Counter-Factuals

Linda Colley

  • The Origins of Anglo-American Radicalism edited by Margaret Jacob and James Jacob
    Allen and Unwin, 333 pp, £18.50, February 1984, ISBN 0 04 909015 1
  • Insurrection: The British Experience 1795-1803 by Roger Wells
    Alan Sutton, 312 pp, £16.00, May 1983, ISBN 0 86299 019 X
  • Radicalism and Freethought in 19th-Century Britain by Joel Wiener
    Greenwood, 285 pp, $29.95, March 1983, ISBN 0 313 23532 5
  • For King, Constitution and Country: The English Loyalists and the French Revolution by Robert Dozier
    Kentucky, 213 pp, £20.90, February 1984, ISBN 0 8131 1490 X

Just the place for a snark, the Bellman said. And with equal assurance, political activists from Tom Paine to Friedrich Engels and historians from Elie Halévy to Edward Thompson have hailed 18th and 19th-century Britain as just the place for a revolution. For superficially – though only superficially – the conditions seem to have been almost ideal. From the Glorious Revolution in 1688 to Waterloo in 1815, Britain faced a recurrent threat of French invasion and the near-certainty of French aid for dissidents and conspirators at home: Jacobites before 1745; Jacobins after 1789. In the hundred years after 1750, Britain’s social fabric was tried and tormented by the strains of unprecedented population growth and pioneering economic change. Add to this the world’s most sophisticated press network, a corrupt and supposedly amorphous state structure, and the impact and example of the American and French Revolutions, and surely one can argue that a British conflagration was on the cards?

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