Sunday, 30 September 2007

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

A moral revolution?

The late eighteenth century saw the start of a new moral order, which involved the overturning of the aristocratic ethos of the late 18th century (represented by Fox with his sexual laxity and huge gambling debts) with one of religion, sobriety and social concern. Obviously this is over-simple but it is remarkable how the generation that reached old age in the 1820s looked back on their youth and marvelled at the way standards had changed. The prime movers of this change are usually seen as the Evangelicals but many who did not subscribe to Evangelicalism nevertheless came to accept the new values.

The Clapham Sect
Evangelicalism was a broad movement, encompassing both Anglicans and Dissenters. It has been identified by its four defining characteristic: conversionism, biblicism, crucicentrism, and activism. In the late eighteenth century the two most influential groups of Evangelicals were the Methodists, whose numbers were rising dramatically, and the group of Anglicans around William Wilberforce.

In 1784 Wilberforce was returned for Yorkshire. In 1785-6 he experienced an Evangelical conversion and at the end of 1787 he recorded in his diary,
‘God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the Slave Trade and the Reformation of Manners.’
Earlier in that year he had been instrumental in setting up the Proclamation Society. In 1789 he made his first great speech on the abolition of the slave trade and encouraged Hannah More to set up her first Sunday school in Cheddar.

In 1792 he set up a ‘chummery’ at Battersea Rise on Clapham Common with his second cousin, the banker Henry Thornton (1760-1815). On the edge of the common Thornton built two smaller houses, one, Broomfield, rented by Edward Eliot, Pitt’s brother- in- law, and the other bought by Charles Grant (1746-1823) who had been a member of the board of trade at Calcutta. The little colony was later joined by

John Shore (Lord Teignmouth) (1751-1834), Warren Hastings’ successor as governor-general of India
the lawyer James Stephen (1758-1832)
the abolitionist, Zachary Macaulay (1768-1838) who in 1796 accepted the governorship of the experimental non-slaving colony of Sierra Leone.
This conglomeration of Evangelicals, comprising bankers, members of Parliament and colonial administrators, all devoted to the abolition of the slave trade and the dissemination of ‘vital religion’, became known as the ‘Saints’; by the middle of the nineteenth century they had acquired the retrospective title of the ‘Clapham sect’. Their group solidarity was remarkable. They went on holiday together, intermarried and stood godparents to each other’s children. In the Rev. John Venn (1758-1813) they had (almost) their own domestic chaplain; he had (of course) been presented to the living of Clapham by Henry Thornton.

The Evangelicals aimed at remoralizing both ends of society – the poor and the genteel.
In 1795 Hannah More began the publication of her Cheap Repository Tracts aimed at a popular readership.

In 1797 Wilberforce published his Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians in the Higher and Middle Classes of this Country contrasted with Real Christianity, which sold 7,500 copies within six months. It benefited from the fact that it coincided with the new moral and political conservatism in the wake of the French Revolution. Burke is said to have read it in the dying months of his life. Wilberforce's message operated on two levels:
it called the great to moral reformation
it also offered the means of strengthening the state against political reformers.

In 1802 Zachary Macaulay, back from Sierra Leone and married to Selina Mills, a former teacher at the More sisters’ school in Bristol, founded the Christian Observer, the house-journal of the Clapham sect.

The group was also influential in Cambridge: Dr Isaac Milner (1750-1820) was dean of Carlisle and president of Queens’ College; Charles Simeon (1759-1836), vicar of Holy Trinity, was a fellow of King’s.

However, the Evangelicals never acquired a commanding position in the Church of England. In 1815 they acquired their first bishop in Henry Ryder (1777-1836): bishop of Gloucester, 1815, bishop of Lichfield 1823. In 1828 John Bird Sumner (1780-1862) became bishop of Chester and in 1848 archbishop of Canterbury. But by this time the Tractarians had mounted their own challenge.

Sunday schools
Sunday schools became an extremely fashionable form of philanthropy. In the summer of 1789 Wilberforce told Hannah More ‘something must be done about Cheddar’. By ‘something’ he clearly meant a Sunday school.

