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Michael Charlesworth

Movement and Mercantile Morality at Stourhead
Michael Charlesworth

Rather more strongly than it does the theme of Aeneid, the garden at Stourhead provides iconography and a setting that is related to the myth of Hercules, and specifically the Herculean Judgement, or Choice, between vice and virtue. What is particularly interesting is that the garden uses inscriptions to engage the visitor in an intersubjective exchange in order to stage the mythic Herculean choice more effectively. The choice between vice and virtue was often refigured in bourgeois eighteenth-century England into a choice between industry and idleness. Epistolary evidence from the garden’s main maker, Henry Hoare II, shows him conceiving the visitor’s experience of the garden precisely in terms of the garden being a staging of the rewards of industry that cannot be possessed or made by the idle.

My paper also takes the opportunity to build on last year’s exceptionally interesting symposium, by examining the extent of the reliance on the Herculean Choice as an emblematic iconography by bourgeois Britain. While its use can be traced through Coleridge to George Eliot’s novel Adam Bede (1859), which is set during the Napoleonic emergency, the question of industry/idleness continues as a prime element of ideology in the perpetual debate in the West over the appropriate level of welfare that a nation should provide for its citizens. Hoare’s early contribution to this debate is remarkable for its staging of the debate within a setting that has until recently been the exclusive resort of the wealthy, but is now open to all on payment of a small fee.

Michael Charlesworth is associate professor of art history at the University of Texas at Austin. He is author of The English Garden, 1550-1910: Literary sources and documents (1993) and of a forthcoming three-volume study, The Gothic Revival, 1720-1870. He has published essays on the garden of Alexander Pope, gardens of Jacobite conspirators, Uvedale Price and the Picturesque, photography by Gertrude Jekyll, Ian Hamilton Finlay’s and the film-maker Derek Jarman’s gardens. His published research interests range fairly broadly in cultural history, to embrace nineteenth-century photography, panoramic representation, mapping, and book illustration. He currently serves as reviews editor of Word & Image.

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