By expanding the geographical scope of the history of violence and war, this volume challenges both Western and state-centric narratives of the decline of violence and its relationship to modernity. It highlights instead similarities across early modernity in terms of representations, legitimations, applications of, and motivations for violence. It seeks to integrate methodologies of the study of violence into the history of war, thereby extending the historical significance of both fields of research. Thirteen case studies outline the myriad ways in which large-scale violence was understood and used by states and non-state actors throughout the early modern period across Africa, Asia, the Americas, the Atlantic, and Europe, demonstrating that it was far more complex than would be suggested by simple narratives of conquest and resistance. Moreover, key features of imperial violence apply equally to large-scale violence within societies. As the authors argue, violence was a continuum, ranging from small-scale, local actions to full-blown war. The latter was privileged legally and increasingly associated with states during early modernity, but its legitimacy was frequently contested and many of its violent forms, such as raiding and destruction of buildings and crops, could be found in activities not officially classed as war.
In the early 1720s Daniel Defoe revelled in the view of stunning mansions along the Thames. This sight, he insisted, was quite new, ‘much more than our ancestors, even of but one age ago, knew anything of’. They were adorned with fashionable gardens and with buildings that appeared, to the viewer passing along the river, truly magnificent. No European capital could compete with such a collection of grandeur; ‘in a word’, Defoe wrote, ‘nothing can be more beautiful’. Given their beauty it was remarkable that these stunning buildings were not homes at all, but merely villas intended only for occasional retreats. Those who were citizens used them merely for brief breaks ‘from the hurries of business, and from getting money, to draw their breath in a clear air’. After such breaks they inevitably ‘return to smoke and dirt, sin and seacoal (as it was coarsely expressed) in the busy city’.1
This ‘coarse expression’, the city of London as defined, equally and reciprocally, by its ‘sin and sea coal’ is, at first consideration, surprising coming from an author like Defoe whose career was so metropolitan. To represent London through its environment, and in particular through the air pollution arising from its unique consumption of mineral coal, was not unusual. Early modern London, as was widely known and noted, was fuelled by thousands of fires that dirtied its air and gave it a characteristic atmosphere. ‘The joys of London are full of smoke’, wrote one diplomat in the 1630s, a conclusion to which many other inhabitants and visitors agreed during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.2 But to link this environment to sin seems to suggest either that urban air pollution was already considered deeply immoral centuries before the emergence of environmental politics, or that the entirety of urban society could be marked as materially and morally dirtied. This could be expected from a figure like Pope or his many imitators who, during the eighteenth century, championed the moral superiority of a countryside free from the greed and ambition of the city. But Defoe was both a native Londoner and perhaps the period’s most active chronicler and embodiment of urban life. While there were indeed many ways – political, legal, medical and aesthetic – that early modern people objected to London’s smoky air, they did not yet frame urban dirtiness as a sin against pristine nature.3 Nor did Defoe despise his native city. Rather, something else is going on in this passage, something that allowed a writer to gesture towards the proposition that urban society was inherently sinful, and yet also to avoid the anti-urban implications of this suggestion. We cannot do justice to Defoe’s proposition unless we now move firmly beyond the analysis of stereotyping and ensuing polemical escalation developed in the previous chapters, and enter into the discussion of irony, subversion and knowing acceptance.
As London’s population grew tenfold from the mid-sixteenth to the mid-eighteenth centuries, its inhabitants, visitors and governors wrestled with what to make of its evolving physical spaces and social dynamics. There existed a classical tradition denigrating urban life, drawing on literary traditions celebrating the pastoral and the georgic as well as a distinct but easily assimilated Christian tradition that denounced urban vices like greed and vanity. Against these, there emerged during the seventeenth century a contrary position that celebrated cities in general, and London in particular, as civilised and urbane, the economic heart of a commercial society and the political capital of a powerful monarchy. This chapter, however, examines a more ambivalent and less polemical approach to urban life, one that could use anti-urban rhetoric even as it ignored, mocked and undermined it. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries London’s dirt, and specifically its dirty air, was associated with a broad range of moral failures said to be specific to, or at least most widely found in, Britain’s capital. But this assimilation of the moral into the material, summarised most memorably for contemporaries in the phrase ‘sin and sea coal’, was evoked surprisingly often in texts that offered not criticism of urban pollution and urban manners, but rather an attitude of acceptance or even celebration of both.
Stereotypes and rhetorical escalation
One of the most important features of stereotypes during the early modern period, and perhaps more generally, was the way that they allowed their holders to accept and yet marginalise information that would seem to challenge or invalidate them. One’s Catholic friends could be good neighbours and earnest Christians, but this did nothing to blunt the danger thought to be posed by ‘popery’.4 Many Londoners during the years around 1600 probably joined in the ridicule of the hypocritical, schismatic and subversive puritans depicted on the stage and in the pulpit, and yet respected the learning and piety displayed by some godly ministers.5 Stereotypes of women as weak and yet also dangerous were immensely powerful and enduring, regardless of how much strength real women displayed.6 Stereotypes, both then and now, are able to withstand such contradiction, to divide up the world into meaningful schemas despite indications that there exist exceptions. People seem to be able to hold strong stereotypical views in the face of abundant evidence that they do not adequately explain all of the evidence. The very idea of a stereotype perhaps even presupposes this sort of inadequacy; a belief not opposed by much contrary evidence would hardly be called a stereotype at all.
