Whigs and Jacobites in the Age of Queen Anne

Dustin Griffin
New York University

Two new books from Oxford, one by a distinguished senior scholar and the other a first book by a young scholar, remind us that poetry during the reign of the last of the Stuarts was inseparable from politics, and enrich our understanding of the differences between the Whigs and the Tories, especially those with Jacobite leanings. The former looked back to the foundational moment of the Revolution, and ahead with great confidence to Hanoverian Britain; the latter looked back to a traditional England loyal to its Stuart kings and their predecessors, and ahead with a sense of impending doom. Each produced a substantial body of poetry that attracted admirers in its day, though readers today are far more familiar with the poems produced by the Tory writers than their Whig counterparts.

Poetry and the Creation of a Whig Literary Culture, 1681–1714 (Oxford University Press, 2005), by Abigail Williams, appeals for renewed attention to what used to be known as—and dismissed as—eighteenth-century “Whig panegyric.”   Williams has in mind not the poems of midcentury in praise of British commerce or empire, but poems produced in the years between the Exclusion Crisis and the accession of the Hanoverians by earlier generations of writers—Shadwell, Dennis, Garth, Blackmore, and Charles Montagu in the years before 1700, Tickell, Addison, Ambrose Philips, Stepney, Welsted, and Eusden in the years just after.   And she is really less interested in individual poems than in what she calls “Whig literary culture” and in the “historical aesthetic” by which poems such as Montagu's “Epistle to Dorset,” Addison's “Campaign,” and Tickell's “Prospect of Peace” were once highly regarded.   As she observes, such poems were bursting with confidence—both in themselves, and in triumphant Britain—easily outsold poems produced by “Tory” writers, and were well patronized by Whig grandees.   Why, she wonders, have such poems not survived in the canon, and why is the very idea of a “Whig literary culture” so novel?

In four chapters she traces a chronological story from 1681 through the Revolution, the accession of William and Mary, and the reign of Queen Anne, to her death in 1714.   She concludes with two chapters on the “Whig sublime” and on Whig patronage networks.

There is a lot to commend about this book. Williams is well-informed: she knows the standard and recent historical studies of “Whig” and “Tory,” as well as the debates about the allegedly “conservative” nature of the Revolution, and also knows recent work in literary history.   She recognizes that in this period, “aesthetics were understood to be inherently political” (22).   She is scrupulous, careful even when she mounts a general claim to acknowledge exceptions, contrary evidence, and the diversity of “Whig poetry.”   (She clearly owes a lot to the work of Christine Gerrard on a later generation of Whig writers who made up the “Patriot Opposition” to Walpole in the 1730s.)   She knows that distinctions between “Whig poets” and “Tory poets” did not prevent Whigs from joining in the mockery of their fellow-Whig, Blackmore, and that John Tutchin, noted Whig and nonconformist, turned against William and quarreled with Defoe.   Even though she wants to claim that there is a single “Whig tradition” from 1681 to 1714 and beyond, she concedes that there is no real continuity between the oppositional “First Whigs”of the 1680s and the ministerial Hanoverian-Walpolean Whigs of the 1720s.   Although reluctant to give up the idea of a “coherent and evolving poetic tradition” (172), she recognizes “discontinuity” between early emphasis on “reform” and later emphasis on “sociability.”

Her book includes valuable discussion of various Whig responses to the Revolution—emphasizing (along with prose commentators of the day) the “ancient constitution” or the providential rescue of the nation in distress by a chivalric knight, or even (what is not found in prose defenses) a kind of erotic conquest or pleasing rape.   She is good on the praise of William as a warrior king (in pointed contrast to Charles as mild, merciful, and easy-going), and as Protestant Deliverer (even though William had Catholic allies in Europe who shared his opposition to French hegemony).   By contrast, as she notes, Tory writers such as Dryden deplore the “Military State” that England had become, and decline to celebrate military heroes, whether William or Alexander.   She is also good also on Dennis as a “moderate Whig reformer” who parted company with extremists like fellow-Whig Jeremy Collier.   She sees a political dimension to the “pastoral war” between Pope and Philips—the latter aiming at a new modern native pastoral, befitting a nation that had remade itself at the Revolution, the former aiming at a de-politicized and timeless world.   She effectively contrasts “Windsor Forest” with both Tickell's “Prospect of Peace” and Gildon's “Libertas Triumphans” (1708), which emphasizes the link between Windsor and Runnymede. (Pope ignores it, even though it is found in “Cooper's Hill”).   She adds to recent work on patronage (including my own) by arguing that we should resist any easy associations between patronage and traditional social arrangements, and between modernity/independence and literary marketplace.   Whig patrons, she shows, claimed to be doing something new.