This is my photograph of the 'Hannah More cottage' in Cheddar, the converted cowshed that was her first Sunday school. The first teacher was a Mrs Sarah Baber. The cottage is now a landmark in the village

In 1780 Robert Raikes started his first school for the children of chimney sweeps in Sooty Alley, Gloucester (opposite the city prison) in 1780. He used his position as proprietor and editor of the Gloucester Journal to publicize the work. After his first editorial in 1783, schools spread rapidly. In 1785 an undenominational national organization, the Sunday School Society, was set up to co-ordinate and develop the work. By 1784 there were said to be 1800 pupils in Manchester and Salford, and Leeds the same. Sunday schools were attended by adults as well as children. By the turn of the century more than 2,000 Sunday schools had been founded. 8,000 were in existence by 1821. In 1801 c. 10% of children were enrolled, more than 55% by 1851. Sunday schools taught reading and the more controversial also taught writing. They provided feasts and processions and for their parents they provided adult classes and benefit clubs. They disseminated the 'Victorian' virtues of industry and sobriety.

In 1810 the Quaker Joseph Lancaster (1778-1838) founded what became known as the British and Foreign School Society. It was based on the monitorial system in which from 200 to 1,000 pupils were gathered in one room and seated in rows, usually of ten pupils each. The adult schoolmaster taught the monitors, each of whom relayed the lesson to his own row.

In 1811 the Anglican clergyman, Andrew Bell (1753-1832) became superintendent of the National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church. These two rival societies formed the foundations of what became the state system of elementary education.

The growth of Methodism
After the death of John Wesley an integrated organizational structure developed with each chapel linked to others in the area in a series of 'circuits' (114 by Wesley's death in 1791) which were themselves incorporated into districts. Methodism depended on an itinerant ministry; ministers remained in a particular community only for a limited period and at the direction of the Annual Conference.

Methodism concentrated on fitting the convert into a social as well as religious institution; meetings were held on weekdays. Methodists were organised into 'classes' for the majority of members and ‘bands’ for those ‘pressing on to holiness’. Inevitably such groups set up a spiritual elite that ran against formal church structures.

Methodism flourished in the North Midlands and the north of England, particularly east of the Pennines and in the south west, especially Cornwall. Its most receptive hearers were skilled workers and craftsmen. It appealed particularly to those outside the traditional Anglican hierarchy of squire, tenant farmer and labourer. In the first thirty years of the 19th century almost two-thirds of Methodists were drawn from the ranks of the skilled working classes rather than the poorest in society.

After Wesley's death a number of secessions took place. In 1807 Conference condemned revivalist meetings on the United States model which had been held at the hill known as Mow Cop on the Staffordshire moorlands. Four years later Hugh Bourne (1772-1852) a carpenter and William Clowes (1780-1852), a potter from Burslem, established a Primitive Methodist Connexion, which grew steadily to a membership in excess of 100,000 in 1851. Whereas the Methodist Connexion had banned women's preaching in 1803 the Primitives allowed women to preach. They had particular success among the rural labourers of eastern and northern England.

Elie Halévy (1870-1937) and E. P. Thompson have argued that Methodism was an essentially conservative movement, diverting energies that would otherwise have gone into revolution. Certainly the Wesleyans became increasingly conservative as the threat of radicalism increased. However, Methodism trained many working men in administration and public speaking and gave them a sense of their own worth they would not otherwise have possessed. Methodists became trade unionists, Luddites and Chartists.

In 1811 alarmed at what he saw as the Methodist threat, Viscount Sidmouth the Home Secretary proposed a bill introducing new restrictions on dissenting ministers, aimed principally at itinerants. It was beaten off by frantic lobbying, in which Dissenters united with Evangelical Anglicans such as Wilberforce.

