Monday, 21 November 2016

The Evangelical revival: John Wesley, John Newton, and Olaudah Equiano

John Wesley

Religious revival

Although the eighteenth century is seen as the Age of Reason, it also witnessed a profound religious revival that encompassed parts of central Europe, the British Isles and North America. New religious groups, most notably the Moravians sprang up to meet needs that the more established churches seemed inadequate to deal with.   

The Methodists 

The first prominent Methodist was not John Wesley but George Whitefield, (1714-70), who was converted three years before Wesley and who at the time of Wesley's conversion was already using open-air preaching to dramatic effect. John Wesley (1703-91) entered Christ Church, Oxford in 1720. He and graduated in 1724. In 1728 he was ordained priest. In 1729 he returned to Oxford to fulfil the residential requirements of his fellowship. There he joined his brother Charles and others in a religious study group, the ‘Holy Club’, one of a number of societies of devout young men. These societies were concerned with the ‘reformation of manners’ – attacking swearing, blasphemy and Sabbath-breaking. The ordered lifestyle of the Oxford club earned them the nickname ‘Methodists’. 

 Following his father’s death in 1735 Wesley sailed to the new American colony of Georgia to oversee the spiritual lives of the colonists and to do missionary work among the Indians as an agent for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. On the voyage out there, the ship ran into a storm, and he and Charles were impressed and put to shame by the piety and courage of their Moravians fellow-voyagers, who, alone among the passengers showed no fear. 

Wesley's time in Georgia was an unhappy one, and in December 1737 he virtually fled the colony, an unhappy and disappointed man.

Back in London he met a Moravian, Peter Böhler, who convinced him that what he needed was simply faith. On 24 May 1738, he attended a Moravian mission in Aldersgate - an experience that was a turning point for him. Following his conversion he embarked on a lifetime’s mission throughout the British Isles in which he travelled over 200,000 miles and preached over 40,000 sermons. He quickly found that the ancient parochial structure of England was inadequate to his purpose and was not adapted to new population movements. 

Saturday, 19 November 2016

The Georgian washing day

In view of the difficulty in laundering clothes, it's amazing that eighteenth-century people were as clean as they were. See here for an account of how difficult and time-consuming washing was.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Georgian travellers: 2. Outside Europe

For this post I am indebted to Richard Holmes, The Age of Wonder. How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science (Harper, 2009), Patrick O'Brian, Joseph Banks: A Life (Collins, 1988); the entries on James Cook, Joseph Banks, and Mungo Park in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Block 3, 'Religion, Exploration and Slavery', from the Open University Unit, A207, Enlightenment to Romanticism, and Mungo Park, Travels in the Interior of Africa (Wordsworth Classics, 2002)

From the sixteenth century Europeans had been exploring lands beyond Europe. This exploration began as a competitive search for markets and trade routes, but it was also inspired by the wish to survey the new territories more accurately and by simple intellectual curiosity. 

James Cook: navigator

'Captain James Cook', by Nathaniel Dance
National Maritime Museum
Public Domain

The career of James Cook (1728-79) shows how a young man of humble origins (he was the son of a Yorkshire farm foreman) could rise to a position of distinction through a career in the navy. (You can read an outline of his career on the National Maritime Museum site.) He learned seamanship and navigation in the North Sea coal trade. In 1755 he enlisted in the Royal Navy as an able seaman. He passed the examination for master and during the Seven Years War he was in North America, involved in hydrographic surveying. During the winter of 1758-9 he complied a chart of the Gulf of St Lawrence and the St Lawrence River, and it was the work of Cook and his fellow-surveyors that enabled the British fleet to pass safely through the river and attack Quebec

With the British recapture of Newfoundland in 1762 Cook carried out a number of surveys of the island. His captain was so impressed by the accuracy of his work that he informed the Admiralty 
‘that from my Experience of Mr Cook’s Genius and Capacity, I think him well qualified for the Work he has performed, and for greater Undertakings of the same kind’. Quoted Andrew C. F. David, ‘Cook, James (1728–1779)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 
With the ending of the war in 1763, Cook was back in Newfoundland, and the next four years were spent in surveying. 

