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ENL 6236: Restoration and
Eighteenth-Century Literature

Civility and the Public Sphere

Class 6

Reading Assignment:

Oct. 11: Town and Country -- Contrast in manners
    Swift, "Description of a City Shower (2300)
    Goldsmith, "The Deserted Village," (2857-2867)
    Crabbe, "The Village," (2867-2875)
    Leapor, "An Essay on Woman," "Epistle of Deborah Dough," "Crumble Hall," "Upon her play being returned to her, stained with Claret" from Poems Upon Several Occasions by the late Mrs. Leapor, the Second and Last Volume (London 1751) from Eighteenth-Century Collections Online

    Recommended: O'Gorman, Chapters 4 and 11

    Report Topic: Transformation of English Countryside, enclosure, urban migration

    Bibliography -- Carrie

    Due: Post #6


The poems for today respond tothe pastoral tradition, and so you should become somewhat familiar with the tropes and conventions of this mode. It was in all practical senses a dead genre in the eighteenth century, although Pope had some success with his Pastoral poems at the beginning of the century and Wordsworth revived a version of it in the early nineteenth century. The pastoral tradition was a fictionalized representation of idealized rural life, where fields were populated with nymphs and swains engaged in unrealistic, Golden Age, behaviors.

We will focus on the representation of the English landscape in three major poems for today: Leapor's "Crumble Hall," Goldsmith's "The Deserted Village," and Crabbe's "The Village" (excerpted). Information on the transformation of the land through enclosures and engrossing can be found in the chapters by O'Gorman. The information on the development of towns and cities as urban centers will also be relevant. How do the poets depict rural manners versus urban manners (when they are apparent)?

Mary Leapor does not have a headnote by which to identify her history, which is of interest. Please see the dedicatory epistle to the volume of poetry from 1751, but also look at the epistle "To the Reader" to her first volume of Poems from 1747 (also available from Eighteenth-Century Collections Online). Leapor (1722-46) was a laboring poet, the daughter of a gardener, who was befriended by Bridget Fremantle (Artemisia in the poems). With Fremantle's and a local gentleman's assistance, a subscription was raised for the publication of her poems and her play and some other works were sent to London for evaluation. Unfortunately, she died of measles on 12 November 1746 before the publication could take place.


Notes and Discussion Questions:


While all of Leapor's poems are important, please spend time assessing the great "Crumble Hall." This poem renovates the country estate poem made famous by Ben Jonson's "To Penshurst." What is the purpose of Leapor's poem? What does it gain from the perspective of the servant?

What condition is the house in? Why? What are the implications? What, if any, moral can be derived from Leapor's description?

How do the people behave within the house? (How does this compare with Jonson's encomium in To Penshurst?) What are the characteristics that Leapor highlights?

Evaluate the closing portion of the poem as a landscape poem. What does she describe? How? What values does she find in the land? How does Leapor approach the form (or the land?) To what purpose is the landscape constructed in the poems? How is this significant for the poet? For the working woman? How does this compare with Goldsmith and Crabbe's views?

What, if any, relationship does this poem have to the idealized pastoral tradition?

Questions on other poems by Leapor:

What forms does she choose to write in? Compare this with the opinions of Roger Lonsdale (Eighteenth-Century Women Poets: An Oxford Anthology, ed. Roger Lonsdale (Oxford UP, 1990) ) and Margaret Doody, “Women Poets of the Eighteenth Century” in Women and Literature in Britain, 1700-1800, ed. Vivien Jones, Cambridge UP, 2000:

Lonsdale: “In the course of the eighteenth century itself ‘polite’ taste had increasingly come to favour a poetry of self-conscious elevation above the facts of the mundane world, which produced much that was insipid and stilted. Throughout the century, however, there were many writers who expressed, in verse of a sociable, unpretentious, sometimes homely, sometimes idiosyncratic kind interests and experiences which must contradict some of the generalizations made about the period” (xliii).

