Cartography, Literature, and Empire
By Dennis Reinhartz
Herman Moll, one of the most significant and distinctive European cartographers of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, enjoyed a lengthy and productive career that spanned almost six decades and yielded more than two dozen geographies, atlases, and histories, as well as myriad separate maps, charts, and globes spanning the known world. Although generally not held in high regard for the originality or content of his cartography, he possessed a strong and tasteful design sense that, when combined with his engraving talents, led to the creation of unique and aesthetically pleasing maps, some of which must be considered graphic masterpieces.
Moll and his maps also flourished during the fascinating and dynamic era of the British Enlightenment and the early, heady days of empire. The cartographer eventually became part of a number of impressive circles that gathered regularly at London coffeehouses and which included, among others, the scientist Robert Hooke (1635-1703), the writers Daniel Defoe (1660?-1731) and Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), the buccaneers William Dampier (1651-1715) and Woodes Rogers (1679?-1732), and the field archeologist and antiquarian Rev. Dr. William Stukeley (1687-1765). Over the years they and others came together in loosely knit and shifting groups and developed an intellectual and commercial interdependence around the themes of geography, cartography, literature, and empire. They reflected an emerging attitude about Britain’s preeminence, but they also encouraged it and, through their various individual and collective pursuits, even influenced policy and shaped public opinion supporting it. Hooke’s famous words in a discourse on gravity — "Similars work most powerfully on each other. Similar Bodies join together most easily" — might just as easily have been applied to Moll and his friends.
Although he spent most of his working life in London, Herman Moll probably was born in the once-great German Hanseatic city-state of Bremen in 1654 and likely came to London in the mid-1670s as a refugee from the turmoil of the Scanian Wars, during which Bremen was overrun. In his Diary, Robert Hooke places him in London in 1678-1679 as a denizen of Jonathan’s, a famous coffeehouse in Change Alley, and working for Moses Pitt and others as an engraver. A decade earlier, in 1667, Hooke had published a map of London based on his position as city surveyor, which included an inset with plans for its neighborhoods to be reconstructed after the devastation of plague in 1665 and fire in 1666. The earliest known maps engraved by Moll, Europe and America, appeared in A New Systeme of the Mathematicks Containing ... A New Geography, by Sir Jonas Moore, in 1681. Moll probably learned his engraving skills in his native Bremen or elsewhere on the Continent before coming to England; and he was part of an already well-established North German movement to England and especially London that climaxed with the accession of King George I and the House of Hanover in 1714.
The great loss of life and property during the plague and the fire, and the heavy cost of rebuilding, helped to fuel a transformation of London’s social structure in the second half of the seventeenth century. By the 1670s London needed reputable tradesmen, merchants, and artisans, many of whom were offered freeman status to make their homes there. The intellectual influence of the Age of the Reason and expanding British conquest and commerce also increased social mobility.
Full Circles: Moll made a number of maps that were included in the
published works of his friends, including A Map of the World Shewing
the Course of Mr. Dampiers Voyage Round It: From 1679 to 1691,
from William Dampier’s A New Voyage Round the World, 1698.
Collection of Dennis and Judy Reinhartz.
This metamorphosis was well underway when Moll arrived in London. His talents as an engraver, geographer, businessman, and entrepreneur assured him access to the city’s growing middle-class society and its intellectual-cultural elite. Because cartography usually forms symbiotically with empire, Moll found it easy to participate in the European book and map trade — increasingly with London at its center — and to lend his support to schemes promoting English exploration and growth. When Moll first set up his own shop in 1688 at Vanley’s Court in Blackfriars, he was well on the way to becoming a "proper Englishman." In 1691 he moved to Spring Garden, Charing Cross, and finally, in 1710, to Devereux Court in the Strand, where he became a member of St. Clement Danes Parish and prospered until his death in 1732.
