Poetical Geography: The Place of the Antiquarian and the Situatedness of Literature

This article explores problematic relation between the local, the national, and the international in antiquarianism through a focus on the issue of place in antiquarian writings. It looks specifically at the argument that literature can best be understood in its original place of composition as articulated in the writings of Robert Wood. By shifting emphasis from Wood’s later writing on Homer to his first published work, The Ruins of Palmyra (1753), the article suggests that Wood is not a late entrant but an early contributor to the "media environment" of the mid-eighteenth century, an environment characterized by the belief that poetry originates in an early stage of society, that it is composed orally, that it expresses the local particularity of landscapes and national or tribal culture, and that it can properly be traced and recovered by ethnographic, first-hand engagement with its place of origin. That Wood's theory of ancient poetry echoes (and perhaps anticipates) the later work of Percy, Ritson, Scott and others underscores not the separation but the proximity and overlapping concerns of popular antiquarianism with other varieties of antiquarianism less invested in the particular traditions of the British Isles. Ultimately, the article raises the possibility that classical antiquarianism broadly understood, including its varieties more attuned to classical and not national cultures, could also bolster the creation of national literatures that we associate with Romanticism.