Money and Language

  • Tom Jones


I closed the last chapter by saying that the aesthetic argument of the Epistle to Burlington is also a political and an economic argument. As the visual world becomes meaningful only through customary experience, the mode in which people should intervene in that world should pay respect to custom and tradition. And as the visual world is a series of signs instituted by God that instructs people how to behave, then any intervention in the visual world ought to imitate God’s utilitarian providence. So responses to and interventions in the visual world ought to be governed by a utilitarian regard for the way people have lived. Reading Pope next to Berkeley’s writing on vision presents us with Pope as a visual, political and economic conservative, but of a rather radical and sceptical kind. I would like to pursue my account of Pope as a radical conservative with strong sceptical leanings in this chapter. It has a very similar trajectory to the preceding chapter. Having hinted at the dominant mode of reading Pope’s poems on money and financial tokens, I will question the economic and philosophical groundwork of this dominant mode of reading.


Literary Work Visual World Financial Token Early Eighteenth Century Paper Money 
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  1. 1.
    See P.G.M Dickson, The Financial Revolution in England: A Study in the Development of Public Credit 1688–1756 (London: Macmillan, 1967), pp. 11, 17.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See J.G.A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Republican Tradition (Princeton and London: Princeton University Press, 1975), pp. 458–9. Further references will be given in brackets in the text.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    For recent dedicated accounts of the South Sea Bubble see John Carswell, The South Sea Bubble (London: Cresset Press, 1960; rev. ed. Stroud: Alan Sutton, 1993); and the more popular biographical work of Malcolm Balen, A Very English Deceit: The Secret History of the South Sea Bubble and the First Great Financial Scandal (London: Fourth Estate, 2002). Details of the investments of Pope and Gay are given by Colin Nicholson, Writing and the Rise of Finance: Capital Satires of the Early Eighteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), pp. 63–8, 75–6. Further references will be given in brackets in the text. R.L. Hayley, ‘The Scriblerians and the South Sea Bubble: A Hit by Cibber’, RES, n.s. 24 (1973), 452–8, p. 452, gives details of Arbuth-not’s substantial early investment. For the opposition to Walpole, see Mack, The Garden and the City: Retirement and Politics in the Later Poetry of Pope (Toronto and Buffalo: University of Toronto Press; London: Oxford University Press, 1969), and Christine Gerrard, The Patriot Opposition to Walpole: Politics, Poetry, and National Myth, 1725–1742 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    J.H. Plumb, The Growth of Political Stability in England 1675–1725 (London: Macmillan, 1967), p. 150, talks about the Tories supporting the good old cause in financial matters. See also Louis I. Bredvold, ‘The Gloom of the Tory Satirists’, in Eighteenth-Century English Literature: Modern Essays in Criticism, ed. James L. Clifford (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1959), pp. 3–20.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    These poems include Alexander Ramsay, Wealth, or the Woody: A Poem on the South Sea to which is Prefix’d a Familiar Epistle to Anthony Hammond Esq (London: T. Jauncy, 1720); Nicholas Amhurst, An Epistle (With a Petition in it) to Sir John Blount, Bart. One of the Directors of the South-Sea Company (London: R. Francklin, 1720); Mr Arundell, The Directors: A Poem (London: E. Curll, 1720, 2nd edn); anon., An Epistle to William Morley Esq. One of the Directors of the South-Sea Company (London: J. Roberts, 1720). Silke Stratmann, Myths of Speculation: The South-Sea Bubble and Eighteenth-Century English Literature (Munich: Fink, 2000), Munich Studies in English Literature, ed. Ulrich Broich, pp. 45–186, discusses the various genres of Bubble literature, including some of these poems. Hers is one of the only works of literary scholarship concerned with the relationship between literature and finance to look at this large body of minor work.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    The Prose Works of Jonathan Swift, ed. Herbert Davis et al., 14 vols (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1939–68), VI (1951), 56, The Conduct of the Allies; IX (1948), 32, ‘A Letter to Mr Pope’.Google Scholar
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    See, for example, Nicholson, p. 156 on the Epistle to Bathurst; Catherine Ingrassia, Authorship, Commerce, and Gender in Early Eighteenth-Century England: A Culture of Paper Credit (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), pp. 40–8, treats Pope’s classicism as a means of masking his involvement in new financial practices.Google Scholar
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    David B. Morris, Alexander Pope: The Genius of Sense (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1984), p. 183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Issac Kramnick, Bolingbroke and his Circle: The Politics of Nostalgia in the Age of Walpole (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968), p. 220, calls the Epistle a ‘direct attack on the corruption of a moneyed society’. See also James Engell, ‘Wealth and Words: Pope’s Epistle to Bathurst’, Modern Philology 85 (1987–88), 433–46, p. 446. Engell presents Pope in the context of Locke’s writing on language, p. 433. My own views on this poem are set out more fully in ‘Pope’s Epistle to Bathurst and the Meaning of Finance’, Studies in English Literature 1500–1900, 44:3 (August 2004), 487–504. Earl Wasserman’s Pope’s Epistle to Bathurst: A Critical Reading with an Edition of the Manuscripts (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1960) remains the most complete account of the financial argument of the poem. See also David B. Morris, The Genius of Sense, ‘Property, Character and Money in the Moral Essays’, pp. 179–213, esp. pp. 183–8.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Constantine George Caffentzis, Clipped Coins, Abused Words, and Civil Government: John Locke’s Philosophy of Money (New York: Autonomedia, 1989), pp. 53, 68, identifies the possibility of accumulation with the monetary stage in Locke’s account of the origins of society.Google Scholar