The book has likewise several weaknesses.   Williams tends to regard “Tory” writers as a solid bloc, when in fact Swift dedicated “Tale of a Tub” to Lord Somers, one of the most famous of Whig patrons, and claimed all his life to be “a Whig in politics.”   Pope tried hard, especially in his early years, to escape any political label, and maintained friendships with writers from both parties.   She sometimes attributes to the Tories what was also true of the Whigs: writers of all political persuasion became increasingly interested in “sociability” and in “politeness.”   It is not true that Whig poets are more likely than Tories to engage in “celebration of events in public life” (204).   Or if true, it's only because Whigs were in control after 1700 except for 1710–1714.   She herself concedes that all sects—Anglicans, Catholics, Dissenters—used the language of “reform,” and acknowledges that poets from all parties explored “the sublime”—not just Whig panegyrists, but also Patriots, Jacobites, and even Tories, from Roscommon to the young Pope.

In her eagerness to rehabilitate her Whigs, she overstates their neglect.   It may have been true in 1960 or 1970 to say that the Whig writers had been “written out of literary history,” but Addison and Shaftesbury get more attention today than they received a generation ago, as do Pope's “dunces.”   The poems found in the Yale edition of Poems on Affairs of State have been well known to specialists since their publication in the '60s and '70s.   (It is not accurate to describe the original collections of “state poems” as a “Whig miscellany”—it's true that it could not be printed until after the Revolution of 1688, but it reprinted much of the scandalous verse by Charles II's courtiers.   Their skepticism about the “Merry Monarch” did not make them Whigs.)

Much of her story is more familiar than she concedes, especially the “Tory critique” of Whig writing (to which she devotes her first chapter), and the network of Whig literary patronage in the years around 1700, when booksellers, peers, statesmen, and writers gathered as the Kit Cat Club—even though it is useful to be reminded of the details, e.g., that William and Mary spent more lavishly on the arts than did Charles and James.   She acknowledges that Whig patrons were also ready to support poetry that did not have “a specific political agenda” (205); and that Pope's dunces are basically Whig writers, and that his picture of them (particularly his emphasis on their frenzy, marginality, and their poverty) draws on old stereotypes from the 1680s that were outdated by the 1720s when Whig writers had been embraced by high Hanoverian culture.   She cannot decide whether to regard the Kit Cat Club as a kind of “court” or as an element of the allegedly-emerging “public sphere.”

Given the optimism and energy and support, both financial and political, for a new “Whig literary culture,” why did it fail to survive?   Even though Thomson, Young, Akenside, and Aaron Hill kept Whiggish poetry alive for decades, and even though Dennis, Addison, and Shaftesbury retained their reputations as critics until well beyond the end of the century, why did these writers fail, by and large, to preserve their initial reputations? In a brief conclusion, looking ahead beyond 1714, Williams speculates that it had to do with the factional divisions within the Whig party (as Patriots fell out with the ministerial Whigs), or with Walpole's purely pragmatic view of poetry—he cared nothing for art, and only paid for literary services that clearly advanced his political objectives.   But given the dominance of the Whigs (of one stripe or other) in political life for the rest of the century, these speculations seem inadequate.   Why did the “Tory critique” of the Whig poets largely persuade?   Perhaps because the writer who outruns his or her renown is in fact the rarity.   (Who now reads Cowley? Or Southey?)   Perhaps because over time readers, guided by critics like Johnson, concluded that the Whig poets by and large weren't very good.

Pat Rogers has written very well about Pope and his world for nearly thirty-five years—his Grub Street: Studies in a Subculture first appeared in 1972.   His latest book, Pope and the Destiny of the Stuarts: History, Politics, and Mythology in the Age of Queen Anne (Oxford University Press, 2005), evidently written over many years, provides a comprehensive account of Pope's “Windsor-Forest,” setting the poem in its several interpretive contexts, from historical to biographical to literary.   It comes hard on the heels of his 2004 book, The Symbolic Design of Windsor-Forest : Iconography, Pageant, and Prophecy in Pope's Early Work (Delaware University Press).   Rogers describes the new book as a “sister study” of the earlier volume.   Although he regards it as “self-contained,” some readers may be frustrated to find that Rogers refers often to his previous book, where a given topic is discussed more fully, or is “reserved for separate treatment.”

Rogers's sense of the poem's “context” is a generous one—encompassing not just political events leading up to the signing of the Peace of Utrecht.   He in effect wants to reconstruct the entire world reflected in the poem, from the founding of the South Sea Company to ceremonial rituals at Windsor Castle, from Pope's childhood ramblings near Binfield to his friendship with Sir William Trumbull.   He also wants to look beyond March 1713, when the poem was published, to the events of 1714–1716, when the golden world that the poem imagines was shattered, first by the accession of the Hanoverians and next by the repression of Pope's Jacobite friends following the 1715 Rising, and the “expulsion” of Pope's family from their Edenic “ancestral home” in Binfield.   It may seem surprising to include as “context” events that followed the poem's publication, but Rogers wants to convey a sense of the poem's “after-life,” and (by citing his 1715–1716 letters) a sense of what Pope had valued in the private and public world of Windsor Forest and Stuart Windsor, now lost.

