From Newsletter no. 42, Fall 2003:
Peter H. Reill, The
Maximillian E. Novak, The Age of Projects: Changing and Improving the Arts, Literature, and Life during the Long Eighteenth Century, 16601820
Bruce Whiteman, Recent Acquisitions
Tobias Hug, An Early Modern Impostor
List of images reproduced in this on-line issue
This academic year began on an extremely high note, our hosting of the eleventh quadrennial meeting of the International Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (ISECS) and the thirty-fourth annual meeting of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (ASECS), held at UCLA for a full week in early August. Over one thousand scholars from all over the world participated. More than three hundred and fifty sessions were held, accompanied by an ambitious cultural and recreational program. The major themes of the meeting were the “global eighteenth century” and “filming the eighteenth century,” though papers exploring an enormous range of other eighteenth-century topics were presented as well. We were fortunate to have been able to enlist many partners in making the congress a success: the Ahmanson Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Museum and Research Institute, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the French Consulate, the Italian Cultural Institute, the Huntington Library, the UCLA College of Letters and Science, many UCLA departments and research units, and individual donors. Even the weather gods smiled on us, providing idyllic conditions: sun, clear skies, and moderate temperatures. Many participants remarked that this had been one of the best large conferences they had ever attended. As the Secretary General of ISECS wrote, “the combination of cultural and social events with a first-rate program of sessions, plenary lectures, and round tables seemed to capture the spirit of sociability that was so essential to the dissemination of ideas during the Enlightenment.” Certainly it helped to enhance the reputation of both UCLA and the Center/Clark within the international scholarly community.
But a darker side of reality soon confronted us, the massive budget cuts the University of California has taken and will take in the future. By a decree of the state legislature, all research units were cut by ten percent last year and ten percent this year; we are probably facing another ten percent reduction next year. This has been hard to swallow, but because we have followed a conservative fiscal policy in the past, we believe that, in these difficult times, we will be successful in maintaining, though on a more limited scale, the pursuit of our goals: namely of encouraging scholarship, expanding the Clark’s collections, and providing a wide range of fellowships, without endangering the positions of our superb staff. A quick look at this year’s academic programs reveals the diversity of the intellectual inquiries we support, ranging from “The Age of Projects,” the core program directed by Maximillian E. Novak, UCLA (whose article appears in this issue), to programs on the radical Enlightenment, the republic of letters, Italy in the Enlightenment, and Pietro Aretino and the libertine tradition. Our cultural series—Chamber Music at the Clark, Poetry Afternoons at the Clark, and the Henry J. Bruman Summer Chamber Music Festival at UCLA—will not be diminished this year. Next year’s academic and cultural schedule will be equally diverse and challenging.
Though fully cognizant of the difficulties ahead, the Center/Clark is devoted to strengthening its position as one of the most important centers in the world for research in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century studies. We are continuing to establish working relationships with similar institutions in Europe and North America with the goal of creating a network of scholars and students exploring the most advanced positions in the research of this field. In addition to our ties with academic institutions in Venice, Lecce, Paris, Zürich, Göttingen, Pisa, and Bologna, we have begun a joint research program with scholars at the University of Paris IV (Sorbonne) on “naturalized texts,” texts which are adopted by a new culture and then become part of its perceived heritage. The first joint conference on this theme will take place at the Clark in June. We are also discussing a research project on “esoterism and hermeticism in the Enlightenment” with the Interdisziplinäres Zentrum für die Erforschung der Europäischen Aufklärung at Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg. These contacts will supplement our already rich academic program. In short, despite the budget cuts facing us, we are as optimistic as we have ever been about the future prospects of the Center and the Clark.
