THE ENGLISH ARTISTIC TRADITION
This is a review of Against the Machine: The Hidden Luddite Tradition in Literature, Art, and Individual Lives by Nichols Fox; published by Island Press, Washington DC, 2002. Nichols Fox is an environmentalist and a Luddite. Nevertheless she proves her thesis: there is an over 200 year old tradition in English literature and art of using art as propaganda against the Industrial Revolution and this artistic tradition is the mother of environmentalism. Fox does not properly anchor this artistic tradition onto the English landed interests it serves. She exaggerates the importance of machine-wrecking in the history of romanticism, medievalism and environmentalism. Her treatment of the “Tradition’s” relationship to fascism is dishonest.
In winter 1811 England was in the talons of insurgency. Armed bands numbering over 1,000 conducted raids in 5 Midland counties. Insurgents out manoeuvred the Army. London’s 1.2 million inhabitants were clamped-down; 14,000 Army troops and 20,000 militiamen prowled her foggy streets. (1 & 2)
Due to their secrecy little is known about the insurgents. They were bankrupt rural landlords and desperate unemployed artisans; people ill adapted to the Industrial Revolution. The Midlands, into which these men were rooted, did not prosper like London, Manchester, or Merseyside. When big mills moved in on the local market, resentment became violent. The insurgent’s primary tactic was wrecking textile machinery.
The Luddite Rebellion is coterminous with “Regency England”. By 1811 Hanovers had ruled for three and half successions. George III reigned from 1760 to 1820 but was insane by 1809; possibly from poisoning. After some constitutional legerdemain the Regency Act (1810) anointed kingly powers upon his son, the “Prince Regent”. Regency England dates from 1811 to George III’s death (1820) when the Regent was crowned George IV. G IV was a tremendous art patron with a keen interest in literature. The Regency struggled with the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) and the War of 1812 with the United States. (British amphibious commandoes torched the White House in 1814.) Confoundingly, in 1812 Tory Prime Minister Percival was assassinated by an apolitical man who believed he’d been cheated out of money by the Government.
In late 1811, when news of the Rebellion hit London, 3,500 of the Prince Regent’s troops were dispatched to the Midlands. 8,000 followed. The Army’s counter-insurgency strategy dictated a bristling presence in the countryside making large formations by the insurgents costly. As the Luddites retreated from large operations, a secret legion of Army infiltrators slipped into the towns. Relying on this intelligence the Army executed lightning cavalry raids and mass arrests. In the shadow of York Castle, in 1813, fourteen Luddite leaders were hung and several hundred detainees ordered deported or imprisoned. “The neck of the Luddite Rebellion was broken” (3) that January morning but sporadic attacks and reprisals continued until 1817 when the farcical “Pentrich Uprising” was nipped in the bud and a few hundred pike-wielding Luddites marched to imprisonment or death.
The Luddite Rebellion ended 1817 but events soon after were conjoined to Luddism. In 1819 a protest rally in Peterloo was charged by the Manchester Yeoman Cavalry leaving 11 protesters dead and 400 injured (161 with sabre wounds).(4) Then a Luddite-like group of “Radicals” ran riot in Scotland. In the 1830s gangs claiming to follow a mythical “Captain Swing” smashed modern harvesting machinery throughout rural England. (5) In the 1840s militants operating out of Welch villages sabotaged local road construction.
Such was the resistance to the Industrial Revolution.
Rural England at the Start of the Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution’s birth-year is controversial. Convention favours 1760 while others seek an earlier date. By 1735 the baking of coke, the rolling of iron, the mechanization of weaving and the manufacturing of steam engines were commercial activities in London which, with 700,000 residents, was Europe’s largest, most capitalist city.
In 1735 England’s population was 6 million. Rural England was owned by hundreds of large, and thousands of small, landlords. A lesser lord, or “Squire”, typically rented out a few dozen farms on his estate and might own the shops, shacks and mills in the nearby village. A Squire was “much above the Yeoman (big farmers) but well below the nobility”. Rents collected by Squires afforded them large houses on their country estates, tuitions for Oxford, winter residences in London, horses and coaches. The sons of these petit aristocrats populated England’s boy’s schools and universities. Rural weavers, blacksmiths and millers were tenants of, and sometimes village business partners with, the Squires. Tenant farms varied from large capitalist operations with once-a-year cash payments from the tenant-farmer to his Squire, to small garden-farms toiled by serfs who paid with labour and produce.
The common image of the Industrial Revolution as an urban slum is misleading. Rural England’s under-class, before the Industrial Revolution, were illiterates dressed in sack-cloth tunics. They ate a bowl of porridge a day, if lucky. They were subject to arbitrary sexual and physical abuse and they never saw a doctor. The Industrial Revolution’s urban poor should be compared with the preceding period’s rural poor. Urbanization merely congregated and exposed a pre-existing reservoir of squalor. Voting with their feet, English farm-hands chose the shacks around the city over the ones around the manor.
British politics before the Industrial Revolution was bedevilled by the Stuart Pretenders. Legally, Stuarts were the British Royal family. Practically, Stuarts were so conservative and Catholic they were twice forced from power. From Paris the Stuarts, with some support in rural Britain, ran overt and covert “Jacobin” operations against the British Government from the 1690s until 1745 when a 5,000-strong Stuart force was decimated on a Scottish battlefield. While this ended the “Jacobins” the Hanovers and Whigs fretted about them for generations.
Early Romanticism and Medievalism
Nichol Fox’s Against the Machine does not give proportional attention to writers like Horace Walpole and Walter Scott who are clearly ancestors of the Tradition she set out to describe. This is odd because she is aware machine-wrecking had “a long tradition” in England prior to the Luddite Rebellion. (6) And she is aware that Romanticism, Luddism’s artistic companion, “begins before” the period of the Rebellion. (7) Yet, she brings us to the play during Act II.
Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford, (1717-1797) was the son of Britain’s first ‘Prime Minister’ and a Parliamentarian himself. As a court Whig he was a Hanover intimate. Beyond being a pivotal London socialite Horace’s artistic wake is two edged. First, he built a villa on a forty acre plot christened “Strawberry Hill”. The main building has the appearance of a whimsical, miniaturized 12th century castle. He named the architectural style “gothick”.
Secondly, using Strawberry Hill’s printing press Horace self-published The Castle of Oranto (1765) - the first proper English “novel” and the first of a “gothick” genre where the plot involves supernatural goings-on in a castle. The genre conveys the “noble fiction” that aristocrats are other-worldly, magical, fearsome creatures. Horace’s book was originally advertised as being a true story from an Italian aristocrat. Horace’s creativity spurt came while his fellow Whigs suffered organizational disintegration and motivation loss after 80 years of power. Walpole’s mansion and book were mind-bending trend-setters.
