Dr Davis's book is a long, careful and detailed study of utopian writing in England from Sir Thomas More to the end of the 17th century. He has interesting things to say about well-known figures like More, Bacon, Winstanley and Harrington, but I found his chapters on lesser writers even more instructive. Robert Burton and Samuel Gott are revealed as more significant 'utopians' than has been recognised. Dr Davis is also interesting on William Sprigge's A Modest Plea for an Equal Commonwealth of 1659, the anonymous Chaos (1659) and The Free State of Noland (1696), which he classifies as 'Harringtonian'. He has even found a couple of Royalist utopias, which he discusses in Chapter Ten. More important, he distinguishes a category of 'full-employment utopias', which includes Rowland Vaughan (1610), Gabriel Plattes's Macaria (1641), Peter Chamberlen's The Poore Mans Advocate (1649), Peter Cornelius Plockhoy (1659), John Bellers's Proposals for Raising a College of Industry (1695), and two essays by an anonymous Hermeticist, Philadept, published in 1698 and 1700. Many in this last group were discussed in 1952 by J.K. Fuz in a pioneering work, Welfare Economics in English Utopias, to which Dr Davis refers only in a dismissive footnote. Davis also shows that Burton was an early advocate of something like a welfare state.
LRB 16 July 1981 | PDF Download