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

Beside the seaside

Sea-bathing was serious business in the eighteenth century. See here.