One of the most exciting finds of my PhD so far has been a broadside map that I found in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, after spotting it in the list of publications at the back of a contemporary pamphlet, and tracking it through various search engines. Arriving at the Duke Humfreys Library and being handed a hefty tome of broadsides, I was hopeful but unsure of what A New and Exact Map of Toryland, published in 1729, would turn out to be.
I wasn’t disappointed, it is a marvel of satirical mapping. At the centre lies ‘Toryland’ featuring counties named ‘Absolution,’ ‘Arbitrary Government,’ and ‘Superstition.’ The ships which sail around its coast might easily be wrecked on the ‘Passive Obedience Rocks’ or the ‘Coast of Lost Liberty.’ Surrounding ‘Toryland’ to the West and South are the ‘Pretender’s Channel’ and the ‘Pretender’s Islands’ which include ‘No Tolleration’ and ‘Loss of Public Credit.’ To the East of ‘Toryland’ is ‘Part of Whig Land’ set up as its obvious opposite, where counties include ‘Toleration’ and ‘Parliamentary Right’ and the coastline features ‘Protestant Point’ and ‘Hannover Succession Rock.’ The map is edged with unmarked longitude and latitude scales and the title describes it as showing a location ‘whose Latitude is 1688, and Longitude 1714.’ Thus, latitude and longitude are used as markers of contemporary social and political boundaries; the map is contained by a grid created by the Glorious Revolution and the Hanoverian Succession. 1714 is, of course, also the date of the longitude Act itself.
I was made to think more about this map last week when I visited a small but beautifully executed exhibition at Waddesdon Manor, a National Trust property in Buckinghamshire. Playing, Learning, Flirting: Printed Board Games from 18th Century France showcases some of the extraordinary games collected by Ferdinand de Rothschild, the manor’s creator. Most are based around the French ‘game of the goose’ which worked in a similar vein to our modern ‘Snakes and Ladders’, with different squares offering obstacles or aids to the player’s journey. Some of these seem delightfully modern, like the Game of the College of Litigants (L’Ecole des Plaideurs), printed around 1685, in which there are no squares allowing the player to jump forward, and the game ends only in the workhouse. This relates nicely to playing cards produced around 1720 at which I have looked. These satirised the ‘South Sea Bubble‘ financial crash, and related natural philosophical projects and bubbles to financial ruin. Longitude was one such proposal.
Many of the board games include mapping or navigation in one form or another. There is the Game of a Voyage Around the World, Via the Principal Towns (Voiage du Monde par les Villes les plus Considerables de la Terre ou par un jeu) (1718), in which players learn geographical information while negotiating a world map, complete with latitude and longitude lines, and the New Game of the Navy (Le Nouveau Jeu de la Marine) (1768), which teaches players about types of vessel, offices and flags, and also features various navigational instruments. This again links to contemporary playing cards that featured suites of instruments for natural philosophers and mathematicians.
Photo: Mike Fear (c) Waddesdon, The Rothschild Collection (The National Trust)
But, my eye was most drawn to two maps, displayed with the Game of a Voyage Around the World. These were the wonderful Fantastical Map of the Empire of the Heart (L’Empire du Coeur) from c.1750 and Map of the Island of Marriage (Carte de L’isle du Marriage) from 1732. The former shows two paths from immaculate formal gardens at the centre, where men and women walk together, to the opposing temples of true and false love. Beyond are the dangerous sea and unknown lands. The latter resembles my Map of Toryland even more with the ‘Island of Marriage’ at the centre surrounded by contrasting lands of ‘Conjugal Love’ and ‘Suspicion’, ‘Boredom’ and ‘Dependence.’ The journey thither starts in the ‘Virgin Lands’ and can end at the ‘Island of Madness’, ‘Divorce’ and ‘Old Age.’ Sadly neither of these maps uses latitude or longitude lines as part of their allegory, but they play nicely into my thoughts about the idea of longitude being used as a trope to map contemporary social norms, and keep them firmly within bounds.
One of the sideline interests of my PhD is ways in which Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress has been picked up by contemporary artists. I blogged last year about a production of Stravinsky’s opera of the same name which Alexi, Sophie and I saw in Cambridge. A staging of that opera at Glyndebourne in 1975 featured stage sets by the modern artist David Hockney, which drew directly on Hogarth’s engraved images. I am presenting a paper on these at a conference in October and hope to incorporate them in my thesis conclusions.