The study of stereotypes, then, is in large part an attempt to understand how people manage information that is contradictory or multivalent. One scholar has even claimed that all communication involves a representation of difference, implying that stereotypical representations, especially as polemical interventions in ongoing conversations, are always already aware of opposing positions and are actively trying to marginalise or defeat them.7
One approach to explaining this has been to stress that people are able to lay aside stereotypes when they do not work, but without rejecting them entirely. Studying the interplay of stereotype and social interactions, psychologists distinguish between a stereotype’s activation and its application. That is, they note that it is common for people to hold a stereotypical view of a group, but not to apply this view in particular cases until and unless that application helps accomplish a goal.8 Here it may be useful to consider Alex Gillespie’s claim that almost all communication implies a recognition of opposing views and possibilities. If one says that Catholics are dangerous, for example, this is only worth saying as part of an attempt to navigate a world in which there exist other very different positions, such as the claim that Catholics are in fact members of the one true church, or that they can be good neighbours, or that all Christians should just get along. Much communication – and this probably applies to most statements invoking or defending stereotypes – is explicitly polemical, a self-conscious attempt to negate, defuse or silence alternate positions. Gillespie describes a separate but similar style of representing difference, in which there is not one polemical target but rather a marketplace of possibilities, all of which challenge the speaker’s position. In both cases, the act of communicating is part of a conversation in which other possibilities are always in play, at least implicitly and sometimes quite explicitly.9
Stereotypes, from these perspectives, are not blinders that prevent people from perceiving reality but, rather, useful tools allowing actors to navigate a complex world. Their holders are not brainwashed by destructive lies; rather, they retain a great deal of agency, the power to consider whether and to what extent various stereotypes are useful in specific situations. This dynamic could, as shown by Adam Morton’s Chapter 6, lead to polemical escalation and increasing division, as struggles for power make stereotypical explanations of an opposing group’s dangerous motives and goals seem useful, both intellectually and strategically. But this focus on choice and agency also opens up the possibility that – given the right circumstances and contexts – stereotypes can become unthreatening and not prone to producing violence, even when they have not been formally rejected or disproven. People can hold stereotypes that they do not, in practice, apply.10
Stereotypes of early modern London and its inhabitants
Stereotypes of spaces and the communities they contain may more often lie dormant in this way than do images of political, religious or ethnic groups. Early modern London was both a physical space – the walled city and its extramural suburbs – and also a political community – the chartered Corporation of London with its institutions and privileges.11 The coherence of Londoners as a meaningful group, however, was undercut by several factors. First, the legal and political borders of the city were not entirely clear, as its many livery companies enjoyed privileges and jurisdictions that often extended for miles outside the civic boundary, even as the city itself had limited powers over activities within sight of its boundaries.12 Additionally, citizenship, in London as elsewhere, was a political status that neither demanded nor necessarily arose from residence within the city.13 Most people living in London, including almost all of its children, women, the poor, middling tradesmen and recent immigrants, were not citizens. Moreover, many who were citizens spent a great deal of their time in homes outside the city, in country houses or suburban villas or travelling for business.14 During the early modern period sprawling urban growth prompted no important revision of civic jurisdiction, leaving the vast majority of metropolitan residents during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries outside the governance of the Lord Mayor, aldermen, and subordinate officers. Finally, the capital’s population was highly transient, with both the poor and the elite moving in and out frequently.15 This is far easier to track for the rich who increasingly lived in the West End, of course, and whose time was split between Westminster and other western suburbs and their provincial residences.
In short, who was a Londoner was no more clear to contemporaries than it has become to historians. The habits, practices, prejudices and agendas associated with the capital city, therefore, could be understood more as temporary modes than as permanent identities. Following from and furthering this, metropolitan London was never unified around any political agenda or interest to the extent that many other groups were. There was arguably less incentive to apply urban stereotypes, therefore, less to be gained from polemical escalation. There were certainly active stereotypes of London and Londoners, but their weaker political purchase made them, in many contexts, less likely to lead to exclusion and violence than to mockery and satire.
