Geographical Limits

Unlike pastoral, georgic is fundamentally concerned with accurate as well as suggestive geography, in its local, national, and global settings. Smart's precise description of his native county in the image of its rural industry, and his ideological location of a notional Kent on the map of national politics, are modeled on Philips's treatment of Herefordshire. By giving local place references from which readers may trace area boundaries (Cyder, i. 67—70), Philips identifies his "Siluria" as coterminous with the province of Archenfield, the ancient Welsh kingdom of Ergyng which Philips calls by its Roman name, Ariconium (i. 173—247). Readers who share the poet's interest in local history will find the geography pregnant. Dyer's "Siluria," or Herefordshire and "trans-Severn England" (Goodridge 1995: 181), is the pastoral—georgic heartland from which all the poem's industrial and imperial energies are imagined to proceed, and an upland vantage point from which a remarkably comprehensive British geography is surveyed. Dyer is especially interested in the communications, notably navigable rivers and canals, that organize the country as a community devoted to commercial traffic. More extensively than Philips's, Dyer's topography is represented as an updated version of Roman Britain, placing special emphasis on the coincidence of Roman and modern routes and junctions (Goodridge 1995; Barrell 1999: 238-45). In Dyer's hands, georgic stresses historical continuities even as the poet explores contemporary geographical networks in an "improving" spirit, urging his countymen "to teach / The stream a naval course, or till the wild, / Or drain the fen, or stretch the long canal" (iii. 542-4), linking navigable rivers such as the Trent, Severn, and Thames (iii. 604-6).

Dyer's conflation of Roman and contemporary Britain suggests the imperial aspirations realized in his survey of British trade in Book IV. The Fleece is a very "Augustan" poem in the sense of being charged with the idea of a providential, universally beneficent British Empire, and also in the sense that its awareness of Rome's historical precedence combines with the self-consciousness that accompanies literary imitation. David Fairer (2002) reminds us that Virgil's Georgics, composed shortly before the bestowal of the imperial title, is less a complacently "Augustan" than an expectantly "Octavian" poem. With similarly anxious hopes, British georgic also broods on its own and its culture's belatedness (Goldstein 1977). Critics who represent georgic as sunnily optimistic disregard the shadows accentuating its bands of light.

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