The Game of Life

Half marathon notice

Visitor notice: On Sunday 4 March Cutty Sark and the museum car park will be closed for the Vitality Big Half Marathon. All other museums will be open as normal and DLR and rail links will be running. Find out about road closures

One of the most exciting finds of my PhD so far has been a broadside map that I found in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, after spotting it in the list of publications at the back of a contemporary pamphlet, and tracking it through various search engines. Arriving at the Duke Humfreys Library and being handed a hefty tome of broadsides, I was hopeful but unsure of what A New and Exact Map of Toryland, published in 1729, would turn out to be. I wasn't disappointed, it is a marvel of satirical mapping. At the centre lies ‘Toryland’ featuring counties named ‘Absolution,’ ‘Arbitrary Government,’ and ‘Superstition.’ The ships which sail around its coast might easily be wrecked on the ‘Passive Obedience Rocks’ or the ‘Coast of Lost Liberty.’ Surrounding ‘Toryland’ to the West and South are the ‘Pretender’s Channel’ and the ‘Pretender’s Islands’ which include ‘No Tolleration’ and ‘Loss of Public Credit.’ To the East of ‘Toryland’ is ‘Part of Whig Land’ set up as its obvious opposite, where counties include ‘Toleration’ and ‘Parliamentary Right’ and the coastline features ‘Protestant Point’ and ‘Hannover Succession Rock.’ The map is edged with unmarked longitude and latitude scales and the title describes it as showing a location ‘whose Latitude is 1688, and Longitude 1714.’ Thus, latitude and longitude are used as markers of contemporary social and political boundaries; the map is contained by a grid created by the Glorious Revolution and the Hanoverian Succession. 1714 is, of course, also the date of the longitude Act itself. I was made to think more about this map last week when I visited a small but beautifully executed exhibition at Waddesdon Manor, a National Trust property in Buckinghamshire. Playing, Learning, Flirting: Printed Board Games from 18th Century France showcases some of the extraordinary games collected by Ferdinand de Rothschild, the manor's creator. Most are based around the French 'game of the goose' which worked in a similar vein to our modern 'Snakes and Ladders', with different squares offering obstacles or aids to the player's journey. Some of these seem delightfully modern, like the Game of the College of Litigants (L'Ecole des Plaideurs), printed around 1685, in which there are no squares allowing the player to jump forward, and the game ends only in the workhouse. This relates nicely to playing cards produced around 1720 at which I have looked. These satirised the 'South Sea Bubble' financial crash, and related natural philosophical projects and bubbles to financial ruin. Longitude was one such proposal. Many of the board games include mapping or navigation in one form or another. There is the Game of a Voyage Around the World, Via the Principal Towns (Voiage du Monde par les Villes les plus Considerables de la Terre ou par un jeu) (1718), in which players learn geographical information while negotiating a world map, complete with latitude and longitude lines, and the New Game of the Navy (Le Nouveau Jeu de la Marine) (1768), which teaches players about types of vessel, offices and flags, and also features various navigational instruments. This again links to contemporary playing cards that featured suites of instruments for natural philosophers and mathematicians.

Photo: Mike Fear (c) Waddesdon, The Rothschild Collection (The National Trust)

But, my eye was most drawn to two maps, displayed with the Game of a Voyage Around the World. These were the wonderful Fantastical Map of the Empire of the Heart (L'Empire du Coeur) from c.1750 and Map of the Island of Marriage (Carte de L'isle du Marriage) from 1732. The former shows two paths from immaculate formal gardens at the centre, where men and women walk together, to the opposing temples of true and false love. Beyond are the dangerous sea and unknown lands. The latter resembles my Map of Toryland even more with the 'Island of Marriage' at the centre surrounded by contrasting lands of 'Conjugal Love' and 'Suspicion', 'Boredom' and 'Dependence.' The journey thither starts in the 'Virgin Lands' and can end at the 'Island of Madness', 'Divorce' and 'Old Age.' Sadly neither of these maps uses latitude or longitude lines as part of their allegory, but they play nicely into my thoughts about the idea of longitude being used as a trope to map contemporary social norms, and keep them firmly within bounds.