Et in Arcadia Ego: landscape theory and the funereal imagination in eighteenth-century Britain
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date31/12/2100
This study considers the relationship between landscape and the Arcadian funereal imagination in the context of eighteenth century Britain, arguing that the Arcadian landscapes imagined by the British elite were instruments of rituals facilitating the reformation and transformation of socioeconomic, political, and moral structures of the British empire. Drawing upon texts and landscape practices, three case studies are examined: Alexander Pope’s (1688-1744) Twickenham grotto and his descriptive letter to Edward Blount; Sir William Chambers’ (1723-1796) Dissertation on oriental gardening and his design for Kew gardens, Sir John Soane’s (1753-1837) manuscript Crude hints towards an history of my house in LIF and his house-museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields in London. The landscape itinerary of Pope’s Twickenham villa, in relation to his letter to Blount, suggests that it was structured analogous to the initiatory route of the Eleusinian mysteries as accounted in Pope’s translation of the Odyssey. Noting Pope’s engagement with Freemasonry, associated with the Opposition party, I suggest this implied Odyssean journey not only metaphorically anticipates the restitution of the Stuart dynasty and the reassertion of a political order founded upon aristocratic land ownership, but is also a means by which the ‘initiates’ contest the Enlightenment ideal of a mind of autonomy. In relation to the Burkean sublime, Chambers’ Dissertation, an imaginary travel narrative, is read as a city landscaping theory which aims to shape the morals of British citizens exposed to the erosion of commercial society. Whilst the scenes of luxury in the Chinese gardens imply a double effect of commercial society, the funereal imagery of ‘the surprising,’ built upon the Burkean sublime-effect, is intended as a cure of moral corruption associated with luxury. Stimulated by geological notions (e.g. stratigraphy and catastrophism), Soane’s ruinous text of Crude hints, a mirror of the house-museum as well as the earth, illustrates a parallel between the ‘first principles’ of the movement of the earth and that of the mind, i.e. imagination and signification. The funereal imagination in the text, which itself represents simultaneous creation and destruction, is revealed to be the architect’s construction of an ideal language that can express the being of the nation and the self. This thesis ends with a theoretical discussion of the role of the funereal imagination in eighteenth century landscape and architecture, i.e. how British imperial identity was forged, transmitted, negotiated, and reconstructed constantly within the temporally and spatially extended discursive realm of Arcadian mythology.