Between 1697, when Defoe proclaimed his era the “Projecting Age,” and 1768, when Josiah Wedgwood described his time as an “Age of Miracles,” there was something of a growth in confidence and optimism. At the beginning of our period those attached to the older way of viewing the world voiced their doubts about new projects and about change in general. Bishop Edward Stillingfleet thought he sensed heresy in John Locke’s view of the human mind, and Jonathan Swift doubted whether Isaac Newton’s system was anything more than another modern error. Even at the end of the century William Blake could voice dismay at the concern with the material world, when it was possible for the mind to see a “World in a Grain of Sand / And Eternity in an hour.” In the early years of our period, it was easy enough to find absurdity in the numerous failed projects and in the volumes of the Transactions of the Royal Society dealing with monstrous births and other oddities; by the end of the century the Transactions were reporting genuine discoveries. But among many contemporaries, both at the beginning and the end of the long eighteenth century, the spirit of the projector—the belief that human thought and action could transform society—was a vital force for change.
Let us begin with the doubters. In the third book of his Travels, Gulliver visits an academy of projectors, the Academy of Lagado, where he finds himself distinctly uncomfortable when embraced by an odorous “scientist” working to convert excrement back into food, offended by the discharge of an animal that was the subject of an experiment on curing disease, and yet somewhat impressed by an experiment in writing books by a random jumbling of letters. Gulliver laments the “Irreconcilable Enemies to Science” among the common people who refuse to see the advantages of reducing all communication to the display of objects thereby getting rid of the complexities of language and reducing words to things. Gulliver, the projector, even offers an addition to the scheme of one experimenter to detect insurrections against the government by studying the feces of those under suspicion, suggesting a method of reading ordinary language as containing coded messages of revolt. Swift’s message is that a country ruled by projectors is doomed. For example, the country is going to ruin as new experimental systems of agriculture have resulted in the destruction of the old systems that had worked perfectly well.
Although Swift’s satire has often been seen as directed toward the scientific experiments of the Royal Society, it was more generally directed at the spirit of change and novelty that had triumphed during the 1690s. During the Restoration, there had been official disapproval of political and religious innovation. The Royal Society had to make its case for its essentially anti-radical designs. Thomas Sprat’s and Robert Boyle’s famous attacks upon obscure language and metaphor were only slightly disguised criticisms of the often inventive but uncontrolled use of imagery by some of the sects during the Interregnum. Science was supposed to reveal what actually was, not to speculate on new possibilities. And as such it might seem harmless enough. Characters in Restoration comedy, such as Sir Nicholas Gimcrack in Shadwell’s The Virtuoso, are distinguished by their foolishness in seeking new ways of doing things. To Swift, at least to Swift the satirist, Gimcrack and those like him failed to live a life within the “common forms” of existence. Swift may have been on the wrong side of the flow of history, but there is a certain rightness in his criticisms that remains eternally true. To those who lived through the five-year plans of the Soviet Union and China, Swift’s satire has a special poignancy—simultaneously a sadness at the failure of new systems of action that appeared to hold much promise, as well as an uncomfortable recognition of some of their follies. Thus with his suspicions about idealism and his anxieties about all forms of embarrassment, Swift proposed limited goals in his Project for the Advancement of Religion, and Reformation of Manners (1709)—a work thought by many to be cynical, or even ironic, because it did not call for real reform, only for its appearance.
In England, the period following the Glorious Revolution (1688) saw a change—novelty was all the rage, and schemes abounded. This was the time of the “Financial Revolution,” and of a successful recoinage. John Dunton and his Athenian Mercury proclaimed that new ideas were good, and for a time even Swift was impressed. It was also a time of food riots, bankruptcies, and violent political squabbles. As an extension of the success of the Athenian Mercury, Dunton proposed the equivalent of modern Britain’s “Open University” in London, with classes on all kinds of exciting subjects. Apparently there were few takers. But, as Defoe remarked, the projecting spirit is always urged forward by “Necessity,” and these were difficult times. Some of the proposals for new projects came directly from prisons. Moses Pitt, imprisoned for debt, published his The Cry of the Oppress’d (1691) calling for a reform of prisons and of the legal code just after he was released, and, as John Bender has shown (Imagining the Penitentiary, 1987), the impulse toward that kind of reform was an important inspiration for the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century novel, beginning with Defoe and continuing for most novels with social concerns including those of Wollstonecraft, Godwin, and Mary Shelley. From Pitt’s proposals, to James Oglethorpe’s committee on prison reform, to John Howard’s prison visitations, to Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon prison design, there is a sense that social institutions might be improved despite the seeming inertia of society. Yet over many of these proposals, particularly in the early years of our period, there hangs a poignant odor of failure, for most eighteenth-century projectors thought that human nature was the same throughout earthly time and space and that, since the institutions that needed change were a product of human nature, they would inevitably be flawed.
