Freedom's Empire Race and the Rise of the Novel in Atlantic Modernity, 1640-1940
By Laura Doyle
DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESS Copyright © 2008 Duke University Press
All right reserved. ISBN: 978-0-8223-4159-8
Chapter One Atlantic Horizon, Interior Turn
Seventeenth-Century Racial Revolution
"THERE IS NO MAN that understands rightly what an Englishman is," the revolutionary Civil War pamphleteer John Hare proclaims in 1647, "but knows withal, that we are a member of the Teutonick nation, and descended out of Germany: a descent so honourable and happy, if duly considered, as that the like could not have been fetched from any other part of Europe." Indeed, he continues, "in England the whole commonalty, are German, and of the German blood; and scarcely was there any worth or manhood left in these occidental nations, after their long servitude under the Roman yoke, until these new supplies of freeborn men from Germany reinfused the same." Contributing to the shift from a Briton to a Saxon origin story for the English, Hare argues that it is the Germanic Anglo-Saxons whose free traditions his nation has inherited, for while the Britons were utterly defeated by the Romans (who were then routed by the Anglo-Saxons), the Normans, when they arrived in 1066, did not wholly conquer the Anglo-Saxons. Therefore, the Norman king William "sirnamed the Conqueror, [should] be stripped of that insolent title," and the association between kingship and the unbounded claims of a conqueror should be ended, while the language and laws of England should be purged of any Normanisms-hence Hare's title for this tract, St. Edward's Ghost or Anti-Normanism. Aiming to rally his compatriots against the tyranny of King Charles I, who (though a Scot) operates on Normanish presumptions of absolute power, he beseechingly asks, "Did our ancestors, therefore, shake off the Roman yoke [....] that the honour and freedom of their blood might be reserved for an untainted prey to a future conqueror?" Then, in a move that will become paradigmatic, Hare adds a touch of pathos by remarking that, after all, the key characteristic of the Anglo-Saxon "mother nation" is "her unconquerableness, her untainted virginity and freedom from foreign subjection, which from her first foundation and cradle she hath so conserved and defended, that none can truly boast to have been her ravisher." For Hare, England is unravished even now-though her virginity faces a tyrant's threat-and this fantasy limned with fear organizes novels and histories in English for centuries hereafter.
That is, by way of this dissident narrative, the story of "ravishment" became an implicit race plot for the novel in English, beginning with Aphra Behn's Oroonoko, and finding its first epic expression in Samuel Richardson's Clarissa. In Richardson's novel, Belford condemns Lovelace's rape of Clarissa, the novel's paragon of "native dignity," and he laments, "Hadst thou been a king, and done as thou hast done by such a meritorious innocent, I believe in my heart it would have been adjudged a national sin." Challenging Lovelace, Clarissa herself pinpoints the racialized national drama encoded in her predicament when she demands to know "whether it be, or be not, your intention to permit me to quit [this house]?-To permit me the freedom which is my birthright as an English subject?" (934, emphasis added).
While white Anglo-Atlantic readers rallied around Clarissa's brave challenge, making the novel a transatlantic success, these same readers insisted on setting racial boundaries on such liberty claims. As one London Chronicle writer pointed out in 1765, commenting on black servants and settlers in England, "there can be no just plea for [black Britons] being put on an equal footing with natives whose birthright, as members of the community, entitles them to superior dues." And yet, as we will see in chapter 7, an African-Atlantic writer such as Olaudah Equiano assumes exactly this "equal footing" in his autobiography, not only by telling the story of his own freedom quest but also in imagining his sister's ruin at the hands of tyrannical slave traders within the Atlantic circuit. Equiano, too, lays claim to a birthright of freedom, by way of a story of threatened sexual ruin and a genealogy linking "his people" to ancient Hebrews. He shrewdly enters the culture of freedom through its race narratives.
Bound together and yet divided by such racialism, Atlantic writers of all kinds participated in the making and remaking of this narrative of ravished liberty. Only by returning to the early-seventeenth-century crises that shaped this story can we begin to fathom the profound cultural work such writers undertook. Attending to this history, we better understand how their writing aims to articulate and stabilize the disruptive-freeing yet racializing, enlarging yet isolating, enslaving yet modernizing-conditions of Atlantic modernity. Thus this chapter traces how what began as the Reformation "recovery" of the "Anglo-Saxon roots" of the "true church" developed into the parliamentary claim to ancient native rights of governance and then, dramatically, in the context of new transatlantic circuits of power and the violence of civil war, became the kind of revolutionary, popular renarrating of a racial and free English identity epitomized in Hare's pamphlet. This discourse's dangerous extension of liberty's meanings-inward to the very soul and downward to the laboring classes-appears most starkly in the Putney Debates of 1647 between Oliver Cromwell and the restive Army representatives. Turning to those debates at the end of this chapter, I suggest that they display how, as the notion of liberty began to challenge all hierarchies of property and power, nativism was redeployed to establish the proper limit of liberty's reach and property's distribution. The Putney Debates laid the template for the novel's equivocally dissenting transatlantic plots, which over three centuries consolidate the interior racialization of nations and persons.
