University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Cabinet of Natural History > Seeing with words: tours, surveys and agricultural improvement in Britain, c.1770–c.1820

Seeing with words: tours, surveys and agricultural improvement in Britain, c.1770–c.1820

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Early in his career, Arthur Young (1741-1820) set out on a series of tours through England, Wales and Ireland. His aim, as outlined in the preface to his Six Weeks Tour Through the Southern Counties of 1768 was ‘to display to one part of the kingdom the practice of the other, to remark wherein such practice is hurtful, and wherein it is commendable. To draw forth such spirited examples of good husbandry from obscurity and display them the proper objects of imitation.’ Despite this professedly practical aim, however, Young’s published Tours were not limited to agricultural observations. They offered description and opinion on a range of seemingly unrelated issues as scenic beauty, architecture, the art works of country houses and garden design. This paper explores the ways in which the seemingly disparate objects of ‘beauty’ and ‘utility’ were related and suggests that the useful were more closely connected, at both a political and an epistemological level, than has been commonly assumed.

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