Defoe caught that poignancy—that mixture of hope and optimism with an expectation of failure—very well in his Essay upon Projects. The Essay has a section on bankruptcy calling upon his own experiences, and it is no accident that it is followed immediately by a section on a new hospital for the insane. A few projects were unquestionable successes. Defoe names William Phipps’s success in raising treasure from sunken Spanish ships and William Dockwra’s development of the penny post. But Defoe’s own investments in a diving engine and in a civet cat farm came to naught. In The Political History of the Devil (1726), Defoe described himself as having once been a projector, but in fact, he never stopped projecting. He was never more a projector than in the works of the following three years in which he proposed a wide range of reforms for the improvement of London and the nation.
In short, projecting was the mode of the age, even if a great many of the schemes were unrealizable. The Center and Clark core program for this year, focusing on this projecting spirit, consists of three seminars. The first, “Retrieving the Past” (14–15 November), will be devoted to the early period, with papers examining attempts to anchor English history in a mythic Troy, attitudes toward creativity and wit, and the conflict of ancient and modern forms, whether in literature or the arts. The second seminar, “Improving the Present” (12–13 March), will include papers on academies, advertising, and new attitudes toward the education of children. The third, “Envisioning the Future” (7–8 May), will attempt to see the way discoveries of the time affected later developments in literature, history, and the arts.
Recent issues of the newsletter have highlighted our acquisition this past year of two special types of works: French books and works by and about Aretino. We were also able to add to each of our major collecting areas with the purchase of outstanding individual items, and it seems time now to comment on them.
Where eighteenth-century literature is concerned, undoubtedly the most important acquisition this year was a manuscript by William Dodd, a friend of Samuel Johnson who was hung for forgery of a promissory note. Dr. Dodd (1729–77) was a much-published poet, translator, anthologist, and sermon writer, and his Thoughts in Prison (1777) was frequently republished until well into the nineteenth century. The Clark manuscript contains ninety folios, the first presenting a table of contents and the remainder, Dodd’s poetry. (The folios are numbered 1–92, but folios 81–83 are torn out.) Some of the poems, like “Susan & Rosalind, or The Hope, A Pastoral,” are clearly marked “published,” while others, including “The 18th Epistle of the First Book of Horace, Paraphrased,” are not. “Susan & Rosalind” was included in Dodd’s Poems, published in 1767.
One eighteenth-century printed book added to the collection, the first edition of The Amours and Adventures of Two Gentlemen in Italy (1761), possesses a manuscript-like uniqueness, for no other copy of this edition is recorded. A mildly scandalous little story, published anonymously, this text was known, heretofore, only from a nineteenth-century American reprint. Also added to the eighteenth-century collections were a number of translations of English literary works, including a collection of various works by Fielding translated into French (1781–82), a Tom Jones, also translated into French (1781), Pietro Chiari’s Italian version of Pope’s Essay on Man, rendered as L’Uomo: lettere filosofiche in versi martelliani (1768), and the very rare Rettung der Rechte des Weibes (1793–94), the first German translation of Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Presented as a translation from the English but with no recorded English original is the amusing and anonymous Metodo per una fanciulla onde procurarsi uno sposo [How a girl can get a husband] (1765). From the Wing period, a rare English-Dutch grammar and phrasebook was acquired, François Hillenius’s Den Engelschen ende Ne’erduitschen onderrichter (1664). Among French literary works, the Clark bought two books by the cantankerous and much-traveled Fougeret de Montbrun, La capitale des Gaules (1759) and the better known Le cosmopolite (1753), a novel that helped to give common coin to the word cosmopolitan.
