By George, it’s the Gorgeous, Gorging Georgians


Michael Simpson

George Cruikshank, 'Inconveniences of a Crowded Drawing Room', 1818. Source: Wikimedia Commons

2014 has generated a good deal of attention to the onset of the First World War and the succeeding horrors.  Meanwhile, an earlier instalment of what might be understood as Anglo-German relations has attracted notice but rather less interest.[1]  The beginning of the Georgian Age in Britain is being marked by a tercentenary that has included exhibitions at the British Library and at Buckingham Palace, along with other royal palaces, as well as a popular history series, titled 'The First Georgians: the German Kings Who Made Britain', on BBC TV, presented by Lucy Worsley.[2]  At Goldsmiths, in the Department of English and Comparative Literature, the literature of this large period is primarily studied in the 2nd-year undergraduate courses ‘Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Literature’ and ‘Sensibility & Romanticism’.  The fact that there are two relevant courses serves to demonstrate that the Georgian period, as such, cuts across and combines standard literary-historical periods.  Though the term ‘Georgian’ designates a recognisable era of architecture and of social history, among other things, it does not map neatly onto literary history. The closest approximation to a term within literary studies for the Georgian Age is ‘the long eighteenth century’.  

Before turning to the literature of this period, as well as some of the history, we might briefly enjoy a pretty well-known story from Georgian musical culture, which is set at the very start of the period.  This story, at least partly factual, has the makings of a superior episode of Blackadder.  In 1712, the composer Handel took a sabbatical from the employ of the Elector of Hanover, a slightly obscure German prince, for a grander gig at the court of Queen Anne, in London.  In some versions of the story, Handel’s extended sabbatical may have strained relations with the Elector, but from Handel’s perspective he was on the up.  Imagine his surprise when his new royal patron in England died, only to be replaced by his previous boss, as King George I.  One can readily visualise Rowan Atkinson’s consternation as Stephen Fry ascends the throne and demands some new music, right now.  While the succeeding Georges assimilated to Britain, Britain’s musical culture was dominated by German composers, like much of Europe, for most of the Georgian era.  One peak in this dominance was the Haydn craze in London, in the later eighteenth century, while Beethoven was regularly performed at Drury Lane and Covent Garden.[3] 

In these two theatres, both lavishly rebuilt in the period, Beethoven occasionally alternated with Shakespeare, whose plays were routinely staged as part of a Georgian cult of ‘Bardolatry’.[4]  Although the Georgian Age began almost exactly a hundred years after the death of Shakespeare, in 1616, there is an anachronic sense in which it was the ‘Age of Shakespeare’, or at least the first period of Shakespeare’s afterlife as preeminent playwright, poet and cultural icon.[5]  Not only was Shakespeare performed regularly at the two Theatres Royal, but his plays, for the first time, were obsessively edited and produced voluminously in different editions.  Dr. Johnson’s edition is fascinating not least because it bears a partly symbiotic relationship with his Dictionary.  While Johnson’s Dictionary (1755) serves to stabilise the English language, as a textual codification of words and meanings, his edition of Shakespeare partially codifies English literature, and so stabilises it, around the edited work of the Bard.[6]  But there is more than a mere comparison here, between two stabilising agents: Johnson’s projects feed off and substantiate one another, as the Dictionary lists numerous usages of words in Shakespeare while those words appear reciprocally in the edition.  In consequence, there is at least a weak sense in which the English language and English literature come into being co-dependently, at this time, as codified entities.  Perhaps Johnson’s related projects are simply one of the most visible manifestations of this coalescence.  Following this reflection on how the eighteenth century makes new literature out of old sources, distilling poetic texts out of Shakespeare’s playtexts, by using more advanced techniques than those behind the quartos and folios, we shall presently visit some of the truly contemporary literature of the Georgian period. 

The current exhibition at Buckingham Palace focuses selectively and manageably on the early Georgian period, and with good reason, because the period is normally understood as extending, luxuriously, from the accession of George I in 1714, through three other Georges, to the death of William IV in 1837.[7]  This end-stopping of the period makes some sense because Victoria became Queen at this point, introducing another fairly definable period of history and culture.  The Georgian period, then, is a long one and encompasses an immense amount of change, which severely challenges any historiographical attempt to narrate it as a period, let alone to synthesise it.  Since some of the changes that compromise narration were so momentous, exploiting the occasion of the Georgian tercentenary to reflect on the magnitude and ongoing reverberation of a few of these changes is more than warranted.  Given the scale and diversity of the era, however, what follows by way of a broad, fairly informal review will, of necessity, be deeply schematic and comprehensively selective, as well as partly personal.  Much will be left out.  Accordingly, my endnotes suggest a few sources for those who might want to learn a little more about the historical events and processes as well as the cultural, and especially literary, artifacts of this time.[8]