An Age of Societies
The Evangelicals were extremely successful in mobilizing middle-class activism that involved women and even children in an unprecedented fashion. Some of the new societies were non-denominational, others purely Anglican (though always with a strong Evangelical ethos. Here is a list of some of their societies:
1792: the Baptist Missionary Society
1795: the London Missionary Society (the original title was 'the Missionary Society; the title ‘London’ was added in 1818). This was the first time in recent history that Anglicans and Dissenters had joined together in a common enterprise.
1798: the Society for Bettering the Condition of the Poor
1799: the Religious Tract Society
1799 the Society for Missions to Africa and the East (the Church Missionary Society). Unlike the Religious Tract Society this was purely Anglican and aroused hostility from many high churchmen, who feared that it was setting up a church within a church.
1804 the British and Foreign Bible Society. The result was the founding of the British and Foreign Bible Society at a public meeting in London on 7 March 1804. The society was inter-denominational from the start, and even included some non-Evangelicals like Bishop Burgess. Its three secretaries were an Anglican clergyman, a Welsh Baptist, and a German Lutheran; the committee consisted exclusively of laymen, fifteen Anglicans, fifteen Dissenters and six foreigners resident in London. Henry Thornton was treasurer and the Claphamite Lord Teignmouth, former Governor-General of India, its president.

The goal of the Bible Society was the interdenominational dissemination of the Bible ‘without note or comment’ - this was deeply resented by High Churchman and between 1805 and 1822 over 170 pamphlets were written against the Society. Its genius lay in its ability to mobilize the energies of its supporters throughout the country, using women and even children, and playing a vital role in the creation of the energetic evangelical culture which was to be such an important feature of Victorian society. It happened spontaneously, as auxiliary associations began to mushroom throughout the country. The auxiliaries then spawned their own outgrowths in the form of Ladies’ Associations, and by the 1830s, middle-class women had cornered the market in selling cheap bibles to the poor, much to the alarm of conservatives who thought women should concentrate purely on domestic concerns. Some feared that the women would neglect their families and undermine male authority by becoming tub-thumping fanatics or that they would be unable to add up the collections.

1809 the London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews. This began in 1805 as a weekly series of Saturday night lectures for potential Jewish converts in London. In 1815 the Society became purely Anglican. The stress on the Jews owes much to the millenarian preoccupations during and after the Napoleonic Wars.
Missionary work was an offshoot of imperial expansion and something which united Evangelicals of all denominations.

In 1793 William Carey (1761-1834) went to Calcutta. In 1801 he began to teach at Fort William College and translated the Bible into a number of Indian languages. In the February edition of the Whig Edinburgh Review, Sydney Smith (1771-1845) sneered at the Indian mission as ‘a nest of consecrated cobblers’.

In 1813 the East India Company’s charter was up for renewal, and the Evangelicals wished to insert a clause in the new charter allowing Christian missionaries to operate in the parts of India controlled by the Company. They faced fierce opposition from the Company which had always forbidden proselytizing for fear that this would exacerbate religious tensions. With tactics learned from the abolitionist movement, Wilberforce brought pressure on his fellow parliamentarians from the country at large.

The petitions were successful in Manchester, Bristol and throughout the provinces. Armed with this impressive support, Wilberforce stood up in the Commons on 22 June and delivered a diatribe on ‘the degraded character of the Hindoo superstition’ that condemned sati and female infanticide. His motion for the insertion of the new clause was carried by 89 votes to 36.

The consequences for India were momentous. The diocese of Calcutta was founded in 1814. The evangelical success in opening up India to Christianity was paralleled a generation later by the secular Utilitarian programme of westernization. In 1834, Thomas Babington Macaulay, son of Zachary the abolitionist, came to India as the new Law Member. In a resolution of the following year he declared
‘that the great objects of the British government ought to be the promotion of European literature and science ... through the medium of the English language’.
This had a profound effect on the Indian educational system.

There can be little doubt of a new ethos by 1830. Lady Louisa Stuart looked back bemusedly to her earlier admiration for Aphra Behn. In 1818 Thomas Bowdler (1754-1825) produced his Family Shakespeare. The new generation of compulsive womanizers like Viscount Palmerston were no longer open in their conduct. There was a new ‘hypocrisy’ - the ‘tribute vice pays to virtue’?

