The Year 1722
The year that I chose to analyze for this project is the year of our Lord King George I 1722 AD. This year was characterized by significant developments in the British-American colonies as well as continued domestic growth and economic development. Though this year did not contain any significantly formative events in British history, there remains a variety notable news items from all across the empire that I read about during my research.
The periodical that I chose for this assignment is called “The London Courant.” The London Courant was first published on March 11, 1702 and became what is now considered to be the first successful London newspaper. The newspaper had humble beginnings as a sort of one-sided pamphlet comprised of only a single sheet. The periodical soon became quite popular and began to include advertisements in the content of its publication. The size of the newspaper grew to become a double-sided single sheet publication divided into columns down the center of the page. The London Courant sparked a brief controversy in the year 1712 when the April 7th edition reported on certain deliberations of Parliament. This “intrusion” for which the publisher was fined marked the beginning of many future controversial debates regarding freedom of the press within the British Empire. The paper’s first publisher was Edward Mallet who sold it to Samuel Buckley who assumed publication until the year 1735 when the paper was forcefully replaced by the publication known as the “Daily Gazetteer.” Although Edward Mallet originally intended to include only foreign news items, the paper would eventually contain a variety of news stories, foreign and domestic, as well as classified and commercial advertisements. The newspaper’s self-declared purpose is found in the first issue, stating: “This Courant…will be publish’d daily: being design’d to give all the material news as soon as every post arrives.’”
The Daily Courant is a newspaper that published primarily foreign news as quickly as it received the information. The majority of each issue is filled with reports of important events throughout Europe. Nearly every issue that I have come across however does in fact report at least one piece of domestic news.
In the January 20th issue of the Courant there is a report of the status of the plague that had taken over the French city of Avignon. The report states that the town appears to be recovering from the outbreak of a deadly plague that has claimed 4000 lives since the 28th of December of the previous year. The author states that only 109 people have died in the last week and that this mortality rate is expected to steadily decrease. The article continues to explain how many of the sick members of the community have been quarantined and that stricter discipline during the initial outbreak would have helped contain the sickness. The coverage of Avignon concludes with the claim that the rest of the community is continuing to recover well from the deadly plague. This issue discusses a few other areas in which the plague has caused sickness, however it resolves that these communities have adequately contained the outbreak and are growing steadily healthier.
The following issue, January 22nd, features a number of advertisements for events at The King’s Theatre, the Theatre Royal – both Drury Lane and Lincoln’s Inn-Fields, and the Cockpit Royal. These events ranged from operas, to tragedies, to French comedies, and even cockfights being performed in the various performance venues throughout the London area. These advertisements are one example of the many that appear in a number of issues of the Daily Courant.
Another interesting article that I came across in my research of the Daily Courant appears in the March 19th issue. This issue contains a speech given by the British military officer Sir Francis Nicolson. The speech is given as an address to the general assembly of South Carolina and is subsequently relayed in this article to the citizens of the Kingdom of Britain. The speech touches on a variety of issues including religion, piety, imperialism and trade. The most interesting part of this speech I believe is the segment that deals with the expansion of the Royal territories southward with the goal of claiming more territories and further expanding the scope of British trade. The speech is filled with subtle references to imperialist ambitions and the manipulation of the multiple Native American tribes that could present a barrier to the goals of his Royal Highness. The speech urges the general assembly to continue to see to the safety of the companies employed by the King in order to “further expand the boundaries of the colony.” I found this particular speech to be interesting and relevant to the topics of dominance, cultural snobbery and imperialism that characterized the thought in eighteenth-century Europe. This article was undoubtedly published not only for informative purposes, but also to relay to the people of London the strength and power of the British Empire as it continued to thrive and expand in foreign territories.
In my research of the year 1722, I cam across a controversy involving a Jacobite plot that eventually lead to the suspension of Habeas Corpus Act. Though this event occurred in October, and my reading of the Daily Courant was limited to January-March, I believed it necessary to read the issue of the Courant that was printed on the day following these events. The October 18th issue of the Daily Courant immediately begins with articles pertaining to the previous days’ events. The issue contains two addresses given to the King congratulating him on the discovery of “James the Pretender.” Each of these statements is filled with lavish language praising the many virtues and distinguished characteristics of His Majesty. Each author, seemingly speaking for the constituent Royal subjects of Great Britain, pledges their unwavering support for the policies, laws and precepts upheld by King. One of the authors, Robert Bucks states this saying “We therefore, with that sincerity that becomes subjects of the best and greatest Kings, humbly presume to offer our assurance to your Majesty, that we shall on all occasions be ready to contribute our upmost endeavors for the preservation of your Majesty’s Royal person and Government.”
