In this essay, then, I argue that Johnson’s characteristic skepticism extends to eighteenth-century efforts to treat the world, as John Locke does, as a storehouse of endlessly exploitable value open to human labor and ingenuity. In his Second Treatise, Locke describes the Golden Age of abundance by invoking an image of a wilderness waiting to be exploited: “in the beginning, all the World was America.” In contrast, Johnson turns the “barrenness” of the Highlands into a metonymic extension of world that resists the interlocking ideologies of bucolic retreat, georgic improvement, and the visionary productivity that underwrite fictions of English national identity. Rather than treating “all the World” as “America,” Johnson strips the world of its stocks of exploitable resources by reimagining it in the images of “barren hills” and treeless islands. In this respect, his Journey bypasses the arguments of Scottish advocates for planting trees in the Highlands and focuses instead on a metropolitan skepticism of agricultural and arboricultural improvement.
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|Published - Jun 1 2021