeed, those of many of the essays--could have generated rich individual volumes of their own.
The Morgan Library & Museum
Laurel O. Peterson
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|Author:||Peterson, Laurel O.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2019|
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