Regardless of when it began, picnicking has become ingrained in our culture, mostly because it’s so easy yet so rewarding: put together a light meal, grab a book and a blanket, and go to town (or rather, to country).
In the hundred years after 1750, the population of England nearly tripled, and by 1850, half its population lived in cities.
What had previously seemed like a unified world started to divide between city and country.
At the end of the 18th century, he and his school friends took to dining outdoors, as he writes in the autobiographical poem during a picnic, another early incidence of what would become a longstanding trend in art: the country outing as a figurative journey to revelation.
Treated sentimentally as well as allegorically, the picnic was a frequent subject in painting, too, especially during the 19th century.
Urbanization increased, and with it the desire to escape the city.
Enterprising individuals bought especially scenic parcels of land—water frontage practically mandatory—and set up for-profit picnic groves.
Picnic wagons, and later trolleys, made runs from the center of town.
One of these was in Dunning, Illinois, which was still rolling prairie outside Chicago in 1870.
In so doing, oppressive social expectations gave way to nature’s inhibition—and humans’ half-wild nature.
On the basis of its subsequent depiction in art and movies, one can be forgiven for assuming the picnic’s primary aim is the shedding of garments rather than the ingestion of deviled eggs.