Eighteenth Century England

Eighteenth Century England

Eighteenth Century England

Eighteenth Century England

Excerpt

Anyone who attempts to write the history of eighteenthcentury England at the present time is rushing in where more cautious people fear to tread. During the last thirty years research into this period has revolutionized many traditional interpretations. 'George be a King' has gone. So has the concept of Sir Robert Walpole as the prototype of the modern Prime Minister, and the belief that whigs and tories can be equated with the organized party system of the nineteenth century. Yet this research is still very incomplete. Small patches have been covered in great detail, as for instance by the late Sir Lewis Namier in his epoch-making study, The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III. In the same way J. Owen's The Rise of the Pelhams, J. Brooke's The Chatham Administration, Professor Herbert Butterfield's King George III, Lord North and the People, and I. R. Christie's The End of North's Ministry 1780-82, all concentrate on a few years. Biographies, such as J. H. Plumb's two volumes on Sir Robert Walpole and B. Tunstall's William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, are available only for some of the leading actors in the eighteenth-century scene. The only major exception as yet is the recent volume, The Reign of George III by J. Steven Watson in 'The Oxford History of England' series. As a consequence anyone rash enough to cover the entire century in one volume is faced with narratives so detailed and so subtly analysed that the task of reducing their essence to a few pages is bound on the one hand to lead to the falsification of over-simplification, and on the other with the hazard of applying the new interpretations to those periods which have not yet been subjected to this detailed scrutiny.

This volume has been written to provide some kind of guide through this morass, where between the tussocks of modern scholarship still lies the vast bog of ignorance and tradition. It is intended, like the other volumes in this series, mainly for those readers who are attempting a serious study of the period for the first time. I hope that the university student, and those readers who are looking for a reasonably comprehensive introduction to this most fascinating of centuries, either out of general interest or as a base for more specialized later reading, will find it useful. For this purpose . . .

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