Representations of London and its inhabitants buttress the claim by social psychologists that stereotypes are efforts to navigate a marketplace of multiple, competing interpretations. Paul Slack has argued that London’s image gradually improved over the course of the seventeenth century, as a discourse of urban sin and vanity was gradually supplanted by the celebration of growth, circulation, trade, demographic expansion and civility.16 This change, however, was never complete and was achieved in the face of powerful anti-urban rhetoric that argued – in various ways, for many purposes and in different genres – that London worsened more problems than it solved.17 Indeed while Slack’s chronology usefully illuminates some innovative ways to praise the city and its contribution to the public good, it continues to be true across the seventeenth century that praise and blame were often difficult to disentangle. Commentators of various kinds stressed the dangers of wealth becoming greed, or of grand new buildings effacing existing urban structures and the familiar identities they perpetuated, or of trade and circulation leading to disease and contamination. Indeed, the attractions of improvement often appeared less significant than the dangers of unbridled greed and exploitation, the anxieties that, as Koji Yamamoto has shown, made critiques of early capitalism coalesce around the figure of the ‘projector’.18
The anti-urban position, as Slack and others suggest, drew on ancient models and ideals, both classical and Christian, that saw city life as too worldly, greedy, corrupt and immoral. But these sources resonated in part because they could contribute to a living, urgent ideology closely connected to rapid social and political change.19 This is evident, in particular, in King James I’s regime’s repeated attempts to limit the growth of metropolitan London, whose population had tripled under Elizabeth and continued to grow rapidly throughout his reign. This led to a series of social problems, as urban expansion produced over-crowding, insalubrious buildings and districts, and a fear that urban masses were undisciplined, masterless and criminal. Bridewell, deportation and other forms of policing and discipline were thought appropriate for the poor, but London’s growth also presented problems that could not be addressed by such means.20 Much of the population growth, especially to the west of the city of London itself, was driven by the immigration of elites, who presented social problems of a very different kind. According to the king these people rightly belonged in the country, governing the provinces, dispensing hospitality, spending money and generally maintaining social and political order there.21
James I asserted that while the effects of excessive elite residence in the capital were social and political, the causes of this practice were moral. In his Star Chamber speech of 1616, he claimed that ‘one of the greatest causes of all gentlemen’s desire, that have no calling or errand, to dwell in London, is apparently the pride of the women ... because the new fashion is to be had nowhere but in London. And here, if they be unmarried, they mar their marriages, and if they be married, they lose their reputations, and rob their husband’s purses.’ Living in London was the height of feminine and effeminate luxury, the kind of ‘idle foreign toy’ that was unknown under ‘the old fashion of England’.22 James further amplified this gendered critique in a poem dated 1622, which was addressed to ‘ye women that do London love so well, whom scarce a proclamation can expel’. The king here again assumed the (somewhat unlikely) voice of the moralist, advising women to shun urban temptation, ‘for save some few here that are full of grace, the world hath not a more debauched place’. He repeats the social benefits gained by the gentry living and spending in the provinces (‘thence your revenues rise, bestow them there’) but emphasises the moral benefits accruing to individual women who choose honest, clean and economically sustainable country life for themselves and their grateful family. The political and the moral are fused, both depending on women’s ability to choose the upright virtue of country life: ‘waste not golden days/In wanton pleasures which do ruinate/Insensibly both honour, wealth, and state’. All of the agency here is feminine; husbands simply follow their wives’ lead. After forty-eight lines addressing women, the poem ends with two lines directed to the husbands: ‘and you good men, it’s best you get you hence/Lest honest Adam pay for Eve’s offence’.23 Urban expansion, for King James, was both consequence and cause of moral failure, especially a feminine love of vanity, consumption, novelty and display.24
Early Stuart ‘characters’, stereotypical representations of social types, described the ‘plain country-fellow’ and the ‘country gentleman’ as avoiding the city, exactly as King James asserted they ought to do. Yet this only contributed to their unworldliness and ignorance. The plain country fellow in John Earle’s Micro-cosmographie knows nothing beyond his fields, crops and animals. He is dirty and smelly, devoid of worthwhile conversation, has no awareness of public events, and lacks independent judgement. Connected to all of this, he only ever goes to London to pursue a law case at Westminster, and when there is entirely out of place.25 Similarly, Thomas Overbury’s ‘country gentleman’ is non-urban and indeed anti-urban. Nothing less than a subpoena can force him to be in the city at all, and while there he stares at everything, becomes the victim of every thief and is ridiculous at court. He is ridiculed here for being what King James would have him be: uncorrupted by urban manners and desires, an earnest country JP and landlord who thinks about farming and the kingdom’s laws rather than metropolitan fashions.26 But this does not save him from censure, as the countryman’s occasional and unavoidable visits to London expose him as a hick whose rejection of the city is based not on wisdom but on ignorance.
By the 1620s such representations of London had developed several features that would, in the coming decades, become key components of references to its dirty air. There was a general moral critique of the city as greedy, lustful and obsessed with fashion and consumption, either because of the intrinsic sins of its citizens or because residing there fostered such tendencies in the gentry. There was also, however, a recognition that occasional trips to the capital were essential for anyone who owned land or participated in national politics. Some moderate level of familiarity with England’s metropolis was therefore necessary, and the countryman who lacked this, or who was blindly prejudiced against London’s reasonable centrality, was hardly any better than the foppish slaves of urban fashion. The appropriate response to extreme love of urban novelty, consumption and desire was not to be a rural hermit, but rather to achieve a moderate and moderated appreciation for the city and its contribution to trade and governance.27
Representations of urban pollutions, moral and environmental
During the reign of Charles I this moral critique of London came to be associated with its distinctively smoky air. Sir Richard Fanshawe’s poem, ‘An ode, upon occasion of His Majesties proclamation in the year 1630. Commanding the gentry to reside upon their estate in the country’, celebrates the king and his reign, stressing the peace resulting from wise governance. The ‘gentry’ are yet again directed away from London, with the reasonableness of this command now described through a mingled description of urban dirt and dishonesty:
Nor let the Gentry grudge to go
Into those places whence they grew,
But think them blest they may do so.