Cook's map of Newfoundland
Courtesy of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies,
Memorial University of Newfoundland,
St. John's, Newfoundland.
Public Domain

One of the difficulties Cook initially faced in his surveying was his inability to observe for longitude, though the problem was partially solved by computations deducted from the observation of an eclipse of the sun on 5 August 1766.

The transit of Venus and the voyage of the Endeavour, 1768-71

Cook returned to England in 1767. On 25 May 1768 he was appointed commander of the Endeavour and appointed to head an expedition to Tahiti (whose longitude had just been observed astronomically) to observe the transit of Venus across the face of the sun. This would enable the distance between the earth and the sun to be calculated and help the calculations of longitude. The expedition was organised by the Admiralty, but also partly financed by the Royal Society, which supplied £4,000 towards astronomical observations. Accompanying Cook was the astronomer Charles Green, appointed by the Royal Society, and the amateur botanist, Joseph Banks (1743-1820).

Unlike Cook, Banks was born into the elite, the son of a landed gentleman, and educated at Harrow, Eton, and Oxford. In 1766 he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society and of the Society of Antiquaries. He corresponded with the Swedish naturalist, Carl LinnaeusHe was therefore already a serious naturalist rather than a gentleman dilettante. The Endeavour voyage was to turn him into an internationally respected figure.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Georgian blog posts (update)

There is such a lot to say about the Georgian period that no course can cover every aspect. From time to time I will be posting some interesting blog posts that are relevant to the period. Here are two:

The first is a summary of the plot of Fanny Burney's best-selling Evelina. The second is a very yukky account of what Georgian ladies put on their hair. They are both very enjoyable reads.

The latest is a fascinating account of the press reaction to the murder of the Earl of Sandwich's mistress, Martha Ray, by the Reverend James Hackman, which is briefly discussed in my earlier post. You may think that newspapers haven't changed that much.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Georgian travellers: 1. Within Britain

This post is particularly indebted to the Open University unit 'Industry and Changing Landscapes' in its course A207, Enlightenment to Romanticism (2004). The Welsh Historical Monuments guide to Tintern Abbey has also been extremely useful.

From Thomas West's Guide to the Lakes (1778)

Two travellers

‘Dr Johnson had for many years given me hopes that we should go together and visit the Hebrides. Martin’s Account of those islands had impressed us with a notion that we might there contemplate a system of life almost totally different from what we had been accustomed to see; and to find simplicity and wildness, and all the circumstances of remote time or place, so near to our native great island, was an object within the reach of reasonable curiosity.’ James Boswell, The Journey of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson LLD (1784)

‘… They were obliged to give up the Lakes, and substitute a more contracted tour; and, according to the present plan, were to go no further northward than Derbyshire. In that county there was enough to be seen to occupy the chief of their three weeks [and view] all the celebrated beauties of Matlock, Chatsworth, Dovedale, or the Peak’. Pride and Prejudice (1813; written 1812)

Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, and the fictional Elizabeth Bennet were part of a wider Georgian trend for travel within the British Isles.  This was made possible by the spread of disposable income, the improved condition of the roads, and the construction of more comfortable carriages. But above all, travel was growing because of a change in aesthetic preferences and a new appreciation of the British countryside.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Being ill Georgian style

There are some excellent blogs on the Georgians. One of my favourites, 'Pen and Pension', has an account here of a correspondence between two sisters. Many of their letters hinged on health problems and confirm my own feeling, that many eighteenth-century people were ill for much of the time.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Monday, 31 October 2016

Heroes and villains: the Georgians at war

War and Empire

Benjamin West, 'The Death of General Wolfe'
National Gallery of Canada
Public Domain

The great heroes of 18th century Britain were not monarchs but successful generals and admirals (particularly the latter). The great villains were admirals who had failed. 

For sixty-three of the 144 years between 1688 and 1832 (44 per cent), Britain was at war with France (and sometimes Spain), though intense francophobia coincided with admiration for French culture and the French language. (See here for an example of francophobia in action - a riot in the Haymarket Theatre in 1749 when a French company dared to put on a play there.) The wars were over trade and territory and were fought in Europe, the Indian sub-continent, the Caribbean, and North America. But they were not purely about trade and the economy. They were seen as part of a 'patriotic', Protestant project to establish Britain as the world's greatest nation. In that respect they succeeded. By the time they were ended in 1815, though Britain had lost the American colonies, it had emerged as a world superpower, the ruler of the greatest empire the world had ever seen.