As a consequence of overseas expansion, coffee, tea, and chocolate became fashionable beverages throughout Europe in the seventeenth century. Over time London coffeehouses became centers of intellectual stimulation and provided gathering places where people conducted business and exchanged news, opinion, and gossip. Such establishments encouraged friendships and garnered specialized clienteles, circles for which they became famous. For example, Lloyds of London, the internationally renowned insurance company, began as Edward Lloyd’s Coffeehouse on Lombard Street during the reign of Queen Anne (1704-1714).
According to Hooke, he, Pitt, Moll, and other friends frequented the now famous Jonathan’s, the coffeehouse at Number 20 Change (Exchange) Alley in Cornhill opened by Jonathan Mills in 1680. In the same establishment in 1694, subscriptions for the Land Bank of Jonathan Briscoe were taken prior to the formation of the National Bank later that year. And by 1697-1698 Jonathan’s was a seat of stocks and shares dealers, "the foundation of the Stock Exchange," which only moved into a separate building in 1773, at about the same time Lloyds did. In The South Sea Bubble, Viscount Erliegh pointed out that Jonathan’s had "a reputation as a place of very considerable concourse of Merchants, seafaring men, and other traders." It also had a reputation, during Moll’s time, of being a Tory coffeehouse, as the St. James Coffee-House would later become a Whig rendezvous.
Captains William Dampier and Woodes Rogers undoubtedly enjoyed the company of Moll and others at Jonathan’s. Dampier made six great voyages in all, three of them circumnavigations of the globe, the last as "Pilot of the South Sea" on Rogers’ highly rewarding buccaneering expedition of 1708-1711. Dampier and his crew sacked and ransomed the Spanish port of Guayaquil on the coast of Ecuador, captured several Spanish ships, including a fabled Manila galleon, and rescued Alexander Selkirk from Mas a Tierra in the Juan Fernandez Islands off the coast of Chile. Selkirk, who later became the principal model for Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and who served as a prize ship captain after his rescue, had been marooned for alleged insubordination in 1704 by another captain on Dampier’s piratical circumnavigation of 1703-1707. Rogers eventually used most of the profits from this and another raiding voyage (to the waters around Madagascar and Mozambique in 1713-1714) to secure the governorship of the Bahamas in 1717.
Dampier, Rogers, and others, such as William Funnel, Dampier’s "mate" on the 1703-1707 voyage, commonly came to Moll to do the maps, charts, and other illustrations for the published accounts of their adventures. These narratives — "folk tales of white nationalism and empire," as Martin Green has called them — tapped into what was becoming the "Silver Age" of travel and travel literature, and having Moll maps in them usually helped to ensure their financial success. The cartography gave solidity to the often exotic geography described and satisfied the public demand for maps in books of voyages.
Of the many maps Moll created for his mariner associates, one of the real gems is A Map of the World Shewing the Course of Mr. Dampiers Voyage Round It: From 1679 to 1691, which was included in Dampier’s A New Voyage Round the World, published by James Knapton in London in 1698. The elegant, simply engraved, and detailed double-hemisphere depiction indicates the complexities of Dampier’s first circumnavigation and is a fitting introduction to Dampier’s influential masterpiece. Versions of this map, with proper alterations, also appeared in Funnel’s A Voyage Round the World... (1707) and Rogers’ A Cruising Voyage Round the World (1712), showing their respective sailings.
Moll in turn was not only paid well for his work but also received firsthand information of distant places, such as Australia, Southeast Asia, and South America, for his geographies, atlases, and maps, especially The World Described.... This folio atlas, Moll’s crowning achievement and a pinnacle of eighteenth-century European cartography, was published in nine British and two pirated Irish editions in 1715-1754 and usually comprised thirty large two-sheet maps of all parts of the world. It not only exhibited Moll’s engraving skill in its most distinctive form, it also contained some of the best examples of his characteristic and famous map notations.
Moll, Dampier, and Rogers also closely interacted with Britain’s two greatest writers of the early eighteenth century, Daniel Defoe and Jonathan Swift. Moll maps of Crusoe’s island and Swift’s mythical lands appeared in the early editions of Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Gulliver’s Travels (1726), respectively. Gulliver, who was modeled after Dampier, Rogers, and Crusoe, also credits Moll as his mapmaker and identifies him as one of only three actual people mentioned in the story to whom he will report his findings. Notoriously anti-empire, Swift often satirized the imperialists and their grandiose global visions, especially in light of the progressive work he deemed necessary to be done closer to home, in his beloved Ireland, for example.