My eye was recently caught, therefore, by the news that the controversial contemporary artist Grayson Perry has also been paying homage to A Rake’s Progress in a bold new attempt to discover the ‘taste tribes’ of Britain. In a series of three programmes for Channel 4 titled In the best possible taste, he has investigated the taste choices of the British working, middle and upper classes. Each programme has then led to the creation of two tapestries in a series of six, which narrate the life of Tim Rakewell, as opposed to Hogarth’s Tom Rakewell, as he passes from a working class birth to an upper class death in The Vanity of Small Differences. I have considered broader questions raised by these works and the programmes over on my own blog Spoons on Trays. You can read the post here.
What interests me in the Board of Longitude context is the relationship between Perry’s and Hogarth’s series, and particularly between the last images in each series, where Hogarth’s includes my cherished ‘longitude lunatic’ (who also adorns our project logo). Perry has created a story of enslavement to social appearance and taste choices in the 21st century that echoes Hogarth’s 18th-century story where Tom Rakewell was slowly destroyed by his attempt to lead the life of a sociable rake, whoring, gambling and holding expensive parties after acquiring of riches on the death of his miserly father. Tim Rakewell rises from working class origins in Sunderland to a stately home in the Cotswalds due to his development and sale of a software company. His taste journey takes him around Britain, where Tom’s keeps him firmly in London. Tom’s topographic settings are part of how Hogarth makes his point, just as Tim’s are for Perry.
Perry also rejoices in a wealth of domestic detail to show Tim’s world in the way that I love so much in Hogarth. Each tapestry draws directly on objects we have seen Perry encounter in the houses that he visits in the programmes. A graduation photo or tattoo here, an Aga or penguin classics mug there show the worlds through which Tim moves. There is also, throughout, the pervasive presence of Apple products, perfectly showing the importance of aspirational commercial consumption. This is precisely what we see in Tom’s choices of clothing or art works in Hogarth. Perry also makes subtle use of text in the tapestries on newspapers, advertisement boards, iPad screens and protest signs, just as Hogarth did with the handwritten proposals or printed broadsheets of Tom Rakewell’s contemporaries. Text is also incorporated into the background of Perry’s images, as ribbons between different sections, or on walls and pieces of furniture.
But, the final tapestry - #lamentation – surprised me by following Hogarth even more closely. Here the text appears as columns of narrative in a strip across the bottom of the image, in exactly the manner of the poems in Hogarth’s engravings. Likewise, the composition of Tim Rakewell dying on the floor in the arms of a paramedic, after a car crash, directly copies the pose of Hogarth’s Tom in Bedlam, as well as in the classic works portraying the lamentation over the dead Christ which Perry’s title references directly. Thus, Tim is the direct iconographic as well as conceptual modern version of Tom. The fashionably-dressed, voyeuristic women who watch Tom in Bedlam become Tim’s glamorous new wife who walks away from the car crash unharmed. The cells of Bedlam become the kebab shop and petrol station behind Tim, the Bedlam inmates become the passers-by who photograph Tim’s death on their phones and post it to Twitter with the hashtag ‘lamentation.’
But what does the longitude problem become? The composition is so related that you can see the longitude diagram directly behind Tim. It is the smashed windscreen of his expensive racing car symbolising, perhaps, the mad rush after branded goods which, Perry suggests, are making a car crash out of British society as the economy plunges into recession. He makes much the same point as Hogarth’s lunatic made, where he highlighted the rush of 18th-century projectors after the unsolvable longitude problem. Or perhaps our longtime diagram is actually the BP logo on the petrol station tower? The modern version of the longitude problem, is modern society’s greedy consumption of fossil fuels which damage the environment and make our consumer lifestyles less and less sustainable for the future?
I have been looking for two years for a modern equivalent to the longitude problem, and I think that Grayson Perry may have found it.
I’ve mentioned before how everything I do seems to end up relating to our longitude project. Last Wednesday, I went to a ballet at Sadler’s Wells in London, an adaptation by the Pet Shop Boys of the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, The Most Incredible Thing. I did not know of this fairy tale previously, so didn’t know that the story’s hero is a clock maker!
The modern adaptation of the story by Matthew Dunster, turns it into a particularly contemporary mixture of Communist state control and an X-Factor-style talent contest. The ballet starts with the citizens, like automatons, following the dreary round of their daily lives. The king proclaims a contest to find ‘the most incredible thing’ in the state, the reward for which will be half of the kingdom and his daughter’s hand in marriage. After thousands of entries, the prize is won by ‘Leonardo’, a young clock maker who has invented and built an extraordinary tiny clock. This expands to produce 12 visions, which appear for each number of the clock: four seasons, five senses, seven deadly sins and so on. Leo is helped to construct it, alone in his impoverished studio, by the physical embodiments of his three muses: concentration, love and courage. After the clock is destroyed by ‘Karl’, the Orwellian villain of the piece, Leo is helped to reconstruct it by the same muses. The power of this act causes Karl’s death, and overturns his brief victory in the contest, in which his destruction of the wonderful clock becomes itself ‘the most incredible thing.’