The Clark’s collection of early modern science continues to grow. Newton is one of the focal points of the collection, and three autograph letters dating from 1691 to 1693, addressed to him by the mathematician Nicolas Fatio de Duillier, who was a friend, comprise a significant addition to our Newtoniana. A copy of the prodigiously productive Louis-Sébastien Mercier’s De l’impossibilité du système astronomique de Copernic et de Newton (1806) was acquired, along with two important contributions to the theory of the calculus, Guido Grandi’s De infinitis infinitorum (1710) and Giovanni Battista Nicolai’s Nova analyseos elementa (1786–93). Not specifically Newtonian, but obviously of related interest, are the five volumes (in English) of a European edition of the Royal Society’s Philosophical Transactions (Wittenberg, 1768–76), known only in one other copy in Göttingen. Also added was a copy of Stephen Peter Rigaud’s Historical Essay on the First Publication of Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia (1838). General antiquarian books not specifically related to science were also bought this year. Mabillon’s De re diplomatica (1681, with a supplement published in 1704), a foundational text on determining the authenticity of historical documents, was the most important of these. Also acquired were a rare book on the Moravians, Briève & fidèle exposition de l’origine . . . de l’église de l’unité des frères connus sous le nom de Frères de Bohème & de Moravie (1758), with some compelling plates; Faujas de St-Fond’s Voyage en Angleterre, en Écosse et aux îles Hébrides (1797), also handsomely illustrated (and including a plate depicting the Scottish owner of a manuscript by Ossian!); and a German edition of Nicolaes Petter’s splendid book on wrestling, Der künstliche Ringer [The artful wrestler] (1674), with plates by Romeyn de Hooghe.
A number of library catalogues joined the Clark’s expanding holdings of antiquarian bibliography this year. One of these catalogues, De bibliotheca augusta quae est in arce Wolfenbuttelensi (1661), lists the volumes in the private library of Duke August of Wolfenbüttel, which would eventually form the nucleus of the outstanding holdings in the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel, and the second, the Catalogue raisonée des livres de la bibliothèque de feu M. le duc de La Vallière (1783), records the volumes belonging to that famed collection. A curious and very rare fake auction catalogue (an example of a surprisingly common genre) also came to the Clark, Conrad Malte-Brun’s Fortegnelse over endeel gods og løsøre [Catalogue of goods and moveables] (Copenhagen, 1797). Many satirical auction catalogues poke fun at collectors and/or booksellers, but this is an instance in which the format of the auction sale is used for political humor. Also acquired was one of the earliest texts on bibliophily, Andreas Wallin’s Dissertatio academica de bibliomania (Uppsala, 1762). “Quot caelum stellas, tot habet Europa libellos” [Europe has as many books as there are stars in the sky], Wallin rather glumly notes.
A few items of note were added to the Oscar Wilde and fine printing collections in the past year. In light of our recent acquisition of the Aretino collection, it is interesting to mention a copy (one of one hundred, supposedly) of a translation of Aretino’s risqué sonnets (not dated, but probably the 1910s or 1920s) attributed to Wilde. It seems likely that the publisher merely put Wilde’s name on the book to help it sell, as the poetry is so bad: “A friar on a gibbet had to die/For turning to contempt the love of lust;/He squirmed beneath the hangman’s ribald thrust,/As fast the noose the latter tried to tie.” Surely the author of The Sphinx could not have been guilty of such a third-rate translation. The printer Peter Koch’s 7 Liberal Arts, Mark Wagner’s Smoke in My Dreams (Bird Brain Press), and a complete collection of the books of the Archetype Press of the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, are among the books added to the Press Collection. And given our virtually complete holdings of Vance Gerry’s Weather Bird Press, it is fitting to have added this year a small collection of original watercolors by this important Los Angeles book artist.