Fox does refer to a few pre-Luddite Rebellion authors who are of the Tradition like Ann Seward, the “Swan of Lichfield”, who in the 1780s wrote poems comparing industrialization to a monstrous Cyclops attacking the pristine English countryside. Her dominant images are: “ponderous engines clanging” spewing “columns large, of thick sulphurous smoke which...pollute thy gales and stain thy glassy waters”. (8) Fox adds mention of Gilbert White who in 1789 pioneered a literary genre entwining the Tradition when he published A Natural History of Selburne which describes local wild plants and animals and rises to a spirited regional chauvinism. (9)
Incredibly, Fox does not mention the cult of the Picturesque that flourished in the 1780s and beyond. They wrote about beautiful landscapes and landscape paintings and they theorized on what constituted scenic beauty. They were divided between “classicalists” to whom picturesque was a square field filled with parallel rows of pear trees, and “pre-romantics” who loved irregular, rugged, wild landscapes. The pre-romantic faction loved the landscape painting of deceased Italian master, Salvator Rosa. Rosa painted supernatural monsters and mythical scenes frequently with overwhelming backdrops of craggy trees, jagged rocks, and isolated medieval buildings. According to J. Constable, England’s foremost landscape painter, Rosa was “a great favourite with the novel writers”. (11)
Fox does not give due credit to Baron Walter Scott (1760-1830) whose career began in the 1780s and spans her main period of investigation. Scott was: the world’s first international best-selling novelist, the inventor of the British historical novel genre, a writer whose imitators spawned imitators, and possibly the most read novelist of the 19th century. Scott was part-owner of a Scottish publishing business. His novel Waverly depicts an inter-generational journey whereon a Scottish family surrenders loyalty to the Stuarts and embraces the Hanovers. The Hanovers loved the book. The Prince Regent insisted on meeting Scott and later called upon him to host the two-week Scottish leg of his lavish 1820 Coronation Tour. Scott used this anointing to sell more rambling fictitious ballads and novels about his romanticized medieval world of shiny chivalrous cavaliers. Scott helped re-popularize the Legends of King Arthur and he wrote the “Romance” and “Chivalry” sections for Encyclopaedia Britannica. Mark Twain blamed Scott’s war romanticizing for later drumming Southern gentlemen into the Civil War. In the 1920s academics re-visiting Scott’s work found it verbose, jumbled, and historically inaccurate.
(Uniquely, the romantic-medievalist movement used fiction for propaganda. Most politicians take offense when their publications are called “fiction”. Yet again, early fiction blurred the line between myth and fact. The tales of “Robin Hood” and “King Arthur” are both mythical legends preserving an opaque pedigree in fact. Luddites followed a mythical “King Ludd” and referred to Robin Hood in their communiqués. (11) This was second generation romanticism.)
Fox notes that by the mid-Industrial Revolution (late 1780s) Richard Awkright owned 25 cotton-spinning mills. Awkright, and entrepreneurs like him, rose to riches only top aristocrats enjoyed. As for England’s rural landlords; those with land near sprawling cities, or with coal mines on their property, became extremely rich while those in passed-over rural areas, depopulated by migration to cities and colonies, faced ruin. Thousands of Squires chafed as incomes diminished while costs of keeping up appearances soared. Artisans and merchants in booming urban areas who adapted to the Industrial Revolution (like Awkright, a barber) thrived while those living in declining rural areas, and who resisted technology, withered.
Mid-Industrial Revolution domestic politics were harsh. In 1780 an anti-Catholic riot in London left 500 dead. Not long after, Anglican mobs swarmed dissenters and anti-superstitionists in northern England. As Whigs floundered Tories garnered support arguing this radical liberal experiment had gone too far.
In this midst, a legal campaign to suppress textile technology was commenced. After 20 years of meetings and fund-raising a group representing weavers, and others aggrieved by mechanization, petitioned Parliament for laws imposing gradual introduction of technology and compensation for the displaced. Fox notes, the House of Commons treated the petitioners like criminals, seized their books and interrogated their representatives. They then rolled-back protections for artisans. (12)
This was the eve of the Luddite Rebellion.
The Official Romantics
Fox states part of her thesis succinctly:
“Blake; William Wordsworth; Samuel Taylor Coleridge; Percy Bysshe Shelly... Lord Byron and John Keats are considered the chief poets of the Romantic period. All can be linked in one way or another to what was taking place in 1811.” (13)
William Blake’s whereabouts during the Luddite Rebellion are “an enduring puzzle”. (14) Fox implies his low profile from 1811 to 1817 was due to participation in the Luddite underground. Blake was a machine-hater. “A machine is not a man nor a work of art” he wrote “it is destructive of humanity and art.” Blake’s vision of hell “reverberates with images of the factory, mill and pit, the crashing clanging grinding, pounding sounds of industrialism.” (15) A common theme of Blake’s is of people enslaved and destroyed by machinery. His famous mean-streets poem “London” is “an indictment of the acquisitive ethic” of industrial capitalism. (16) Blake’s lines, in his preface to “Milton” about the encroaching “dark, satanic mills” became an unofficial anthem.
Personally, Blake wasn’t in factories much. From a prosperous family of London hosiers, Blake trained as an engraver at the Royal Academy and was quickly a sought-after artist and writer. “He not only worked for the publisher Joseph Johnson but dined with him and his circle which included many of the most notable radicals and thinkers of the day.” (17) Blake’s flirtation with extremism twice brought trouble including a sedition trial which fortunately for Blake “supported by influential patrons, he won the case.” (18)
Like other Romantics, Blake was “profoundly distrustful of the intellect as a means of finding truth and of science as a means of exploring it.” He wanted to “cast off” Enlightenment thinkers “Bacon, Locke and Newton” like “filthy garments”. (19) His writings blend mysticism, mythology and machine-bashing.
Lord Byron’s medieval manor was in Nottinghamshire, the eye of the Luddite storm. In 1811 he wrote in a letter:
“I presume ye papers have told of ye riots in Notts, breaking of frames and heads and outmanoeuvering the military. All my affairs are going very badly and I must rebel soon if they don’t amend.” (20)
Byron’s major Parliamentary speech was in opposition to a proposed death penalty for Luddites. He spoke in solidarity with Luddites and criticised the soldiers. Then he stormed home and wrote a poem appearing the next day in the London Morning Chronicle concluding:
“Men are more easily made than machinery, stockings fetch better prices than lives
(Gallows) on Sherwood will heighten the scenery, showing how commerce, how liberty thrives!”(21)
Later, Byron left no doubt about his convictions in his homage “Ode to the Luddites”.
Much politicking and literary banter, before bureaucratic political parties, was carried on in the parlours and pubs where Whig and Tory cliques spent their evenings. Byron was a frequenter of the liberal Holland House salon run by the Fox family – old corps court Whigs. In addition, Byron assembled his own circle including John Keats, J. Polidori and Mary and Percy Shelley.
Percy Shelley began his literary career writing gothic novelettes. He was in the Midlands at the Rebellion’s outset and openly endorsed the Luddites. At the time he wrote: “I have been led into reasoning’s which make me hate more and more the existing establishment”. (22) He cursed the Army for going into Nottingham. At the height of the Rebellion he penned a popular poem denouncing life in the mills:
“Hardened to hope, insensible to fear, scarce living pulleys of a dead machine
Mere wheels of work and articles of trade that grace the proud and noisy pump of wealth” (23)
To Shelley, industrialization reduced man to a mere “mechanized automaton”. He grew more radical after the Luddite Rebellion, writing his famous “Mask of Anarchy” in honour of the Peterloo Massacre.
During the Luddite Rebellion Percy’s wife, Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein. The novel, published 1818, has standard gothic ingredients – spooky events in a castle. Frankenstein is also a morality tale warning of the dangers of the scientific mindset and technology. The plot was conceived during a horror-story writing competition sponsored by Lord Byron. This brain-storming session also produced Polidori’s short story “Vampyre” (starring supernatural ‘Lord Ruthvern’) which caused artistic hysteria in Paris after it was translated in the 1820s.
Historians date “official” Romanticism’s launch to the 1798 publication of “Lyrical Ballads” by William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge. Wordsworth (1770-1850) embraced radicalism in his youth, travelling to France to join aristocratic supporters of the Revolution. After that disaster he returned to London to write poetry for Joseph Johnson. Wordsworth longed for his own literary circle so upon receiving a small inheritance from a patron he, and his sister Dorothy, rented a medieval manor house near the home of Samuel Coleridge. They were joined by several prominent writers.