Who would pursue
The smoky glory of the Town,
That may go till his native Earth,
And by the shining Fire sit down
Of his own hearth,
Free from the griping Scriveners Bands,
And the more biting Mercers Books’
Free from the bait of oiled hands
And painted looks?28
Greedy scriveners, debts owed for fashionable dress and unnaturally adorned bodies here are at home in the smokiness of the city. The claim that only the ‘purer air’ of the country could make its real virtues as much a ‘rage’ as those of the city leads Fanshawe to expect a new Virgil to celebrate properly the ‘benefits’ of the gentry’s return to the country. Thus the gendered critique of an effeminate city remains in the attention to the city’s ‘bright beauties’ with their ‘painted looks’, as does the broader claim that both the social order and individual virtue benefit from a de-urbanised elite. What has changed in this familiar language is that it has become expressed, in part, through the material dirtiness that was peculiar to London. The ‘smoky glory’ was false and vain, a bar to true contentment found in the pastoralised countryside.
This is the earliest example I have found of what became a poetic commonplace during the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the use of smoke to quickly and effectively invoke a familiar critique of urban immorality. Soon others followed. William Davenant, as will be discussed below, used urban smoke in this way during the 1630s. After the Restoration Alexander Brome published an earlier poem regretting London’s ‘smoke, and sin, and business’. Both Francis Kinnaston and, most influentially, Sir John Denham’s ‘Cooper’s Hill’, associated London’s coal smoke with urban business, worry and desire.29
Such critiques are earnest, drawing on the classical pastoral tradition and innumerable sermons and devotional literature denouncing those sins that were particularly (though certainly not exclusively) located in the city. But the seriousness of this poetic representation of city life was often mocked or undermined, especially on the stage. Characters who were unrepentant urbanites and embraced the negative stereotypes that accompanied that status were aware of these tropes, but were hardly persuaded by them. Plays themselves were, arguably, conservative and conventional in that such immorality was usually unrewarded or temporary. For the town-dwellers (‘cits’) themselves, however, there was a great deal of fun to be had in mocking and subverting the moral critique of city life as they persisted in celebrating themselves as rakes, dissemblers or frauds.
London’s coal smoke was as useful a metaphor to those scorning the anti-urban critique as it was to those embracing it. In a scene early in Henry Glapthorne’s 1635 comedy The lady mother a young cit travelling in the country, Crackby, happily proclaims himself to be most at home with, indeed positively to glory in, many of the same moral failures denounced by the capital’s enemies. He acknowledges that London is especially prone to ‘sickness’, that it is full of greed and fraud, that it is a place of dissipation where customers pay high prices for unwholesome food and drink, where young men imitate French fashions and affectations and where young women are sexually available. All of these urban stereotypes are invoked quickly and efficiently, in only a few sentences, and all in the service of explaining to his friend, Captain Suckett, why the country has changed his usual manner. He is ‘dejected’ and ‘bashful’ and hence unable to ‘attack the local women’, as Suckett puts it in an extended military/sexual metaphor. Crackby is literally out of his element, ‘metamorphised’ by the country air.30 Writing at a time when urban coal smoke was attacked by Charles’s regime as both ugly and unhealthy, Crackby longs to be in his ‘native city air again, within the wholesome smell of seacoal’.31 This celebration of urban air signals what follows, a comic inversion of the standard urban critique that becomes an embrace of urban living. London, Crackby states, is indeed the home of debauchery, greed and illness. And yet there is nowhere he would rather be.
The difference between the earnest and the derisive uses of this anti-urban stereotype derived less, at least in some cases, from an author’s real position than from the demands of genre. William Davenant, for example, was capable of deploying coal smoke as a symbol for urban life in both modes. Writing in the 1630s, his poem ‘The Queen, returning to London after a long absence’, opens by asking Londoners,
How had you walked in mists of sea coal smoke,
Such as your ever teeming wives would choke,
(False sons of thrift!) did not her beauties light,
Dispel your clouds, and quicken your dull sight?
Though most of the poem develops the theme of the Queen’s ability to dispel smoke and engender flowers, both real and metaphorical, it is clear that citizens have deserved to suffer because they are entirely, and unrepentantly, ‘false’, ‘distrustful’, greedy and ungrateful.32 Davenant is not here interested in the gendered and sexualised critique of urban desire, but he does use the image of London’s smoky air to stress the dull, narrow and covetous sensibilities of its citizens. This is a version of the courtly critique of the citizens’ city as a place lacking in nobility because it is dominated by the base passions of businessmen.
Davenant offers a very different critique in The first days entertainment at Rutland-House, in which representatives of London and Paris list the other city’s failures as they defend their own supremacy. According to the Parisian, London suffered from a pervasive failure of social and architectural decorum, as different types of people, like different orders of buildings and urban spaces, were mixed together in an illegible jumble that effaced their true natures and meanings. Dirty air in spaces that should exude nobility and grandeur were part of this hopeless disorder; ‘here a Palace, there a Wood-yard, here a Garden, there a Brew-house. Here dwells a Lord, there a Dyer, and between both Duomo Comune’.33 This last, a common house or brothel, is the supreme example of this lack of decorum, a place in which base desires lead to the mixtures of social groups (men and women, noble and poor) that should be distinguished. In a closing song brewers and dyers, both trades commonly associated with heavy smoke emissions, are blamed for the fact that ‘London is smothered with sulpherous fires;/Still she wears a black hood and cloak,/Of Sea-coal smoke’.34 Urban smoke here reinforces not only urban greed and lust, but also disordered spaces and an indistinct social order. This smoky city is squalid and uncivil, governed by a general failure of self- and public governance. In both Rutland-House and ‘The Queen returning to London’ Davenant used urban smoke as a vehicle to critique urban society and its cultural and political failures. This is a similar authorial position, and a similar critique of urban squalor and mercantile greed, to that which Peter Lake and Koji Yamamoto identify in Ben Jonson’s work in Chapter 4. For Jonson and for this portion of Davenant’s oeuvre, there is a cluster of urban sins that are being critiqued from a moral high ground.
In two plays written during the 1630s, however, Davenant offered characters who embraced urban smoke as symbols of their own urban sins with little hint of regret. In his successful 1633 comedy The wits, a young gentleman expresses surprise at seeing Sir Morglay Thwack, a ‘rich old knight’ from northern England newly arrived in London’s streets, ‘’mongst so much smoke, diseases, law, and noise’.35 Thwack, however, immediately reveals himself to be very different from the stereotypically virtuous but gullible country gentleman. Unlike that ‘character’, Thwack is in London to embrace its vices entirely, to outdo the citizens in their characteristic urban sins of fraud and greed. He plans to extract money from Londoners, specifically from rich widows, never paying for anything while milking them for everything they are worth. The plot is in the tradition of Ben Jonson, a clever series of frauds depicting a city almost entirely corrupt, a place where wealth, credit, social position and power can be conjured using nothing but artifice and theatrical deceit. In the end, of course, such schemes fail and are either punished or prompt a conversion to virtue. But for most of the play Thwack is unrepentant, entirely comfortable amidst the smoke and associated urban sins. Here, as also in his Newes from Plymouth, Davenant used coal smoke to invoke a city defined by the urban sins of greed and fraud.36 In the latter play the association between urban sin and coal smoke focuses on high city prices and resulting social mobility, as greedy city tradesmen leave their ‘smoky habitation in the town’ to usurp gentlemen’s manor houses in the country. Here urban greed is asserted as a slander, while in The wits it is openly boasted of by the greedy themselves. In both cases, for Davenant London means specifically the City and its mercantile citizens, whose defining sins are economic. For Glapthorne, as for Fanshawe, London was a more ambiguous space, including not only the walled City but also perhaps the developing town of the West End, and for both writers the city’s sins were sexual as well as economic. For all these authors, however, coal smoke offered a convenient way to summarise a familiar set of urban sins which, already by the 1630s, could be denounced by virtuous poets but also celebrated by characters with whom audiences may well have identified and sympathised.
‘Sin and sea coal’
By the Restoration there were multiple modes through which to criticise London smoke, including legal, political and medical readings of the urban environment, all of which, in their various ways, tended to avoid seeing smoke as an aspect of urban sin. The most famous denunciation of London’s smoke, John Evelyn’s 1661 tract Fumifugium, did associate it with the revolution and the need to expiate the sins of the republican regime. But he focused not on metropolitan London in general, nor even on the hotbeds of religious and political radicalism in the city, but on the greed of a few ‘tradesmen’ like brewers who, he claimed, caused most of the city’s smoke. Fumifugium, moreover, was less focused on denouncing urban sins than it was on reforming and improving the urban environment. It was a project rather than a sermon. Charles II’s regime showed some sympathy with Evelyn’s agenda, approaching smoke as a governmental rather than a moral problem.37
While the association between urban sin and smoke could be ignored, after 1660 it also became increasingly useful for a variety of literary and dramatic purposes. The key text which did the most to synthesise the variety of pre-Civil War representations of urban immorality and dirtiness was Thomas Shadwell’s 1672 comedy Epsom-Wells. A bit more than a decade after Evelyn wrote, when the excitement and possibility of the monarchy’s restoration had long since faded, the play memorably consolidated many of the strands of existing anti-urban, anti-smoke stereotypes.
