Rural life in English poetry of the mid-eighteenth century
This thesis examines several mid-eighteenth century poems, assessing their portrayal of rural life, its literary and historical significance, and the aesthetic and ideological issues it presents. An introductory essay on developments in rural poetry sets'the scene for two extended essays. The first essay is a comparative reading of the subject of rural labour in three poems: James Thomson's The Seasons %724-40, Stephen Duck's The Thresher's Labour (1730,1736) and Mary Collier's The Woman's Labour The viewpoints of a professional poet (Thomson), a farm labourer (Duck), and a working woman (Collier) are compared in relation to kinds of work all three address as well as to individual labouring subjects. The responses of the three poets to such related issues as folk traditions, forms of charity and other 'compensations', are also compared. Some surprising similarities as well as instructive differences are located; and an interesting picture of idealistic and realistic, male-oriented and female-oriented attitudes to labour and labour-related themes emerges. The second essay analyses the subject of agricultural prescription in John Dyer's The Fleece (1757). Drawing on interdisciplinary information, the essay makes a sequential reading of the first book of the poem, whose subject is 'the care of sheep'. It traces the historical and poetic significance of Dyer's advice on land use and environment, breeding and types of sheep, husbandry and veterinary practice. The poet's theoretical models, his use of topography and of epic and pastoral, didactic and popular styles is examined. Dyer is found to make a substantial engagement with contemporary agricultural developments, but also to draw on idealising models of agricultural history and economic development, uniting the contrasting imperatives of the 'practical' and the 'poetical'. Dyer's belief that shepherding provided an important model for society; and his intense engagement with agriculture, inform a complex pattern of mixed motivations.