Selling ‘The Garden’ in Eighteenth-Century Print Culture // Adam J. Smith

Selling ‘The Garden’ in Eighteenth-Century Print Culture
’In the first of two posts postgraduate researcher Adam J Smith discusses the impact that eighteenth-century print culture had upon conceptualisations of the garden.’

A few weeks ago Jane Withers introduced us to Adam’s Luxury and Eve’s Cookery; an ‘Idiot’s Guide’ to getting the most out of your kitchen garden first published in 1744. Jane discussed the text’s production and shared with us some of the timeless advice found within (if you haven’t yet read her post it is definitely worth a look, especially if you’ve yet to discover the secret of curing headaches with onions and string). The very existence of the text also intersects with a series of historical narratives crucial to an understanding of the eighteenth-century garden as a pragmatic (and gendered) domestic space, an important component of the popular imagination, and a physical landscape symbiotically connected to the rise, diversification and steady democratisation of print culture.

Adam’s Luxury and Eve’s Cookery opens with a prefatory claim that wouldn’t be out of place in the 2014 edition of the Gardener’s World annual (although, I would hope that Monty Don might articulate this point with fractionally more tact and sympathy than his eighteenth-century predecessor):

This little treatise of Kitchen-Gardening is chiefly designed for the instruction and benefit of country people, who most of them have a little garden spot belonging to their house, and at the same time let it lie useless, for want of knowing how properly to manage it; or otherwise, if they do attempt the cropping of it, ’tis at improper season, so that they have not the desire success, which discourages them from making any farther attempts.

Our author is informing us that though many ‘country people’ have ‘a little garden spot’ the majority ‘let it lie useless’ because they don’t know ‘how properly to manage it’ (and, those who have attempted to do something with their garden have made a simple mistake which has put them off trying again).

Although I can certainly relate to the situation being described here something that is harder to imagine is that in 1744 the idea of everyday people (by “everyday people” I of course mean: people who might not have owned a country estate but were certainly well off enough to buy this book which is no mean feat at a time when it is estimated that single-author novels were still out of the affordable price range of 90% of the population) having their own garden was a new idea. Suddenly more people do have ‘a little garden spot belonging to their house’, and, fortunately for the booksellers behind Adam’s Luxury and Eve’s Cookery, they haven’t yet figured out what to do with it.

Luckily there are lots of texts which are also suddenly on hand to provide just such advice, and for the price of such a tome new gardeners could find out what it was they were expected to with their garden and how to do it.

Which begs the question: to what extent is print culture creating the garden?

At the same time that more and more people are acquiring these ‘gardening spots’ the eighteenth century also saw the emergence of Britain’s first ever twenty-four hour consumer society and the invention of cheap print. This well-documented explosion of print culture saw the market flooded with books, pamphlets, newspapers, periodicals and magazines. For the first time the success of such texts was dependent on discerning readers of the public who could now access and buy these texts on the street, rather than the author’s ability to attract and attain the royal patronage of the courts.

Popular culture was born.

And, given the sheer quantity of gardening manuals acknowledged in Jane’s last post, it seems that the people were interested in gardening (or, perhaps more cynically, the market made sure readers were increasingly aware that they were interested in gardening).

Adam’s Luxury and Eve’s Cookery couches itself a response to an urgent need: there are gardens out there that are not being used. But, to what extent is it creating this need? Are texts like this prescribing and inventing the garden that we know today in order to sell books which prescribe and invent the garden we know today? To what extent is our idea of what a garden is and should be the consequence of an eighteenth-century commercial enterprise, in which Adam’s Luxury and Eve’s Cookery is just an example of a single participant? And, are assumptions being made in texts such as this (possibly with further commercial motivations) that have subsequently become embedded in our own cultural consciousness?

For instance, a most cursory glance at the title of this example, Adam’s Luxury and Eve’s Cookery, reveals a gendering of domestic space. Obviously, as Jane’s post stresses, the title capitalises on biblical associations. The implication is that the reader’s garden becomes an Edenic space, and like Adam and Eve, the garden’s owners will become stewards over their ‘little spot’ of nature (although, given the enduring impact of John Milton’s Paradise Lost 70 years previous it is hard to image that the target audience could have imagined Eden without also associating it with the fall of man).

The title does more than this though. It situates Adam (the first man) in the garden, and Eve (the first woman) in the Kitchen; a divide which is emphasised further within the text, as the first half of the book instructs male readers on the labour necessary to create and sustain the garden where the crops will be grown and the second telling male readers what their wives must do in order to transform these crops into food.

Not only do such texts prescribe such assumptions, but as we tend to access the past through the written word they can also propagate preconceptions in our minds about what the eighteenth century was like. Just because the text genders the garden in this way (possibly for no other reason than that the readership it targets is one of fairly affluent men) was this necessarily reflected in lived reality? And if readers did not strictly adhere to the behaviour prescribed to them by print culture and market forces, how can we ever really appreciate the role of the garden in the eighteenth century?

One solution might be to access the period through texts which were not written for sale or publication, such as private letters, diaries or journals (if you haven’t seen it yet Thomas Flint is currently examining just such a journal in a series of posts examining the private writings of Parson Woodford).

In my next post I will be reflecting on the utility of findings made by the recent Nostell Priory Library Project when addressing exactly these questions. The project, which was a collaboration between the University of Sheffield’s School of English and the National Trust (directed by Dr Hamish Mathison and Dr Joe Bray), sought to contextualise a selection of medical and veterinary texts stored within the house’s magnificent and extensive eighteenth-century library using letters, receipts, invoices and other forms of ephemera. As a researcher on the project I was privileged enough to catalogue much of this material, and next time I will share some of the correspondences of two of the house’s eighteenth-century owners, Sir Rowland and Lady Sabine Winn, with a view to better understanding (and complicating) our notions of the eighteenth-century garden.

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