Panel 7: Place & Environment

Dutch Mansion with Garden, Johann Baptiste Bouttats (c.1680–1743). Laing Art Gallery.

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Chair: Dr David Stewart – Associate Professor of Romantic Literature at Northumbria University.

Alex Watson

The Intermedial Margins: Georg Forster’s notes for A Voyage Round the World (1775)

In A Voyage Round the World, Georg Forster describes Captain Cook’s second voyage to the Pacific, drawing on the journals of his father naturalist Johann Reinhold Foster and his own experience of working as his father’s assistant during the expedition. Forster’s work is one of several lavish volumes describing Cook’s journeys, including John Hawkesworth’s An Account of the Voyages (1773) and Cook’s own A Voyage Toward the South Pole (1777). I suggest that works were intermedial on many levels, displaying not simply a binary dialogue between text and image, but multiple interactions between a “main” text, images (engravings, illustrations, charts, maps) and paratexts (dedications, prefaces, introductions, glosses and notes). These volumes’ hybridic intermediality reflect their complex status as collaborative productions (involving artists, local guides, diarists and editors) drawing on different forms of visual representation and discourse (stadial history, natural history, travel writing, journalism) to represent distinctive geographies and cultures.

According to Nigel Leask, Forster’s Voyage is “in many ways a milestone for romantic period travel writing, establishing the principles which would increasingly be demanded from scientific travel writers over the next half-century”.[1] I argue that one crucial principle is Forster’s creation of incisive footnotes in which he displays his scholarly mastery of relevant sources, explains technical terms, acknowledges important individuals in his professional network and proffers his scientific expertise on animals, climate and cultures. I claim that, by intervening critically in different discourses, Forster uses the empiricism and skepticism of his intermedial margins to establish an Enlightenment scientific authority that distinguishes his work from both Hawkesworth’s notoriously moralistic and inaccurate volume and Cook’s direct, nautical narrative.

[1] Nigel Leask, Curiosity and the Aesthetic of Travel Writing 1770-1840: “From an Antique Land” (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002) p. 41.

Rachael Scarborough King

Improving Literature: Words and Images in Humphry Repton’s Red Books

Book historians often repeat the truism that the technology of printing changed little between its invention in the West in the fifteenth century and the advent of steam printing in the nineteenth. While this may be accurate for printed text, it is not the case for images, where both the refinement of existing methods and the invention of new ones such as aquatint, mezzotint, and wood engraving accelerated the spread of printed images in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. These changes also enabled a greater integration of words and images in the form of illustrated books. This paper explores an important example of this integration in Humphry Repton’s gardening books. Repton was the leading “improver” of the early nineteenth century and heir to Lancelot “Capability” Brown. But unlike Brown, who presented his clients with relatively simple designs, Repton invented the form of the before-and-after overlay to illustrate his proposed changes, which he collected into “Red Books” narrating his plans for various estates. He also used these manuscript works as the basis for a series of printed gardening texts that similarly used the before-and-after design.

Given that many of Repton’s plans never came to fruition, he was as much an author as gardener. While he occasionally complained that he did not want readers to treat his works as “mere books of pictures,” he also recognized that the “slides” were integral to his reputation; as he noted, “one stroke of the pencil will often say more than a page with the pen.” In his various works, then, Repton alternated between media of transmission—print, manuscript, watercolor, engraving, soil, and stone—at times emphasizing the personalization and detail of his Red Books and at others the wider reach of his printed books. His works took advantage of improvements in the art of printing, particularly the use of aquatint, to illustrate the “improvement” that he hoped to implement in the landscape. The visuality and tactility of the books was essential to his theory of improvement as he argued for the interconnection of text and image, alongside the interconnection of nature and art, and human and environment.