Lyrical Ballads is a manifesto. In a literary departure, and to broaden its appeal, the collection was written in common language. Wordsworth’s poems revel in the splendour of wilderness (“To a Butterfly”, “To the Cuckoo”, “Rainbow” and “The Sparrows Nest”) and in the novelties and comforts of mundane pastoral life. Coleridge, by agreement, wrote poems with supernatural topics (“Ancient Mariner”). The “Preface” to Lyrical Ballads (2nd edition) put out the call for a new activist English poet who should be: “a rock of defence for human nature; an upholder and a preserver”. (24) The book went through 3 editions in 3 years.
In 1801, Wordsworth expressed his opinion about industry when he wrote a Parliamentarian complaining “the spreading of manufactures through every part of the country” had contributed to weakening “the bonds of domestic feeling among the poor.” He said small, poor but proud, landowners were disappearing; families driven from their holdings. (25) Wordsworth later wrote the protest poem “Sonnet on the projected Kendal and Windermere Railway”, in opposition to a proposed rail line, pining “is then no nook of English ground secure from rash assault?” (26)
Early in the Luddite Rebellion John Keats was disgusted by the “extensive barracks” the government established in the Midlands. He quipped: Napoleon’s worst crime was teaching the British logistics. Keats was not an unemployed weaver but a London pharmacist born into wealth. Keats “lived in comfort and security among the intellectual elite of London” He chose the life of the poet after being overwhelmed by Edmund Spenser’s “The Fairy Queen”. (27) (This multi-volume poem from the 1590s combines King Arthur characters, particularly Merlin, with Elizabethan fairy-lore.) Fearful of censors Keats hid his solidarity with the Rebellion in his nature poems. An example is Keats’ poem on wild red poppies which...:
“...show their scarlet coats, so pert and useless that they bring to mind
the scarlet coats that pester human kind”. (28)
True to form, there was actually a Romantic novel about the Luddite Rebellion published while the fighting was still going on: Ben o’ Bills, the Luddite: A Yorkshire Tale, 1812 by D. Sykes. (29)
The Trans-Atlantic Transcendentalists
The legend of how the Tradition came to America begins 1832 when young Ralph Waldo Emerson impulsively boarded a ship in Boston bound for Malta. His wife had recently died and he had left the employ of the First Unitarian Church in Boston over the Holy Communion issue. Emerson admired the Romantics, particularly Wordsworth, and he was shaped by the “Introduction” to Coleridge’s 1829 Aids to Reflection. While in Europe Emerson experienced an epiphany wherein the holistic nature of life was revealed! On his way home he visited Wordsworth, Coleridge and Thomas Carlyle.
Thus anointed he returned to Massachusetts in 1836 to form his own lyceum. He purchased a large house in Concord and invited his favourite authors. (He moved into his grandfather’s nearby mansion.) Poet Margaret Fuller came as did David Thoreau. “Thoreau was brought to Emerson’s attention as a bright and interesting young man while he was still at Harvard. Thoreau, in turn would be profoundly impressed by Emerson’s Nature and other essays. Here was a disciple.” (30) Both were heavily swayed by Thomas Carlyle’s Sartor Resatrus.
The Transcendental Club’s founding meeting was in 1836 at Willard’s Hotel in Cambridge, Massachusetts with Emerson and several writers attending. They agreed to organize a series of meetings with persons who, like themselves, found “the state of American thought unsatisfactory” (31). The term, “transcendental”, came from German Romanticist Immanuel Kant who, contrary to the scientific worldview, argued for the supremacy of intuition “transcending” physical experience. With Miss Fuller editing their journal, The Dial, “the Transcendental Club set out to share and disseminate ideas”. (32)
The Club’s party line was: praise the beauty of the countryside and wilderness and bemoan the expansion of industrial capitalism. A common literary technique was to have a passage on a picturesque scene interrupted by a locomotive’s screech. On this point, Fox presents identical passages from Nathaniel Hawthorne, Thoreau and Emerson. Similarly, American painter George Inness often painted pastoral bliss on half his canvases juxtaposed to heavy industry on the other.
David Thoreau was from Concord and returned, after Harvard, to start a school based on transcendentalist principles. It flopped and he moved into Emerson’s mansion working as his handyman. Thoreau was never a professional writer. His main works Walden, A life in the Woods and “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience” became popular in the 1860s, after his death. (Fame in England waited 30 more years.) Yet Walden, which questions industrialism and the work ethic, is described by Oxford University Press as “one of the seminal books of the century”. (33)
By the 1860’s Emerson was a superstar. According to Fox:
“Emerson was by then hugely famous, a Great Man who everywhere attracted small crowds of followers, generally too awed to do much more than gawk.” (34)
She quotes another historian:
“Emerson’s name and philosophy were the very air one breathed at Madison. Here and throughout Eastern and Midwestern America the intellectuals were banded into lyceums and literary societies, parroted his wise sayings ...” (35)
Emerson met John Muir in 1871 when Emerson, after another Harvard lecture series, took 12 friends on a private railcar tour across America. Muir was born in Scotland in 1841 to devout Presbyterian parents who migrated to a Wisconsin farm. He left the farm, spent three years at the University of Wisconsin then headed to the “University of the Wilderness”. Muir’s education was made possible through the patronage of Professor Ezra Carr. The professor’s wife later claimed that Muir’s wilderness work proved he was one of the Carrs’ “spiritual children”.
The Carrs knew Emerson (“not only were they disciples, they were friends”). Mrs. Carr arranged that Muir meet Emerson while the railcar toured California. (Muir was exploring the Sierra Nevada.) Muir was so star-struck he could barely pass a note to ‘the Great Sage of Concord’ on the railway platform. They exchanged greetings and began close collaboration. Emerson later listed Muir as a top disciple. (36)
The Mid-Century “Condition of England”
In 1829 Thomas Carlyle’s first essay “Sign of the Times” decried this “Mechanical Age” with mankind at “war with rude Nature”. Carlyle coined the phrase “the Dismal Science” in reference to Economics and, according to Fox “in the 1830’s and 1840’s he was one of the very few who condemned the industrial age these ideas supported”. (37) His big hit was the fictitious Sartor Resartus, whose hero, a German professor, dismisses modern (scientific and utilitarian) thought. In 1843 Carlyle coined the phrase “Condition of England” in his essay “Past and Present”. (38)
In 1836, 24 year old journalist, Charles Dickens published his fictitious “The Pickwick Papers”. Dickens describes industrial towns with “volumes of dense smoke issuing heavily forth from high toppling chimneys” and machinery rattling the worker’s shacks. He shared Carlyle’s perspective on the dehumanizing, mechanizing core of industrialization and its utilitarian culture. Dickens wrote hard-hitting “Condition-of-England” novels like Hard Times (1854) where the imaginary industrial city “Coketown” is:
“a vast pile of buildings full of windows where there was a rattling and trembling all day long, and where the piston of the steam engine worked monotonously up and down, like the head of an elephant in a state melancholy madness.” (39)
Coketown’s principal capitalist, Mr. Bounderby, a shameless hustler, claims Coketown’s smog is good for the lungs.
(The medieval city was smokier than the industrial. A medieval city’s narrow streets separated dense clusters of cramped tenements stocked with crude wood and coal burning stoves. The “Condition-of-England” anti-industrial critics repeatedly pointed to poverty and urban air pollution. Both of these problems were alleviated by industrialization.)
