Political Applications

Full synthesis of philosophical satire and georgic awaited Cowper's The Task (1785), but Christopher Smart's The Hop-Garden, composed in the politically volatile years of 1743—4, is exceptional among georgics in its satirical astringency, revealing the influence of Pope. The rural heroes of Kent, for instance, are contrasted to those who dwell "Politely paralytic in the town!" (i. 169). Smart primarily uses historical episodes as moral instruction, often with a political subtext. Two episodes reveal his "Patriot" hostility to the Carteret ministry which succeeded Walpole in 1742, and his support for the anti-Hanoverian stance of the elder Pitt. The first episode describes how Vortigern, fifth-century King of the Britons at the time of the Saxon invasions, through his "voluptousness" falls prey to Hengist's wiles. In thrall to Hengist's daughter Roxena (Rowena) and weakened by love-potions, Vortigern cedes the Isle of Thanet to the usurping Saxon, who soon gains all of Kent (i. 176—254). In the georgic scale of things, even such catastrophes prove evanescent: "smiling Ceres reassumes the land." Musing on the scene of Hengist's palace walls, long since leveled by "all-devouring time," Smart speculates that "Perchance on them / Grows the green hop, and o'er his crumbled bust / In spiral twines ascends the scancile pole" (i. 252—4). Yet for all these lines' acknowledgment of history's "Gothic" organicism, which suggests regenerative possibilities (Fairer 2002), Smart's message to the Hanoverians hardly seems conciliatory; rather, "we will bury you [too]." His second episode is equally uncompromising. In line with the "Patriot" Elizabethanism (Gerrard 1994: 150ff.) cultivated throughout the poem, the episode draws on the Elizabethan historian of Kent, William Lambarde, who records an (apocryphal) account of the county's resistance to William the Conqueror. In The Hop-Garden the free men of Kent — armed and bearing boughs of oak, and led in pastoral procession by "a shepherd swain" who whistles "with rustic notes" — march on William's mercenaries, "The well-fed brigades of embroider'd slaves / That drew the sword for gain" (i. 382—3). When the Kentish heroes shed their green disguises and reveal themselves in all the glory of their "brazen panoply," the Conqueror realizes "how vain would be the contest," and, granting them their native liberties, "like C^sar, deign[s] to yield" (i. 355—429). William and Caesar are hailed as the "illustrious vanquish'd" (i. 422—3): a lesson, it would seem, for George II. Smart's insistence on viewing Caesar's invasions of Britain in 55—54 bce as a failed conquest discourages a conciliatory interpretation of the episode, which might have recalled Virgil's account of the resistance to the conquering Trojans of the ancient Italians and the proud terms of their submission in Aeneid, Book XII, or Philips's analogous account of the Welsh Silures who resisted the Romans. As in the poem's first episode, there is a belligerent undertone. Smart's eulogy to Virgil's "great Augustus," whose name is "ever sacred" —

Sovereign of Science! master of the Muse! Neglected Genius' firm ally! Of worth Best judge, and best rewarder, whose applause To bards was fame and fortune!

— reads as satirical praise for "Dunce the Second," George Augustus. Smart's hostility to foreign mercenaries reflects the popular outrage in 1743 against the continuance of Hanoverian troops in British service. Smart hopes that "Britannia, in the day of war," will heed Pitt: "Then her oaks / Shap'd by her own mechanics, wou'd alone / Her island fortify" (ii. 287—9). Lamentably, instead of full reliance on such naval "demi-gods" as Vernon and Warren (i. 312—13), British blood is shed "in foreign lands" — "and shed in vain" (ii. 291—2). Smart's poem, which most critics have dismissed as a purely academic exercise, is in fact one of the most politically topical of British georgics. As in Philips's case, it was precisely Smart's bookishness, which the georgic was eminently suited to accommodate, that gave him his nativist political voice in verse.

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