Public Life and the Propertied Englishman 1689-1798

A new work by Paul Langford

John Brewer | Published in
  • Public Life and the Propertied Englishman 1689-1798
    Paul Langford - Clarendon Press, 1991 - xiii+608 pp. - £40

In the face of the social variety and remarkable change that confronted them, eighteenth-century commentators agonised over the difficulty of being able to provide an impartial and general view of their society. No doubt many of them would have welcomed Paul Langford's magisterial tome which sets out to lay bare the lineaments that united and animated the eighteenth-century body politic. Drawing on an astonishing range of sources that includes novels, poetry, diaries and literary memoirs as well as newspapers, pamphlets, sermons, political correspondence and law reports, he deploys a learning that is as formidably deep as it is breathtakingly broad.

This book is not an easy read: it is long, allusive, and densely packed with evidence and anecdotes, so that its arguments are only revealed cumulatively. It is not a work for the general reader (though they would enjoy much of the fascinating detail), nor, I suspect will many undergraduates complete the long journey through its pages. (They can always turn to Langford's contribution to the New Oxford History of England, A Polite and Commercial People, England 1727 – 1783.) But it is an astonishing achievement, a new anatomy of eighteenth-century England.

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