Its action was set at the newly fashionable spa in Surrey but was nevertheless very much about London: about Londoners outside London, about how the country differed from London and about whether the country could offer a moral counterweight to boring and greedy citizens, their dishonest wives and the witty gentlemen of the town, all of whom were primarily interested in opportunities for non-marital sex. In contrast to these representatives of the capital, the play offered Justice Clodpate (i.e. ‘Earthhead’), an embodiment of Overbury’s country gentleman. Clodpate is a landowner inordinately proud of his service to his county, of his status as a gentleman and pillar of local order; above all else, however, he is defined by his absurd hatred of anything and everything connected to the capital. ‘That damned town of London’, was, for him, ‘damned’, ‘odious’ and ‘Sodom’. Clodpate’s London is the home of all vices, ‘pride, Popery, folly, lust, prodigality, cheating knaves, and jilting whores; wine of half a crown a quart, and ale of twelve pence, and what not’. He is a stereotype of an ignorant, parochial Englishman, characterised in large part through his own ready and uniformed acceptance of other stereotypes, including the mingled dangers of the French, of popery and of court culture.38 London, he thought, was a city of pleasure, but its pleasures were monstrous:
to sit up drunk till three a clock in the morning, rise at twelve, follow damned French fashions, get dressed to go to a damned play, choke your selves afterwards with dust in Hyde Park, or with sea coal in the town, flatter and fawn in the drawing room, keep your wench, and turn away your wife, Gods-ooks.39
Clodpate’s hatred of London is so excessive, so based on mere prejudice, that he immediately plans to marry a young woman simply because she hires a fiddler to sing a song beginning ‘Oh, how I abhor/The tumult and smoke of the town’.40 This equivalence between London’s physical dirt and its moral and political corruption is nicely summarised in one of his first lines, when he calls London ‘that place of sin and sea coal’ – a line that summarises his reasons for hating the city and that proved to be memorable for some of Shadwell’s audience.41 The play makes it quite clear that Clodpate’s position is to be laughed at rather than piously embraced. Two of his interlocutors marvel at his ‘inveterate’ hatred of London, adding that Clodpate ‘is such a villain’ that he observes the anniversary of the City’s burning in 1666 as a ‘festival’. In contrast to his praise of the country’s ‘good horses, good dogs, good ale’, they return a toast to London’s ‘good wine, good wit, and good women’. They point out to him that his fears are exaggerated and proceed to make his invectives the basis for their own witty mockery.42 Shadwell’s urban audiences were more likely to side with these men or with the witty Lucia, who shocks Clodpate with her preference for the city’s wit, culture, and excitement. ‘There is no life but in London’, she claims, and further dismisses Clodpate’s celebration of country air by concluding that ‘there’s fresh air in a wilderness, if one could be content with bears and wolves for her companions’.43 Epsom-Wells was a popular play, seen by King Charles II and revived throughout the decades after its first performance in 1672, and it was therefore very well positioned to embed a phrase like ‘sin and sea coal’ into the culture and conversation of England’s play-going and play-reading elites.
After Epsom-Wells the phrase ‘sin and sea coal’ is used in a knowing, playful, referential way that presumes familiarity with, but an ironic distance from, Clodpate’s hypocritical equation of the city with sin. In the minor 1693 play The wary widow, for example, a libertine named Scaredevil opens with a speech in which the phrase is used to summarise rakish urban pleasures that the speaker plans unwillingly to abandon:
How empty this town is grown since this unlucky war. I have traversed the streets, and have not met with one of my acquaintance. The playhouses are silent, the bowling greens abandoned, not a vizor stirring in the mall. I have beat it on the hoof quite through the City, ransacked our old quarters and rendevouz and cannot start one honest fellow to communicate my thoughts with, nor so much as a whore roving about to pick up coach hire. Well, if this wicked lewd town continues under so strict a discipline and reformation, it will be high time to bid adieu to this scene of sin and seacoal, and trudge down to my last reserve of country friends.44
In another contemporary play a character similarly declares his intention to ‘renounce the follies of the town ... [to] forsake this hole of sin and sea coal’. In both cases, however, the renunciation is highly unconvincing and fleeting.45 In both, a language of righteous and moralising anti-urbanism is invoked only to be subverted, or indeed, mocked. Scaredevil never planned to renounce sin, did not leave the town, did not repent or get punished. Clodpate had meant what he said, but he too was mocked, in his case by the economy of the play itself, in which he ends up marrying a woman who he calls ‘a Londoner, and consequently a strumpet’.46 In all three of these plays, then, we are presented with a discourse in which London’s coal burning and consequent smokiness is equated with, or stands for, specifically urban sins. These sins, moreover, are to be avoided by avoiding urban life and the urban environment itself. But this language is never convincing. It gestures towards a moral that the play neither endorses nor explicitly counters. One final publication from the 1690s offers an exception that confirms this trend. A brief tract, which presents itself as a true account but reads like a burlesque comedy, describes a ‘rampant vicar’ who decides to travel to, rather than from, the capital of ‘sin and sea coal’. The vicar, in this story, chooses London precisely because of his debauched morals.47
The tone of these plays is light-hearted and perhaps a little cynical, with the text presuming that the audience laughs with rather than at these libertines. Unlike the Jonson plays assessed by Lake and Yamamoto, these texts allowed audiences to dismiss those who were overly concerned by urban greed, desire and dirt. Unlike the stereotypes related to popery and Quakers discussed by Kate Peters and Adam Morton, in which victims fiercely contested the meaning and the applicability of stereotypes, here what is called stigma consciousness in this volume did not lead to contestation. Instead, by about 1700, ‘sin and sea coal’ represented the physical and moral dangers of the urban environment, as well as its inhabitants’ self-aware choices to endure or even to embrace those same dangers.
This was the freight carried by the phrase in November of 1712 when it was deployed in its most enduringly famous and influential way in the pages of The Spectator. The narrator informed readers of the ambivalent news that his friend, ‘the gay, the loud, the vain Will Honeycomb, who had made Love to every great Fortune that has appeared in Town for above thirty years together, and boasted of Favours from Ladies whom he had never seen, is at length wedded to a plain Country Girl’.48 It is crucial here that Honeycomb’s transformation has already occurred when the narrator describes it, and its completeness is signalled by the new formality with which Honeycomb informs his London friends of his marriage and the associated denunciation of a rakish urban life.
