ABSTRACT

That act of judgment, however, could not take place in an ideological vacuum. As I have already suggested, it had to be shaped by a set of established criteria, which I would say were broadly identical to those that informed Wright's attempt to represent his society to itself. For him, as for other mid-eighteenth-century British artists and writers, the task of "producing society" had still to be conducted within the conceptual parameters defined by Shaftesbury and other civic humanist thinkers, even though at the same time Wright had to acknowledge - as the Air Pump surely does - that the actual circumstances oflife in contemporary Britain no longer corresponded to the civic ideal. How, then, does the Air Pump inflect the discursive agenda which we have identified as the motivating force behind the Shaftesbury double portrait? What has happened to philosophy, politeness, conversation, sympathy, once these various attributes of classical citizenship have been deprived of their original enabling material foundation?