Moral Economy

Armstrong's georgic advice to imitate "nature's wise oeconomy" (ii. 133) in all things human extends easily to political economy (Fairer 2003a: 97—8, 192ff.). Dyer's survey of the woolen industry, traditionally the mainstay of the national economy, seeks to discover in the weave of commercial relations the outlines of a moral economy sophisticated enough to reflect the reappraisals of commercial society that were being made by David Hume and the early political economists. Dyer understands the increasing subdivision of labor in manufacture as helping to refine a system of social cooperation, and "luxuries" are viewed as an integral part of a healthy economy. "Luxury" is represented in its benign as well as its malign aspects: items such as tea and imported domestic ornaments are said to be "ill-titled luxuries, / In temp'rance us'd, delectable and good." The "affluent life" sustained by exporting textiles in exchange for "things elegant" is viewed as a social improvement (The Fleece, iv. 377—80). As the marketing and consumption of woolens turned on fashion, the example of the textile industry itself confounded rigid moral distinctions between "luxurious" and "necessary" commodities. In Dyer the long "royal mantle" is made from the same material as the short warm coat (iii. 41—3). Above all, Dyer insists that economic behavior should be viewed as part of a system no less complex than the universe itself:

The dignity, and grace, And weal, of human life, their fountains owe To seeming imperfections, to vain wants, Or real exigencies; passions swift Forerunning reason; strong contrarious bents, The steps of men dispersing wide abroad O'er realms and seas.

Dyer adapts Bernard Mandeville's anti-Shaftesburian insight in The Fable of the Bees: or, Private Vices, Publick Benefits (1714; Feingold 1978: 113). By stimulating the economy, "seeming imperfections" and "vain wants" promote the common weal. John Barrell and Harriet Guest have described how in Pope's Epistle to Bathurst (1732) a Mandevillean "discourse of economic amoralism" is "grafted" on the theodicean discourse of concordia discors to "compose a hybrid discourse . . . of economic theodicy" (Barrell and Guest 1987: 124-6). We encounter something similar in Dyer; in fact, georgic lends itself more naturally to such "grafting" than Pope's Horatian mode, in which the moral indignation of some satirical passages may be thought to sit uneasily with the philosophical composure urged in others. Insisting on the divine sanction of trade, Dyer (himself a "priest") assumes a panoramic view which suggests the sublime perspective of "the Creator." Whereas Pope in his moral epistles passes from analytical commentary to satire of individuals, Dyer surveys and moralizes the social prospect, allowing homily to emerge from close description. Georgic comments on occupational groups and narrates historical episodes rather than satirizing the lives of contemporary individuals.

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