This article interested me particularly because I sought it out with the intention of reading an informative article that covered the events of the Jacobite controversy. I expected to find an article that resembled modern news clips in that it informed the public about the privileged details of an event that are often known only to the media. What I found however was a blind pledge of allegiance by two different authors that insists on the public’s unwavering support of the King and his policies. Instead of reading about the controversy that could ensue following the suspension of an act that defined the rights of imprisoned persons. This article seems to be much more important based on what it does not say rather than what it does. I believe the content of this issue of the Daily Courant represents the nationalism and subtle imperialist way of thinking that often defined this period.
The Daily Courant was not exactly what I expected when I embarked on my close reading of this periodical. I expected something much different from this publication as I assumed that eighteenth-century periodicals would share most of the same fundamental characteristics of their modern counterparts. The Daily Courant is a composition of numerous fragmented news stories that deal primarily with newsworthy events abroad. The distinct lack of coverage of domestic issues and pop-culture interests is the most striking aspect of this periodical. Though it is considered to be the first successful daily newspaper, I expected this publication to include much more that would capture the attention of the audience. Additionally, the Courant’s readership consisted primarily of upper class and wealthy literate people. It is therefore even more surprising to me that there were not more editorial-esque articles or topics in this publication as it would seem that including such things would increase readership and appeal to a broader range of citizens. After reading thee months of this periodical, I have concluded that I am disappointed with its content. Though I cannot judge this publication to harshly – as it is the first of its kinds – I am still compelled to believe that a more extensive coverage of topics including art, pop-culture, literature, and editorials would have added significantly to the appeal and credibility of the newspaper. It seems that it was nearly impossible to gain a comprehensive understanding of what was really going on in London by reading the cities’ daily newspaper. This, I believe, should not be the case.
Alternate Work
The alternate work produced in the year 1722 that I chose to read is Richard Steele’s play The Conscious Lovers. Born in 1676, Richard Steel is best known for his collaboration with his contemporary Joseph Addison on The Spectator and also his work with The Tattler. The play begins with a preface that directly addresses the audience and explains the intention of the drama. The preface insists that the play seeks to break from the characteristic aspects of comedies of the day and to emphasize morality and decorum over the tastelessness that was rampant in much the drama of the day. The audience can see the influence of Steel’s authorship as early as the preface. Many articles from The Tattler and The Spectator touch on social reform and the eliminating of tasteless and inappropriate behaviors from society.
Act one of the play begins with a conversation between Sir John Bevil and his servant named Humphrey. Bevil senior is lamenting the fact that his son’s marriage to the Lucinda, the affluent daughter of Mr. Sealand. Bevil senior has recently become aware via Mr. Sealand that his son, Bevil Jr. has become disenchanted with Lucinda and has developed affection for another young woman. This other woman, it turns out, is the lowly Indiana, a poor girl orphaned at a young age and raised by her Aunt Isabella. Bevil junior’s affection then introduces a complex plot containing a number of convoluted love dynamics between multiple characters. Aunt Isabella, for instance, is actually Mr. Sealand’s sister while Indiana is in fact the daughter of Mr. Sealand by his first wife. Mrs. Sealand is not as fond of the impending union between Lucinda and Bevil Jr. and preferred rather that her daughter be married to her cousin: the affluent young Cimberton.
Mrs. Sealand encounters a flaw in her plan however when she discovers that, due to the enormity of his wealth, Cimberton’s attorneys and Uncle Geoffrey must be present to legitimize the union. Myrtle, Bevil Junior’s good friend, is in love with Lucinda, and therefore desires to delay the marriage between Lucinda and Cimberton that Mrs. Sealand was desperately trying to arrange. With the help of Bevil Junior and his servant Tom, the three develop a plan to delay the marriage. Bevil Junior’s servant Tom joins Myrtle in disguising themselves as Cimberton’s attorneys. The two subsequently convince Cimberton and the eager Mrs. Sealand that Cimberton’s Uncle Geoffrey must also be present in order for the marriage to move forward. Mrs. Sealand is frustrated by the news however she concedes that she must listen to Cimberton’s attorneys and await the arrival of Uncle Geoffrey. An often-overlooked scene follows these events in which Bevil Junior and Myrtle narrowly avoid a duel stemming from the love triangle between the two good friends and Lucinda. This scene is considered by some to be the climactic action of the novel that sets the stage for the web of affections that would soon follow. At the conclusion of the scene the two men come to their senses and determine that no harm should come between friends from a squabble over a woman.