Dickens’ main beef, echoing Carlyle, was with the industrialization of thought. Hard Times opens with a rookie school-teacher being told to give students “nothing but facts. Facts alone are wanted”. The new teachers themselves to Dickens seemed factory-made “like so many pianoforte legs.” (40) Fox summarizes: “Dickens saw clearly that industrialism and utilitarianism depended on each other in ways he hoped to make transparent to others.” (41)
“But Dickens understood the climate of the times well enough; he seemed to know how far he could go and still retain his audience. Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre had been attacked for being too sympathetic toward the poor and not sympathetic enough to the rich. Mrs. Gaskell’s Mary Barton, and other novels – Disraeli’s Sybil for example – that looked too closely at the “condition of England” question, the sharp divisions between rich and poor, came in for similar criticism.”(42)
Fox does not grasp the “Condition of England” novel genre as propaganda from the Conservative Party’s conservative faction. The novelists’ party line was that pro-industry policies congregate a dangerous urban mass of malcontents. They wanted paternalistic, pro-agrarian policies to strengthen national solidarity preferably with the aristocracy back in the executive saddle. This party line hoisted “Condition of England” novelist Disraeli up to the Prime Ministership in the 1860s and 1870s.
Dickens was no shop floor militant. He grew up privileged; recalling how, as a youth, he thought radicals should be hung. His father, famously, so mismanaged the estate he was thrown in debtor’s prison; but he recovered. In any event, Charles prospered as a commercial writer. Dickens was audience seeking within the conservative gentry and intelligentsia when he associated poverty and urban pollution with industrial capitalism and when he attacked the utilitarian mindset. Fox names Dickens as a key figure in the anti-industrial cultural counter-revolution.
Charlotte Bronte’s “Condition of England” novel, Shirley (1849), is set during the Luddite Rebellion. (As an Anglican priest in Luddite country during the Rebellion, Bronte’s father was close to the insurgents, performing secret funeral services for some.) Shirley begins with a raid by machine-breakers on a particular mill. Bronte, as omniscient narrator, informs us the problem started when “certain inventions in machinery were introduced into the staple manufactures of the north, which...threw thousands out of work, and left them without legitimate means for sustaining life.” (43)
Shirley is unmistakably “environmentalist” as the heroine yearns for wilderness to overgrow the disputed industrial site. The book closes with a local woman telling the heroine that “fairies” were once seen near the industrial site which was “once a bonny spot full of oak trees and nut trees”. Bronte then, addressing the reader directly, tells him to grab the moral of the story and “God speed him in the quest” (44). The moral is: medieval fantasy-lore, and its rural England spawning ground, must be protected from industrialization.
Albertine England – Franken-Buildings in the Fog
The “Albertine Monarchy” dates from the 1841 marriage of Prince Albert Saxe-Coburg -Goethe to Queen Victoria who, occupied with child-bearing, deferred much politicking to Albert until his death in 1861. Albert steered Victoria away from the Whigs toward Sir Robert Peel’s pro-industry Conservatives and he organized the Great Exhibition of 1851 to promote industry. The British aristocracy disliked and eschewed Albert. He was a great art patron, mostly music.
The Albertine Era marks the Industrial Revolution’s end - meaning the revolution ends with England maturing into an Industrial Age. By the 1850s England’s population was 16 million and London, at 2.5 million, was the largest, most technologically advanced city in history. Britain had 7 thousand miles of railroad. Industrial revenues were twice agriculture’s. Manchester’s 1,800 cotton mills produced 1.5 billion clothing articles a year. The military possessed machine guns, exploding artillery shells and iron clad warships while half the world was throwing spears.
This was free market capitalism’s zenith. In 1846, after an 8-year, first-of-its-kind campaign, the Manchester Anti-Corn Law League turned its platform into state policy. League members were manufacturers wishing to eliminate tariffs protecting rural England from imported grain (“corn”). They utilized public lectures, essay competitions, free pamphlets, the new penny post system and the reformed electoral laws. The London Times called the League “the great Fact”. League propaganda attacked “feudalism”, arguing the “aristocrat’s tariffs” raised the price of the worker’s bread; and that the “landed interest” obstructed national salvation.
Sir Robert Peel wove the network of Tory cliques into the “Conservative Party” and formed the government in 1841. However Peel, child of Manchester Cotton, broke from Tory tradition and supported free trade, causing a split within the new Conservative Party with the old land-and-agriculture Tories rallying round the immensely wealthy 14th Earl of Derby and his understudy, Disraeli. This was part of “the Mid-19th Century Confusion”- a fog descending upon Albertine London under which party alliances, memberships, leaderships and platforms rapidly reconfigured. The Whigs condensed into the “Liberal Party” in 1853.
The Squirarchy shrank but never vanished. More importantly, their descendants went forth and multiplied. Many descendants, with inheritances dwindling to a pittance, clung to their ancestor’s heraldry and pageantry as they migrated to the city and used their educations and connections to pursue employment in the Anglican Church; in the military officer corps; in university faculties, in law, medicine, and the arts. Thousands claimed noble lineage but in the real world depended on their careers. Allegiances to Monarchism, Anglicanism and the old schools remained useful however. This demographic segment also rode the Industrial Revolution’s wave of wealth; thus, however culturally retarded, they remained literate and prosperous. Ironically they developed into something they held in contempt - a grasping market for new consumer items.
Like a countervailing gale to the Industrial Revolution, romantic-medievalism swept British culture. In 1843 Wordsworth was named Poet Laureate. As a salaried officer of the Royal House he met from time to time with the Monarch and maintained correspondence with leading writers and publishers of British poetry. His selection as Poet Laureate was a signal from England’s inner sanctum to the literati about what type of poetry was “in”. By the 1840s Wordsworth’s writing consisted of descriptions of picturesque patches of British landscape. He had grown ultra conservative. Not surprisingly, England’s oldest conservationist societies date to this period. Upon Wordsworth’s death (1850) Tennyson became Poet Laureate.
Lord Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892), whom Fox mentions in passing, attended Cambridge University where he was inducted into the influential and secretive “Apostles”. His fame is primarily due to his poetry about the Legends of King Arthur. His post-Poet Laureate work was called war propaganda by Liberal Prime Minister Gladstone. Tennyson conversed with Victoria’s court on a dozen occasions. His Idylls of the Kings, released soon after he became Laureate, was widely read.
Equally influential was critic John Ruskin. Fox writes “it is difficult to reconstruct a time in which the voice of an art-critic reverberated throughout the English speaking world and beyond.” (45) She adds “John Ruskin was a genius of the first order, without exaggeration one of the greatest writers and thinkers of the 19th century.” (46)
Ruskin grew up reading Dickens in the comfort of his mothers carefully tended flower gardens. During summers his parents took him to the Lakes District which he explored with a copy of Wordsworth’s Guide to the Lake Districts under his arm. Following Wordsworth, Ruskin became an amateur botanist and geologist. He grew interested in landscape painting, particularly the genre setting solitary medieval buildings against a vast picturesque landscape. Ruskin went on to lead the literary vanguard for the Gothic Revival in architecture (yet another vital relevant phenomenon Fox mentions only in passing).
Horace Walpole’s aforementioned “gothick” mansion, built at Strawberry Hill in the mid-1700s, was immediately copied by his neighbours. The style uses large stone turrets and spires, along with arched and ornate buttresses, doorways and windows. The Gothic Revival was in the private domain from 1760 until 1820 when, as medievalism emerged as a mass ideology, the style went public. In the 1850s Gothic towers mushroomed over England primarily in the form of churches but the style also was used for city halls, academic buildings and post offices. Moreover, church building boomed around sprawling industrial cities where parishes formerly starved of funds were now flush. The busiest architect was A. Pugin, a fanatical medievalist who believed only Christians inside his knock-offs of 12th century cathedrals could truly reach up to God.
