Faerie Queene, 11, canto X, ii. 5Ã€9; The History of Britain (1670Ã€1671) in Milton 1953Ã€1982,
V, p. 16.
Monmouth 1718. The prayer was supposedly by Gildas, an ancient British poet.
Ruffhead 1769, pp. 410Ã€20. A manuscript draft by Pope is in the British Library: MS Eg.
1950 ff. 4Ã€6.
176 karen oâ€™brien
the world in search of an outlet for his philanthropic impulses in order
to introduce good government â€˜among a people uncorrupt in their
manners, worthy to be made happy; and wanting only arts and laws to
that purposeâ€™.22 To this end, he lands at Torbay and helps the native
Celts expel the giants. Geoffrey had implied that the Trojansâ€™ imperium
in Britain was by right of cultivation, but for Pope their occupation is
justified by their moral motivation and generous conduct. After Brutus
establishes his military authority in Britain, one of his young kinsmen
argues in favour of â€˜treating the people who submitted to him as slavesâ€™.
But Brutus gives it as his opinion, not to conquer and destroy the natives of the
new-discovered land, but to polish and refine them, by introducing true religion,
void of superstition and all false notions of the Deity.23
The planned epic promised nothing less than a rewriting of the Aeneid
as a parable of Enlightened colonization, one which would have made
the benevolence of the colonizing power the main criterion of its political
legitimacy. It would thus have extended into the imperial arena Popeâ€™s
idea of the â€˜close system of Benevolenceâ€™, elaborated in An Essay on Man
(1733Ã€1734) and central to his theodicy.24 At the very least, Pope would
have written the poem in such as way as to encourage readers to draw
parallels between the founding of Britain and the present-day conduct
of empire, a subject which exercised Pope throughout his career.25
There were a number of other poets in this period who thought the
legend worth attempting, all of whom made the connection between the
Brutus story and Britainâ€™s contemporary pursuit of empire. Among
these was Hildebrand Jacob who published the first part of the epic
Brutus, the Trojan (1735) in which Diana predicts the coming of
a British empire of liberty: â€˜a Dardan Line, / Riches, reviving Liberty,
and Arts, / The Muses Seats, and new discoverâ€™d Worldsâ€™.26 At the very end
of the century, the so-called â€˜milkmaid poetâ€™ Anne Yearsley published
her â€˜Brutus: A Fragmentâ€™ in direct imitation of Pope. Her Brutus is
a benevolent colonizer and legislator, bringing liberty and the prospect
of maritime empire to a benighted land.27 And there was John Ogilvieâ€™s
Ruffhead 1769, p. 410. 23 Ruffhead 1769, p. 420.
An Essay on Man, iv, i. 58 in Pope 1939Ã€1969, iii-i.
See Erskine-Hill 1998.
Jacob 1735, p. 77. Only the first five books were ever published, and the poem breaks off before
Brutus reaches Albion.
Yearsley 1796 discussed in Griffin 2002, pp. 280Ã€85.
Benevolence in the Case of the British Empire 1680Ã€1800 177
Britannia (1801), which linked Britainâ€™s original settlement by Brutus
to its eventual destiny as a global empire of liberty.28
georgia on their minds
Pope drafted the Brutus fragment around 1740, at a time when he was
also writing the fourth book of The Dunciad, a work which imagines
an altogether more sinister imperial take-over of Britain, this time by
the oppressive, mind-contracting and malevolent forces of Dullness.29
The contrast between benevolent and malevolent empire had been on
Popeâ€™s mind throughout the previous decade. He took a keen interest in
James Oglethorpeâ€™s Georgia venture, and characterized Oglethorpe as the
very type of benevolence, famously alluding to him in these lines in his
Imitations of Horace: â€˜One, drivâ€™n by strong Benevolence of Soul, / Shall
fly, like Oglethorp, from Pole to Poleâ€™.30 Oglethorpe undoubtedly
provided Pope with the model for Brutus, and for responsible colonial
stewardship more generally. Popeâ€™s close associate Bolingbroke exhorted
his ideal patriot king to â€˜to improve and keep in heart the national
colonies, like so many farms of the mother countryâ€™, something both of
them felt Walpole had failed to do, especially when, in 1738, Oglethorpe
had to brow-beat the Prime Minister into giving him the resources to
defend the province against the Spaniards.31 As a public figure Oglethorpe
enjoyed a special relationship to poetry, and the Georgia venture
was, from the outset, celebrated in verse. One example will suffice: an
anonymous poem â€˜To James Oglethorpeâ€™ (1736), which mentions Popeâ€™s
endorsement, and the pacific intent behind the creation of the colony:
Let Twickenhamâ€™s bard, in his immortal lays,
Give thee the humble tribute of our praise.
[. . .]
No verdant plains of Georgia we view
With blood discolourâ€™d, or a purple hue;
But cities founded, and new conquests made
Without the slain that Marlbroâ€™s triumphs shade.
[. . .]
Zwierlein 2002, pp. 200Ã€3. 29 See Oâ€™Brien 2002, pp. 285Ã€7.