Mr. Sealand however is growing increasingly uneasy about the talk surrounding the reportedly licentious pastimes of his daughter’s fiancée. Mr. Sealand confronts Bevil Senior and discusses with him the rumors that he has heard surrounding his son’s behavior. Mr. Sealand is most concerned with the suggestion that Bevil Junior has developed an ongoing hidden relationship with the poor young woman Indiana. Bevil Senior tirelessly defends his son’s virtue and insists that there is nothing deplorable to be found in his son’s activities. After a lengthy debate regarding the character of Bevil Junior, Mr. Sealand determines that he must form his own opinion of the matter first hand. Mr. Sealand sets off to visit Indiana’s home and observe for himself the quality of the company Bevil Junior has been keeping. Mr. Sealand arrives at the home of Isabella and Indiana and is accompanied by a footboy up to visit the two women. Isabella is awestruck upon encountering her long lost brother and surprised when he introduces himself to her as a “perfect stranger” (Steele 5.3). After a lengthy discussion and a dramatic retelling of Indiana’s story, Mr. Sealand discovers the true identity of the two women and realizes that they are in fact his daughter and sister. Mr. Sealand is emotionally moved and determines that Bevil Junior must absolutely marry his daughter Indiana.
The final scene of the play reveals the true identity of a number of characters while also unveiling the plethora of secret affections that have developed out of sight of the public eye. Isabella returns to the room in which Mr. Sealand and Isabella are discussing her impending union with Bevil Junior. Upon her return she brings with her Bevil Senior, Bevil Junior, Myrtle (disguised as Uncle Geoffrey) and Lucinda. Mr. Sealand then relays to the rest of the group his true relation to Isabella and Indiana, and introduces Lucinda to her long lost sister. Upon this revelation, Cimberton takes the first opportunity to break-off his “engagement” to Lucinda. Cimberton has realized that Indiana’s existence consequently cuts Lucinda’s current inheritance in half. Cimberton finds this unsatisfactory, as he had originally bargained for her “whole estate” and not half (Steele 5.5). He then promptly apologizes for any trouble he has caused and dismisses himself from the group. Mr. Sealand responds saying that he would prefer Lucinda marry Myrtle anyway. The events of this scene create a sense of closure for the audience. Things appear to work out for the main characters how they should, and the audience can sympathize with the grand reunion of Mr. Sealand’s family. The final lines of the play, spoken by Bevil Senior, present a distinct moral or message of the drama as he speaks directly to the audience. Bevil encourages the audience as he says: “Now, ladies and gentleman, you have set the world a fair example; your happiness is owing to your constancy and merit, and the several difficulties you have struggled with evidently show, Whate’er the generous mind itself denies, the secret care of Providence supplies” (Steele 5.5). The author praises the virtues of constancy and merit as the true foundation of the characters’ happiness. The conclusion of the play displays how the characters that were driven by money were ultimately shallow and tragic, while those players driven by love ultimately achieve happiness. Steele appears to have succeeded in his goal of breaking from the comedic tradition of tastelessness and producing a comedy that thoroughly entertains while addressing subjects of morality along the way.
The London Stage in 1722
The year 1722 was a rather typical season for dramatic production. The theatre scene was primarily comprised of four primary companies, including: Duruy Lane, The Lincoln Inn-Fields, The King’s Theatre, and The Haymarket. A variety of genres of drama appeared throughout the London theatre scene. Everything from Italian opera, to French Comedy, to Shakespearian tragedies was accessible to playhouse-going patrons. In my research of the 1722 theatre season I highlighted a number of works that I found to be notable, interesting, or works that appeared frequently across multiple months.
The first works that I noted in my research are the works of Shakespeare. I chose these as I personally enjoy Shakespearian drama and was interested in identifying this author’s plays that appeared over the course of the 1722 season. Hamlet: Prince of Denmark was first shown on Thursday, February 1 at the Drury lane playhouse. I found it interesting that, considering the modern popularity of the work, that Hamlet only appeared this year on this date in February, and once more in late April. I want to believe that such a successful play would have enjoyed more demand form the people of London. The second work of Shakespeare that I encountered in this year is The Merry Wives of Windsor, which premiered at the Lincoln Inn-Fields on Monday, March 26th. This play was shown four total times in the year 1722. I was similarly surprised to see that only four showings of this work were given throughout the entire year. The months of May and June saw the production of three more works of Shakespeare including: Macbeth, King Henry IV (parts 1 and 2), and King Lear. Each of these works were shown only once over the course of the entire season, with the exception of King Lear, which was shown twice. These three works include some of the most cherished and studied works of not only Shakespeare, but of all drama ever produced. It has therefore been difficult for me to comprehend precisely why these works were shown so infrequently in a culture that now values them so greatly.
