Revolution and Romanticism

    The 18th century was marked by competition and warfare between England and France, and England won.  As a result, Britain gained control of the parts of Canada and India where France had previously held power. It is almost not worth noting that in 1714 Queen Anne died, the last of the Stuart family. Laws had already been passed that ensured that the next ruler would be from Germany. The ruling family of Hanover was Protestant and related by marriage to the Stuarts. The new king, George I, could not speak English but it did not really matter; he had no power. Instead, he asked the Whigs to form a government (the Tories had some sympathy for the Stuarts in exile) and Robert Walpole became the first real "Prime Minister," a position he held for 20 years. When the war with France ended in 1763, Britain was already becoming an industrial power and the new colonies, including the West Indies, where plantations were worked by slaves shipped from West Africa, were a major market. The press grew, daily newspapers began to be published, and they encouraged political debate. Free speech was encouraged by the victory of John Wilkes against government attempts at censorship.

    The British colonies in North America expanded from 200,000 colonists in 1700 to 2.5 million in 1770. They were not represented in Parliament, yet they were expected to pay taxes. They protested: no taxation without representation! In 1773, people in Boston threw imported tea into the port rather than pay tax on it, and the “Boston Tea-party” marks one beginning of the War of Independence, which lasted from 1775 until the total defeat of the British was recognized in 1783. The war was fought in the name of democracy and freedom; it was supported in England by “radicals” who wanted the same ideals to be put into practice in Britain. The main radical writers were Edmund Burke and Tom Paine. Drafted by Thomas Jefferson in 1776, the Declaration of Independence expresses the ideals of the newly emerging United States, while the Constitution is the supreme law of the United States of America. It was adopted in its original form on September 17, 1787, by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and later ratified by conventions in each state.

Industrial revolution

    The great social changes in 18th-century Britain began with the enclosure (privatisation) of land and the resulting expulsion of the landless villagers who had traditionally farmed the “common land” that was now taken by the rich gentry. The upper class were rich because they were also the leaders of trade and manufacturing. There was a huge difference between rich and poor. The large numbers of landless poor moved toward the cities just as factories were being invented to replace the home-based "cottage indutries." At this time coal was replacing wood as fuel, iron and steel were becoming basic materials, and the steam engine was perfected, making a pumping motion turn fly-wheels to drive machines. The “Industrial Revolution” transformed English society, as great cities sprang up, full of wretched housing which quickly became “slums.” The proletariate (as they were later called) provided the workforce for a manufacturing industry that quickly found markets at home and abroad, as the earning class grew in size. The main products were cloth in wool and cotton, knives and swords made of steel.

    Several influences came together at the same time to revolutionise Britain's industry: money, labour, a greater demand for goods, new power, and better transport. By the end of the eighteenth century, some families had made huge private fortunes. Growing merchant banks helped put this money to use. By the early eighteenth century simple machines had already been invented for basic jobs. They could make large quantities of simple goods quickly and cheaply so that "mass production" became possible for the first time. Each machine carried out one simple process, which introduced the idea of "division of labour" among workers. This was to become an important part of the industrial revolution.
    Increased iron production made it possible to manufacture new machinery for other industries. No one saw this more clearly than John Wilkinson, a man with a total belief in iron. He built the largest ironworks in the country. He built the world's first iron bridge, over the River Severn, in 1779. He saw the first iron boats made. He built an iron chapel for the new Methodist religious sect, and was himself buried in an iron coffin. Wilkinson was also quick to see the value of new inventions. When James Watt made a greatly improved steam engine in 1769, Wilkinson improved it further by making parts of the engine more accurately with his special skills in ironworking. But in 1781 Watt produced an engine with a turning motion, made of iron and steel. It was a vital development because people were now no longer dependent on natural power.
    One invention led to another, and increased production in one area led to increased production in others. Other basic materials of the industrial revolution were cotton and woollen cloth, which were popular abroad. In the middle of the century other countries were buying British uniforms, equipment and weapons for their armies. To meet this increased demand, better methods of production had to be found, and new machinery was invented which replaced handwork.
    Soon Britain was not only exporting cloth to Europe. It was also importing raw cotton from its colonies and exporting finished cotton cloth to sell to those same colonies, The social effects of the industrial revolution were enormous. Workers tried to join together to protect themselves against powerful employers. They wanted fair wages and reasonable conditions in which to work. But the government quickly banned these "combinations", as the workers' societies were known. Riots occurred, led by the unemployed who had been replaced in factories by machines. In 1799 some of these rioters, known as Luddites, started to break up the machinery which had put them out of work. The government supported the factory owners, and made the breaking of machinery punishable by death. The government was afraid of a revolution like the one in France.