Honeycomb, in a letter to The Spectator’s narrator, gestures towards this bundle of changes through the metaphor of urban smoke. ‘I question not but you, and the rest of my acquaintance, wonder that I, who have lived in the smoke and gallantries of the town for thirty years together, should all on a sudden grow fond of a country life.’ Only an accident brought him down to his estates, without which ‘I had still been immersed in sin and sea coal’. Honeycomb’s readers, here, are presumed not to need it explained what ‘sin and sea coal’, ‘smoke and gallantries’ have to do with each other, why urban air should imply the pursuit of non-marital sex.49
By the time he writes to us, however, that is all in the past. Now he ‘can scarce forbear filling my letter with breezes, shades, flowers, meadows, and purling streams’. The new wife ‘charms me wonderfully’ precisely because she is the opposite of London women:
She is born of honest parents, and though she has no portion, she has a great deal of virtue. The natural sweetness and innocence of her behaviour, the freshness of her complection, the unaffected turn of her shape and person, shot me through and through every time I saw her, and did more execution upon me ... than the greatest beauty in town or court.
With such a virtuous wife and healthful country estate, ‘it shall be my business hereafter to live the life of an honest man, and to act as becomes the master of a family’.50 Such honesty here is not merely the absence of urban vices; it is their opposite.
Indeed, Honeycomb’s future life is primarily described through such negation, but this is ambiguous. He had recently observed a ‘tribe of fashionable young fluttering coxcombs’, but rather than express disgust at their frivolity or immorality, Honeycomb reflects that he had grown too old to behave in such ways himself anymore. ‘For I may now confess my age to thee, I have been eight and forty above these twelve years.’51 It is clear that he has enjoyed himself and perhaps wishes he could remain a ‘young fluttering coxcomb’. His choice of rural virtue over sin and sea coal is conditional on his own inability to successfully enjoy the ‘smoke and gallantries’ of the town anymore. Perhaps because of this, The Spectator drops hints that there are troubles ahead. The opening Latin epigram glosses Honeycomb’s marriage as an ‘incongruous’ match’, and anyone who knew their Horace would have suspected that Honeycomb’s innocent, virtuous wife would soon make him a cuckold.52
These then, are the stakes of Honeycomb’s deployment of the phrase ‘sin and sea coal’. For Honeycomb, as for Shadwell and other late-Stuart writers, the phrase describes the totality of a certain kind of polite but immoral town life, and it is used at moments of transition, usually when that life is being denounced or renounced, but occasionally also when it is embraced. Honeycomb, of course, is not a country bumpkin like Clodpate, and his renunciation of urban pleasure is knowing and self-aware, born of the maturity and perhaps fatigue of advancing age rather than an absolute moral stance against sexual profligacy and associated modes of consumption and sociability. Honeycomb has tasted this life, indeed seems to have lived it fully for decades while treating his estates as merely a source of income. But if he does not adopt Clodpate’s unthinking raillery, he still, in the end, accepts his equation of urban smoke and an immoral lifestyle as well as his simple distinction between the dirty, libertine town and the virtuous, innocent and healthy country. Honeycomb’s acceptance of this conventional anti-urban rhetoric is knowing, ironic and world-weary, but it is not critical. This ironic anti-urbanism is what Raymond Williams called, in another context, ‘the literary means by which this trick can be played, noticed, and still win’.53 But this trick – an urbanite deploying a rhetoric of moral/material urban corruption – only wins for Honeycomb. The broader universe of The Spectator itself continues to celebrate a version of urban politeness that sidesteps the implications of Honeycomb’s choice. Honeycomb, then, uses sea coal smoke to gesture towards a reading of urban life stressing its libertinism and shallowness, a reading which The Spectator itself does not directly challenge but does sidestep, insofar as the entire weight of its project is to stress that the town was in fact something quite different and better, a realm of politeness and interpersonal commerce that was not sinful but virtuous.54
Through the popularity of Shadwell’s comedy, and even more through the vast and enduring influence of The Spectator, ‘sin and sea coal’ came to invoke, for the eighteenth century’s literate classes, a moralised rhetorical distinction between London and the country. ‘Sin and sea coal’ was an immediately legible invocation of this vision, a shorthand summary of a stereotypical urban lifestyle. It came quickly to Daniel Defoe’s pen in the 1720s as he described London citizens leaving behind a pleasant suburban retreat and returning to their urban routine. It was similarly used even during the 1680s by Walter Yonge, who wrote to John Locke that of course the air of a country garden would be more welcome than joining in a planned trip to ‘that sink of sin and sea coal’.55 Throughout the eighteenth century the phrase was used by a variety of authors who shared a need to invoke a stereotypical reading of London life without necessarily endorsing it. It was useful to Hannah More in 1782 when she celebrated an excursion from the city into the pure air of Hampton.56 It was quoted ironically by a dissipated aristocrat in the Duchess of Devonshire’s 1779 novel The sylph, when he complained of ‘languishing for sin and sea coal’, by which he meant that he was anxious to return to the city despite the clear moral superiority of the country. Indeed, that was the problem; ‘[y]our mere good kind of people are really insipid sort of folks; and as such totally unsuited to my taste’.57 In 1782 the Duchess’s political rival William Pitt the Younger used the same phrase in a spirit of ironic detachment, though not of dissipated mockery, in a letter to his friend William Wilberforce.58 For all of these authors, ‘sin and sea coal’ gestured nicely towards a familiar set of stereotypes regarding urban life. It was a phrase that hinted at a point without needing to fully defend it, in part because the moralised anti-urban rhetoric associated with a character like Clodpate was so flawed.