A further reason for the timeliness of some reflection on the Georgians is in order to be critically aware of what might be at stake in the fact that the current Royal Family has named its latest scion George.  Could the name be a salute to the tercentenary, reinforcing notions of organic continuity underlying three centuries of often drastic change?  Young George has celebrated his first birthday in 2014.  Even a cursory glance across the Georgian era, however, might well be inclined to register the drastic change rather than the latent, or putative, continuity.  Certainly, the latter half of this period is often called by historians ‘the age of Revolutions’.[9]  Such upheavals came in two prominent forms: there were economic revolutions and political ones, and both produced colossal social and cultural effects, as the arts of the era testify.

The agricultural revolution, unfolding throughout much of the eighteenth century, was enormously important, because it involved what we might now call an early industrialisation of agriculture.  Although this term is slightly misleading, because industrialisation as such did not occur until the early nineteenth century, it may serve to indicate the transformation that overtook the economy, the society and the landscape of Britain. The improvements in food production generated by this overall rationalisation ultimately allowed Britain to reach a sort of economic take-off.  As fewer agricultural workers were needed to feed more mouths, because of the efficiencies yielded by this revolution, the surplus labour force was displaced to the developing towns and cities to seek different occupations by which to support itself.  And there really were aggregately more mouths to feed, as this revolution in agriculture permitted a considerable increase in population, as noted by many contemporary writers.  As more people engaged in other forms of work, Britain became an increasingly commercial society, and these changes at least partly set the scene for what is now called the Industrial Revolution, which developed through the nineteenth century.  One other change behind Britain’s subsequent industrialisation was the increasing disarticulation, across the Georgian Age, of wealth from land, and a corresponding vesting of it in more floating forms of value such as stocks.  Wealth began to manifest itself in this new form in the city, as it moved from the country; value started to become capital, and capitalism itself came into early but vigorous being at this time.  Among the signs of this new kind of wealth in the cities is the urban architecture of the Georgians, including the great curvilinear public streets, such as Regent Street in London, designed by John Nash, and similar in Bristol and Bath.[10]         

The portraits exhibited at Buckingham Palace parade the Georges, but elsewhere there are many portraits of Georgians, showing them as proud landowners who have prospered, unlike others, from the radical changes in the countryside.  In this same period, landscape painting, in addition to portraiture, registers much of this transformation of the rural environment.  The literary arts similarly undergo great change, but it is important to recognise that the arts do not simply register the impress of these economic and social changes, in passive fashion.  On the contrary, the arts respond actively to, and intervene in, these processes and events, discussing and shaping them through the force and exchange of ideas.  The new art of the novel, for example, debates the virtues and the vices of the new commercial society, in works such as Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719), Smollett's The Adventures of Roderick Random (1748) and Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield (1766).  Indeed, one version of literary history understands ‘the rise of the novel’ as produced by the emergence of this commercial society, which this new literary form both reflects and addresses.  As such, the novel is both a major item within the increasing literary commerce of this society and a vehicle by which this society might make sense of itself.[11]  Towards the end of the period, Jane Austen’s novels of manners dilate on the broadly improved fortunes of the landed gentry, as well as on the challenges posed by the brash incomers from the big city, such as the Crawfords in Mansfield Park (1814), and their new ways.

Though now the most celebrated woman novelist of the Georgian era, Austen was only one of the increasing number of women who emerged into literary prominence through the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  One of the cultural conditions that permitted this emergence was the mid-eighteenth-century valorisation of feeling, in contrast, and even resistance, to the emphasis of the Enlightenment on reason.  This fashion for feeling is often called ‘the cult of sensibility’.  Since the capacities of feeling, intuition and sympathy were conventionally associated with women, the valorisation of feeling effectively accorded to women a greater degree of cultural enfranchisement, as legitimate writers.  Despite this stereotypical association of women with feeling, many of the women writers, such as Anna Seward, Hannah More, Charlotte Smith, and Austen herself, who attained recognition during or after the fashion for sensibility, asserted powerful claims on behalf of themselves and other women as fully rational beings.  Indeed, Mary Wollstonecraft objected vehemently to sensibility, as a codification of precepts that indoctrinated women against their own interests. 