The wars were:
The War of Jenkins’ Ear (1739-48)
The War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48)
The Seven Years’ War (1757-63)
The War of American Independence (1775-1783)
The Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815)

Admiral Vernon

In October 1739 a reluctant Walpole was pushed into a war with Spain which he did not want: the War of Jenkins’ Ear. He told the Duke of Newcastle: 'It is your war and I wish you well of it.'

The war achieved an early success when Admiral Edward Vernon
captured Porto Bello in Spanish-held Panama in November. The news reached England in  March 1740. Vernon was a stern critic of Walpole and he had earlier been opposition MP for Penryn. His victories were the only ones in the war. 

Samuel Scott, 'The Capture of Porto Bello'
Public Domain

On hearing the news, celebrations of his birthday occurred all over the country, most financed by the subscriptions of local merchants and tradesmen. In London a pageant was held in his honour. Prints, poems and ballads appeared at booksellers and print shops. Medals were struck and commemorative pottery manufactured. Thomas Arne composed ‘Rule Britannia’ in celebration. The country road west of London, formerly known as Green's Lane, was renamed Portobello Road.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Georgian crime

"Tyburn tree" by Unknown
Retrieved from National Archives website.
Licensed under Public domain
via Wikimedia Commons

This is a very well-researched subject among historians of the eighteenth century. Our knowledge is in the process of being transformed by the wonderful Old Bailey website. Do visit! For an account of how a trawl though local newspapers can highlight our knowledge of an individual crime see here.


To social commentators like the novelist Henry Fielding the key cause of crime was not poverty but ‘luxury’ - a word which symbolised the dangerous aspirations of those who sought material possessions and ‘diversions’ above their station. For example, the gin epidemic, made famous by Hogarth's print, 'Gin Lane' (1751) was seen as a cause not a consequence of poverty. The growth of crime was the obverse of the consumer revolution, fuelled by increasing expectations and the increase in the volume and range of goods in circulation.

"GinLane" by William Hogarth -
Transferred from en.wikipedia;
Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons 

One strategy against crime, especially highway robbery, was the bill of exchange. But watches, silk handkerchiefs or even wigs could be stolen from individuals with relative ease from the swelling number of shops. The word shoplifting was first recorded in 1680.

The Dream of Enlightenment

David Hume, painted by Allan Ramsay
Scottish National Portrait Gallery

There's an interesting review in The Guardian of Anthony Gottlieb's The Dream of Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Philosophy, that has quite a lot of bearing on the Georgian Enlightenment. His hero is clearly the genial David Hume who
'never took himself too seriously: he performed high-risk philosophical manoeuvres with unflagging good humour, and was always willing to concede that his hard-won theoretical convictions might turn out to be ridiculous foibles'.
No wonder he and Rousseau couldn't get on!

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Fanny Burney's mastectomy

If only Hymphry Davy had thought to apply his discoveries from his experiments with nitrous oxide to the relief of the agonies undergone during surgery. Here is one especially harrowing case-study.

In 1811the novelist Fanny D'Arblay (née Burney) was living in France with her French husband. She was now fifty-nine and she had not seen England for nine years. The D'Arblays had journeyed to France during a brief interlude in the Napoleonic Wars, but when the peace broke down they found themselves stranded there. Fanny was cut off from her family, and she was not sure that the letter she wrote to her sister describing her operation would ever reach her. But all the same she had to write it; the experience was so traumatic that she was unable to keep it to herself.

You can read it here.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

The Georgians and the Enlightenment

The Enlightenment

Immanuel Kant
the German philosopher
who defined the Enlightenment

The eighteenth century is the age of the Enlightenment – the application of reason to all aspects of life. In France it is associated with Voltaire and the other philosophesIn 1784 the German philosopher, Immanuel Kant (go here if you want a detailed philosophy tutorial!) published 'Was ist Äufklarung?' (‘What is Enlightenment’?)
Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one's own understanding without another's guidance. … Dare to know! (Sapere aude.) ‘Have the courage to use your own understanding’,  is therefore the motto of the enlightenment.

The origins of the British Enlightenment

The origins go back to the late seventeenth century. Two thinkers above all influenced Georgian Enlightenment thought. Isaac Newton described a universe based on rational principles.  John Locke constructed a theory of knowledge based on the accumulation of ‘impressions’. The human infant was born a ‘tabula rasa’(blank slate) and character was acquired rather than innate.