Elkanah Settle’s two pamphlets, The Notorious Impostor, or the History of the Life of William Morrell (1692) and The Compleat Memoirs of the Life of that Notorious Impostor Will. Morrell, alias Bowyer, alias Wickham, &c. (1694) are early examples of semi-fictitious biographies that explicitly highlight the subject of imposture. They purport to describe the exploits of a notorious swindler named William Morrell who lived his last years under various assumed identities. Even though most of the pranks that Settle reports are probably fictitious, Morrell was a real historic figure. We know from the register of the London parish of St. Clement Danes that a William Morrell, alias Bowier, was “buried poor” on 12 January 1692. Soon afterwards, the bookseller Abel Roper published a pamphlet called Diego Redivivus, which consisted of a will written by William Morrell under the alias Humphrey Wickham. A few days later John Dunton reported the incident in the Athenian Mercury. The revelation of the deceit caused a sensation in London, especially since the real Humphrey Wickham turned out to be very much alive and well. Shortly thereafter, Settle published The Notorious Impostor and two years later brought out the much expanded and revised Compleat Memoirs.
According to The Compleat Memoirs, Morrell’s first impersonation capitalizes on the family name of Sir William Walters of the parish of Headington near Oxford. Walters was likely a prosperous tenant on an Oxfordshire farm called “The Wyke” (Wick). Pretending to be Walters’s younger brother, Morrell visits the local market where, claiming to be temporarily cash poor, he persuades a grazier to give him several head of cattle on credit, with only his good name and reputation as collateral. Needless to say, the grazier does not see his money or his cattle again. Morrell/Walters then begins wooing a pretty lass, and, vowing that her low station in life is of no concern to him, asks to be taken to her father. The old man, despite misgivings, agrees to a marriage—what poor countryman, unable to provide his daughter with a proper dowry, wouldn’t accept an offer from a magnanimous gentleman? The union celebrated, Morrell/Walters tightens the noose around his victims. He tells his father-in-law that Sir William might be displeased that his younger brother has married without his permission and beneath their class, and that he is consequently in danger of being disinherited. The father-in-law agrees to lend him a cart and two horses so that he can retrieve his possessions before his elder brother can take the feared action. Morrell/Walters then rides off with the cart and the horses, never to be seen or heard from again.
Settle describes several more such pranks, in which Morrell impersonates country gentlemen, or men of wealth. He poses, for example, as “a Rich Norfolk Gentleman of 500 [£ ] a Year” in need of a wife and later as “a Doctor of Physick” possessing an “infallible Remedy” for the gout. He eventually makes his way to London, claiming to be Humphrey Wickham, Esq., kinsman of William Wickham a prominent resident of Oxfordshire. Despite Morrell/Wickham’s impecuniousness, the identity impresses Mr. Cullin, a baker casually met, and his wife, who happens to be from Oxfordshire herself and knows of the Wickham family’s good reputation. The Cullins thus agree to take Morrell/Wickham into their home. Morrell/Wickham soon becomes ill, draws up a will, and dies. He bequeaths his major estate and holdings to William Wickham, considerable sums to the Cullins, and his minor possessions to various others, among them his nurse.
The Settle narratives combine fact and fiction in a manner that illustrates some of the ways in which fragments of lived experience enter into literature. They present a somewhat absurd and stereotyped version of Morrell’s life. Of the several crimes described in the pamphlets, only the fact of the forged will is documented; sources of the period contain no traces of the others. In fact, Morrell’s activities resemble all too closely those of other seventeenth-century impostors, whether sexual adventurers and swindlers like Meriton Latroon, Richard Head’s anti-hero of The English Rogue, or social climbers like Major Clancie, Settle’s roguish subject in The Life and Death of Major Clancie. Morrell is thus a variant of a literary type, and one of many figures whose authentic person was transformed by writers into a fictitious archetype of the collective memory of the era.