Monday, 17 September 2007

Select bibliography

Adkins, Lesley, The War for all the Oceans (Abacus, 2007)
Barrell, John, The Spirit of Despotism: Invasions of Privacy in the 1790s (Oxford, 2006)
Bindman, David, The Shadow of the Guillotine (British Museum, 1989)
Blanning, Tim, The Pursuit of Glory: Europe 1648-1815 (Allen Lane, 2007)
Briggs, A., The Age of Improvement (Longman, 1979)
Brown, F. K., Fathers of the Victorians (Cambridge, 1961)
Burke, Edmund, Reflections on the Revolution in France (many editions)
Cannon, J., Parliamentary Reform (Cambridge, 1973)
Christie, I., Wars and Revolutions (Arnold, 1982)
Colley, Linda, Britons: Forging the Nation (New Haven, 1992)
Derry, J., The Regency Crisis and the Whigs (Cambridge), 1963)
Doyle, William, The Oxford History of the French Revolution (Oxford, 1989)
Ehrman, J The Younger Pitt: The Years of Acclaim (Constable 1969)
________The Younger Pitt: The Reluctant Transition (Constable, 1983)
________The Younger Pitt: The Consuming Struggle (Constable, 1996)
Elliott, Marianne, Wolfe Tone: Prophet of Irish Independence (Yale, 1989)s
Emsley, Clive, British Society and the French Wars (Macmillan, 1979)
Evans, Eric, The Forging of the Modern State 3rd edn. (Longman, 2001)
________William Pitt the Younger (Routledge, 1999)
Foreman, Amanda, Georgiana duchess of Devonshire (HarperCollins, 1998)
Foster, Roy, Modern Ireland (Penguin, 1989)
Fraser, Marie Antoinette (Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2001)
Gilmour, I., Riot, Risings and Revolution (Pimlico, 1992)
Hague, William, William Pitt the Younger (HarperCollins, 2004)
Hochschild, A., Bury the Chains (Macmillan, 2005)
Hibbert, C., George IV (Penguin, 1973)
Hibbert, C., George III (Penguin, 1998)
Hilton, Boyd, A Mad, Bad, and Dangerous People? (Oxford, 2006)
Howse, E., Saints in Politics (George Allen and Unwin, 1952)
Jones, Colin, The Longman Companion to the French Revolution (Longman, 1988)
Keane, John, Tom Paine (Bloomsbury, 1995)
Macoby, S., The English Radical Tradition (Adam and Charles Black, 1966)
Matthias, Peter, The First Industrial Nation (Methuen, 1983)
Mitchell, Leslie, Charles James Fox (Penguin, 1992)
Mitchell, L.G., The Whig World, 1760-1837 (Hambledon, 2005)
Mori, Jennifer, William Pitt and the French Revolution (Keele, 1997)
O’Gorman, F., The Long Eighteenth Century (Arnold, 1997)
Paine, Thomas, Rights of Man (many editions)
Perkin, H., Origins of Modern English Society (Routledge, 1969)
Philp, Mark, Paine (Oxford University Press, 1989)
Pollock, John, Wilberforce (Constable, 1977)
Prest, W., Albion Ascendant (Oxford, 1998)
Royle, Edward, Revolutionary Britannia? (Manchester, 2000)
Rule, J., Albion’s People (Longman, 1992)
______ The Vital Century (Longman, 1992)
Schama, Simon, Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution (Viking, 1989)
Scurr, Ruth, Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution (Viintage, 2007)
Stevenson, J., Popular Disturbances in England (Longman, 1992)
Stott, Anne, Hannah More: The First Victorian (Oxford, 2003)
Sugden, John, Nelson: Dream of Glory (Pimlico, 2005)
Taylor, Barbara, Mary Wollstonecraft and the Feminist Imagination (Cambridge, 2003)
Thomas, Hugh, The Slave Trade (Picador, 1997)
Thompson, E. P., The Making of the English Working Class (Penguin, 1968)
Todd, Janet, Mary Wollstonecraft: A Revolutionary Life (Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2000)
Uglow, Jenny, The Lunar Men (Faber and Faber, 2002)
Vickery, A., The Gentleman’s Daughter (Yale, 1998)
Vincent, Edgar, Nelson: Love and Fame (Yale, 2005)
Walvin, James, England, Slaves and Freedom (Macmillan, 1986)
Walvin, James, Black Ivory (Fontana, 1993)
Watson, S., The Reign of George III (Oxford, 1960)
Wollstonecraft, Mary, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (many editions)

Pitt the Younger

For the story of how William Pitt the Younger became Prime Minister at the end of 1783, see here.