â€˜The Second Epistle of the Second Book of Horace Imitatedâ€™ (1737), ii. 277Ã€8 in Pope
1939Ã€1969, vi. Pope also knew Benjamin Martyn the secretary to the Georgia trustees and
playwright (see Mack 1985, p. 925 n.).
Bolingbroke 1997, p. 278. See Thomas 1996, p. 9 and Ettinger 1936.
178 karen oâ€™brien
The wandâ€™ring emigrant may now descry
A land that sacred is to liberty.32
The Georgia colony secured a royal charter in 1732 as the result of the
fundraising efforts of Oglethorpe and a group of trustees, and quickly
became just such a beacon of benevolent empire. The charter entitled the
trustees to administer for twenty-one years a non-profit-making colony
for the poor and persecuted, after which it was to revert to the Crown.
The charter emphasized the colonyâ€™s philanthropic and Christian
missionary purpose, referring warmly to the precedent of Pennsylvania,
although the Crown clearly stood to benefit from Georgiaâ€™s strategic
position as a bulwark against Spanish expansion from the south.33 It was
Oglethorpe who fashioned its political mission by taking personal
charge of the colony on the ground. He prohibited slavery, insisted
upon religious toleration and just dealings with the native peoples,
and instituted agrarian laws restricting the size of land holdings and
inheritances. All was done on an expressly Roman model (with perhaps
a nod to James Harrington), in an attempt to revive the ancient virtues,
though without any of the ancient representative institutions.34
Oglethorpe may have started out with a Ciceronian idea of imperial
protectorate in mind, but the project for a philanthropic colony took
his thinking in new and surprising directions. Addressing the House of
Commons in 1732, he articulated a vision of the people of the British
metropolis and colonies as members of one community, equally entitled
to be governed in their own interest:
in all cases that come before this House, where there seems to be a clashing of
interests between one set of people and another, we ought to have no regard to
the particular interest of any country or any set of people; the good of the whole
is what we ought only to have under our consideration: our colonies are all a part
of our own dominions; the people in every one of them are our own people, and
we ought to shew an equal respect to all.35
To MPs accustomed to thinking of the colonies as possessions and of
colonists as inferior, mainly Scotch Irish, wastrels, this must have seemed
â€˜To James Oglethorpe, Esq; on his late Arrival from Georgiaâ€™, appended to A New Voyage to
Georgia by a Young Gentleman 1737. This is not mentioned in the otherwise comprehensive Boys
Force 1836Ã€46, i, no. 2, pp. 4Ã€7. Also Reese 1963.
For instance, his observations on the â€˜wisdom of the Roman Stateâ€™, in Oglethorpe 1732, p. 52.
On Oglethorpeâ€™s authorship of this, see Baine 1988.
Quoted in Ettinger 1936, p. 101.
Benevolence in the Case of the British Empire 1680Ã€1800 179
revolutionary. Oglethorpeâ€™s views certainly had an impact upon Edmund
Burke, who knew him well in his later years, and whose speeches on
the American crisis articulated similar, if less thorough-going, ideas
of imperial community and colonial privilege.
In his administration of Georgia, Oglethorpe was a paternalistic,
somewhat authoritarian figure, little preoccupied, as Burke would later
be, with the transposition of liberty from mother country to colony.
It fell to Whig poets to take on the problem of reconciling liberty and
benevolence in the colonial context, and none more prominently than the
Scottish poet and author of â€˜Rule, Britanniaâ€™ James Thomson. Thomson
gave extensive treatment to the question of morally sanctioned empire in
works such as The Seasons (final authorial edition 1746) and The Castle
of Indolence (1748), often as part of an implicit narrative of the
development of liberty over time. His fullest statement on the Georgia
project occurs in the context of Liberty, A Poem (1735Ã€1736), a long, five-
part overview of the progress of liberty from ancient Greece to modern
Britain. The poem treats liberty as a supra-historical abstraction that finds
embodiment in various historical guises, but only fully realizes its true
form in Britainâ€™s mixed constitution. For most of the poem, it is she who
does the talking, and her status as a goddess reinforces the notion that
political liberty links the state to the metaphysical order of things. Liberty
is shown to be the object of enthusiastic Shaftesburian adoration by free
peoples everywhere; by worshipping her they acquire the ability to burst
â€˜the Bounds of Self â€™ and meld the public weal out of â€˜the mixâ€™d Ardor of
unnumberâ€™d Selvesâ€™.36 Such an inspired capacity for self-transcendence is
the essence of public virtue, the â€˜social Cement of Mankindâ€™.37 It is by
analogy with this self-transcendence that Thomson imagines the reaching
out of the British people into philanthropic colonies. Oglethorpeâ€™s
Georgia provides the operative example:
â€˜Lo! Swarming southward on rejoicing Suns,
Gay COLONIES extend; the calm Retreat
Of undeservâ€™d Distress, the better Home
Of Those whom Bigots chase from foreign Lands.