The Gothic Revival in architecture lasted until the early 20th century and was exclusively confined to the UK, USA and former British colonies. Goth buildings are expensive to construct and the design is not best suited to modern electrical and plumbing technology. The buildings have been described as hulks wearing fancy old-fashioned dresses. They were simply bill-boards for medievalism. Many of these Franken-buildings are still standing and they are a horror to maintain.
This Gothic Revival wasn’t enough for Ruskin who, in his blockbuster The Stones of Venice (1851/3), argued medieval artisans had greater freedom of expression, and greater intimacy with their materials, than do their industrial counterparts. Thus medieval art was superior to, and more beautiful than, the merely uniform and perfectionist modern art. Gothic Revival architecture, complained Ruskin, still used modern construction techniques and material purchased from the modern commodity market. Buildings lacked “integrity” if they were not constructed from stones drawn from local quarries or if they were not made by local guild craftsmen. (47) Ruskin chided the establishment for using Gothic architecture only for “sacred” purposes, like churches and universities, and not for homes and businesses.
The 1850s was the heyday of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The PRB was founded in 1848 by painters wishing to recapture the directness and authenticity they believed existed in the pre-Renaissance era. Their subject matter was usually a religious or legendary character in a wilderness setting. Fox notes: “This was not art for art’s sake” (48). PRB paintings were protests against industrialism. Like Ruskin, the PRB believed the Renaissance marked Europe’s turning away from God toward a pagan worship of the technical perfection of form in place of the medieval reverence of sublime substance. Much PRB art was destined to grace mansion walls in northern England.
William Morris and Co. – King Arthur’s Knights in Gladstone’s Court
Fox relays how one day in 1853 young William Morris rushed into a meeting of his friends and threw down a new copy of the second volume of Ruskin’s Stones of Venice. It became their Bible. Ruskin also introduced Morris to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
William Morris was born into a family made wealthy by speculative investments “in the very era of rapid industrialization that (Morris) would come to deplore” (49). As a child Morris “responded to the drama of the isolated building” and his passion for landscape grew from an early epiphany experienced while hiking at a Royal lodge. In 1853 Morris arrived in Oxford and immediately formed an alliance with Edward Burne-Jones. The two “fell upon Arthurianism religiously”. They were in the perfect setting as Oxford retained its medieval quality with winding streets, church bells, and city walls.
Morris and Burnes-Jones formed a group of Ruskinites called “The Set”.(50) Several of The Set went to the top echelons of the Anglican Church thus bolstering the Catholicizing, incense and choirs, “smells and bells”, faction therein. Others of The Set turned to commercial art including Morris who was also “one of England’s most widely read authors, a translator of Norse sagas, and the creator of long narrative poems and short pieces; medieval tales as well as essays on the decorative arts, economics, politics and life in general.” (51) With a new intellectual approach The Set and the PRB mined Nordic and Arthurian legends seeking subject material for their artwork.
In 1858 Morris purchased a “medieval style” house for his own arts and crafts collective. The women living there wore long flowery dresses to keep with theme. Morris and Co. flourished in the interior decorating business. He and Burne-Jones manufactured and decorated huge multi-functional pieces of furniture. In addition, Morris profited handsomely producing wall-paper with “medieval” patterns i.e. North European flora over-laid with simple geometric patterns. Burne-Jones focussed on themed tapestries and on Morris and Co.’s brisk business of selling stained-glass windows to the Anglican Church. He was also an accomplished painter, a celebrity among the English aristocracy, famous for his femme fatales in flowing gowns.
With Morris’s encouragement others copied his success in reviving medieval Arts and Crafts. In 1878 a wealthy activist, viewing medieval crafts as an uplifting tool for the poor, founded the Guild of Handicraft in a London slum. Local workmen were organized into a program combining craft work with lectures on Ruskin. The Guild was a soon profitably employing “30 men and boys involved in painting, modeling, plastercasting and gilding.”(52) This gave rise to a “Simple Life” movement of groups seeking to franchise this success. Simple Lifers took the life and writings of David Thoreau as their inspiration.
The market for this phony medieval wallpaper and pottery were the conservative English yuppies weaned, as they were, on Tennyson and Scott. Thorsten Veblen mocked this trade because, out of their disdain for consumerism, these consumers created a ridiculous new form of conspicuous consumption. In their craving for hand-stitched books and hand-blown crystal these consumers actually looked for slight imperfections in the article to prove it was not machine made. Defects enhanced value. They snobbishly picked shoddy workmanship over machine-perfect articles and paid more for it.
Morris was a political activist. His “feudal socialism” did not mesh with the Socialist League so he formed the Hammersmith Socialist Society. Plus he founded The Society for the Preservation of Antiquities. During this activist phase he wrote his famous novel News from Nowhere - An Epic of Rest, Being Some Chapters from a Utopian Romance where the hero magically awakens in a utopian London where most land has been reforested and “everyone wears, handcrafted medieval clothing” (53).
Morris’s later writings sound “environmentalist”:
“And science...I fear she is so much in the pay of the counting houses, the counting house and the drill sergeant, that she is too busy, and for the present will do nothing. Yet there are matters which I should have thought easy for her; say for example teaching Manchester how to consume its own smoke, or Leeds how to get rid of its superfluous black dye without turning it into the river...”(54)
Another popular 1870s novel was Samuel Butler’s Erewhon which one critic called “one of the most famous manifestations of the suspicion of the machine”. (55) Here the hero discovers a hidden population of beautiful, peaceful technology-resisters. The hero ultimately throws away his pocket watch. Erewhon’s “Book of Machines” chapter makes the case for abandoning industrialism.
In 1884 Ruskin launched his last propaganda sortie. In a lecture entitled “Storm Cloud of the Nineteenth Century” he claimed industrial air pollution was causing climate change. Gone were the bright skies and fluffy clouds of his youth. Those comforting natural skies were replaced by an industrial “plague wind” inflicting dismal, horrible weather. (56)
The Arts and Crafts movement blitzed England in the 1880s. In 1882 the Century Guild was founded, followed by the Art Workers Guild in 1884. The decade ended with the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society organizing a year-long, nation-wide campaign of demonstrations, lectures and exhibitions to preserve the skills and tools of the disappearing medieval trades. Fox summarizes: “The Arts and Crafts movement was an extension of the spirit of the Luddite Rebellion. It began as an upper class revolt, expressed not in the actual but in the metaphorical smashing of the machines.”(57)
By the 1890s the gothic novel genre was a propaganda machine. Witness Bram Stoker, the lucky Irish estate administrator, who earned extra shillings grinding out 15 pulp gothic horror stories. For number 12 Stoker did a variation on Polidori’s “Vampyre” and created the monster hit Count Dracula (1897). He introduced into vampire-lore the notion that vampires were formerly a heroic line of aristocrats lured to the night-life by Satan.
Thoreau-mania spread across England beginning with a flattering biography of Thoreau released in 1890. Thoreau’s rejection of conventional life-style, his promotion of civil disobedience and his nascent ecology contributed to his resurrection. Leading Thoreau-mania was a clique around H. Ellis, A. Symons, Margaret Sanger and Edward Carpenter who collectively spearheaded change in public opinion on the issues of birth control and homosexuality.
Also around this time, Morris-Ruskin devotees “the Garden City Architects” had a splash of popularity with medievalist communal living buildings featuring wide arching windows and doorways and lots of flower beds.
The TRADITION in Teddy Roosevelt’s America
The Arts and Crafts revival came to America via Charles Elliot Norton founder of the Boston Arts and Crafts Society. Norton, a wealthy Bostonian, frequently crossed the Atlantic. He was a personal acquaintance of Emerson, Carlyle and Ruskin; the latter he exchanged letters with for 45 years. Norton wrote books on medieval architecture and on Ruskin. (Fox complains how in Norton’s rendition Ruskin appears “reactionary”.) Norton was the first Professor of Art History at Harvard where he lives on in the Charles Elliot Norton Lectures. He’s also the founder of The Nation magazine. With Norton’s encouragement, other Arts and Crafts groups popped up in the 1880s. This effort was assisted after the turn of the century when William Morris’s daughter came to America to lecture on embroidery and jewellery design.