For a biographical account, see here.

The Regency Crisis: or the Madness of George III

Pitt in 1788
Pitt felt himself to be in a strong position at the end of the decade. This did not mean that he had always got his own way - he had failed to persuade the Commons to accept his proposals for Irish free trade and (modest) parliamentary reform, and he had been forced to repeal his Shop Tax by riots outside Downing Street, where he had been burned in effigy. These bruising experiences were to make him more cautious in the future.

However his economic policies were bearing fruit: the national debt had been cut though additional taxes on spirits and hair powder and the setting up of a Sinking Fund, and the navy improved after its poor showing in the American War. In 1787 he had ended Britain’s post-war diplomatic isolation by joining a Triple Alliance with Prussia and the Dutch Republic. His political opponents, the Foxites were fewer than 200 in a House of 558, and the king’s favour consolidated his position. Pitt and George III were never close but they knew they needed each other. This left the Foxites impotent in opposition, deeply loathing Pitt. From 1786 they vented their frustration in impeaching Warren Hastings, the former Governor-General of India and then prosecuting him. The trial consumed a great deal of their energy, with Burke being especially zealous in the trial (which was to end in 1795 with Hastings’ acquittal). Politically they depended on the Prince of Wales and hoped desperately that the king would die

The Fitzherbert marriage
On 15 December 1785 the prince secretly marred the widowed Catholic Maria Fitzherbert (1756-1837), whom he had met the previous year. This marriage was illegal according to three Acts: the Act of Settlement (1701), the Act of Union (1707), both of which excluded a prince or princess married to a Catholic from succeeding to the throne, and to the Royal Marriage Act of 1772. Though the couple initially kept separate establishments, the marriage was an open secret in London society, where they were constantly seen together. Gillray drew a cartoon of the marriage, with Burke as the clergyman, and Fox giving away the bride. However the king and queen were ignorant of it.

The prince further embarrassed the Opposition by his debts, which were over a quarter of a million pounds. The king refused to relieve him without a promise that he would be less extravagant in the future. It was hinted to the prince that his father would be more amenable if he married and if he abandoned Fox. The Prince refused to do either.

In April 1787 Parliament debated the prince’s debts. One ‘country’ member hinted that a question was involved ‘which went immediately to affect our constitution in Church and State’ - an oblique reference to the Fitzherbert marriage. George wrote to Fox that ‘there never was any ground for those reports ... so malevolently circulated’. (To the end of his life he consistently denied the marriage.) Believing the prince, Fox spoke to a crowded Commons on 30 April, denying the
‘monstrous report of a fact which had not the smallest degree of foundation ... a low malicious falsehood’,
and said that he had ‘His Royal Highness’s direct authority’ for his declaration. (After this Mrs Fitzherbert developed a lasting hostility to Fox.)

On arriving at Brooks’s, Fox met one of his friends who told him he had been present at the marriage. He then realized that he had unintentionally misled the House. For a year he did his best to avoid the prince, but they had to resume their alliance, because they needed each other.

The Regency Crisis
Compared with his son’s the king’s life was a model of rectitude and frugality, and after a difficult start to his reign he was becoming popular. In 1775 John Wesley had attested to his unpopularity:
‘…the bulk of the people in every city, town and village do not much aim at the ministry…but at the King himself. They heartily despise his Majesty and hate him with a perfect hatred’.
But by the end of the war, opinion was shifting in his favour, and an assassination attempt in 1786 only increased his popularity.

On 11 June 1788 the king suffered a ‘spasmodic bilious attack’, and was ill for several days. At Kew on 17 October he had a second attack, coupled with severe abdominal pains and discoloured urine. This was coupled with ‘agitation’, ‘flurry of spirits’, uncontrollable gabbling and mental confusion. All these are symptoms of porphyria.

