Curiosities and Texts: The Culture of Collecting in Early by Marjorie Swann

By Marjorie Swann

A craze for gathering swept England through the 16th and 17th centuries. Aristocrats and middling-sort males alike stuffed their houses jam-packed with a bewildering number of actual gadgets: old cash, medical tools, minerals, mummified corpses, zoological specimens, crops, ethnographic items from Asia and the Americas, statues, photos. Why have been those extraordinary jumbles of artifacts so popular?In Curiosities and Texts, Marjorie Swann demonstrates that collections of actual gadgets have been crucial to early sleek English literature and tradition. Swann examines the recognized number of rarities assembled by way of the Tradescant kinfolk; the advance of English common historical past; narrative catalogs of English panorama positive aspects that began appearing within the Tudor and Stuart sessions; the writings of Ben Jonson and Robert Herrick; and the basis of the British Museum.Through this wide-ranging sequence of case reviews, Swann addresses very important questions: How was once the gathering, which was once understood as a sort of cultural capital, appropriated in early smooth England to build new social selves and modes of subjectivity? and the way did literary texts—both as fabric items and as cars of representation—participate within the technique of negotiating the cultural value of creditors and gathering? Crafting her precise argument with a stability of aspect and perception, Swann sheds new gentle on fabric culture's courting to literature, social authority, and private id.

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Extra resources for Curiosities and Texts: The Culture of Collecting in Early Modern England

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Ashmole's use of physical objects to construct his identity extended to others' collections through his activities as a cataloguer. I have already suggested that early modern collections were used symbiotically by collectors and visitors to establish their mutual status as cosmopolitan men of culture: a collector gained authority if others flocked to see his display of physical objects, while travelers measured their social cachet by the number of curiosity cabinets to which they were granted access.

In part, then, the appeal of collections of curiosities to sophisticated seventeenth-century viewers "lay in the refusal of the individual objects to submit docilely to precise categori~ation,"~~ and foreign physical things were valuable insofar as they were amazingly anomalous. " Tradescant concluded his list by simply stating that he desired "Any thing that Is strangnS3The thirst for "wonders" exemplified in Tradescant's letter helped to drive the search for new objects from foreign lands, for once a "marvellous" item became familiar and widely disseminated, it lost the strangeness, the radical quality of difference necessary to excite wonder in European viewers.

60 Often accompanied by a tutor, a young gentleman would follow guidebooks to view the remarkable sights afforded by the Continent. 61A cosmopolitan network of genteel collectors thus developed, as would-be visitors arrived on the doorsteps of noteworthy collectors bearing letters of introduction establishing their social connections-the price of admission, as it were. Visits to well-known collections were themselves "collected" and displayed by travelers. "62At the same time, a collector's reputation was enhanced every time the right sort of person sought to visit his collection: the scholar and naturalist Ulisse Aldrovandi bragged that "everything in my museum is seen by many different gentlemen who, passing through this city, visit my Pandecchio di natura like an eighth wonder of the Having completed his tour, the welltraveled young man would return to England, laden with social successes and curiosities for his own collection.

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