Madeleine Pelling

Gothic Historicity and Queer Temporality at Anne Hamilton’s Fonthill Abbey

This paper examines the manuscript practises engaged by Lady Anne Hamilton (1766-1846) and her cousin Lady Mary Hamilton (1756-1816) in recording their respective experiences at William Beckford’s Fonthill Abbey and Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill. It turns to the symbiotic relationship between text and image across manuscript culture, looking to poetry and prose, ink sketches and watercolour to uncover how such works were understood as important extensions of the gothic house experience.

Distant cousins, Anne and Mary Hamilton were both members of an elite circle that included Beckford and Walpole and regularly visited the houses designed and built by these men. This paper introduces previously overlooked manuscripts produced by these women to examine how dimension, movement and light within the buildings, and the textures, colours and histories of their contents, were all represented with striking vividness across a range of manuscripts used to negotiate complex, sometimes contradictory, identities as well as material and spiritual encounters. I propose diaries, commonplace books and journals as key documents in uncovering women’s reading of gothic sites in which ideas of temporality, historicity, queerness, hierarchy and alliance could be constructed, and argue for their value in recovering the marginal voices of women as antiquarians, collectors and critics.

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5 thoughts on “Panel 7: Place & Environment”

  1. Dear Rachael,

    I loved your paper and your project about improvement is really exciting (and needed). I wondered about the flaps in the red books. These overlays are a paper addition, stuck to the page. Yet, this addition actually shows what’s originally there. So there’s an interesting – even constitutive discrepancy – between the make-up of the book and the process of landscaping a garden. The change to (and “improvement” of) the codex form enables Repton to represent a view as it is *before* he changes/improves it. It’s only in pulling back this paper insert that the reader sees Repton’s landscape update. But then things aren’t so simple because Repton is often recommending the removal of features (houses, trees etc.), so the form of the red book allows the reader to peel away exactly what Repton proposes to efface from the landscape. This is all a long-winded way of asking what the material form of the red book tells us about the relationship between improvement and the processes (and politics) of addition/subtraction?


  2. Dear Madeleine
    I was enthralled by your interpretation of these (so far unused?) Anne Hamilton manuscripts and what you have added to our understanding of the Fonthill interiors. I especially liked your stress on secret places and concealment. I wonder if this can be taken still further by exploring the contrast between the vast scale of spaces like the King Edward gallery and the contents of the cabinets. The meticulous designed (by Franchi and Beckford) details of the hard stone mounted objects housed in these cabinets required (and assumed) close examination, by contrast with the large spaces. But the two were also connected in an almost covert way. The heraldic motifs with which B was obsessed are spread across the carpets, ceilings and exterior surfaces of the furniture (the quatrefoils on the bookcase you showed) and are insistently present to the visitor. At the same time, this same quatrefoil motif can only be seen when someone holding one of the mounted agate vessels lifts the cover and looks at the shape, viewed through the translucent hardstone, placed below the knop of the cover. Michael Snodin and I explored some of this when we wrote two long articles about Beckford’s silver in the Burlington Magazine in 1980 and I since written elsewhere about this contrast in scale and its implications. So it is exciting to hear about this new sources and your compelling reading of the material.
    Many thanks!

  3. Dear Rachael
    Very good to have Repton’s Red Books placed in this wider context. One thought which may have already been addressed in the Repton literature. Was R’s use of hinged panels for his before /after contrasts an appropriation of the technique used by earlier craftsmen and designers, including cabinetmakers and sculptors, when they presented a proposed design, with hinged alternatives of details, to a patron? Perhaps this already well-known and indeed assumed!

  4. Hi I had a question for Rachel, how do you feel Repton is addressing the morality of improvement, especially the commercial possibilities of improved landscapes? Are the moral claims being made for improvement to offset the sense of economic prosperity from landscapes, as landscape is becoming a real source of income during this time re timber etc?

    1. Hi Rebekah, thanks for this! Repton doesn’t often explicitly address the morality of improvement, and in fact occasionally criticizes “improvers” for caring only about money rather than aesthetics. But this is the crucial ideological move that is made in the history of the concept of improvement: excusing improvements made for economic reasons by presenting them as actually social or environmental improvements.

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