restricted access 3. The Countryside as Collection: Chorography, Antiquarianism, and the Politics of Landscape
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Chapter 3 The Countrysideas Collection Chorography, Antiquarianism, a n d the Politics o f Landscape Thou several artists dost employ to show The measure of thy lands, that thou mayest know How much of earth thou hast. .. -Thomas Randolph1 According to the social theory of early modern England, a man's identity and authoritywere, in large part, determined by his relationship to land. The socialformationwas understood as "a graduated ladder of dominance and subordination," and within this patriarchal hierarchy of status, fathers were, on the basis of their gender, uniformly entitled to be the heads of their respective households. Outside the home, however, men's differential "claims to land" in large part determined their standing in ~ociety.~ As Steven Shapin observes, sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English culture "laid great emphasis on how individuals were placed vis-a-viswealth, work, and the production of goods and service^."^ At the top of the status pyramid stood England's "gentlemen," the members of the peerage and gentry, men who (ostensibly) did not labor for their incomes. In William Petty's formulation, a gentleman was "able to subsist without the practise of any mercenary employments" because he had "annuel riches, especially in Terra Firma."4 Landed wealth-an estate, worked by others, which provided an income largely in the form of land rents-was thus considered an essential foundation of elite status. At the same time, land and lineage were, in theory, inextricably bound together. A gentleman not only possessed landed wealth, but did so as a member of a family which had for generations derived its "annuel riches" from the same substantial tracts of "Terra Firma": as Lord Burghley maintained, "Gentilitie is nothing but ancient riches."j Although humanists and Puritans proposed other criteria of social merit, "their ideas were tamed, and, purged of their radical critique, were incorporated into or made compatible with the traditional framework of 98 C H A P T E R 3 legitimati~n."~ Thus despite ideological challenges, men in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England were still looked upon "as standing at the apex of a double helix intertwining land and and the hereditary possession of substantial amounts of land continued to be regarded as the basis of gentle status in the early modern period. Implicitly,this concept of a hereditary,landholding elitewas rooted in a vision of a static social hierarchy. However, as Lawrence Stone has demonstrated , in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries "families were moving up and down in the social and economic scale at a faster rate than at anytime before the nineteenth and twentieth centurie~."~ Members of the landed elite in Elizabethan and Stuart England faced a daunting set of financial challenges: "exceptionaltemptations and compulsions to overspend on conspicuous consumption, royal service, or marriage portions, exceptional need for adaptability in estate management, novel opportunities and exceptional dangers in large-scale borr~wing."~ Gentlemen were particularlyvulnerable to ruin by "the two great agents of destruction, sterility and stupidity,"1° and estates often were sold as the result of a family's genetic or economic failure. In addition, the sale of Crown lands greatly increased the size of the land market in earlymodern England. The buyers for estates were found not only among the landed class; men who had amassed wealth through "mercenary employments" sought to secure a social status commensurate with their financial standing by purchasing land. Sincewealth acquired through an individual's labor,whether in trade, finance, the professions, government administration, or farming, had no place in the traditional model of the English social hierarchy, men with non-landed fortunes bought estates to repackage their wealth in the garb of "Gentilitie" and further sought to cloak their lowly origins beneath purchased titles, forged genealogies, and new manor houses. Thus despite the notion of a hereditary landed elite presiding over an unchanging social hierarchy, early modern England was subjected to social mobility on a vast scale-and to equally widespread attempts to align the influx of nouveaux richeswith traditional landed values. Under these circumstances, the preoccupation with the hereditary possession of land-and the display of such proprietorship-was a vital feature of early modern English culture. In this chapter, I explore how the construction of landed identity in this period was intertwined with modes of representation by which the English countryside came to be portrayed as a space filled with physical objects. In works inflected by chorography and antiquarianism, I argue, early modern writers became collectors,gathering, arranging, and exhibiting artifacts that...


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Subject Headings

  • English literature -- Early modern, 1500-1700 -- History and criticism.
  • Curiosities and wonders -- England -- History -- 17th century.
  • Natural history -- England -- History -- 17th century.
  • Antiquarians -- Great Britain -- Biography.
  • Collectors and collecting -- England -- History -- 17th century.
  • England -- Civilization -- 17th century.
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