The politics of London air : John Evelyn's 'Fumifugium' and the Restoration

The politics of London air : John Evelyn’s ‘Fumifugium’ and the Restoration

By Mark Jenner

The Historical Journal, Vol.38:3 (1995)

Abstract: Historians have commonly described John Evelyn’s pamphlet about London smoke pollution, Fumifugium, as a precocious example of environmental concern. This paper argues that such an interpretation is too simple. Evelyn’s proposals are shown to be closely related to political allegory and the panegyrics written to welcome the newly restored Charles II. However, the paper also shows that Fumifugium was not simply a literary conceit; rather it exemplified the mid-seventeenth-century English interest in the properties of air that is visible in both the Hartlib circle and the early Royal Society.

Introduction: This article seeks to bring together the history of public health, the history of the urban environment and the social history of scientific ideas in seventeenthcentury England through an examination of John Evelyn’s pamphlet, Fumifugium. It discusses the various levels of meaning within the text and by extension explores what motivated seventeenth-century people to write about pollution.

In recent years many historians have been turning their attention to the history of the environment and humankind’s impact upon and interaction with it. Scholars have traced the environmental degradation that accompanied the introduction of large-scale industrial production; they have shown the profound differences between the ecological niches occupied by native Americans and the intensive agricultural regimes introduced by European settlers. Other historians have explored how urban living, capitalism, religion and civility altered perceptions of the landscape, ‘wilderness’ and the environment in general.

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