In the 1880s Jon Muir, now anointed by the Great Sage, scored a hit in the wilderness literature genre with The Mountains of California. He then trekked to the Cascade Mountains and was enraged by the clear-cutting he witnessed. Fox writes Muir “felt compelled to defend what remained of wilderness against encroaching industrialized civilization.” (58)
Thus Muir, the direct disciple of Emerson, (the direct disciple of Wordsworth et. al.) ran the first major American “environmentalist” public relations campaign. In 1889, after publishing two articles in Century magazine about saving the Cascades, Muir was approached by a dozen prominent men wishing to form a wilderness preservationist organization. They chose the name “Sierra Club”. US President Teddy Roosevelt met with Muir and endorsed the Club. Roosevelt created his own forest protection organization, the “Boone and Crockett Clubs”, consisting of upper class hunting enthusiasts and appropriately named after semi-fictionalized legends of the closing frontier. Muir was Sierra Club president from its creation until his death.
Muir wrote many volumes, mostly “worshipping-at-the-cathedral-of-the-wilderness” stuff. He was a preservationist, not a conservationist. He believed the clearing of forests and damming of rivers should be stopped, not postponed. To Muir the wilderness had intrinsic value and he was critical of the utilitarians within the US Forest Service who preferred the word “conservation”. According to Fox, Muir’s: “preserving America’s wild land against the utilitarian view and its conjoined twin, economic reality, is the same battle the Luddites fought.” (59)
Muir’s final battle was against the flooding of the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite. He lost, but during the campaign wilderness preservation was greatly popularized. Fox writes that during “ the early years of the 20th century...public interest in the remaining wilderness in America began to grow and more conservation groups were created – some by wealthy and remarkably ‘establishment’ individuals...” (60) Romanticism was alive and well amongst these people. Fox quotes founder of the Izaak Walton League, W. Dilg: “I am weary of civilizations madness and I yearn for the harmonious gladness of the woods and streams. I am so tired of your piles of buildings and I ache from your iron streets.” (61)
The Charge of the English Novelists - 1909 to 1949
Novelist E.M. Forester listed Samuel Butler’s Erewhon as among the most moving books he’d read. Forester was in the entourage around Thoreau-revivalist Edward Carpenter and was also part of the Bloomsbury scene. Fox points out that in his novels “the modern is perpetually being undermined by something older, something slightly mysterious yet powerful...” (65). In Howard’s End and A Room with a View Forester championed tradition, a feeling for place, and respect for county-side. He disdained democracy. In his anti-industrial The Machine Stops (1909) Earth is ravaged by industry and humans are reduced to muscle-less blobs in mechanical cocoons. (Hollywood loves Forester.)
Top-selling novelist, D.H. Lawrence, was born 1885 in Nottinghamshire. He despised urban industrial life:
“the great crime which the moneed classes and promoters of industry in the palmy Victorian days was to condemn the workers to ugliness...ugly surroundings, ugly idea...ugly houses, ugly relationship between workers and employers” (62)
He called industrial centres “the utter negation of natural beauty.” Man’s relationship to machinery was one of his central themes. In his famous Lady Chatterley’s Lover a proper English lady is lured into a romantic liaison with a Nottingham forest gamekeeper named Mellors. (George Mellors was a famous Luddite.) The novel is larded with phrases like:
“From the rather dismal rooms of Wragby she heard the rattle-rattle of the screens at the pit, the puff of the winding engine, the clink-clink of shunting trucks and the hoarse little whistle of the colliery locomotives...the house was full of the stench of this sulphurous combustion of the earth’s excrement.” (63)
“...on the dark country, with the distant blush of furnaces, faint and rosy, since the night was clear, the rosiness of the outpourings of white hot metal. Sharp, wicked electric lights at Stacks Gate! And all the unease, the ever-shifting dread of the industrial night in the midlands.” (64)
The 1932 novel by Phyllis Bentley, Inheritance is a sympathetic portrayal of Luddites, especially the “Machines and Men” chapter. The hero is George Mellors.
Christian mystic, C.S. Lewis, authored 30 books while teaching Medieval and Renaissance literature at Oxford and Cambridge. He reveals his politics in the second book of his 1940s sci-fi trilogy: That Hideous Strength. In this novel a married couple splits up with the wife moving into a mysterious old farmhouse joining a collective of like-minded intellectuals while the husband finds work at a scientific research agency which turns out to be governed by a “Pragmatometer” that is steering scientists towards totalitarianism. The wife’s farmhouse team lead the resistance...
Robert Graves authored hit novels I, Claudius and The White Goddess. In 1949 he published Watch the North Wind Rise. Set 2000 years into the future, this novel describes a civilization on Crete where machinery is banned. New Crete is wonderful with pre-Christian nature worship holding together a community of happy craftsmen and farmers. New Crete resulted from an experiment undertaken after humanity realized the mistake of industrialization. They correctly chose the middle Iron Age as being the technological level most compatible with domestic bliss and international peace. Just like Rome.
Flanking the novelists was philosopher Lewis Mumford, who wrote non-fiction books warning “The Machine” had taken on a life of its own. He viewed the Middle Ages as golden; the Renaissance was twilight not dawn. Fox describes Mumford as “the quintessential Luddite philosopher”. She lists as Mumford disciples: E.F. Schumacher (Small is Beautiful) and Edward Goldsmith (The Way) and many others writers on alternatives to industrialization. (66)
English Blood and Soil
Fox chronicles how the “land” obsession grew into the “soil” obsession. In 1924, Austrian romanticist Rudolf Steiner began lecturing farmers on “bio-dynamic” agriculture. Steiner founded “anthroposophy” which, Fox’s admits “blends science, spiritual cognition, and mystical vision.” Bio-dynamic farming views the ideal farm as a self-sufficient organism without inputs. At this time in England, Sir Albert Howard published The Waste Products of Agriculture which made the case for onsite composting. Sir Albert followed this with An Agricultural Testament (1943) a “book that is credited with inspiring the organic farming movement”. (67)
To reveal the political motives behind this campaign Fox quotes Howard’s colleague, Lord Northbourne’s Look to the Land (1940):
“Urban and industrial theories and values have supplanted the truer ones in the countryside...Is farming merely a necessary drudgery, to be mechanized so as to employ a minimum of people, to be standardized and run in ever bigger units, to be judged by cost accounting only. Or is the alternative to national decay to make farming something real for every man and near to him in his life, and something in which personal care, and possibly even poetic fancy, counts for more than mechanical efficiency.” (68)
Fox is even more enthused by “author, farmer and one of the founders of the British soil conservation movement”: Lady Eve Balfour. “The health of the soil, plant, animal, and man is one and indivisible.” wrote Lady Balfour in The Living Soil (1942). Fox notes: “there was no real scientific evidence of this at the time, but she felt it was true.” Lady Balfour believed in a return to using horses. (69 & 70)
Fox leaves out a few facts about Lady Eve’s crowd. Lord Northbourne was a member of the propaganda group “Kinship in Husbandry” led by Viscount Lymington, an organic agriculture expert. The Viscount, a former Conservative MP, was openly fascist and a member of the clandestine, aristocratic fascist organization “English Mystery”. The Viscount introduced Jorian Jenks into Kinship in Husbandry. Mr. Jenks, a farmer, was a prolific propagandist for the British Union of Fascists specializing in agricultural issues. The BUF printed shocking pamphlets on how industrial fertilizers cause cancer. In 1940 Jenks and 800 of his comrades were incarcerated. The Viscount, being an aristocrat, was spared the indignity. Both Viscount and scribe were back at it after the war with Jenks editing, and helping write, “Mother Earth” magazine - the main publication of Kinship’s successor, Lady Eve Balfour’s “British Soil Association”. During this time, Jenks developed an acquaintance Walter Darre, a leading Nazi ecologist. (71)
Throughout Fox’s history of this hidden literary Tradition she blithely mentions how critics have often referred to the Traditionists as: “fascist”, “reactionary”, “Nazi sympathizer”, “very conservative”, or “redneck” etc. Inscrutably, at one point in her anti-industry polemic she quotes Albert Speers. (“There is nothing to stop unleashed technology and science from completing its work of destroying man...”) Speers is casually, unnecessarily introduced as just another authority in spite of having been the Nazi Arms Minister. (72) Finally, Island Press, the publisher of Fox’s book, is a Ford Foundation front group- folks with closet-skeletons.
