I WAS last night visited by a friend of mine, who has an inexhaustible fund of discourse, and never fails to entertain his company with a variety of thoughts and hints that are altogether new and uncommon. Whether it were in complaisance to my way of living, or his real opinion, he advanced the following paradox, "That it required much greater talents to fill up and become a retired life, than a life of business." Upon this occasion he rallied very agreeably the busy men of the age, who only valued themselves for being in motion, and passing through a series of trifling and insignificant actions. In the heat of his discourse, seeing a piece of money lying on my table, "I defy (says he) any of these active persons to produce half the adventures that this twelvepenny piece has been engaged in, were it possible for him to give us an account of his life."
My friend's talk made so odd an impression upon my mind, that soon after I was a-bed I fell insensibly into a most unaccountable reverie, that had neither moral nor design in it, and cannot be so properly called a dream as a delirium.
Methoughts the shilling that lay upon the table reared itself upon its edge, and turning the face towards me, opened its mouth, and in a soft silver sound, gave me the following account of his life and adventures...
- Joseph Addison, The Tatler, No. 249 (Nov. 11, 1710)
Almost every essay in the Tatler or the Spectator is overflowing with critical, theoretical, and historical significance. These periodicals did not merely reflect the mores of the Augustan Age; they shaped eighteenth-century culture itself. Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography, for instance, describes the elaborate process he went through to arrive at an approximation of Spectatorial style. The metaphors and frameworks employed by Addison and Steele, then, are a uniquely powerful starting point for cultural history.
Addison's shilling tells a story. It is a peculiarly Whiggish story, to be sure (though I doubt that an acre of land would tell one better). But it also illustrates the intersection between capital, politics, and culture. The path of this particular atom of capital is wholly dependent on political events, and its own experience of them is mediated through its commercial function. The shilling is likewise the subject and object of cultural development, largely autonomous from politics. In that sense, the shilling's space-time biography undermines simplistic ideas of base and superstructure.
But the shilling is also embodied. It rejoices in not being stamped with the escutcheons of the Commonwealth, and it explicitly suffers from silver-trimming and hole-punching. Its body bears the traces of the political--politics restamps its face from Elizabeth to James (evidently) to Charles II (evidently)--and this restamping is explicitly gendered, since the shilling refers to it as a "change of sex."
Though embodied, the shilling's subjectivity is a curious one: it cannot stand still. It languishes in the miser's chest and at the gambler's table. That is, it isn't unhappy with being disused, but rather out of circulation. And that suggests that its encounters with politics and culture (and, through the medium of the Spectator, with publicity) are merely encounters with other forms of circulation, with political events and cultural appropriations.
All of which adds up to a very Deleuzian Addison; for "flow" is merely another way to speak of "circulation." The way the Whigs see trade--as a life-giving recirculating stream interrupted at times by artificial blockages like miserliness and political upheaval--itself suggests a turn to Deleuze and his abstract machines. It is really only with Smith and the political economists that commerce begins to be conceived in terms of rigidly defined categories of production, distribution, consumption, and their attendant fixing of subjectivity. The watermill (flow-mill) gives you Addisonian Whiggism; the steam-mill gives you the flow-blocking machinery of developed capitalism.