This investment by women in rationality, and especially their own, is further visible in an important strain of the emotionally charged Gothic novel.  Having originated in Germany, like the Georgian monarchs themselves, the Gothic was an aesthetic that swept across Europe and the Atlantic from the late eighteenth century onwards.  One of the most prominent Georgian writers of Gothic romances was Ann Radcliffe, who insisted on concluding her works with a fully rational explanation of the causes behind all the ghostly phenomena that had terrified her audiences along the way.  Even as her male contemporary Matthew Lewis overtly challenged this reflex by sustaining the emotional temperature and the supernatural to the end of his Gothic romance The Monk (1796), Radcliffe persisted in returning her audience to the realm of the rational.  Austen affectionately parodies this Radcliffean insistence at the expense of her heroine Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey (1818), as Catherine’s overheated Gothic imaginings are all brought bathetically down to earth by reasonable explanations, one by one.

To speak of the poetry of the Georgian period is to encompass a vast and diverse range of material.  One resonant development in this department was what literary historians regularly call ‘the long eighteenth-century poem’, and this quite baggy genre includes such works as the commercial georgic of James Thomson’s The Seasons (1730), Oliver Goldsmith’s The Deserted Village (1770), George Crabbe's The Village (1783), and William Cowper’s The Task (1785).  In terms of sheer amplitude and breadth of reference, these poems resemble the contemporary novel, as it evolves co-extensively, and both forms, in these respects, emerge from and address themselves to a newly prominent and expanded body which at the time was designated ‘the public’.  On this matter of the public we might reflect a little, before returning to the subject of poetry.  This increasingly coherent body, though it is often identified in national terms, as a British public, also gestures towards the larger backdrop of a European culture.  It is this sense of a national public participating in a wider scene of culture, located in Europe more widely, that reminds us of the Georgian period overlapping with the great intellectual ferment, achievements and limitations of the Enlightenment.[12] 

Of all the characteristics of this intellectual revolution, the prime one is exactly what links it with the emergence and notion of the public: that characteristic is the highly public value of reason.  Whereas knowledge prior to the Enlightenment had been largely determined by the principle of authority, enshrined in earlier texts called ‘authorities’, the new intellectual dispensation determined knowledge by reference to the principle of reason, which was put into practice as the individual exercise of reason contributing to a public dialogue.  Such rational dialogue even precipitated for itself new public spaces in early Georgian Britain, where it could happen more readily, especially in the institution of the coffee house, and even the pleasure garden, such as those at Vauxhall and Ranelagh, in London.  Hot cognition, company and coffee: thinking could be fun, especially with other people.

This new paradigm of knowledge also admitted experience into the production of knowledge, as individuals were licensed to reason on their own experience, to draw larger conclusions for themselves from the stuff that makes up experience. Moreover, the most systematic account of the reign of reason, in the contemporary philosophy of Kant, was substantially concerned with the relations between reason and experience, and, in ethical matters, with how the apprehension of a moral law in given circumstances confirms the autonomy of the individual: to the extent that reason points the way ethically for each of us, we are free agents, in the very process of apprehending a moral law that we are formulating for ourselves. 

Since reason was licensed as a common standard, however, the processes and products of reasoning could, in general, be tested publically, and knowledge would, in the event, be collectively validated as such.  Even as some British philosophers, notably Locke and Hume, contested this assigned primacy of reason, in favour of the senses and sensation, they did so by using, without contradiction, the rigours of reason itself.  The natural and the new human sciences shared in, and further propelled, this investment in reason as a public value, even as there were vigorous, though reasoned, debates about the precise role of reason in the investigation of natural phenomena through the empirical methods of observation and experiment.  Some of the excesses of reason were widely satirised, as in Swift’s Modest Proposal (1729); and some aspects of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus (1818) might be understood as falling under a similar critique.  There is an intriguing twist here: satire, as in the cases of Swift, Pope and other early eighteenth-century writers, is itself a reflex of reason, demolishing nonsense and imposture, even when the target is reason, of which it is an integral part.     

Our point of departure in addressing the related themes of the public, reason, and the Enlightenment was poetry, to which we must return in our predominantly literary-historical tour d’horizon of Georgian Britain.  Among the prominent poetry of the early era, it was Alexander Pope’s compulsively exact verse that was widely identified with the virtues of order associated with reason: ‘A little Learning is a dang’rous Thing;/Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring’.[13]  But Pope’s success motivated numerous imitators, all vying with one another, and their model, in the use of the heroic couplet, until a kind of backlash set in against what was seen as the undue prevalence of a narrow poetic form, mechanically recycled and even debased.  In response, poets such as Joseph Warton began revising and experimenting with older poetic forms, including the ode and the elegy.  The famous literary forgeries by James Macpherson, centred on ‘Ossian’, and by Thomas Chatterton, might be set in this same context.  Also within this frame, though at some distance historically, might be seen the later, and more legitimate, experiment of Wordsworth and Coleridge, who participated in ‘the Ballad revival’, pioneered by collectors like Joseph Ritson, with their hugely influential Lyrical Ballads, in 1798.