Romancing the Land - American Style
A back-to-the-land fad hit Eastern America in the early 20th century - mostly urban intellectuals buying abandoned farms. In 1932 Helen and Scott Nearing bought a small Vermont farm and began their “Simple Life” (plus six months a year of travelling and lecturing promoting their “Simple Life” franchise.) He was an economics professor, influenced by Ruskin, who had difficulty securing employment due to his political activism. In The Making of a Radical he wrote: “Price-profit economy presupposes the exchange of labour-power for cash...The individual who accepts this formula is at the mercy of the labour market, the commodity market and the State.” (73) The Nearings created one of America’s first “organic” farms and introduced thousands to the “Simple Life” movement.
In the late 1940’s wealthy Pennsylvanian J. I. Rodale brought Sir Albert Howards’ soil crusade to America. Rodale Press launched “Organic Gardening and Farming” magazine. Rodale re-published Howard’s complete works plus a few books of his own: Pay Dirt: Farming and Gardening with Compost (1946) and The Organic Front (1948) both “classics” credited with extending the “organic” concept to Americans. (74)
In 1940 the propaganda group, Friends of the Land, started the magazine “The Land” which: “was informed throughout by a deep nostalgia for the Jeffersonian agrarian ideal evoking a vision of small farms peopled by...men and women who understood their responsibility to the land.” (75) The magazine lasted 15 years, printing the works of Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, Wallace Stegner, Edward Faulkner, Louis Bromfield, Ralph Borsodi and “the Fugitive Group”. The Land’s message dovetailed with literary trends. Fox records that: “between the 1930s and the 1950s, the same decades that many of the seminal works on organic farming were being published, a new genre of sympathetic books recording and lamenting the changes that were taking place on the American farm began to appear.” (76) Also at this time “naturalist” writers Hal Borland and Edwin Teale wrote “hugely popular” books of a “naturalist-country” genre in which “there is certainly romance in their depictions of the countyside”. (77)
Louis Bromfield wrote articles for The Land and two “extremely popular” novels: Pleasant Valley and Malabar Farm. The novel’s themes were recapturing farm traditions and soil restoration. Contributor Edward Faulkner also wrote The Ploughman’s Folly (1943) about “the plight of the soil” calling for a radical primitivizing of American agriculture. Ralph Borsodi wrote The Land’s most memorable essay: “The Case against Farming as Big Business”. Here’s Borsodi on the US government:
“I accuse them of deliberately commercializing and industrializing agriculture; of subordinating the real interest of agriculture to that of the fertilizer industry, the seed industry, the milk distribution industry, the meat-packing industry, the canning industry, the agricultural implements industry, the automotive and petroleum industry, and all the other industries and interests which prosper upon a commercialized agriculture. I accuse them of teaching the rape of the earth and the destruction of our priceless heritage of land.”(78)
Borsodi wrote the anti-urban The Ugly Civilization (1929) and Light from the City (1933). His rural commune experiment lasted a few years.
By the late 1940s The Land contributor, Aldo Leopold, was “one of the leading voices for the 20th century conservation –ecological movement.” Thirty years earlier Leopold was a Yale Forestry grad in the US Forest Service. Along the logging road he converted to a romantic view of forests. He realized “nature had an intrinsic value that needed no justification” (79). Later, while teaching at the University of Wisconsin, he bought a farm to practice “wilderness restoration” and for a venue to pen preservationist articles. At the “shack” he wrote The Sand County Almanac – now an introductory textbook for budding American ecologists.
Contributing to the zeitgeist was a Deep South propaganda cell - the “Fugitive Group”. In 1930 the Fugitive Group published a collection of 12 essays in “an anti-modernist, anti-industrialist manifesto” I’ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition. Even though the 12 poets, novelists, and critics were “some of the great writers of the period” their manifesto was dismissed by many as a “radical right-wing diatribe”. The Fugitive Group believed demystifying life deadened culture. They believed art, culture, and religion depended on “a right attitude to nature” attainable only to citizens allowed time to enjoy “the free and disinterested observation of nature that occurs only in leisure.” (80) Only the laid-back, 19th century Southern agrarian lifestyle could free the mind from the tyranny of mechanical time.
Fox also mentions “quintessentially Luddite” cult-poet Robinson Jeffers who haunted the California coast until his 1962 death. Wallace Stegner and Edward Abbey were Jeffers’ loyalists. Fox credits Jeffers for laying the foundation for American deep ecology.
Lindbergh the Luddite
Fox is enamoured with famed aviator Charles Lindbergh. She mildly describes his politics as “an arch-conservative in his early years and accused of Nazi sympathies.” After the war Lindbergh became a pioneering eco-activist; living with and writing about primitive tribes. In his 1948 Of Flight and Life he describes flying over industrial scenes:
“Somehow I feel every road and oil well is an imposition, an intruder on the solitude which was once mine as I flew over it. Looking down on them from the air, those marks seem like a disease – a rash spreading slowly over the earth’s surface.” (81)
Lindbergh shunned the American conservation movement, preferring the European aristocracy’s World Wildlife Fund. (82) He was central to the successful campaign preventing Super Sonic Travel from going commercial. (When businessman Richard Branson recently failed to stop the moth-balling of the last Concorde aircraft, he rightly called it “industrial sabotage” i.e. Luddism.)
The Hidden Tradition inside American Environmentalism - 1950s to 1970s
In the 1950s the US government proposed damming two rivers in northwest Colorado’s Dinosaur National Park. Fox re-tells how the “well-heeled” Sierra Club (with Muir-disciple David Bower at the helm) and the Wilderness Society teamed up to stop the dams. She notes: “there was a new sophistication to the conservation effort.” (83) As part of the campaign, Bower hired a team of scientists to challenge the government science underlying the dam proposals. Bower’s public relations team got an article with picturesque photos published in the Saturday Evening Post pleading for preservation of Dinosaur. Eco-friendly publisher Alfred Knopf agreed to print the coffee-table book, This is Dinosaur, edited by Wallace Stegner. Every Congressman got a copy. Stegner’s biographer is quoted by Fox: “It was certainly the first time that all the major conservation organizations had come together in one cause to show their muscle in a matter of pending legislation”. (84)
Wallace Stegner was a Stanford University literature professor and popular novelist. His first foray into activism was to prevent the development of the picturesque campus foothills near his property. His novels are about the compelling need for a sense of place. He jumped onto the 1950s conservation bandwagon with articles “One-fourth of the Nation: Public Lands and Itching Fingers” (1953) and “Battle for Wilderness” (1954) for New Republic magazine and “Battle for Wilderness” (1955) for Sports Illustrated. In 1960, after prodding from Bower, Stegner wrote his famous “Wilderness Letter” to the Congressional committee in charge of Dinosaur Park. The letter is a manifesto imploring Congress to resist:
“the headlong drive into our technological termite-life, the Brave New World of a completely man controlled environment...just as it (technology) has brought us increased comfort and more material goods, it has brought us spiritual losses, and it threatens now to become the Frankenstein that will destroy us.” (85)
Regarding the market share controlled by Fox’s “hidden literary tradition” Stegner writes:
“There has hardly been a serious or important novel in this century that did not repudiate in part or in whole American technological culture for its commercialism, its vulgarity, and the way in which it dirtied a clean continent and a clean dream.” (86) (Emphasis added)
Fox, agreeing with Stegner, claims as allies: Theodore Dreiser, Upton Sinclair, and John Steinbeck who, like “Condition of England” novelists, connected poverty, displacement, and exploitation to mechanization, urbanization and commerce.