Saxonism Made Secular
In the early decades of the 1600s, no commercially printed novels or grand race epics of righteous liberty were yet conceivable. Bankruptcy, absolutism, fierce censorship, and popery threatened the kingdom. Although in 1603, the Stuart and Scot king James I had been joyously embraced by both the English Parliament and the broader population, hailed as the new Arthur prophesied by Merlin who would combine the Tudor and Stuart as well as Briton and Roman lineages even as he unified Scotland and England, the welcome quickly faded when James showed his absolutist will. He openly pitted the divine right of kings against parliamentary process, disingenuously invoking the rhetoric of freedom to do so, in such proclamations as the "Trew Law of Free Monarchies or the Reciprock and Mutuall Duetie Betwixt a Free King and his naturall Subjects." Asserting that "the King is above the law" and going so far as to claim that "Kings are not onely Gods Lieutenants upon earth [...] but even by God himselfe they are called Gods," he boasted that kings "can make and unmake their subjects [...] like men at the Chesse." This highhandedness was an affront to Parliament. Exacerbating the insult-and perhaps partly explaining his need to press the point so insistently-were James's perpetual shortage of funds and attempts to extort money from Parliament, his increasing dependence on and alignment with city merchants against landed parliamentary members, and finally his friendliness with Spain, which raised fears of a Catholic resurgence and interfered with some members' Atlantic trade ambitions. Throughout the first four decades of the seventeenth century, under both James and his son Charles I, England witnessed active parliamentary resistance to the principle of Divine Right, to which the Stuart kings responded with imprisonment of parliament members and dissolutions of parliamentary proceedings.
Most important, this face-off between king and Parliament gave a secular, insurgent turn to what had been an emergent religious discourse of ancient Saxonism. Under the Tudor kings of the sixteenth century, the Society of Antiquaries had been founded and its scholars were directed "to serche after England's antiquities and to peruse libraries of all cathedrals, abbyes, priories, colleges, & co" (Brinkley 32) so as to reveal "the obscured Truth of the Church and reprove Popish Tyranny." In other words, these researchers were enlisted to authorize the Reformation by establishing evidence of a pre-Roman, Saxon church, native to England, and Christian, but without ties to Rome. Henry VIII had begun the process by employing Matthew Parker to gather from England and abroad all documents revealing the Germanic and Anglo-Saxon origins of the "true and primitive" church that predated popery (Adams, 11). As Parker's secretary, John Jocelyn, explained, Parker "was verie carefull and not without some charges to know the religion off the ancient fatheres and those especially were off the English Church. Therefore in seeking upp the Chronicle of the Brittones and the English Saxones [...] "he indevored to sett out in printe certaine of those aunciente monuments [...] which he thought would be most profitable for the posterytye to instruct them in the faythe and religion of the elders" (quoted in Adams 20-21). Parker determined to put in print as many of these documents as he could, furnishing the printer John Day with the first Anglo-Saxon type and sponsoring the first Anglo-Saxon book, a collection of sermons, epistles, and prayers called A Testimonie of Antiquities (1566-67). As in his tract A Defense of Priests' Marriages (written in exile under Queen Mary), in his preface to this volume, Parker drew on Saxon materials to authorize specific changes in church practice, including that of the communion ceremony: so that "thou mayest knowe (good Christian reader) how this [sacrament] is advocated more boldly than truely, [...] here is set forth unto thee a testimonye of verye auncient tyme, wherein is plainly showed what was the judgement of the learned men in thys matter, in the days of the Saxons before the Conquest" (quoted in Adams 24-25). Such prefaces were typical, as in John Fox's address to Queen Elizabeth in the preface to his Old English version of the Gospels (The Gospels of the former Evangelistes translated in the olde Saxons tyme out of Latin), where he explains that his book shows "how the religion presently taught & professed in the Church at thys present, is no new reformation of thinges lately begonne, which were not before, but rather a reduction of the Church to the Pristine State of olde conformitie" (quoted in Adams 32-33). This notion of a return to the ancestors' primitive simplicity would soon begin to encompass the idea of return to England's true and free Anglo-Saxon laws.