Not built on Rapine, Servitude and Woe,
But, bound by social Freedom, firm they rise;
Such as, of late, an OGLETHORPE has formâ€™d,
And, crouding round, the charmâ€™d Savannah sees.â€™
[Liberty is speaking here.]38
Liberty, A Poem, iii, ii. 107Ã€110, in Thomson 1986; see also Mehan 1986, p. 10.
Liberty, v, i. 95. 38 Liberty, v, ii. 638Ã€46.
180 karen oâ€™brien
The passage appears straight-forward until one starts to wonder what
â€˜social freedomâ€™ might mean here. Thomson goes on to discuss other
philanthropic schemes at home to relieve orphans, the unemployed
and the destitute (â€˜No starving Wretch the Land of Freedom stainsâ€™).39
It seems clear that Thomson has broadened the terms of liberty to include
freedom from the dependence of poverty and lack of opportunity, and
that â€˜social freedomâ€™ means, at least in part, the enabling of individuals
within the social sphere. Liberty may create the conditions for
philanthropy at home and welfare colonies abroad, without necessarily
entailing the extension of formal liberty to its beneficiaries.
cook, liberty and benevolence
Thomson was one Ã€ and by far the most widely read Ã€ of many poets
who attempted to fashion a poetic language of liberty equal to their
aspirations for a kinder domestic social order, for an expanding empire
and for the progress of the arts. Poets assumed a special role in the
philosophical consideration of the social dimensions and operations of
liberty. William Collins, for instance, in his â€˜Ode to Libertyâ€™ (1746)
a decade or so later, urged the â€˜Laureate Bandâ€™ of poets to â€˜soothâ€™ Liberty
in order for her â€˜to gainâ€™ â€˜Blithe Concordâ€™s social Formâ€™.40 In a similarly
Pindaric vein, the popular mid-century Whig poet Mark Akenside made
lofty claims for the bard as the preserver and reformer of a social order
built upon foundations of liberty.41 The empire features in such works as
a by-product of British liberty and its struggle with French absolutism.
The expansion of Britain corresponds metaphorically with the imagina-
tive expansiveness of the poet, since both are stimulated by liberty, and
both give liberty expressive form. It was thus possible to imagine the
empire as an outgrowth of British liberty, without ever implying that it
was a community of shared liberty in which colonists and native peoples
enjoyed the same freedoms as those at home. There were many poems,
especially georgics such as John Dyerâ€™s The Fleece (1757) or James
Graingerâ€™s The Sugar-Cane (1764), that celebrated the American and West
Indian colonies as part of a community of production and consumption,
but here too what they offered to overseas imperial subjects was economic
rather than political participation.42
Liberty, v, i. 656.
Collins 1979, ii. 129Ã€32. See also Rowe 1739, â€˜An Ode to Libertyâ€™.
See the excellent discussion of Akenside in Griffin 2002, ch. 4.
See, for example, Dyer 1757, iv, ii. 525Ã€41.
Benevolence in the Case of the British Empire 1680Ã€1800 181
During the American Revolutionary War, the idea of the colonies as
part of a community of liberty Ã€ in Richard Priceâ€™s words, â€˜a multitude
of free states branched forth from ourselvesâ€™ Ã€ featured prominently in
the dissenting campaign for conciliation.43 Schemes, such as that of the
â€˜Country Associationâ€™ (a coalition of radical friends of America) for a new
kind of imperial federation held out the possibility of an entirely new
vision of empire.44 Yet these were no more successful in the short term
than Burkeâ€™s idea that the American colonists, for too long infants under
the protection of the modern country, should be allowed some of the
privileges of adulthood. â€˜Never againâ€™, Eliga Gould has argued â€˜would the
British think of any part of their empire as an extension of their own
nationâ€™.45 Yet, at the point where the loss of America seemed inevitable,
writers were fashioning a regenerated language of empire in the wake
of the three Cook voyages of 1768Ã€1780, the published accounts of the
discoveries, and the melodrama of Cookâ€™s murder, in Hawaii, in 1779.46
The literary attempt to make moral and political sense of Cookâ€™s achieve-
ments came at a moment of particular imperial pressure. In addition to
the American crisis and war, it coincided with the beginning of the anti-
slavery campaigns, and followed a period of parliamentary and public
concern about the activities of the East India Company in the wake of
the devastating Bengal famine of 1770. Much has been written about
the decisive roles played by poets in the campaign for abolition, and
something has been said about poetsâ€™ mythologizing of the South Seas
discoveries, and a little about the overlap between these roles.47 Poets
mythologized the voyages as examples of the workings of an imperial
benevolence hitherto absent in the nationâ€™s dealings with its African
subjects, often in terms which divulged an incipient evangelical language
of moralized global capitalism. It was Cook himself who bore the
symbolic brunt of this artistic search for imperial regeneration, as a figure
embodying both disinterested scientific rationality and humane Christian
The most widely read poem in this vein was the Elegy on Captain Cook
(1780) written by the radical Whig poet Anna Seward, possibly with
some input from her friend Erasmus Darwin. In the elegy she celebrates
Cookâ€™s disinterested pursuit of discovery and science, rather than
Price 1776, p. 27.