The Enlightenment in action: smallpox

Georgian doctors were largely ignorant of the causes of diseases and unable to treat illness. However, there was one significant medical advance – the use first of inoculation and later of vaccination.

Inoculation was brought to England by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, the wife of the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire 1717-18. In Turkey she had her son inoculated and when she returned to England her daughter received the same treatment. Both survived.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
by Jonathan Richardson the Younger
Public Domain

However, it took time for inoculation to be accepted. It came from the Muslim world, it was advocated by a woman, and, above all, it was counter-intuitive and risky (though of course less risky than the disease itself). It was first tried -successfully - on seven condemned criminals. It became more acceptable with Caroline, Princess of Wales, a highly intelligent and enlightened woman, had her daughters inoculated in 1722. 

The Wellcome Library has a couple of fascinating letters, written by George I to his daughter, the Queen of Prussia, urging her to inoculate her children. See here for more.

By the end of the Georgian period, inoculation was being replaced by the safer and more reliable vaccination, pioneered by the physician, Edward Jenner. From his observations of milkmaids, who were generally immune to smallpox, Jenner concluded that the mild ‘cowpox’ they contracted gave them immunity. On 14 May 1796 he vaccinated an eight-year-old boy, James Phipps, with 'cowpox' from blisters from the hands of a milkmaid who had caught the disease. 

Thanks to the twin treatments of inoculation and vaccination, smallpox was far less of a killer at the end of the Georgian period than it had been at the beginning. Instead, medical science was puzzling over how to treat the newer threats of tuberculosis and cholera.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Saturday, 24 September 2016

New book on the Georgians

Peter Ackroyd's book on the eighteenth century, Volume IV in his History of England is now out. I haven't yet had the chance to look at it, but you might find it a good read - and ask for it as a Christmas present?

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Politeness, sociability, and the literary world

Two of the dominant values of the Georgian era were 'politeness' and 'sociability'. Together they give an insight into the values of the period, its leisure pursuits, and its intellectual interests.  


The term, derived from the Greek polis (city state), carried implications of good breeding and sociability. ‘Politeness’ united (most of) the aristocracy, gentry, and middling sort in a common culture of ‘gentility’. They frequented the spa towns of Bath, Tunbridge (not yet Tunbridge Wells) and Buxton. Those who could afford to do so spent the winter in London where they attended plays and concerts, and retreated to the countryside in the summer where they paid ceaseless calls on their neighbours and attended the provincial theatre and assemblies. Like Jane Austen's Fanny Prince in Mansfield Park, they subscribed to circulating libraries. See here for another account of circulating libraries.

Newspapers and periodicals

In 1695 Parliament had made the momentous decision not to renew the Licensing Act that had required all published works to gain government approval before publication. This was followed by what the historian Julian Hoppit (A Land of Liberty? England 1689-1727, Oxford, 2000) has called ’an explosion of printed matter issuing from the press, be it books, pamphlets, sermons, journals, or newspapers’. One foreigner noted that 
‘England is a country abounding in printed Papers’. 
These catered for a reading public eager for news and the expression of opinion.

The Daily Courant (1702) was the first daily newspaper. 

Members of polite society also read periodicals, The Tatler, The Spectator, and (from 1731) The Gentleman's Magazine.

Title page of The Gentleman's Magazine
from 1759.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

The first two Georges

The Hanoverian dynasty celebrated in
the Painted Hall in Greenwich
Sir James Thornhill

At 6 pm on 18 September 1714 Georg Ludwig, Elector of Hanover, landed at Greenwich, to be greeted by cheering crowds. In August, following the death of Queen Anne, he had been proclaimed King of Great Britain. He spent his first night in England at the Queen's House. The following day he held his first royal reception there. 

George owed his crown to the Act of Settlement of 1701, which settled the English succession in favour of George’s mother, the Electress Sophia of Hanover and her heirs, ‘being Protestant’.

It remains the law to this day and is the present Queen’s legal title to the throne. By the laws of hereditary succession, James Francis Edward (the Old Pretender), the son of the deposed James II, was the rightful king, but his Catholicism barred him from the throne.