My interest in these narratives lies in what they might tell us about the impostor phenomenon within the social context of seventeenth-century England. So far, historians have dealt mainly with the famous religious and political impostors.
The Morrell narratives illustrate a different phenomenon, impersonation, not to usurp political power, but to secure gentlemanly social status and the socio-economic privileges that accompany it. The Morrell narratives also shed light on fears about social mobility and its effects on the nature of the gentry class, a subject that had been debated in England throughout the seventeenth century. The fact of social mobility was recognized but not necessarily embraced; and concern was frequently expressed about degeneracy, about whether or not new blood would introduce undesirable traits into the gentry and perhaps erode qualities presumed to demarcate that exalted class from the lower born. Early in the century courtesy literature dwelled on definitions of nobility, on the values and manners intrinsic to that class, and on dangers posed both by impostors and by the increasingly common practice of purchasing a title. By the 1690s, when the Morrell narratives appear, the inauthentic gentleman has become a primary concern. The narratives draw attention to impostors, but they also suggest that gentlemanly values have weakened, and that, as a result, the trust customarily accorded the gentleman is no longer warranted.
An additional detail adds interest to the theme of imposture in the Morrell narratives. Humphrey Wickham, the man whose identity Morrell borrowed for his notorious will on behalf of the London baker, belonged to a well-known family of the gentry class that had tried, unsuccessfully, to claim the privileges of even higher status. Twice, in 1570 and 1635, they had claimed the legal right, through kinship with the founder, to enter New College, Oxford. They had based their argument on their alleged relation to William Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester, who had founded New College in 1379. Both claims had been rejected. Unfortunately, it is still not known why Morrell impersonated Wickham. No source has yet been found that verifies the existence of any relationship between the two men, nor that explains why Morrell might have embarked on the adventure of robbing Wickham of his possessions. Was he seeking only to “cheat a poor baker of a fortnight lodging and bread,” or was his imposture driven by grievances related to some deeper conflict with Wickham? Or is neither correct? Perhaps it will be discovered that Morrell’s last deed was not a private act but a public one of social protest, or even of ridicule, meant to expose the dubious nature of the Wickhams’ own pretentions.
Illustrations are identified in order of appearance. When not otherwise credited, images are from materials in the Clark Library collection. All rights are reserved.
[Director's Column] A diving bell, from a plate in Encyclopædia Britannica; or, A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and . . . Literature, 4th ed. (Edinburgh, 1810) [see discussion in Maximillian E. Novak, "The Age of Projects"].
of Projects1] Frontispiece to Cyclopædia:
or, An Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences, by
E. Chambers, 2d ed. (London, 1738).
Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon design,
in his Management of the Poor (Dublin, 1796). Courtesy of
the Department of Special Collections, Young Research Library, UCLA;
[Recent Acquisitions2] "Prosternation devant le Seigneur," in Briève & fidèle exposition de l’origine . . . de l’église de l’unité des . . . Frères de Bohème & de Moravie ([Germany], 1758).
[Recent Acquisitions3] One of several plates by Romeyn de Hooghe in Nicolaes Petter, Der künstliche Ringer (Amsterdam, 1674).
[Recent Acquisitions4] Cover of Mark Wagner, Smoke in My Dreams (Delafield Wis.: Bird Brain Press, 1998).
[Early Modern Impostor1] Title page to Elkanah Settle, The Notorious Impostor (London, 1692).
[Early Modern Impostor1] First page of William Morrell’s will written in the name of Humphrey Wickham, in Settle, Notorious Impostor.