For, by the early years of the seventeenth century, as scholars unearthed information about Anglo-Saxon law-making councils and the Magna Carta, Parliament began to draw on this historical research to defend its "ancient" liberties against the encroachments of James I-in the process and perhaps unwittingly shifting the genealogy of English identity away from a Briton and classical lineage and toward a Germanic, Anglo-Saxon one. This research provided fuel for the arguments of Sir Edward Coke and other parliamentary lawyers, and in response, James I banned the Society of Antiquaries, "lest it should be the source of plots" (quoted in Kliger 126). When the society attempted to reconvene in 1614, they were again forced to disband, despite their conciliatory resolution not to "meddle with matters of State or religion" (Brinkley 32).
Throughout the early seventeenth century all publication on Anglo-Saxons was censored-important to recall if we are to appreciate the initially subversive nature, and the complicated genealogy, of Saxonist mythologies, and in turn understand how this prehistory of Saxonism provides one point of origin for modern liberation movements that rest on "native" claims. The prominent lawyer and admired scholar John Selden, a close friend of Ben Jonson, was twice imprisoned by the High Court even though his account of the Saxons evenhandedly avoided any notions of a post-Briton, Anglo-Saxon watershed, instead acknowledging that "the Saxons made a mixture of the British customes with their own." Yet his suggestion that the "original of our English Laws" derived from the pre-Conquest era was apparently bad enough, especially since he treated history not as a revelation of absolute truths or the eternally divine rights of conquerors and kings but rather as a complicated matter of change and custom (quoted in Adams 67). After the publication of his controversial History of Tithes (1618), he was called before the High Court to apologize and the king forbade him to publish any responses to the royalist rebuttals of his work (Woolf, Idea 231-32). A few years later he was arrested for providing services to the Commons in their search for legal precedents for Parliamentarian prerogative (Brinkley 32-33). Bishop Laud, though a supporter of some Anglo-Saxon research, interfered with the publication of Sir Henry Spelman's Glossary, offended by its comments about the rights outlined in the Magna Carta (Brinkley 33). More widely, sermons that even hinted at the need for constraints on the king's power were burned in public and one preeminent Anglo-Saxon scholar, Dr. Dorislaus, lost his university post. In short, throughout the first two decades of the seventeenth century, James I repeatedly silenced challenges to his power in part by censoring this antiquarian legal scholarship and at the same time disseminating the doctrine of divine right, for instance by sponsoring the schoolbook God and the King (1615) to teach children about the divine sources of kingly power (Brinkley 37; Kliger 125).
Matters reached an early crisis point-and the rhetoric of ancient rights found its legs-when in 1620 the king issued a proclamation restricting Parliament's right to discuss high matters of state. Parliament responded directly, coining a language that would not only become the basis of the 1628 Petition of Right but would also create the heart of the Whig politics and Saxon myth well into the twentieth century: "The privileges and rights of Parliament are an ancient and indubitable birthright and inheritance of the English, and all important and urgent affairs in Church and State as well as the drawing up of laws and the remedying of abuses, are the proper subjects of the deliberation and resolutions of the Parliament. The members are free to speak upon them in such order as they please, and cannot be called to account for them" (quoted Brinkley 38). In further exchanges with the king, the Parliament reasserted its "Ancient and Undoubted Right, and an Inheritance received from our Ancestors," until the king "publicly tore these protests from the Journal of the House of Commons and dissolved Parliament" (quoted in Brinkley 38).
Throughout the 1620s and 1630s Parliament and the Stuart kings reached several such impasse moments, until finally James's son, Charles I, again dissolved Parliament in 1629-and it did not reconvene until 1640. Meanwhile, however, other forces were gathering.
Across the Atlantic, a group of men was building a new commercial and religious network that would eventually help to break the impasse. Ultimately, this development would make the racialized rhetoric of rights and liberty a transatlantic phenomenon, embedding it deep in the structures of English-language narrative. Attending to this rhetoric helps us to see that, although the British empire would turn east by the end of next century, the American colonies crucially served as its crucible and in some ways remained the root of its liberty and race ideologies. In a sense the Civil War and its aftermath, from Cromwell's Commonwealth to Queen Victoria's empire, find their necessary cause in the years between 1610 and 1630 in American colonies, in the form of a group of "new men": these middling class and eventually Puritan-affiliated men who initiated activities and alliances that would reshape the economic balance of power. With the parliamentary crisis of 1628-29, culminating with Charles I's eleven-year dissolution of Parliament and renewed persecution of Puritans, the network of Atlantic merchant relations that had been spun throughout the 1620s attached itself to those interested in creating colonies as safe havens for religious refugees-and together (to put it oversimply) these men overthrew the king. The details of this development shed crucial light on the Atlantic conditions for the emergence of a nativist rhetoric of liberty and so deserve attention here.
Excerpted from Freedom's Empire by Laura Doyle Copyright © 2008 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
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