English People in the Eighteenth Century

By Dorothy E. Marshall | Go to book overview

PREFACE

IT MAY be wiser to begin this preface by saying what this book is not about. It is not intended to be a text-book on eighteenth- century England. In its pages the reader will not find the causes of the Seven Years War or the American Revolution, though they do contain pointers to some of them. Questions of the relationship between the Imperial Parliament and the colonies, between George III and the politicians are not my concern, nor, indeed, are any of the famous personalities of the age, except in so far as they illustrate some point which I wish to make. For such matters readers must look to the work of Professors Butterfield, Namier and Pares, and to the monographs of the constitutional and political specialists on the period. Nor am I attempting to write yet another history of the Industrial Revolution, but am content to refer them to Professor Ashton Industrial Revolution for a brief and brilliant analysis of that movement.

The problem with which I am concerned is the social structure of England just before and just after the first wave of mechanical invention, which in the next hundred years was to transform Great Britain into an industrial nation, struck it. Here I have raised certain questions, while realizing that their complexity makes any fully satisfactory answers unlikely. The first of these is, how powerful were the merchants? To what extent were they capable of shaping colonial and foreign policy to suit their own interests? Were they the tail that wagged the dog? Next, to continue the metaphor, what was the main body of the dog like? Chapter II tries to answer this second question by giving some analysis of the composition of the various groups within the country. Chapter III deals with the extent to which this social structure is reflected in constitutional and ecclesiastical arrangements: it is not an attempt to describe the constitution as a whole. The next two chapters are mainly descriptive of the way of life, the satisfactions, etc., open to the nobility, gentry, middle classes

-vii-

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