ABSTRACT

Part II of this book examines various types of fiction that take on some of the cultural conflicts owing to the rise of public credit. I examine various narrative strategies to get a sense of how the novel differentiates itself from other forms of fiction in the later eighteenth century, arguing that the virtualization of trust, new to contemporaries, puts additional pressure on the novel’s generic concerns which can be seen as an extension of the representational questions discussed in Part I. The remainder of Representing Public Credit, therefore, takes a certain liberty: the extension of the credible commitment thesis into discursive territories it has not yet ventured – deeper into the part of public credit that is dependent on public opinion. A reason for this is that in the early eighteenth century, the public itself, as Mark Knights points out, can be seen as a collective fiction with new importance because “for the first time a National Debt was funded by the public and based on public credit.”1 What follows is an attempt to continue reading through eighteenth-century texts by looking for evidence that credible commitment might have still been a problem, still an ongoing process of negotiation between creditors and the State. If the credible commitment thesis is, as Anne Murphy says, also about getting public creditors to demand commitment ‘from below,’ has the task been completed by the middle of the century?2 By the end of the century? Since public credit – and attitudes about the National Debt – depends on public opinion, one place to begin is to continue examining texts that discuss public credit, the burgeoning National Debt, and the proliferation of paper credit instruments. For this, I read contemporary political economic writings next to two it-narratives featuring circulating monetary objects that serve as characters. These narratives serve as a way of registering the status of money and credit later in the eighteenth century in order to consider the relationship between the emergent financial subject and a newer form of money whose value – produced virtually – comes from public credit in particular. More so than in political economy, the type of cultural work performed in fiction serves as a means for training individual readers to participate in the public of public credit. This framework will thereby provide new readings for more texts that have already been covered by critics. While the State and the Bank of England were separate entities in 1694, later developments meant that they became increasingly interdependent. To contemporaries, it seemed that the State’s repayment of the loan from the Bank was no

longer possible after the middle of the century.3 By 1750, the Bank had been granted a quasi-monopoly over short-term lending to the government, and it had by then become the primary public creditor.4 This meant that the government gave sanctions to the Bank of England that it did not provide for other private banks. The Bank of England was no longer merely a mechanism for financing war because it became increasingly implicated in transactions between private investors and thus served a larger function than merely being the government’s creditor. And it actively intervened to ensure its continued existence, as well. By 1764, the Bank made a direct non-refundable payment of £100,000 in return for an extension of its charter.5 This was also the year that the Bank handled about 70 percent of the total National Debt and managed lotteries and annuities.6 The Bank had to get its charter renewed until 1844, when it became legally permanent.7 By the end of the eighteenth century, public reliance on the Bank had increased so much so that when its charter was renewed in 1781 it was described by Lord North as “the public exchequer.”8 What began the century as a temporary solution to the problem of government finance therefore ended the century as a revolution in credit – and money. While commitment for public credit took time to develop, its uniqueness has to do with the fact that the Bank, from the outset, created what Christine Desan calls a “fiat loop.” Because of the way the currency was attached to the public debt, “the government began to accept in payment what it spent in payment.”9 This mean that

[p]ublic officials could take the essential step with popular support because while private contracts separated parties into debtors and creditors, all individuals were debtors where public payments were concerned. Taxpayers had little reason to object to a practice that accorded value to the notes they held to pay off an obligation to a common creditor – the government.10