Defoe based his title character in Captain Singleton (1720) on Dampier and Rogers as well. Not untypically, he originally even may have gotten the idea for the name of the Moll Flanders character from the title of a popular early-eighteenth-century book, The History of Flanders with Moll’s Map. Moll maps illustrated Defoe’s A Tour Thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain (1724-1727), and Defoe patterned his Atlas Maritimus & Commercialis (1728) on Moll’s Atlas Geographus..., the singular monthly that ran from 1708 to 1717, when it was wholly republished in five volumes. At the end of the run the subscriber had a current global geography with maps and other illustrations that was more explicit than Moll’s earlier System of Geography...(1701).
Moll, Defoe, Dampier, and Rogers and several others in their circle shared and promoted a vision of South Sea development, a scheme in which the eastern Pacific and the interior of South America would be opened to British trade. Inspired by data supplied by Dampier and Rogers and by Moll’s maps of the region, the original concept allegedly came from Defoe, who since 1703 had been in the employ of Robert Harley, the powerful speaker of the House of Commons. But the South Sea Company, chartered by Parliament in 1711, actually was conceived by a Scot, John Paterson, who also conceived the Bank of England.
Nevertheless, Defoe certainly derived some of the plausibility for the venture from Moll’s maps. Chili... (1709), for example, showed numerous nonexistent passes in the Andes that hinted strongly at the possibility of Britain economically penetrating the Argentine from the Pacific coast of South America. Through his cartography, which generally supported and expanded upon the impressions left by Dampier and Rogers, Moll informed and propagandized the public about the South Sea project and thereby contributed to the growing speculative frenzy. In 1711 he published A View of the Coast, Countries and Islands within the Limits of the South Sea Company, a geography that included a small but influential map of the proposed economic area. He followed with a major map, A New & Exact Map of the Coasts, Countries, and Islands within ye Limits of ye South Sea Company... (1715), in The World Described....
For the ten-year existence of the South Sea Company, however, the only "trade" carried on was in its stock. The price per share inflated from £100 in 1711 to £1,000 in September 1720, but the "Great South Sea Bubble" burst later that month when the price plunged to £180. Defoe and some of his friends may have gotten out in time, but substantial and real paper fortunes fell with the price of the highly overvalued and manipulated stock. Sir Isaac Newton, for example, reportedly lost £20,000.
The World Described... also included several other significant cartographic examples heralding the dawn of the British Empire. A Map of the West Indies... and several others in the set presented to the still largely illiterate public a British picture of a major colonial theater of current European conflicts, such as the War of the Spanish Succession (Queen Anne’s War) of 1702-1714, which pitted Britain, the Holy Roman Empire, and Holland against France and Spain over the Bourbon ascendancy to the Spanish throne. The map shows the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea and their envrions. Of exceptional design and resplendent with Moll’s fine engraving and lettering, it also contains many messages to the user. Thus, Moll indicated with dash lines across these bodies of waters five tracks of the fabled treasure fleets, moving from Panama, Mexico, Cuba, and Florida to Spain. Mexico City and the harbors of "Porta Bella," Havana, Vera Cruz, and St. Augustine, whence the riches departed, are inset on the map. These additions helped to make Moll’s map a "buccaneer map" not only for such British privateers as Dampier and Rogers, but also, and perhaps more important, for its perusers in the British Isles and elsewhere in Europe.