The Prince of Wales took over the royal household and called in his own doctor, Dr Warren. The king refused to see him. On 12 November from hearsay Warren told Lady Spencer, ‘Rex noster insanit’. The prince was already in communication with the Opposition in the person of Sheridan (Fox was in Italy with his mistress, Mrs Armistead).

The king’s condition fluctuated throughout the whole of November. The king remained at Windsor. Various remedies were tired: blistering, hot baths. On 18-19 November, after only two hours’ sleep, he talked for 19 hours. On 23 November, he uncharacteristically spoke ‘indecencies’.

The Opposition were convinced that a regency would be needed, which would put them in government. Fox hurried back from Italy. Stories were spread about the king’s illness - shaking hands with a tree. On 28 November the Whiggish Morning Post published a list of ministers who would be in the new government. The atmosphere at Brooks’s was buoyant, but fears of Pitt’s dismissal caused a two-point falling stocks.

However in late November the atmosphere began to change. The physician, Dr Anthony Addington, one-time consultant to the Pitt family and the former keeper of a madhouse, encouraged Pitt to think that the king might recover. He recommended a move to Kew - away from the prying spectators at Windsor. When taken there, George was denied permission to see his wife and daughters.

On 5 December Parliament opened. On the same day Dr Francis Willis, the keeper of a private asylum in Lincolnshire, arrived at Kew, armed with a straitjacket and three strong assistants.
Willis’s role shows that madness was now seen as a medical condition and that the patient, whatever his rank, had to submit to the all-knowing, all-powerful doctor – an historical development described in Michel Foucault’s Madness and Reason (1961).

In December - January, Parliament debated a regency. On 10 December one of the epic debates in the Pitt/Fox relationship took place. Pitt moved the appointment of a committee to examine precedents. Fox argued that this was a delaying tactic, as there were no precedents, and asserted that it was necessary to give the prince ‘full powers to act as a sovereign immediately. This betrayal of fundamental Whig principles gave Pitt the opportunity to ‘unwhig’ Fox.

The Whigs were reduced to quarrelling among themselves. Fox and Sheridan were at odds. On 15 December Thurlow, the opportunistic Lord Chancellor, who had been contemplating throwing in his lot with theirs, changed his mind and declared, ‘When I forget my sovereign, may God forget me!’ On 16 December the government motion for a restricted regency was carried 268/204.

However the king was still ill, and the prince was behaving very badly among his companions at Carlton House and Brookes’s, doing nothing to discourage the scurrilous attacks on the queen in the opposition press.

The king was suffering from Dr Willis’s treatment. Willis became quite openly Pittite, while Warren remained the Opposition’s preferred doctor. In the parliamentary debates their rival diagnoses were hurled across the floor of the Commons. Meanwhile, the duchess of Devonshire’s diary recorded Opposition in-fighting. Pitt was refusing the play the one card he knew would utterly discredit the prince - the secret marriage. Because the prince had denied the marriage, exposure would show him to be a liar and discredit the monarchy. Instead, he would rely on his good parliamentary majority.

On 5 February Pitt introduced the first reading of the Regency Bill, which passed the Commons:
  • The Regent was to have no power to create peers (though in the debates Pitt conceded that he would have this right after three years).
  • He would only to have a limited right to grant offices, salaries, or pensions.
  • He would have no jurisdiction over the king’s lands or property.
  • The care of the king was to be in the hands of the queen
However, George was not beginning to recover - even though on 2 February he chased the Second Keeper of the Robes, Fanny Burney.
On 16 February, the bill was ready to go to the Lords. If they threw it out and if the king recovered, Pitt would have to go.
On 19 February, the Lord Chancellor informed the Lords that the king was convalescing and was inquiring about parliamentary business.
On 24 February Pitt travelled to Kew and found the king lucid - he told Pitt that if the Regency Bill had gone through he would have retired to Hanover.

On St George’s Day a triumphant grand thanksgiving service was held at St Paul’s. The prince chatted throughout the service and the press attacks on the prince showed how much he had lost popularity. The Opposition was now in further disarray, with Burke and Sheridan extremely hostile to each other. And as he approached his 30th birthday, Pitt seemed stronger than ever.

In the summer the king made a triumphant journey to Weymouth. While the royal family were there, the Bastille fell.