Edwin Jones has produced a powerful, complex, eloquent and truly remarkable book. It is a heady blend of history and politics, past and present - committed scholarship in the best sense. It rests on the conviction that historical understanding matters.
Edward Daniel Clarke, the primary British Traveller considered in this book, asked his readers to consider the purpose of travel; Brian Dolan, the author of this book, asks his readers to consider how and why people write about travel.
The enormously energetic working-class reading cultures occupying the core of Jonathan Rose’s magnificent study grew up from rather unpromising roots. For long periods, reading, like publishing, could be a dangerous business.
The book I have before me feels rather expensive, well-made, a hardback with a striking dust jacket bearing an enlarged portion of an historic print. Inside, the paper is silky smooth, the ink dark and clean, the layout elegant with generous outer margins. The illustrations too are clean and clear, dropped into the text.
The campaign for the ‘People’s Charter’, a democratic movement which thrived in the decade after 1838, was probably the most important mass movement in British history. Chartism captivated contemporaries and has had a magnetic attraction for historians, generating over 100 books and articles in the last decade alone.
Beatrice Webb wrote in her first volume of autobiography, My Apprenticeship, that the age in which she grew up was dominated by two ‘idols of the mind’, namely a belief in scientific method and ‘the consciousness of a new motive; the transference of the emotion of self-sacrificing service from God to man’ (quoted p. 249). Auguste Comte was the prophet of both of these idols.
The scholarship on the intellectual, religious and political history of early modern England presents a large use of terms such as ‘orthodox’, ‘deist’, ‘atheist’, ‘radical’, and their respective ‘isms’.
Medieval people traced the multiplicity of languages back to the story in Genesis of the tower of Babel, built by humans. God punished their arrogance by scattering them to the four winds so that each could not understand the language of his neighbour. From the sons of Noah were descended 72 peoples with 72 languages.
This important work is long overdue. It identifies two gaps in the existing historiography.