Moll and his associates encouraged the commercial possibilities of development in the South Sea, but their greater interest consistently centered on the emerging heart of the new British Empire: North America and the Caribbean Sea. Although the West Indies map may well be Moll’s masterwork, his most famous individual map is A New and Exact Map of the Dominions of the King of Great Britain on ye Continent of North America... (1715). Showing the area for which he had the best resources, it is probably his most accurate map, but exactitude was not then and is not today the principal reason for its renown. Moll strategically placed an appealing inset scene of industrious beavers laboring harmoniously on a dam with Niagara Falls in the background — hence, its popular title, the "Beaver Map." Clearly, this British imperialist intended his map not only to show North America and the outcome of a recent war with France but also to inform and lure prospective colonists. Through graphic representation and commentary, Moll presented all aspects of the British colonies in the best, albeit not the most accurate, light. Like Defoe’s Virginia in Moll Flanders, he sought to cast the colonies in the image of the mother country. In this almost idyllic New World setting, the land, along with honest hard work, would provide the opportunity for a cleansing transformation from colonist into the British archetype of the yeoman farmer and more.
A New and Exact Map of the Coasts,
Countries, and Islands within ye Limits
of ye South Sea Company, 1726.
Collection of Dennis and Judy Reinhartz.
Click image for larger view.
The physician, Anglican churchman, and controversial antiquarian-archeologist William Stukeley became an important friend during the last two decades of Moll’s life, after Hooke and Dampier had passed away. A founder of the Society of Antiquaries and, like Hooke, a Fellow of the Royal Society, Stukeley did the invaluable original field work on the early Neolithic henge sites of Avebury, Stonehenge, and Stanton Drew. But he wrongly attributed these more ancient sites to the later Celtic priesthood of the Druids and in so doing significantly stimulated the Druid revival that would come into full flower during the subsequent era of Romanticism.
In several instances in his Family Memoirs, Stukeley indicates his association with Moll, and the only known picture of Moll is a simple sketch by Stukeley, dated "17 Ap. 1723." They shared interests in geography and cartography, and, typical of the Enlightenment, they also shared with Swift and others a regard for the classical period. Moll published his Thirty Two New and Accurate Maps of the Ancients... in 1721, grandiosely dedicated to Stukeley, to provide a geographical setting for ancient Greek and Roman history and literature. Moll also gave graphic expression to Stukeley’s ancient geography with maps for his Interarium Curiosum... (1724) and by engraving still others by Stukeley himself, such as his Asiae antiquissimae... (circa 1730). In September 1732 Stukeley sadly made a special note in Memoirs of the death of his "old acquaintance" Herman Moll.
During his years in London Moll lived under the restored Stuarts, the House of Orange, and, finally, the House of Hanover, as he had in Bremen. In the process he had shed his German Calvanism for the Church of England, matured from a fine engraver into one of Britain’s premier geographers and cartographers, and come to embrace and fully reflect his country, its ways, and its nascent global empire. Certainly, by the time he died at the center of the brilliant, vital, and prosperous commercial, intellectual, and cultural life of his adopted land, he had become a proper Englishman, and along the way he had encouraged Britain to forge a proper empire. The couplets from The True-Born Englishman, written by his friend Defoe in defense of William the Orange in 1701, also sum up Herman Moll’s delightful vocation:
A True-born Englishman’s a contradiction,
In Speech an Irony, in Fact a Fiction.
Thus from a mixture of all Kinds began,
That Het’rogenous Thing, An Englishman.
Dennis Reinhartz is a professor of history and Russian who teaches courses on the history of discovery, exploration, and cartography at the University of Texas at Arlington. He is the author of The Cartographer and the Literari: Herman Moll and His Intellectual Circle (Lewiston/Queenston/Lampeter: Edwin Mellen Press, 1997).
Bonner, Willard Hallam. Captain William Dampier: Buccaneer-Author. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1934.
Lillywhite, Bryant. London Coffeehouses: A Reference Book of Coffeehouses of the Seventeenth, Eighteenth, and Nineteenth Centuries. London: George Allen and Unwin, Ltd., 1963.
Little, Bryan. Crusoe’s Captain: Being the Life of Woodes Rogers, Seaman, Trader Colonial Governor. London: Oldhams Press Ltd., 1960.
Tyack, Sarah. London Map-Sellers 1660-1720. Tring, Hertfordshire: Map Collector Publications, 1978.
Viscount Erliegh. The South Sea Bubble. Manchester: Peter Davies Ltd., 1933.