Society and religion

    Britain avoided revolution partly because of a new religious movement. The new movement which met the needs of the growing industrial working class was led by a remarkable man called John Wesley. He was an Anglican priest who travelled around the country preaching and teaching. For fifty-three years John Wesley travelled 224,000 miles on horseback, preaching at every village he came to. Sometimes he preached in three different villages in one day. Very soon others joined in his work. John Wesley visited the new villages and industrial towns which had no parish church. John Wesley's "Methodism" was above all a personal and emotional form of religion. It was organised in small groups, or "chapels", all over the country. At a time when the Church of England itself showed little interest in the social and spiritual needs of the growing population, Methodism was able to give ordinary people a sense of purpose and dignity. The Church was nervous of this powerful new movement which it could not control, and in the end Wesley was forced to leave the Church of England and start a new Methodist Church.
    He carefully avoided politics, and taught people to be hardworking and honest. As a result of his teaching, people accepted many of the injustices of the times without complaint. Some became wealthy through working hard and saving their money. As an old man, Wesley sadly noted how hard work led to wealth, and wealth to pride and that this threatened to destroy his work. "Although the form of religion remains," he wrote, "the spirit is swiftly vanishing away." However, Wesley probably saved Britain from revolution. He certainly brought many people back to Christianity. The Methodists were not alone.

    Other Christians also joined what became known as "the evangelical revival", which was a return to a simple faith based on the Bible. Some, especially the Quakers, became well known for social concern. One of the best known was Elizabeth Fry, who made public the terrible conditions in the prisons, and started to work for reform. It was also a small group of Christians who were the first to act against the evils of the slave trade, from which Britain was making huge sums of money. Slaves did not expect to live long. Almost 20 per cent died on the voyage. Most of the others died young from cruel treatment in the West Indies.
    The first success against slavery came when a judge ruled that "no man could be a slave in Britain", and freed a slave who had landed in Bristol. This victory gave a new and unexpected meaning to the words of the national song, "Britons never shall be slaves." In fact, just as Britain had taken a lead in slavery and the slave trade, it also took the lead internationally in ending them. The slave trade was abolished by law in 1807. But it took until 1833 for slavery itself to be abolished in all British colonies.
    Others, also mainly Christians, tried to limit the cruelty of employers who forced children to work long hours. In 1802, as a result of their efforts, Parliament passed the first Factory Act, limiting child labour to twelve hours each day. In 1819 a new law forbade the employment of children under the age of nine. Neither of these two Acts were obeyed everywhere, but they were the early examples of government action to protect the weak against the powerful.

Early "Romantic" novels

Maria Edgeworth  (1767-1849) 1801 Belinda; 1800 Castle Rackrent; 1809 The Absentee; 1817 Ormond
Thomas Love Peacock  (1785-1866) 1816 Headlong Hall; 1818 Nightmare Abbey; 1831 Crotchet Castle
Jane Austen  (1775-1817) Sense and Sensibility (written 1795-1797 published 1811); Pride and Prejudice (1796-7:1813); Northanger Abbey (1798:1818); Mansfield Park (1812:1814); Emma (1814:1816); Persuasion (1815:1818)

Jane Austen (Wikipedia) (16 December 1775 – 18 July 1817) was an English novelist whose works of romantic fiction, set among the landed gentry, earned her a place as one of the most widely read writers in English literature. Her realism, biting irony and social commentary have gained her historical importance among scholars and critics.

Austen lived her entire life as part of a close-knit family located on the lower fringes of the English landed gentry.[2] She was educated primarily by her father and older brothers as well as through her own reading. The steadfast support of her family was critical to her development as a professional writer.[3] Her artistic apprenticeship lasted from her teenage years into her thirties. During this period, she experimented with various literary forms, including the epistolary novel which she then abandoned, and wrote and extensively revised three major novels and began a fourth.[B] From 1811 until 1816, with the release of Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1816), she achieved success as a published writer. She wrote two additional novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, both published posthumously in 1818, and began a third, which was eventually titled Sanditon, but died before completing it.

Austen's works critique the novels of sensibility of the second half of the 18th century and are part of the transition to 19th-century realism. Her plots, though fundamentally comic, highlight the dependence of women on marriage to secure social standing and economic security. Her works, though usually popular, were first published anonymously and brought her little personal fame and only a few positive reviews during her lifetime, but the publication in 1869 of her nephew's A Memoir of Jane Austen introduced her to a wider public, and by the 1940s she had become widely accepted in academia as a great English writer.