- The Culture of the Seven Years’ War: Empire, Identity, and the Arts in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World ed. by Frans De Bruyn and Shaun Regan
The Seven Years’ War has attracted a good deal of attention recently. In part, the interest is a product of anniversaries—of 1756, when the war began in Europe; of 1759, when James Wolfe’s army captured Quebec; of [End Page 563] 1760, when New France surrendered; and of 1763, when the Peace of Paris ended the conflict. But scholars’ fascination with the Seven Years’ War stems primarily from its importance as an event in world history. It marked the beginning of France’s decline and Britain’s global ascendancy; it established Prussia as a serious competitor with Austria for domination of the German world, a competition that would not be finally resolved until 1866; and it paved the way, in the view of many historians, for that great fracturing of the Anglosphere that we call the American Revolution.
This collection of essays is a welcome addition to a burgeoning literature on the war. One of its great strengths lies in its multidisciplinary approach. The Culture of the Seven Years’ War brings together historians and literary scholars in a common endeavour. Many have aspired to such a desirable combination, but few have been able to pull it off with such success. The collection might have given more treatment to the war in Asia and its consequences, but this omission (which the editors readily acknowledge) should not be allowed to detract from the volume’s achievements. Anyone interested in the Seven Years’ War and its consequences, and the ways in which contemporaries and subsequent generations conceptualized the conflict, will find this book illuminating and enjoyable.
The essays range widely. The first section focuses on the experience of the war for those involved. Nicholas Rogers offers an assessment of the relationship between empire and identity in the era of two great British heroes, Admiral Edward Vernon and General James Wolfe; Fred Anderson examines the importance of 1759 as a turning point in the war; Erica Charters shows how the wartime experiences of medical men provided opportunities for transnational sharing of information and ideas; and Alain Beaulieu gives us a study of the impact of the fall of New France on the native peoples of Canada. The next section turns to literature and the war, with essays by Thomas Keymer on the literary conflicts spawned by the war; by Frans De Bruyn on Shakespeare’s reputation; and by Michael Griffin on the Irish writer Oliver Goldsmith, who was skeptical about the war and its worth. Section three concentrates on how the war affected three individuals: Lord Berkeley, a courtier; Lord George Sackville, the disgraced commander of the allied cavalry at the battle of Minden, who was court-martialled for cowardice; and Olaundah Equiano, an African present at Admiral Boscawen’s victory at the battle of Lagos, off the coast of Portugal. These microstudies, respectively by Nigel Aston, Robert Jones, and Shaun Regan, give us the opportunity to look in detail at the various ways in which the war affected the lives of the individuals in question—in Sackville’s case, both profoundly and for many years to come. The final section looks at various artistic outputs. Joan Coutu’s essay calls our attention to the sculptural representation [End Page 564] of Wolfe at Lord Temple’s stately home at Stowe, Buckinghamshire; Douglas Fordham focuses on George Stubbs and the exposure of his painting The Zebra to public viewing; and Daniel O’Quinn reflects on Joshua Reynold’s portraits of Augustus Keppel, a naval hero in the Seven Years’ War but a much more controversial figure in the War of American Independence, when he, like Sackville before him, was the subject of a court martial for alleged failure in battle.
The editors should be congratulated for assembling such an interesting set of essays. Rarely for a collection of this kind, there...