The idea of the lone genius, aided by divine inspiration, creating an extraordinary one-off instrument which, once destroyed, can only be saved by further supernatural aid, is of course interesting to us in our ideas on John Harrison. I was especially struck by the idea that destroying such an object becomes itself an incredible act. Leo’s watch here became the ‘object of virtue’ par excellence. But, what particularly interested me was the representation of the incredible clock within the staging of the ballet. The physical object was a small, traditional pocket watch, not dissimilar from H4, which was treated as fragile and jewel-like, crushed simply in Karl’s hands in the destruction scene. Yet, in the invention scene, it expands into a wonderful paper ‘castle in the air’ dreamed up by Leo, and composed of cut-out paper showing parts and diagrams (see the photo gallery of the Sadler’s Wells site), not unlike Harrison’s drawings in The Principles of Mr Harrison’s Time-keeper. Further, when the visions appear from the clock, they do so from a huge dial face-cum-projection screen which dominates the stage, and from which the images and dancers appear and expand. These representations and understandings of the clock were the twins of those I have been finding on the part of longitude pamphleteers in the eighteenth century.
It’s likely that few other people would tag this post as ‘longitude tourism’, but it was a momentous day for me on Sunday when I visited William Hogarth’s House in Chiswick, south London. This re-opened in November 2011 after a £400,000 redevelopment and refurbishment project which restored the structure to it’s former glory and has put in place a number of outreach and learning projects. After a checkered history, including neglect and bomb damage, the house is once again shining.
A statue of Hogarth and pug in Chiswick town centre
Hogarth's house and garden
Anyone to whom I have talked about my PhD over the last year will know that my project is based around the final plate from Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress in which an inmate of Bedlam tries to solve the longitude problem on the madhouse wall. I have therefore spent rather a lot of time on Hogarth recently who is on the way to becoming my hero. It was, consequently, a treat to see ‘my’ print on show at Hogarth’s House, alongside the rest of the Rake’s Progress, a complete set of A Harlot’s Progress, and The Four Stages of Cruelty.
Hogarth’s House suffers from the problem of many house museums in being an interesting historic building linked to an iconic figure, but with little original material from the house to display. The William Hogarth Trust have, however, collected an impressive range of objects to evoke Hogarth. The prints are joined by a copy of his theoretical text The Analysis of Beauty, an original engraving plate and his engraving tools, his official appointment document as Sergeant Painter to the King, and reproduction portraits; but also by careful replica furniture, period china and glassware, and finds from the house itself during the refurbishment. The domestic role of different areas is highlighted by appropriate cut-out figures from his engravings. It’s fun spotting ‘who’s who’! A small cupboard in one room houses child-size replicas of the clothes worn by Hogarth in a self-portrait, just one of the new elements to encourage family engagement.
Hogarth’s House is a simple but effective treatment of Hogarth as an artist and as an eighteenth-century man. My visit was rounded off by a visit to the nearby St. Nicholas Churchyard where Hogarth is buried, a peaceful English spot in the spring sunshine. He is immortalised by an epitaph from his friend the actor David Garrick as ‘great Painter of mankind … Whose pictur’d morals charm the mind.’ It is a shame that the house and churchyard are now separated by the busy cacophony of the Hogarth roundabout, but I feel this is a metropolitan contrast, and a modern urban tribute, of which Hogarth would have eminently approved.
In the latest issue of the British Journal for the History of Science I have a review of Kurt Møller Pedersen and Peter de Clercq’s edition of the journal that the Danish astronomer, surveyor and mathematician Thomas Bugge kept of a fact-finding European tour. It is published as An Observer of Observatories: The Journal of Thomas Bugge’s Tour of Germany, Holland and England in 1777, a handsome volume at the reasonable price of £25. In fact, there are two editions, one a transcription and one a translation of the original manuscript, which raises some intriguing questions, as does the fact that there are digitised images of the whole available online. You can read an abbreviated and edited version of the review over on my other blog here.
In the same issue, another member of the project team has reviewed another book that is very pertinent to our work. It is Selling Science in the Age of Newton, by Jeffrey R. Wiglesworth, which Alexi reviewed. Next year look out for a review of the same book by Richard, for Endeavour.
It seems that questions current to our project are active in my head all the time these days. You wouldn’t think that the new show curated by Grayson Perry at the British Museum, The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman, would have much to do with the problem of longitude, but it raised some interesting questions for me when I visited this weekend.