Doody: “A poet such as Leapor benefits from the eighteenth century’s openness to the physicality of experience. The empiricism of Locke placed sensory experience at the root of consciousness, and thus of all knowledge and all forms of self-consciousness. Consciousness is formed through experience and through reflection on experiences. If that is so, then the role of authority – already rendered politically suspect in the Revolution and the Restoration – becomes less important. A combination of political and philosophical views gave more opportunity for women and the poor to enter the literary arena, to create works that would be heard, than they ever had before. In order to understand their own society, and the world in which human beings really do live, men and women of the eighteenth century could believe it would be valuable to understand the experiences of others. We can know another person, or person, or even perhaps class, by entering imaginatively into their sensations” (227).

“The early eighteenth century is an era of creative ferment, both in fiction and in poetry. Poets test the limits of ‘the poetic’, surprising us with the unexpected, taking a cue from the satiric and conversational poets such as Horace, and women writers participate to good effect” (227).

Examine and compare the representations of the poet in Leapor's poems. They appear to be striking self-portraits, riddled with ambivalence. What are the implications in the poem, for example, Epistle of Deborah Dough?

Female friendship emerges in Leapor's works. How do they represent relationships among women? What is the role of the poetry in the depiction of female friendship? What is the role of female friendship in the writing of poetry?

Beauty is a predominant theme in Leapor. Her poems have a predilection for portraying the ugly and the beautiful. How? Why?

Examine the use of the epistle form. Lonsdale also observes that “women poets, like their unfashionable male contemporaries, were often intimidated by or indifferent to the loftier poetic genres and worked most happily in less self-conscious, social forms: most notably, throughout the century, in the familiar verse epistle, in which generic expectations were minimal, polished diction inappropriate, and the writer would be confident of her ability to amuse a friend whose interest was guaranteed” (xlv). To what extent is this helpful for understanding Leapor's use of the form?

Finally, examine the representation of courtship and gallantry in the poems. How does Leapor deal with / construct the inevitability of marriage, the subordination of women?


2. Goldsmith and Crabbe

Because the poems by Goldsmith and Crabbe describe the effects of the historical changes to the British countryside, it may be worthwhile to consider some information regarding these developments. Simply put the technological advances in farming combined with the transition from open field farming to enclosed farming made it possible to increase the yield of food production in the country significantly, which helped sustain the tremendous population growth over the course of that century. However large landowners took to engrossing commons and other lands to build huge estates for profitable farm production which forced poorer farmers off the land and depopulated the countryside. See discussion in O'Gorman, pp. 100-108. The poems focus only on the latter effect. How does Goldsmith represent the changes to the landscape? What language or images does he use? What is the effect? How does Crabbe respond to Goldsmith's poem in his representation of the land and its people?

The image of the poor solitary widow who alone remains in “Sweet Auburn” merits attention, especially as it contrasts with the two portraits of prominent members of his youthful village: the preacher and the schoolmaster. How does Goldsmith represent these characters and their values? What is the impact of their vanishing?

Evaluate the importance of the schoolhouse and the village tavern. In what sense are these places contrasted with ideas of cultivation and the public sphere?

Goldsmith's poem appears to assert a very direct moral: that the luxury of trade and wealth is seriously damaging the core strength of the country, the bold peasantry. His call to politicians is direct. He envisions a dismal future for the country that continues on this path: “I see the rural Virtues leave the Land,” and he lists these virtues: Toil, Care, Tenderness, Piety, Loyalty and Love." What is the point of these lines? How effective are they as poetry? How effective as social criticism?

Finally, he addresses Poetry as the potential cure for these ills. What can poetry do to help the situation? In what sense is this related to a culture of civility, refinement and a developing public sphere?

This suggestion receives a bitter reply in Crabbe’s poem: “Can poets soothe you, when you pine for bread, / By winding myrtles round your ruined shed?” Evaluate Crabbe's response.

As a representation of the negative effects of luxury, wealth and trade, these poems serve as a counter-discourse in a age that celebrated the urbane, refined politeness of the Spectator and the Rape of the Lock. How do they differ in this respect? What are their separate effects?

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