England as the Center of the World

Centlivre's Whiggish, Protestant and aggressively anti-French politics are well known, but the overt links between poetic practice, domestic politics, and the vision of empire that shape this poem are to be found in most poets who wrote in this period. John Dryden's Annus Mirabilis, written in 1667 in partisan defense of Charles II against those who claimed the devastations of the plague and the Great Fire in London as divine retribution for the King's misdeeds, ends with a vision of Augusta (London) as a "Maiden Queen" who beholds "From her High Turrets, hourly Sutors come: / The East with Incense, and the West with Gold, / Will stand, like Supplicants, to receive her doom" (ll. 1181-92). The poem promises British control of the oceans, and the last stanza interweaves commercial and edenic bliss:

Thus to the Eastern wealth through storms we go; But now, the Cape once doubled, fear no more: A constant Trade-wind will securely blow, And gently lay us on the Spicy shore.

Similarly, Alexander Pope's paean of praise to Queen Anne and to English nationalism, Windsor-Forest (1713), incorporates an extended version of the vision of imperial ambition available in more muted terms in Centlivre's poem:

Thy Trees, fair Windsor! now shall leave their Woods, And half thy Forests rush into my Floods, Bear Britain's Thunder, and her Cross display, To the bright Regions of the rising Day; Tempt Icy Seas, where scarce the Waters roll, Where clearer Flames glow round the frozen Pole; Or under Southern Skies exalt their Sails, Led by new Stars, and born by Spicy Gales! For me the Balm shall bleed, and Amber flow, The Coral redden, and the Ruby glow, The Pearly Shell its lucid Globe infold, And Phoebus warm the ripening Ore to Gold. The Time shall come, when free as Seas or Wind Unbounded Thames shall flow for all Mankind, Whole Nations enter with each swelling Tyde, And Seas but join the Regions they divide; Earth's distant Ends our Glory shall behold, And the new World launch forth to seek the Old.

Dryden and Pope both develop at some length the idea that English advantages overseas will result from a mix of trading and naval-military prowess. In developing this claim, their poems powerfully fuse elements of contemporary historical observation with a near-utopian faith in the expansion of British power to other shores and territories. Crucially, domestic discord is seen to cease precisely because of opportunities created, and wealth derived, from global markets and commodities. Similarly, both Dryden and Pope write most persuasively on behalf of the domestic legitimacy of their respective monarchs because they develop elaborate accounts of the ways in which, encouraged by royal patronage and policies, British naval prowess will result in great commercial and colonial success.

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