MA in Literature, Landscape & Environment

Newness in Defoe’s Tour

In the module, The Country and the City in History, we’ve been looking at the influence of Virgil’s Georgics in eighteenth-century literature, and the theme of change and decay came up fairly frequently in our discussions. Indeed, the ‘Preface’ to Daniel Defoe’s A Tour ‘thro the Whole Island of Great Britain emphasises this aspect as key to understanding Britain in the 1720s:

The Fate of Things gives a new Face to Things … plants and supplants Families, … Great Towns decay, and small Towns rise; … great Rivers and good Harbours dry up, and grow useless; again, new Ports are open’d, Brooks are made Rivers, … navigable Ports and Harbours are made where none were before, and the like.[1]

Defoe’s particular emphasis on change in the British nation can be seen by the simple expedient of counting up how many times he uses the word ‘new’ in the Preface (thirteen times). Even more striking is to see this visualised (using Voyant):

Tour-new-Voyant

Click on image to access full Voyant analysis

On the face of it, Defoe pays equal attention to rise and decay, but – like Virgil’s Georgics – the aspect of dynamism in the nation’s landscape that Defoe gets most excited about is one of vital newness. (For another reading of mutability in the Tour and the city of London, see my post ‘Defoe, Google, cities and Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore’.)

[1] Defoe, A Tour Thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain (London: printed, and sold by G. Strahan, … MDCCXXIV [1724]), p. iv. [ECCO, 5/12/15].

05. November 2015 by s.gregg
Categories: Early Modern | 1 comment

One Comment

  1. I think it’s really important to recognise the creative role of decay in landscape studies, which gets neglected in the emphasis on growth in discussion of the georgic. David Fairer invents the term ‘eco-georgic’ for his modern readings of 18c georgic, which are full of insights, but underplay decay. I discussed this in my paper for the BSU Defoe conference last summer, which I’ll make available through you.

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