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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 conflict. by way of 1846 it used to be extra an exceptional imperial state, in addition to the world's most powerful energy and dominant economic system, having benefited from what has occasionally (if misleadingly) been known 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 was once turning out to be at a fee now not skilled by means of any related former society, and its production cities in particular have been mushrooming into filthy, disease-ridden, gin-sodden hell-holes, in flip scary the phantasmagoria of a mad, undesirable, and hazardous 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 periods replied to those new demanding situations and by way of the mid-nineteenth century the seeds of a settled two-party procedure and of a extra socially interventionist nation have been either in facts, notwithstanding it is going to were some distance too quickly to claim at that level no matter if these seeds may take everlasting root. one other end result of those tensions was once the highbrow engagement with society, as for instance within the Romantic move, a literary phenomenon that introduced English tradition to the leading edge of ecu recognition for the 1st time. even as the rustic skilled the good spiritual 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 referred to as 'Victorianism'.

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Protestant privileges went the following year, and three years after that the Great Reform Act destroyed the influence of the monarch and the House of Lords. ⁵² Paul Langford, A Polite and Commercial People: England 1727–1783 (Oxford, 1989), 725. ⁵³ K. Theodore Hoppen, The Mid-Victorian Generation, 1846–1886 (Oxford, 1998). a n o l d o r new re g i m e ? 25 These events amounted to ‘the shattering of a whole social order, and its appropriate values and modes of behaviour. What was lost at that point .

Prince, ‘The Changing Rural Landscape, 1750–1850’, 128–9; B. A. , 1993), 249. ’, History Workshop, 18 (1984), 53–76. t he e c o no m y: c r i s i s an d s u rvi val 9 Enclosure Acts were passed between 1750 and 1850, encouraged in part by a streamlining of parliamentary procedures, and of these about half occurred during the French revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. Historians dispute whether enclosed land enjoyed significantly higher yields than the remaining open fields,¹⁵ but most agree about the malign social consequences.

Before long books became cheaper still, thanks to the rapid spread of steam printing in the 1830s and to distribution by railway. ⁴⁵ All these improving volumes were aimed at the working classes, and were motivated by political and didactic considerations as well as commercial ones, but they were mainly bought by the middle classes, who were as ever alive to a bargain. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the ideas and information contained in them reached a wide audience, being disseminated by local journalists, itinerant lecturers, and those who addressed the mechanics institutes that were established in almost every industrial centre.

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