The literary context of the poem—Pope's “literary inheritance”—also receives substantial attention, in two lengthy chapters that go over familiar ground—especially what Pope took from Virgil (pastorals, georgics, and Aeneid ), from Ovid's Metamorphoses , and from Denham's “Cooper's Hill.”   To these well-known models Rogers adds Camden's Britannia and Drayton's Poly-Olbion , Spenser, Shakespeare, and Milton, Cowley and Evelyn.   Two other important models, Jonson and Dryden, are “reserved” for separate discussion in his “sister study.”   Sometimes Rogers uncovers “sources” or borrowings, and sometimes what he calls “echoes,” “parallels,” and “reminiscences.”   Not all readers will be persuaded that Pope has a particular poem in mind, but Rogers would reply that he seeks to recreate the “attitudes and states of mind” that Pope inherited from his predecessors.

In Rogers's reading, “Windsor-Forest” is consistently political, with pronounced Stuart and even Jacobite sympathies.   When Pope declares that “Peace and Plenty tell a Stuart reigns,” Rogers hears an implicit suggestion that although Anne has no heir, her half-brother the Pretender would be her “natural successor” (116).   Here he endorses and amplifies the work of Howard Erskine-Hill and Douglas Brooks-Davies.   So thoroughly does Rogers draw on the work of previous scholars—including Robert Schmitz, Earl Wasserman, Maynard Mack, Robert Cummings, among many others—that his book might be regarded as a compilation of (in Rogers's view) the best that has been written about the poem.   He broadly aligns himself with Wasserman, presenting his own work as both corroborating and supplementing Wasserman, particularly by bringing to bear “contextual data” and such topics as Pope's use of the languages of heraldry, chilvalric honors, and alchemy.

A comprehensive study that incorporates the work of all major scholars of “Windsor-Forest,” and that provides what amount to extended annotation on virtually every topic that arises in the poem, provides a very useful companion to readers.   But it runs some risks. Rogers himself acknowledges that his book is loosely organized around a variety of topics, that he will “again and again return to the same passages” (5), and that many of his discussions will overlap or interlock.   Although Rogers keeps in the foreground the idea that Pope is a Stuart loyalist and a “crypto-Jacobite,” the book proceeds without much more sense than that of a governing argument. Indeed, on a crucial matter Rogers seems to be of two minds.   One strain in his book focuses on “Windsor-Forest” as a celebration of the forthcoming golden days of peace.   Another brings out the elegiac element for the last of the Stuarts, grim “foreboding” (124) of a dark future.   Even on Rogers's concluding page, the poem is said to have “looked forward, more in hope than expectation, to a continuance of the golden years under Stuart rule,” and (a paragraph later) to be “pervaded by a profound sense of an impending doom” (317).   Perhaps Rogers has not resolved his double view of the poem. Perhaps, one could reply, Pope had not resolved his divided mind either.

But Rogers focuses on the poem's coherence.   He knows the poem's composition history, Pope's revisions, and his advertisement that the poem was composed at two different periods, but does not choose to follow up Pope's own hint that the poem is perhaps meant to fall into two parts—the pastoral world of Windsor Forest, with which Pope aligns himself, and the political world centered on England's future glories, to be sung by Granville, the poem's dedicatee.   The presiding figures in the first half of the poem are Trumbull and Lodona, the one a retired statesman and the other a river spirit with an affinity for the shades—perhaps, one might say, figures for a poet reluctant to commit himself to a public and political world.   Rogers, by contrast, sees Lodona essentially as a metaphor for Windsor Forest itself, “rural sanctity profaned by an imperious outsider” (261), and does not remark on her fateful choice to stray beyond the forest's bounds.

While many commentators regard the tribute to Granville to be merely good manners, Rogers brings out Granville's credentials as a “poet/statesman” and finds him “representative of a broader Tory grouping within the circles of power” (82), connected to Jacobites, and close to the queen.   He concedes, however, that in some respects Granville was not an apt choice of hero: he was not involved in the peace process, was not closely connected to Windsor, and by 1713 was no longer a poet.   It seems odd that in a poem celebrating the Peace of Utrecht, Pope (unlike such contemporaries as Joseph Trapp and Thomas Parnell) should never refer to the statesmen who did make the peace—Oxford and Bolingbroke.   Rogers, who is generally acute in his discussion of Pope's silences and omissions (e.g., concerning Marlborough, or Runnymede), strains to suggest that Granville is a kind of stand-in for the leading ministers.

In another reading (which Rogers does not consider) one might regard Granville as a figure who marries poetry and politics, and who thus stands as an alternative to the retiring poet. What Rogers perhaps sees as a fundamental ambivalence in the poem—Pope looking forward with both optimism and foreboding—might be alternatively regarded as Pope's own misgivings about the future of Britain (about to take up a global or imperial role in the world's stage) and about the price a poet might have to pay for taking up public and political causes.