The Decline of Georgic

The decline of formal georgic after Dyer - and, more interestingly, georgic's continued absorption into other forms, verse and prose - reflects many extraneous circumstances, as well as more purely literary developments, too numerous to discuss here (see "References and Further Reading" below). It is unfortunate, though perhaps inevitable, that discussion of Grainger's The Sugar-Cane - the surpassing didactic achievement in British georgic - tends to focus on its position as a canonical terminus, and (worse still) on the famous hilarity of its reception by Johnson's circle. Until recent sympathetic readings of the poem (Gilmore 2000; Fairer 2003b), critics since Samuel Johnson have generally deplored Grainger's attempt to incorporate slavery as a georgic topic (Irlam 2001) and smiled at his tendency to court bathos [see ch. 2, "Poetry, Politics, and Empire"). Grainger, though highly competent, sometimes lacks poetic tact; and tact was precisely what was needed to introduce the British verse-reading public - which was arguably a good deal warier of the exotic and more fastidious in 1760 than in 1710 - to a Caribbean world represented in lovingly elaborate detail. For this is what Grainger has to offer: a natural history of St. Kitts, the first of its encyclopaedic scope in the literature of the West Indies. The first fifty lines present not only "huge casks" of "strong-grain'd muscovado, silvery-grey," but information about a host of New World trees - "the wild red cedar," the locust, the guava, the guaiac, the shaddock, the "white acajou," the avocado - and their nutritive and medicinal uses. And this is just in the verse, which, uniquely in British georgic, rests on a compendious body of footnotes, many amounting to mini-essays. In the 1764 quarto, as well as Chalmers's 1810 edition, the verse on the page is offset by the sumptuous annotation: the reader is invited to read verse and prose alternately, for reciprocal enrichment. (Today's readers may enjoy the additional benefit of John Gilmore's superb supplementary annotation.) To read The Sugar-Cane, then, is to immerse oneself in a thickly referential textual world. This highlights an essential aspect of georgic, and a main source of its attraction. When we read georgic verse, we engage imaginatively with a massy, bristling record of one man's physical and topical world (until the appearance of Vita Sackville-West's The Land in 1926, formal georgic is written by men). The value of any georgic lies in showing how one individual (a) chose to interpret and respond to a specific literary challenge and (b) responded to a variety of topics about which he or she evidently cared a great deal. Georgic is for readers who relish that sense of particularity; it is also for those who like generous explanatory notes and enjoy the kind of quirky, thoughtful topical conversation they ideally evoke.

See also chs. 1, "Poetry, Politics, and the Rise of Party"; 2, "Poetry, Politics, and Empire"; 14, "James Thomson, The Seasons"; 25, "Rhyming Couplets and Blank Verse"; 32, "Whig and Tory Poetics"; 38, "Poetry and the City"; 39, "Cartography and the Poetry of Place."

Author's Note

I am grateful to John Goodridge, David Fairer, and Bridget Keegan for their comments on drafts of this essay.

References and Further Reading

Addison, Joseph (1987). "An Essay on the Georgics" (1697). In The Works of John Dryden, gen. ed. H. T. Swedenberg, Jr., vol. 5: Poems: The Works of Virgil in English, 1697, ed. William Frost and Vinton A. Dearing, 145-53. Berkeley: University of California Press. Barrell,John (1983). EnglishLiteratureinHistory 1730— 80: An Equal, Wide Survey. London: Hutchinson. Barrell, John (1999). "Afterword: Moving Stories, Still Lives." In G. MacLean, D. Landry and J. P. Ward (eds.), The Country and the City Revisited, 160-79. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Barrell, John, and Guest, Harriet (1987). "On the Use of Contradiction: Economics and Morality in the Eighteenth-Century Long Poem." In Felicity Nussbaum and Laura Brown (eds.), The

New Eighteenth Century: Theory, Politics, English Literature, 121-43. New York and London: Methuen.

Benson, William (1739). Letters Concerning Poeti cal Translations, and Virgil's and Milton's Arts of Verse, &c. London: J. Roberts.

Chalker, John (1969). The English Georgic: A Study in the Development of a Form. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Crawford, Rachel (2002). Poetry, Enclosure, and the Vernacular Landscape, 1700—1830. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

De Bruyn, Frans (1997). "From Virgilian Georgic to Agricultural Science: An Instance in the Transvaluation of Literature in Eighteenth-Century Britain." In Albert J. Rivero (ed.), Augustan Subjects: Essays in Honor of Martin C. Battestin, 47—67. London: Associated University Presses.

Durling, Dwight L. (1935). Georgic Tradition in English Poetry. New York: Columbia University Press.

Fairer, David (2002). "Organic Matters: Georgic and Gothic in Eighteenth-Century Britain." Lecture to American Society for Eighteenth-

Century Studies, Colorado Springs, 6 April 2002.

Fairer, David (2003a). English Poetry of the Eighteenth Century, 1700—1789. London: Longman.

Fairer, David (2003b). "A Caribbean Georgic: James Grainger's The Sugar-Cane." Kunapipi 25, 21—8.

Feingold, Richard (1978). Nature and Society: Later Eighteenth-Century Uses of the Pastoral and Georgic. Hassocks, Sussex: Harvester.

Gerrard, Christine (1994). The Patriot Opposition to Walpole: Politics, Poetry, and National Myth, 1725-1742. Oxford: Clarendon.

Gilmore, John (2000). The Poetics of Empire: A Study of James Grainger's The Sugar-Cane. London and New Brunswick, NJ: Athlone.

Goldstein, Laurence (1977). Ruins and Empire: The Evolution of a Theme in Augustan and Romantic Literature. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Goodridge, John (1995). Rural Life in Eighteenth-Century English Poetry. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Grainger, James (1757). Review of Dyer's The Fleece. Monthly Review 16, 328-40.

Griffin, Dustin (1986). Regaining Paradise: Milton and the Eighteenth Century. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Griffin, Dustin (1990). "Redefining Georgic: Cowper's Task." ELH 57, 865-79.

Exporting England in James Grainger's The Sugar-Cane." ELH 68, 377-96.

Kaul, Suvir (2000). Poems of Nation, Anthems of Empire: English Verse in the Long Eighteenth Century. Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia.

Mounsey, Chris (2001). Christopher Smart: Clown of God, pp. 64-80 on The Hop-Garden. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press; London: Associated University Presses.

O'Brien, Karen (1999). "Imperial Georgic, 16601789." In G. MacLean, D. Landry and J. P. Ward (eds.), The Country and the City Revisited, 160-79. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Porter, William M. (1993). Reading the Classics and Paradise Lost. Lincoln, Nebr. and London: University of Nebraska Press.

Raven, James (1992). Judging New Wealth: Popular Publishing and Responses to Commerce in England, 1750-1800. Oxford: Clarendon.

Rothstein, Eric (1981). Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Poetry, 1660-1780. Vol. 3 of The Routledge History of English Poetry. Boston and London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Virgil (1990). Georgics, ed. R. A. B. Mynors. Oxford: Clarendon.

Wilkinson, L. P. (1969). The Georgics of Virgil: A Critical Survey. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

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