Gage, Justin C. The Tame Bear: Modern Military Discipline in Defoe and Smollett. University of Washington, 2011.
The historical development of a standing military in Britain has hitherto received less attention from literary scholars of the long eighteenth century than other aspects of society or politics. Starting with texts representing the execution of Admiral John Byng in 1757, this study argues that the evolution of a modern military ideal is a major feature of the “thought world” of early eighteenth-century Britain.
The body of the essay analyzes martial characters in the novels of Daniel Defoe and Tobias Smollett. In considering Defoe’s troublesome book Memoirs of a Cavalier (1722), the second chapter describes how the principal characters—Gustavus Adolphus, Thomas Fairfax, and the Cavalier himself—define the modern military ethos through examples of disciplinary expertise. Order and a Protestant sense of morality are hallmarks of the camp and the councils of war in the Memoirs. In a series of episodes involving “low” characters, Defoe demonstrates that good officers, like novelists, are increasingly concerned with the hearts and minds not just of the “memorable men” of an army, but also its “People” (as common soldiers were sometimes known).
The third chapter reads closely the link between satire and military discipline in Tobias Smollett’s first and last novels, Roderick Random (1748) and Humphry Clinker (1771). Smollett’s grotesque and absurd treatments of military bureaucracy and discipline reach forward to modern military novels like Catch-22 and The Things They Carried. While his satirical soldiers and sailors are agents of both social discipline and social protest, they stop short of imagining alternatives, ultimately reassuring an imagined British community.
The study concludes with a brief analysis of the discipline of military knowledge, especially the science of fortification, in Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, followed by a consideration of the prospects for extending the study of modern military discipline in later literary works.