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|Figure 1 |
The "ancient" fortress of Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire, designed by Sanderson Miller in 1751 and built in 1772. © Jonathan Lamb. All rights reserved.
Because a Soldier is a Yahoo hired to kill in cold Blood as many of his own Species, who have never offended him, as possibly he can.—Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels
Our men are the stoutest and the best, because strip them naked from the waist upwards, and give them no weapons at all but their Hands and Heels, and turn them into a room, or stage, and lock them in with the like number of other men of any nation, man for man, and they shall beat the best men you shall find in the world.—Daniel Defoe, The Complete English Tradesman
In an article that appeared previously in this journal, Maximilian Novak addressed the question, "Why didn't the eighteenth century produce a War and Peace?" To answer the question is to account for why the "age of Johnson" or "the age of Enlightenment" was unable to produce a "serious and balanced depiction of the conditions [End Page vii] of war and peace in fiction."1 Novak arrives at his answers through a survey of eighteenth-century novels, from Defoe and Fielding to Smollett, as well as essays by Johnson, and poetry by Dryden and Dennis that treat war. If eighteenth-century authors embraced the challenges of verisimilitude in scenes of domestic life, or of producing universal moral truths, they could not meet the same mimetic challenges in direct confrontations with war, and with peace as a necessary adjunct of war. All attempts to do so would either be imbalanced—Defoe was "excellent on war ... but poor on peace"—or disarmed by the ironic and grotesque effects that David McNeil has delineated in the novels of Swift, Smollett, Fielding, and Sterne.2
Such aesthetic resistance perhaps resulted from the spatial locations of war throughout eighteenth-century Britain, which Novak offers as a second hypothesis in answering his original question. With the exceptions of the Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745, most British military activity took place elsewhere, outside Britain, "abroad—in America and India, on the Continent, and at sea."3 Moreover, eighteenth-century warfare was marked by its style of containment and regulation—its "limited warfare"—effected by the establishment of a standing army. Wars were won or lost more through tactics and strategy than through battle and combat.4 Eighteenth-century writers of fiction, then, averted their eyes from war, or transfigured it through the framework of irony, because the face of war was itself displaced, geographically and commercially. Either war took place elsewhere, or resurfaced domestically as the imported commodities that issued from, and in turn supported Britain's naval supremacy and success in colonial warfare.5 Thus a paradoxical yet all too convenient equation characterized the passages of war in eighteenth-century Britain: at the same time the technologies of war became sleeker and more effective, the conditions of war moved further away from the spaces of daily life and into the vague reaches of distant lands. The inhabitants of eighteenth-century Britain did not have to confront the living faces of violence and suffering on their own ground, if they chose not to do so.6
Some eighteenth-century artifacts, if not novels, succeed in embodying the charismatic and willfully deceiving (as well as self-deceiving) fabric of war on domestic ground. The "ancient" fortress of Wimpole [End Page viii] Hall, Cambridgeshire, for instance, designed by Sanderson Miller in 1751 and built in 1772, appears, as most follies do, to reflect a romanticizing eighteenth-century view of Gothic ruins, and the acquisitive desire to reconstruct them (see figure 1). However, the very framing of the "ancient" fortalice as a "folly" or "fake" also works to reinforce the dual meanings of "fabric" as both "an edifice" and "a contrivance." On the one hand, the medieval fortalice resurfaces in eighteenth-century domestic architecture as a...