The point here, however, is not that such visions were inaccurate, but that their very inaccuracies matter as evidence of how this culture chose to understand and represent itself. As this volume examines from several perspectives, stereotypes do cultural work, they help explain and order the world, in part because they are oversimplifications and distortions. This approach to categorising the city as greedy and dirty and the country as materially and morally clean was useful. It was, like Lake’s description of the ideology of anti-popery, ‘a way of dividing up the world between positive and negative characteristics, a symbolic means of labelling and expelling’.59 The country vision of urban immorality did do this, but with a crucial difference in tone. Whereas Lake’s divines were busy determining how England might please God, and in so doing what constituted legitimate political authority and the limits of political allegiance, neither The Spectator nor less Epsom-Wells claimed such stakes. Unlike many cases of stereotyping studied in this volume, the above representations of urban sin and dirt did not escalate towards increasing division and violence.
The anti-urban language described here could certainly have political implications, but the generic conventions of comedic theatre allowed it to be voiced in ambiguous and subversive ways. Audiences and readers could dismiss Clodpate as a fool, and therefore remain untouched by his invective, or they might, like Honeycomb, recognise some truth in the suggestion that urban manners and air were comparably polluted. If so, they might remain cynically aware of their sinful environment without any particular concern, or they might resolve to achieve a retreat into rural virtue at some point in the future. The implications of living in a sinful environment thus might be either disregarded or contained. Within the comedic world of a play both were possible, as rakes could achieve unconvincing and seemingly superficial conversions. Thus whereas the dialectic between Protestant and papist increased the potential for violent conflict, the similarly structured distinction between clean rural virtue and dirty urban sin could much more easily be used for playful appropriation, sly subversion and ironic penitence.
In other genres this could be taken more seriously. Many bad eighteenth-century poems, even if they did not use the precise phrase ‘sin and sea coal’, found smoke a useful metaphor through which to denounce urban luxury. Richard Savage’s 1735 poetic praise of Queen Caroline, for example, listed the interconnected problems that she manages to solve. She invites, wrote Savage, people away ‘from city smoke and noise,/Vapours impure, and from impurer joys;/From various evils, that, with rage combin’d,/Untune the body, and pollute the mind’.60 A more conventional example of the eighteenth-century poetry of rural retirement began ‘Farewell, the smoky town! Adieu/Each rude and sensual joy;/Gay, fleeting pleasures, all untrue,/That in possession cloy’.61 In poems like this, generic conventions preclude the playfulness found in comedic drama, and the proper response to urban pollution is flight rather than resignation, scorn or personal renewal rather than laughter. Despite these differences in tone, however, the city is the same kind of symbol in both genres. In both cases the city is equated with sin, and in both cases the possibility that one might actually choose urban worldliness, indeed the plain fact that hundreds of thousands did make that choice, is an ever-present problem.
We have, then, a metaphor for urban life that can be either serious or playful, earnest or mocking, moralising or libertine. What varied was context, as literary genres or social situations altered the situations within which this stereotype could be deployed, and therefore what power and meaning it could have. What was at stake in references to ‘sin and sea coal’ was the extent to which true virtue was compatible with an urban, materialist and commercial society. These were and perhaps are a crucial set of questions. What was not immediately at stake, however, in such discussions of urban dirtiness were power or violence. The stereotype of the sinful and dirty city existed, but its power was restricted in two ways. First, in plays like Epsom-Wells it was always represented as an insufficient representation of reality, a reading of London and Londoners that was quite clearly partial and prejudiced. A claim by a character like Clodpate that London contained nothing more than ‘pride, Popery, folly, lust, prodigality, cheating knaves, and jilting whores’ was clearly not entirely true. There was, then, an early modern awareness that the anti-urban position expressed in this way was a stereotype, a flawed but powerful claim about a complex world. It was premised upon, was a response to, a set of alternative visions that saw the city as something quite different.62 Contrary to the claim that perceptions of the city shifted during the seventeenth century from negative to positive, the uses of ‘sin and sea coal’ suggest how the nature and meaning of urban life remained unresolved through the early modern period (and beyond).
Second, the anti-urban stereotype was not so much defeated by its internal tensions as it was contained by its social and political context. While there may be structural similarities to other stereotypes, the claim that London was home of ‘sin and sea coal’ differed because it did not address, at least not in the context of post-Restoration England, fundamental political issues like who would wield power, how communities should be formed and who might acquire wealth. The stereotype remained available to those who needed it, but such needs tended to be ironic and mocking rather than polemical and aggressive. This stereotype, then, did not contribute to increasing social tension or political division, it did not cause people to fight their neighbours or kill their enemies. Instead, its influence was subtler and more gradual. It contributed to a nagging and persistent sense that urban growth and economic improvement had regrettable but perhaps inevitable costs, environmental as well as social and moral.