A TIMELINE: 1757-1837
William Blake born.
Mary Wollstonecraft born.
James Watt perfects the steam engine with immeasurable consequences. London at the
turn of the 18
century (1700) has a population of about 600,000, at the turn of the
century (1800) about 800,000, at the turn of the 20
century (1900), 6,000,000.
William Wordsworth born.
S. T. Coleridge born.
War begins with American Colonies, who declare independence in 1776. Edmund
Burke speaks in Parliament in support of the colonies’ case. War lasts until 1781.
Gordon Riots rage in London for a week, set off by Parliament’s refusal to debate
ending Catholic toleration, becoming a full-scale popular riot when Lord Mayor of
London John Wilkes refuses for several days to intervene.
Surrender of General Cornwallis at Yorktown, ends American War.
1783-1801: William Pitt (Prime Minister) leads a conservative government (in fact, Tory
governments were in control between 1783 and 1830 with the one year’s
exception of 1806-07, during which the slave trade was abolished).
Mental illness of George III puts country into a national crisis. Penal colony
founded in Botany Bay, Australia; Lord Byron born.
French Revolution begins in France on 14 July, with the sacking of the Bastille
prison and the formation of the Revolutionary Assembly.
Declaration of the Rights of Man
(August). Richard Price publishes a
sermon entitled “On the Love of Country” that welcomes the French Revolution
as an omen of similar, though more peaceful, political changes in England.
writes “The French Revolution,” which is accepted by Joseph Johnson for
publication but never published. Over the next three years, King Louis XVI appears
to work with the assembly while constantly trying to overthrow it and undermine it;
Songs of Innocence
written and printed privately in illuminated manuscript by Blake
Edmund Burke, a dominant and dynamic Member of Parliament who had argued
in the 1770s against taxing the American colonies, publishes
Reflections on the
Revolution of France
, which condemns the revolution as the beginning of mob rule by
“the swinish multitude,” and argues against all change that does not work in
accordance with the 1688 Glorious Revolution.
Whatever is not traditional, in other
words, is unnatural, and therefore evil, un-British, and unpatriotic. Burke’s book
produces no fewer than thirty-six responses, among them rebuttals by Mary
Wollstonecraft, Joseph Priestly, and Thomas Paine. A young Wordsworth, just
completing his first year of college, goes to France with his friend Matthews to
celebrate the first anniversary of the fall of the Bastille (commemorated in Book VI of
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell