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American Georgics

Economy and Environment in American Literature, 1580-1864

By Timothy Sweet

Publication Year: 2011

In classical terms the georgic celebrates the working landscape, cultivated to become fruitful and prosperous, in contrast to the idealized or fanciful landscapes of the pastoral. Arguing that economic considerations must become central to any understanding of the human community's engagement with the natural environment, Timothy Sweet identifies a distinct literary mode he calls the American georgic.

Offering a fresh approach to ecocritical and environmentally-oriented literary studies, Sweet traces the history of the American georgic from its origins in late sixteenth-century English literature promoting the colonization of the Americas through the mid-nineteenth century, ending with George Perkins Marsh's Man and Nature (1864), the foundational text in the conservationist movement.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press


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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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pp. 4-4


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pp. 5-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. 1-11

"The earth ... has a certain magnetism in it, by which it attracts the salt, power, or virtue (call it either) which gives it life, and is the logic of all the labor and stir we keep about it, to sustain us."1 So writes Henry David Thoreau in the "Bean-Field" chapter of Walden, quoting the seventeenth-century English agricultural writer John Evelyn. That logic-the magnetism...

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1. Economy and Environment in Sixteenth-Century Promotional Literature

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pp. 12-28

We owe the first recorded moment of ecological insight in British North America to Stephen Parmenius, intended chronicler of Sir Humphrey Gilbert's ill-fated second voyage of 1583.1 Gilbert, hoping to establish a colony in what is now New England, stopped off for provisions at St.John's harbor, Newfoundland, where an international fishing fleet had made its base. According to the terms of his patent, Gilbert took possession...

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2. "God Sells Us All Things for Our Labour": John Smith's Generall Historie

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pp. 29-49

In 1588, Thomas Hariot claimed that Virginia naturally produced "Silkewormes faire and great, as bigge as our ordinary Walnuts." 1 Following the program set out by Hakluyt's "Discourse of Western Planting" and other such promotional texts, he went on to assess the possibilities for commodity offered by these silkworms: ...

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3. "Wonder-Working Providence" of the Market

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pp. 50-73

In New England's Prospect (1635), William Wood makes a curious, nostalgic claim about the English environment. Evaluating the "Suitableness" of New England's climate for "English Bodies," he argues that "both summer and winter is more commended of the English there than the summer-winters, and winter-summers of England. And who is there that...

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4. "Admirable Oeconomy": Robert Beverley's Calculus of Compensation

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pp. 74-96

Near the end of The History and Present State if Virginia (1705), Robert Beverley pauses to remark that
the admirable Oeconomy of the Beavers, deserves to be particularly remember' d. They cohabit in one House, are incorporated in a regular Form of Government, something like Monarchy, and have over them a Superintendent, which...

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5. Ideologies of Farming: Crèvecoeur, Jefferson, Rush, and Brown

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pp. 97-121

On the eve of the American Revolution, J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur's farmer James of Pennsylvania explained the sociopolitical structure of the American colonies to his English correspondent:
Some few towns excepted, we are all tillers of the earth, from Nova Scotia to West Florida. We are a people of cultivators, scattered over an immense territory, communicating with each other by means of good roads and navigable rivers, united...

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6. Cherokee "Improvements" and the Removal Debate

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pp. 122-152

In an era that saw forced or coerced removals of many indigenous Americans from their homelands, the Cherokees' was the only case to gain a large measure of white support. Ralph Waldo Emerson, for example, although generally unconcerned over the fate of indigenous peoples, wrote a letter of protest to President Martin Van Buren asking, "Will the...

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7. "Co-Workers with Nature": Cooper, Thoreau, and Marsh

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pp. 153-176

For Americans unfamiliar with the Cherokee georgic, Removal could be written off as yet one more instance of the inevitable disappearance of a primitive mode of life. Robert Beverley had much earlier described a loss of "Native Pleasures" resulting from colonization and had proposed a calculus of compensation in which a georgic society, through diversified...


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pp. 177-202

Works Cited

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pp. 203-214


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pp. 215-222


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pp. 223-232

E-ISBN-13: 9780812203189
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812236378

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 859161010
MUSE Marc Record: Download for American Georgics

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Subject Headings

  • American literature -- History and criticism.
  • Environmental literature -- History and criticism.
  • Pastoral literature, American -- History and criticism.
  • Didactic literature, American -- History and criticism.
  • Economics and literature -- United States -- History.
  • Agriculture in literature.
  • Economics in literature.
  • Nature in literature.
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