Fox spots a related American literary genre in books such as Gilbreth’s Cheaper by the Dozen and Rath’s Too Much Efficiency where the theme is how the application of business-like principles to real human situations causes chaos.
In 1963 “conservation biologist” Rachel Carson released the best-seller Silent Spring. Originally entitled “Man against the Earth” it is a discredited diatribe against pesticides. Here’s Carson:
“The “control of nature” is conceived in arrogance...science has armed itself with the most modern and terrible weapons, and that in turning them against the insects it has also turned them against the earth.” (87)
According to Fox, 1963 is the magic moment when “conservation started to evolve into environmentalism”. Although she does not describe it thusly, the 1960s was when the myriad of regional wilderness preservationist societies, the organic farming movement, the medievalists, the anti-pollutionists, the crafts movement, the back-to-the-landers, the literary romanticists, and the Malthusians were centralized into an omnibus international social movement conducting operations under the “Green”, “Eco”, and “Enviro” logos.
In the late 1960’s the Sierra Club and other conservationist organizations began large scale retailing of calendars, photo-books and magazines filled with colourful photographs of picturesque wilderness scenes. Juxtaposing these photos with shots of Blake’s “dark satanic mills” belching smoke became standard environmentalist propaganda. (Sierra Club membership went from 27 in 1892 to 10,000 in 1965 and to 1.3 million in 2007.) Also in the late 1960s Sierra Club prodded Paul Ehrlich into writing the doomsday tract The Population Bomb. The book was well-hyped; millions sold.
In Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang (1975) a motley group of environmentalists dream of a world where “cities are gone” and “the sunflowers push up through the concrete”. They then wreck machines they believe are destroying the planet. The novel inspired the Earth First and Earth Liberation Front (“ELF”) terrorist organizations. Fox quotes, with apparent sympathy, the communiqué “the Elfs” released after the 1998 fire-bombings of buildings and ski lifts in Vail, Colorado. The Wordsworthesque communiqué begins “On behalf of the lynx...” and goes on to threaten the “greedy corporation” with more arson if they continued to “trespass into wild and unroaded areas.” (88)
In addition, Abbey wrote “intensely powerful essays in books such as Desert Solitaire that have enthralled two generations of environmentalists.” (90) His Polemic: Industrial Tourism and the National Parks expresses disgust at Park Service policies making parks more accessible.
American Luddite Congresses draw around 1,000 people with many coming from Amish and Mennonite colonies. Visualize bearded men in suspenders, plaid shirts and pork-pie hats talking about horse-shoeing with bong-fried retro-hippies and shifty-eyed Unabomber wannabes. At one Congress Nichols finally hooked up with the publisher of a Luddite newsletter called “Plain” who attracted her because he refused to have an e-mail address...he was some Bible-thumper.
Current novelists topping Nichols Fox’s book list include Glyn Hughes whose 1987 The Rape of the Rose is set in England during the Luddite Rebellion and chronicles the tragedy of a proud family. Also recommended is Linder Salter’s The Lady and the Luddite (2000) where the author brings back Emily Bronte’s heroine “Shirley” who, in this novel, swings with a Luddite named Mellors.
Fox also writes well of Wendell Berry, a popular author of poetry, fiction and essays living in semi-seclusion on a Kentucky farm. Berry attacks agri-business, the by-products of which, he believes, are destroying Earth. Berry denounces America’s cult of progress and says unless the march of agri-business is halted we’re in for totalitarianism.
Top poetry pick is Gary Snyder’s “Front Line” for expressing outrage “at the impending rape of the landscape by developers.” Runner-up is W. S. Mervin’s “The Last One” for railing against humanity`s arrogance toward nature.
In non-fiction she likes Phillip K. Howard’s The Death of Common Sense (1994) for laying out compelling arguments against applying mechanical principals to humans. Also noteworthy is Stewart Brand, publisher of “Whole Earth Catalogue” and author of The Clock of the Long Now. Brand fears computers are taking humanity hostage. Fox quotes Eric T. Freyfogle’s The New Agrarianism (2001) to let us know the back-to-the-land movement is alive and well in America however, unlike previous farming movements, the modern one is defined by a “heightened interest today in land conservation, which has taken on a distinctly ecological cast.” (92)
SUMMARY and CONCLUSION
What then is “hidden” about “The Hidden Luddite Tradition in Literature and Art”? William Blake, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Dickens, C.S. Lewis, Samuel Coleridge, Ralph Emerson Lord Byron, D.H. Lawrence, Walter Scott, Upton Sinclair, John Ruskin, Emily Bronte, Alfred Tennyson, E. M. Forester, Mary Shelley and John Keats are not obscure authors. (And there’s nary a pore weaver among’em, nay the Tradition has rested upon the padded shoulders of a cut of politicos who from their lace curtains to their silk stockings were swell and upper-crusters.) They are among the most influential and imitated writers in history. Far from being hidden, the Tradition’s Ebenezer Scrooges, Merlins, Harry Potters, Gandalfs, Sir Lancelots, Count Draculas, Ivanhoes and Dr. Frankensteins have been woven into the fabric of our brains.
What is hidden is the fact that so much literature (novels, screen-plays, ballads, lyrics, and short stories) has been part of a conscious, coherent propaganda campaign begun on behalf of British landed interests as they struggled for power during the upheavals of the Industrial Revolution. What is hidden, even by Fox, is that during the first half of the 20th century the Tradition was inextricably entwined with the international fascist movement. What is hidden is the fact that the social movement currently embodying the Tradition is the international environmental movement.
Under free trade, in the latter half of the 19th century, British agriculture suffered a 50% loss of employment with over a third of grain-land reverting to pasture-land for a livestock industry also suppressed by foreign competition. (92) But British agriculture persisted. In 2006 the UK utilized 180,000 square kilometres of agricultural land with half going to crops (wheat, oats, barley, oil-seeds, potatoes, sugar-beets) and half for livestock (33 million sheep, 10 million cattle, 5 million pigs). British Government departments managing agriculture have been severed into: “Rural Affairs”, “Farming”, “Food and Agriculture” and “Countryside and Wilderness” and grafted onto several eco-agencies to form the monstrous Department of the Environment Farming and Rural Affairs. As is the European norm, British agriculture is well-protected from competition and receives massive cash subsidies. The Manchester cotton spinners are spinning in their graves. (93)
In keeping with most of Western Europe, British agriculture has preserved its aristocratic character with over half UK’s utilized farm land being tenanted. Rents are around 125 pounds per hectare per year. (94) (For many aristocrats agricultural rents are a lesser source of income compared to what they draw from their urban real estate holdings.) European aristocrats have the power to spring back to life. After lying low in the post-WWII period, the ascendant European aristocrats are more influential now than they have been for a century.
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