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Consumption, Sociability, and Individualism (Jon Mee)

Primary Texts

Rudolph Ackerman’s Microcosm of London, 3 vols (1808-10). The aquatints are at . Look especially at the ‘Exhibition Somerset House’, ‘Debating Society’, ‘Royal Exchange’, ‘Surrey Institution’ aquatints. I will distribute parts of the letterpress on photocopies.

Joseph Addison, ‘[Royal Exchange]’ from The Spectator, Saturday, 19 May 1711 in Selections from the Tatler and Spectator, ed. Angus Ross (Penguin, 1982, pp. 437-440.

William Cowper, The Task (1785). Book 1

David Hume, ‘Of Refinement in the Arts’ in Selected Essays, ed. by Stephen Copley and Andrew Edgar (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996). Hume’s essay was originally titled ‘Of Luxury’

William Hazlitt, ‘Of Londoners and Country People’ in Metroplitan Writings, ed. Gregory Dart (Fyfield Books, 2005).


Secondary Reading

Ann Bermingham, ‘Urbanity and the Spectacle of Art’ , in James Chandler and Kevin Gilmartin (eds), Romantic Metropolis : the Urban Scene of British Culture, 1780-1840 (2005), 151-176.

Jurgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. Thomas Burger with the assistance of Frederick Lawrence (Cambridge, MA, 1989), pp. 159-175.

Jon Mee, Conversable Worlds: Literature, Contention, and Community (Oxford, 2011). Introduction.


Further Reading

Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall, Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 17801850 (Chicago: University of Chicago press), pp. 15566.

Julie Ellison, News, Blues, and Cowpers Busy World, Modern Language Quarterly, 62 (2001), 2193

Richard Sennett, Flesh and Stone: The Body and the City in Western Civilization (New York, NY, 1994), chaps 8 and 9

Judith Thompson, ‘From Forum to Repository: A Case Study in Romantic Cultural Geography’, European Romantic Review, 15.2, (2004), 177-203

You may also find it useful to refer to C. S. Matheson’s article again from week 3 and David Solkin’s chapter , ”’This Great Mart of genius”: the Royal Academy Exhibitions at Somerset House, 1780-1836,’ in the same volume.



In what ways might Ackermann’s book have added to what Hume calls ‘the fund of conversation’? What role do you think it may have played in Ackermann’s nusiness?

How do you read it in terms of its representations of sociability in a commercial society? Look at the relationship between the letterpress and the aquatints.

How does its representation of urban sociability compare to the account of London in Book 1 The Task? Think about the contrast between the domestic and the urban in Cowper’s poem in this regard, including the role of Cowper’s poem itself as a commercial item.

Compare the aquatint of ‘Exhibition, Somerset House’ with Rowlandson’s ‘Exhibition Stare Case’ (1811) caricature at,_exhibition.aspx.

What do you understand by Habermas’s idea of ‘public communication unravel[ing] into acts of individual reception, however uniform in mode’? (p. 161) How convincing an account do you find it of the transition from the eighteenth into the nineteenth century?

How would Hazlitt account of Londoners compare with the Ackermann volume and Habermas’s claim?