The show itself is surprisingly effective, charming and thought provoking. It presents Perry’s highly personal response to the British Museum through a combination of his own work and his selection of objects from the collections, with a personalised label commentary. It works around concepts of craftsmanship, culturally constructed meaning, and the sanctity of objects. This not only links nicely to questions that we’re considering in the ‘Things’ seminar in Cambridge this term (which you can follow on a separate blog), but also reminded me of ideas raised by Eoin in his fascinating paper, at the Exploring Empire conference in July at the National Maritime Museum, on the meaning of chronometers during the mutiny on the Bounty.
More specifically, two objects got me thinking. The first, Head of a Fallen Giant (2008) (which you can see in the photostream here) is described by Perry as his attempt to create an ‘English ethnographic object.’ Resembling a cross between a barnacle-encrusted skull and a corroded mine this is ‘the skull of a decaying maritime power.’ I was struck at the high proportion of technological objects that were included in the encrusting layer, as well as many images of coinage. What would a similar object for our period’s growing maritime superpower look like?
The second object was in the section on mapping, in which Perry’s point is how maps are culturally constructed, not just simple diagrams of reality. Of course, our entire project on longitude tells us that. Perry has included a large tapestry with a personal map of the British Museum surrounded by relevant London locations. This more specifically made me think of one of my most exciting finds to date, A New and Exact Map of Toryland, with the dangerous Rocks and Shoals of all the Jacobite Islands lying in the same Parallel nth ye Red Sea whose Latitude is 1688, and Longitude 1714 (1729), in the Bodleian Library. In this latitude and longitude were used as metaphors to navigate the eighteenth-century political landscape; a personal, cultural construction like Perry’s.
Thanks to Grayson Perry and the British Museum, for a very enjoyable visit which also got me thinking.
The project team have certainly been making the most of the conference scene recently. Last week saw some of us spending a thought-provoking two days at the National Maritime Museum, at their ‘Peopling the Past‘ conference scheduled to coincide with the opening of the new Sammy Ofer Wing.
Through five panels, and a wide range of papers the conference considered how we can use museum collections to tell engaging stories about the past. Two over-arching questions emerged for me. The first considered which people we should put in the past that we display. Inevitably, we have more objects and archives related to celebrity figures, but we increasingly want to tell the story of the ‘ordinary’ man, the silent voices of the past’s real lived experience. This theme raised further considerations over how we harness and portray community and global narratives from a potentially small object-base; how we balance the authority we want to put behind our displays with the more engaging personality that can emerge from engaging wider communities in the curatorial process. Likewise, how do we portray controversial voices, discussing issues which are now politically incorrect, controversial, or upsetting.
The second, related question, dealt with how museums can use new media to tell such stories. This allows them to engage with wider and different audiences, and to tell stories in potentially more engaging and complex ways, but also runs the risk of detracting from the objects which are the museum’s raison d’être. With increasingly complex technology there is the danger of museums becoming a more elaborate television programme. Papers considered crowd sourcing of information to tell stories for the ‘silent voices’ and engaging community groups to tell stories from personal perspectives. For me, this also raised the interesting idea of sourcing objects and archival material through new media, allowing, in fact, more ‘silent stories’ to be told. Particularly interesting papers, on both themes, considered projects at the Australian National Maritime Museum, Imperial War Museum and Museum of London.
The questions raised also threw light on the NMM’s new ‘Voyagers‘ gallery in the Sammy Ofer wing which now acts as an introduction to the museum. It answers both questions raised by the conference particularly well I thought. Along the back wall of the gallery, a single long case uses key objects and characters to tell a story of maritime experience through seven emotions: joy, pride, sadness etc. It features both celebrities and lesser-known figures. In front of this, a huge wave construction weaves across the gallery, projected with key words in wave patterns, and with images from the archives. It is accompanied by sounds of the sea. I feel this gallery uses new media and ‘silent voices’ to particularly successful effect, and was the perfect complement to such a stimulating conference.
Nature and nature’s laws lay hid in night;
God said “Let Newton be” and all was light.
The antechapel where the statue stood
Of Newton with his prism and silent face,
The marble index of a mind for ever
Voyaging through strange seas of Thought, alone.
William WordsworthLast weekend I had the chance to see Craig Baxter’s play Let Newton Be!, performed in Cambridge during their Science Festival. I wrote a post outlining some of my thoughts on the play and on representations of scientific genius, which you can read here. As the play, and these couplets show, Newton has long been a figure that attracted eulogy and myth-making. He was, of course, a legend in his own lifetime, something that needs to be borne in mind when we consider his role in introducing potential longitude solutions to parliament.