Another interesting work that I came across in the 1722 theater season is entitled The Drummer. This play was first shown at the Lincoln Inn-Fields on Friday, February 2nd. The author of this work, Joseph Addison, is an important literary figure who wrote in this time, and this popular play that he composed caught my eye. One of the most interesting things about this play is the frequency with which is was produced throughout the 1722 season. According to The London Stage, The Drummer was in high demand by a number of “persons of quality,” resulting in its being shown seven times in the month of February alone. The demand for this play did not diminish as it appears over two dozen times between February and September 1722. This is interesting to me as I still have difficulty understanding why this play, hardly remembered by literary critiques today, was healed in such high esteem by persons of distinction in eighteenth-century London.
The 1722 theatre season, by most accounts, was relatively typical and uneventful. A number of important works appeared across the stages of the four major companies, though hardly any of these works are considered to be of much value to literary scholars today. A number of works of Shakespeare were shown over the course of the season, however it is the more obscure works such as Addison’s The Drummer that saw the demand from “persons of quality” and therefore dominated the theatre scene. Steele’s Conscious Lover’s, though published in this year, did not find its way to the public eye for a number of years after. In conclusion, the 1722 theatre season is comprised of a variety of works from multiple different genres. A diverse group of authors are represented in this season, including everyone from the great William Shakespeare, to the revered Joseph Addison, to nameless dramatists who’s works could never fully represent the intentions of the author. 1722 was a year of great diversity on the London stage and this diversity would only increase in the years to come following the influx of culture that would come out of the Enlightenment Period.
Conclusion
Over the course of this project I have gained a more in-depth perspective of the social and literary climate of London in the year 1722. My reading of the Daily Courant has given a greater contextual understanding of numerous world events that took place in this year. What struck me the most in my analysis of the drama and literature of this time was the seemingly universal preoccupation that London had with its merchant culture and its nationalist, imperialist mind. This theme linked-together the various works and publications that I studied for this assignment and collectively painted a unique picture of a money-driven society. One piece that is consistently present in nearly every issue of the Courant that I read is the marketplace-stock value information. There was hardly an issue that I read over the course of three months that did not specifically list, or make some kind of reference to the state of the financial markets. This merchant culture and obsession with financial progress even permeated the alternate work that I chose to review for this assignment. There are a multitude of characters in Steele’s The Conscious Lovers, specifically Cimberton and Mrs. Sealand, that exhibit this preoccupation with monetarily and material gain. These two characters seek to arrange marriages - significant life-long commitments between two people – based on what would prove most financially beneficial. At the conclusion of the play Bevil Senior addresses this theme as he encourages the audience to pursue virtue and merit, rather than wealth, in order to attain happiness.
Anther work of literature that identifies this obsession with a culture of finance is The Spectator no. 69 and its depiction of the Royal Exchange. Addison’s work paints a rather optimistic and progressive picture of the Royal Exchange and the merchant / money motivation that defined British culture in this time. This is an example of a work that praises this new cosmopolitanism and capitalist mind that appeared to be driving the growth of the British Empire. This article from The Spectator is one piece of literature that praises the development of this preoccupation with money and perceives this mindset as one that is necessary to a flourishing society.
The obsession with money that defined British culture in 1722 is not always a bad thing. Though this theme is evident across a variety of media including drama, periodicals, novels and speeches, it is not the case that we should always perceive this negatively. Although you would have difficulty finding someone who cannot identify the ways in which financial preoccupation has negatively affected individuals and communities, there are an equal number of individuals and communities that have become great due to a money-centric attitude that motivated some action. In the case of the British Empire, I think that we can agree that the preoccupation with finance that characterized British culture in 1722 was ultimately beneficial for the country. This preoccupation resulted in a number of beneficial movements, including cosmopolitism, nationalism, and even influenced positive foreign events such as the French Revolution. In conclusion, the year 1722 in its periodicals, politicians and plays can be described in monetary terms. Money ruled the world in this day, and it arguably still does. If you did not have money in this culture, you were tying to make it. If you did have money, you were trying to make more. Even institutions as sacred as marriage were considered in monetary terms – something that I consider to be a perversion of something pure, and a classic example of the detrimental effects of a preoccupation with money and finance. This them is easily observable across the many forms of media that I studied and I am left with a distinct impression of 1722 London: one of cold and selfish desire for personal monetary gain, and the commoditization of persons and institutions that fits in perfectly with the money-loving culture of eighteenth-century London.