This exhibition is the work of Jennifer Buckley, a PhD student in the Department of English at the University of York working under the supervision of Professor Jon Mee and Dr Alison O’Byrne on a thesis entitled “From Fact to Fictionality: Essay-Periodicals and Literary Novelty”, focusing on the development of the essay-periodical within the period 1700-1760. The project reevaluates the essay as a literary mode of expression as it related to the emergence of the novel. Her wider research interests include literature and culture in the long eighteenth century, the history of the novel in English periodical and essay writing, and networks and sociability. Jenny holds a BA in English from the University of Cambridge and completed an MA in Eighteenth-Century Studies at the University of York in 2016. Her PhD is funded by the White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities, and she has held fellowships at the Harry Ransom Centre (2018/19) and the BSECS/QMCECS visiting short-term fellowship for 2018. Her work here was undertaken as a White Rose Studentship Researcher Employability Project, under which students complete a short project outside their home university away from their primary research area to gain experience of employing their doctoral-level skills in a workplace and to complete a specific piece of work for the host organization. The GPP asked Jenny to undertake work which would enable the team to develop research strategies for investigating a particularly intriguing part of the Georgian Papers Archive, the ‘Essays of George III’. Her findings are presented here in the form of a virtual exhibition around that theme. The Project is very grateful to both Jenny and the White Rose College for the opportunity to conduct this important project.
The Essays of George III
The collection known as ‘The Essays of George III’ (RA GEO/ADD/32) comprises 8,500 pages of prose pieces, fragments, duplicates and notes. Largely undated, of unknown origin and purpose, often incomplete or with pages missing, the ‘Essays’ are a fascinating body of work, albeit one that is determined to hang on to its secrets!
Spanning topics such as history, geography, mathematics, music, moral philosophy, the constitution, and revenue and taxation, the ‘Essays’ offer multiple avenues through which we can re-evaluate our perceptions of George III, both as a man and as a monarch. By working through these categories, we can begin to understand the nature of these ‘private papers’ as a distinct collection within the context of the Georgian Papers. It is possible to draw thematic connections between the papers and, once these have been identified, interesting correlations emerge between George III’s writings and those of other members of the Royal Household.
There are moments when George’s papers demonstrate familiarity with textbooks that were being used by family members, and some works were clearly more important for educating the royal family than others, as they are returned to time and again and appear as sources for multiple essays. Some of the ‘Essays’ read like schoolboy exercises, some of which have been painstakingly rewritten until he has got the answers right, and earlier drafts show corrections in George’s own hand, as well as that of his tutor, the Earl of Bute.
This process of reworking materials poses many challenges when working with such a large collection. Items such as the papers on The Civil Government of Rome (RA GEO/ADD/32/2058) highlight the difficulties inherent in categorising these papers as ‘The Essays of George III.’ Rather than being a loose-leaf essay, this item is a bound volume, and more like an exercise book than a prose extract. While this is not the only exercise book found within the ‘Essays’, the others are soft-bound in marbled paper. By contrast, The Civil Government of Rome is leather-bound, complete with marbled end-boards, a gilded fore-edge and ribbon, and is rounded off with a Latin glossary, or table of key vocabulary. Clearly this item is not an essay as we understand the term today. That the item, which is clearly in the hand of a young person, appears within the private papers of George III and more specifically within the ‘Essays’ raises lots of interesting questions about the nature of this corpus: Why go to the expense of binding this particular childhood work? Why hold these pages and vocabulary lists together in this way? Why are other items left unbound and unindexed? Writings such as The Civil Government of Rome challenge the decision to group this body of papers together under a single rubric of ‘The Essays’, as it also raises questions about the nature of the other papers in the collection, particularly the longer essays. An essay on Revenue and Parliamentary Sessions (RA GEO/ADD/32/1194-126), for example, is a perfectly fair copy on the nature of government. Was this, too, intended to be bound as a reference work? If so, how were the 896 sheets that comprise it meant to be navigated when there is no evidence that it was ever indexed?
These are just some of the questions that arise when studying the ‘Essays of George III’, and there are no easy answers to be had. Ultimately, with many of the papers resembling memoranda, the term ‘Essays’ is something of a red herring, and serves more as a term of convenience than an accurate generic classification. Pages of unlabelled annotations, sheets of doodles, and notes on musical scales and works are hardly in keeping with our understanding of the essay form today. The only thing we can be confident of with regard to the ‘Essays’ is that there is no definitive way of understanding them. This exhibition offers an insight into the range of materials contained within the ‘Essays’ and begins to explore some of the connections between these papers.