The Anti-Jacobin Novel: British Conservatism and the French Revolution

By M. O. Grenby | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
The new philosophy

This volume to the reader's eye displays The infernal conduct of abandoned man; When French Philosophy infects his ways, And pours contempt on Heav'n's eternal plan; Reversingorder, truth, and ev'ry good, And whelmingworlds, with ruin's awful flood.

Epigraph to Sarah Wood's Julia, and the Illuminated Baron. A Novel (1800)

Anti-Jacobinism, insofar as it can be ascribed a coherent identity at all, was more propaganda than ideology. This, indeed, was its great tactical strength, for in defining itself purely in terms of what it was not, in terms of what it was opposed to, its protagonists evaded the necessity of having to formulate any doctrine of their own, a doctrine from which independently minded members of its potentially vast constituency might demur. Any attempt to assess anti-Jacobinism, then, immediately finds itself tryingto define what that Jacobinism was that provoked anti-Jacobinism into being, or rather what conservatives thought it was. It is at this point that the seemingsimplicity of the apparently polarised debate on the Revolution in France begins to dissolve.

Much has been written about radicalism in Britain in the 1790s, but this is not to say that a congruous ideology of radicalism has ever been discerned. Indeed, Jacobinism's heterogeneity is the most recurrent theme of those surveys which have been undertaken. 1 Certainly, no single conception of Jacobinism has been found that might have been cheerfully subscribed to by both radicals and conservatives. Gary Kelly's suggestion that British Jacobinism was, like anti-Jacobinism, defined by its opponents, though observably true, only complicates the issue still further, formulatingan equation which runs neither way, a notional anti-Jacobinism defining Jacobinism and a notional Jacobinism

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