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    ‘How Much for Just the Muse?: Alexander Pope’s Dunciad Book IV and the Literary Market’, The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation 36:1 (1995), 24–37, pp. 25, 27, 35.Google Scholar
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    Locke on Money, ed. Patrick Hyde Kelly, 2 vols (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), I, 13, ‘Introduction’. Kelly gives more details of Locke’s involvement in the policy of recoinage I, 23–6. Further references will be given in brackets in the text.Google Scholar
  13. 20.
    Constantine George Caffentzis, Exciting the Industry of Mankind: George Berkeley’s Philosophy of Money (Dordrecht, Boston, London: Kluwer, 2000) International Archives of the History of Ideas 170, ed. Sarah Hutton, p. 256, compares gold to a geometrical line, in as much as they both refer to their own abstract value.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. The Complete English Poems of John Donne, ed. C.A. Patrides (London: Dent, 1985), p. 179, Elegie [XVIII], ‘Loves Progress’, 11. 11–16. Pope seems more interested in the degeneration of ideals, of the move from a golden to a leaden world, than the science of corrosion.Google Scholar
  15. 22.
    This point is made by Ellen Pollak, The Poetics of Sexual Myth: Gender and Ideology in the Verse of Swift and Pope (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1985), p. 124.Google Scholar
  16. 23.
    Douglas Vickers, Studies in the Theory of Money 1690–1776 (Philadelphia: Chilton, 1959), p. 25.Google Scholar
  17. 25.
    The Guardian, ed. John Calhoun Stephens (Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 1982), p. 286, No. 77, Tuesday 9 June 1713.Google Scholar
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    See Joseph Johnston, Bishop Berkeley’s Querist in Historical Perspective (Dundalk: Dundalgen Press, 1970), pp. 51, 74.Google Scholar
  19. 33.
    Thomas Prior, Observations on Coin in General With Some Proposals for Regulating the Value of Coin in Ireland [Dublin: A. Rhames for R. Gunne, 1729], in A Select Collection of Scarce and Valuable Tracts on Money, ed. J.R. McCulloch (London: Political Economy Club, 1856), pp. 291–338, p. 294. Coin leaves the country to pay absentee landlords after the value of export drops below the rent to be paid. The lesser coin is extracted first, leaving only the highest denominations, the moidores, in Ireland.Google Scholar
  20. 36.
    Joyce Oldham Appleby, Economic Thought and Ideology in Seventeenth-Century England (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978), p. 224, refers to Richard Temple’s responding to Locke and pointing out that ‘the proposition that an ounce of silver will buy an ounce of silver is absurd since there would be no occasion for an exchange’. Appleby’s wider argument is that Locke’s evaluation of gold and silver coin merely on the basis of their containing a certain mass of gold and silver was outmoded even in the 1690s.Google Scholar
  21. 38.
    William Letwin, The Origins of Scientific Economics: English Economic Thought 1660–1776 (London: Methuen, 1963), pp. 147–8. Letwin also acknowledges that Locke’s thought on money is outmoded, p. 170.Google Scholar
  22. 40.
    For an account of the political and intellectual context of Pope’s Imitations, see Howard Erskine-Hill, The Augustan Idea in English Literature (London: Edward Arnold, 1983), pp. 291–349, and Jacob Fuchs, Reading Pope’s Imitations of Horace (London: Associated University Presses, 1989), passim.Google Scholar
  23. 41.
    Morris, The Genius of Sense, p. 196, suggests that money allows people to be self-possessed in the Moral Essays. Pope seems to me to be working with and against an older Horatian ideal of property ownership in his Imitations. Frank Stack, Pope and Horace: Studies in Imitation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), pp. 123, 127, 140, notes the opportunity Epistle II.ii gives Pope to criticise the idea of property, and recognises the extent of Horace’s critique.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 42.
    See Howard Erskine-Hill, The Social Milieu of Alexander Pope: Lives, Example and the Poetic Response (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1975), pp. 309–17, for Pope’s relationship to Bethel and exploration of the country house ideal in this poem. Erskine-Hill is also interested in the idea of use in the Imitations, see p. 310.Google Scholar
  25. 43.
    See Lisa Jardine and Alan Stewart, Hostage to Fortune: The Troubled Life of Francis Bacon (London: Victor Gollancz, 1998), pp. 512–19.Google Scholar
  26. 45.
    Pope’s involvement in the development of copyright law might be taken as evidence of the importance of literary property to his career and writing. See Mark Rose, Authors and Owners: The Invention of Copyright (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1993), pp. 58–66 and David Foxon, ed. James McLaverty, Pope and the Early Eighteenth-Century Book Trade (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), esp. pp. 237–51.Google Scholar
  27. 46.
    Ralegh lost Durham House and Sherborne Abbey (which was later owned by Pope’s friends, the Digbys and in which both Pope’s and Ralegh’s seats are still preserved), having maintained them through a period of Elizabeth’s disfavour, when James came to the throne and Ralegh was accused of treason. See Stephen Coote, A Play of Passion: A Life of Sir Walter Ralegh (London: Macmillan, 1993), pp. 299, 314–22. Ralegh is recognised in Pope’s circle as someone who lost his estate unfairly. Bolingbroke compares himself to Ralegh in a letter to Swift concerning his return to England: ‘here I am then, two thirds restor’d. my person safe, unless I meet hereafter with harder treatmt than even that of Sr Walter Rauleigh; and my Estate, wth all the other property I have acquir’d, or may acquire, secur’d to me’. The Correspondence of Jonathan Swift, ed. Harold Williams, 5 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963–65), III.81–2, Bolingbroke to Swift, 24 July 1725.Google Scholar

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