I am speaking of my ancestors; of my father's forefathers. Becasue my name of Crick, which in Charles the First's day was spelt sometimes "Coricke" or "Cricke," can be found (a day's delving into the local archives) among the lists of those summarily dealt with for sabatoging drainage works. My ancestors were water people.
The tension between natural and artifical history is a major theme in Swift's Waterland. Among other aspects of artifical history exposed in the novel is the idea that the technology of land reclamation had been resisted by Tom Crick's ancestors. This resistance has historical bases, as the draining of the Fens was both protested and hindered by those local residents opposed to the work.
Historical evidence suggests that some of these protests were based on the belief that the drainage projects disfigured the existing landscape and were works against both nature and Christianity. In the 1630s, subscription to this belief prompted William Camden to write, "As touching the drying up of this Fenny country...it is to be feared least it would come againe [sic] to the former state so that many think it the wisest and best course...Not to intermeddle at all with that which God hath ordained." [H.C. Darby, The Draining of the Fens. Cambridge: University Press, 1956].
Swift notes early in the novel that despite having later thrown in "their lot with the drainers and the land reclaimers," his ancestors had been water people, making their living from the Fens as they existed, in spite of (or perhaps partially because of) floods and other problems. The draining of the Fens threatened navigation in the area, a concern both to local residents and to representatives of Cambridge University, who feared limited upriver access for their campus. One Cambridge historian wrote in 1655 that, "the fens preserved in their present property, afford great plenty and variety of fish and fowl, which here have their seminaries and nurseries; which will all be destroyed on draining thereof." Despite the protests of the locals and the somewhat more eloquently stated concerns of the University ("if our river had been taken away...who would visit Alma Mater when robbed of its supplies?"), the project moved forward, the Dutch engineer Cornelius Vermuyden eventually engaged to carry out the plans, which promised variously not to damage navigational potential or other rights.
The feeling that the natural order of things, not to mention their livilihood, was being threatened grew in the local villagers, and the early years of the reclamation projects saw much of the sabatoge alluded to by Swift. Leaflets were distrubuted, protests were made through various channels to Parliament, early protest songs were even composed. In the end, however, these protests were answered with rhetoric which invoked a spirit of progress and advancement, aptly illustrating the tension between natural history and artifical history, as seen in the dispute between the Fenmen and the drainers. The following provides an example, "...a large first course compensated for a shorter second course at any mans table; that a tame sheep was better than a wild duck; and a good fat ox better than a well-grown eel ; that sedge would be replaced by good grass and grain; and that there was no cause for complaint by a man who had a suit of buckram taken from him and one of velvet given instead" (my italics).