By Boyd Hilton

This used to be a transformative interval in English historical past. In 1783 the rustic used to be at one of many lowest issues in its fortunes, having simply misplaced its American colonies in struggle. by way of 1846 it used to be extra an outstanding imperial country, in addition to the world's most powerful strength and dominant economic climate, having benefited from what has occasionally (if misleadingly) been referred to as the 'first commercial revolution'. meanwhile it survived a decade of invasion fears, and emerged positive from greater than two decades of 'war to the loss of life' opposed to Napoleonic France. but when Britain's exterior fortunes have been within the ascendant, the placement at domestic remained fraught with peril. The country's inhabitants used to be starting to be at a cost no longer skilled by way of any related former society, and its production cities in particular have been mushrooming into filthy, disease-ridden, gin-sodden hell-holes, in flip upsetting the phantasmagoria of a mad, undesirable, and unsafe humans. it truly is no ask yourself that those years must have skilled the main lengthy interval of social unrest because the 17th century, or that the elite must have been in consistent worry of a French-style revolution in England. The governing sessions answered to those new demanding situations and via the mid-nineteenth century the seeds of a settled two-party process and of a extra socially interventionist country have been either in proof, although it should were a ways too quickly to claim at that degree no matter if these seeds could take everlasting root. one other final result of those tensions used to be the highbrow engagement with society, as for instance within the Romantic stream, a literary phenomenon that introduced English tradition to the leading edge of eu consciousness for the 1st time. while the rustic skilled the nice non secular revival, loosely defined lower than the heading 'evangelicalism'. Slowly yet absolutely, the raffish and rakish type of eighteenth-century society, having reached a height within the Regency, then succumbed to the recent norms of respectability popularly often called 'Victorianism'.

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Further in the background, but possibly just as important, was the vibrant entrepreneurial culture, due in part to the fact that many industrialists strove not for financial gratification but to establish their families socially, which often induced them to live frugally and to reinvest profits. This may have applied especially to Nonconformists, who were legally barred by the Test and Corporation Acts from accepting public office, but it also obtained more generally in England’s relatively fluid society, where status could be won through the patient accumulation of wealth.

1. Turnpike road network, 1770 Source: Eric Pawson, Transport and Economy: The Turnpike Roads of Eighteenth Century Britain (1977), 151. 2. 1830 Source: M. J. Daunton, Progress and Poverty: An Economic and Social History of Britain 1700–1850 (Oxford, 1995), 293. 3. 1852 Source: Harold Pollins, Britain’s Railways: An Industrial History (Newton Abott, 1971), 32, 42. Fig. 1. Railway timetable, 1844 Source: Bradshaw’s Railway Companion 1845. 20 e ng la nd 1783‒1846: a p r ev i ew the length of time for which printers and publishers could prevent unauthorized copies of their books.

Those who propagated ancien régime values were indeed on heat during this period, but mainly as a reaction against what they perceived to be a new and destructive and all-consuming ideology of progress and Enlightenment. One reason why traditional values revived, according to a powerful recent account, was technical rather than ideological: the ending of perpetual copyright in 1774. At a time when new books were becoming dearer, and also subject (from the 1790s onwards) to formal and informal censorship, there was money to be made by publishing cheap editions of old texts.

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