The vast, international, cultural movement now called ‘Romanticism’ manifested itself in Britain in the latter half of the Georgian period.  Romanticism can be understood, in terms of scale and reach, as succeeding the intellectual, artistic and cultural movement of the Enlightenment, even while retaining and modifying some important features of that earlier movement.  In terms of a rough chronology, the Enlightenment can be plotted as a mid-seventeenth to mid-eighteenth-century phenomenon, while Romanticism is usually dated from the late eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century.  The British species of Romanticism was, in part, a response to specifically national phenomena, crucially the agricultural revolution and the beginnings of the later Industrial Revolution.  Aside from these economic and social revolutions, characteristic of contemporary Britain, British Romanticism responded, in company with other national versions of Romanticism, to the common inheritance of the Enlightenment, as an intellectual revolution, and also to the political revolutions in America, in 1776, and in France, in 1789.  Enlightenment ideas about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and about fraternity and equality, provided the inspiring ideals not only for the American War of Independence, against Britain, but also for the French Revolution.

The changing course of the French Revolution defined much of the horizon of the late Georgian era.  British responses to the Revolution were politically polarised at the outset: from the fall of the Bastille, many endorsed the revolutionary cause, while many others were vehemently opposed and fearful of similar events occurring in Britain.  A sign of this fear was the contemporary Ordnance Survey of England and Wales, mapping the landscape and increasingly geared to a potential defence of the realm.  Even as a consensus crystallised against the violent excesses of the Revolution, there were those, including Byron and Shelley, who believed that the ideals, if not the unfolding reality, of the Revolution were still viable and could be salvaged for other applications.  Much of Byron and Shelley’s poetry, perhaps especially Don Juan and Prometheus Unbound, is informed by this conviction:

Gentleness, Virtue, Wisdom and Endurance,--

These are the seals of that most firm assurance


These are the spells by which to reassume

An empire o’er the disentangled Doom.[14]

So Shelley concludes his poetic drama about Prometheus, champion of all humankind, who is unbound into the late Georgian period of history.

One indirect consequence of the struggle with Napoleonic France was, in 1807, the formal abolition of the slave trade within Britain’s colonial empire.  Contributing to the abolitionist cause, from the 1780s onwards, were a number of poets, including Hannah More, Robert Southey, and Ann Yearsley, who wrote against the trade and the treatment of slaves.  Although abolition was philosophically consistent with certain Enlightenment ideas about humanity and property, it was also motivated by a matrix of political and commercial considerations that were directed against the French empire in the Caribbean.  There has been considerable debate among historians about the manifold of causes behind the Bill for the Abolition of the Slave Trade of 1807, and some of them have been seen as less than creditable.[15]  Even though Adam Smith opposed slavery as anachronistic and inefficient, it must be recognised that the traffic in, and enforced labour of, huge numbers of human beings was a prominent feature of the thrusting commercial society of Georgian Britain.  Slavery itself, in fact, continued not only after the abolition of the slave trade but also after the Emancipation Act of 1833, which officially liberated slaves within the British empire. 

In other respects, Britain increasingly exerted its imperial power, notwithstanding the loss of the American colonies in 1781.  Victory over France in the Seven Years War of 1756-1763 had consolidated Britain’s position as a trans-oceanic trading nation with a colonial empire, and the naval triumph over both the French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar in 1805 confirmed the naval supremacy that would allow Britain to assert itself as the preeminent global imperial power through the nineteenth century, including the succeeding Victorian Age.  An exhibition titled ‘Turner and the Sea’, in the spring of 2014, and perhaps timed to coincide with the other exhibitions on the Georgian Age, was staged at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, and bore eloquent witness to Britain’s maritime culture, as well as to the pervasive Romantic taste for the sublime, focussed here on wild seascapes.[16]  In the event, it was imperial competition from Germany, manifested particularly in a naval arms race, that challenged Britain’s power and set the conditions for the First World War.  These strands from the Georgian era extend into the twentieth century and effectively link the Georgian tercentenary with the centenary of World War One.  2014 can permit us to see anew some continuities between 1714 and 1914.

There is an indirect continuity between 1714, or, more precisely, 1715, and 2014 which bears some consideration.  Unlike Queen Anne before him, George I succeeded to a formally united kingdom, as the Act of Union in 1707 had effectively unified the parliaments of England and Scotland.[17]  Yet no sooner had George I been crowned, thus securing the Protestant succession, than the first Jacobite Rebellion, or Rising, challenged his right and rule.  In support of the Catholic claimant to the throne, James, ‘the Old Pretender’, an army was marshalled in Scotland in 1715.  It was defeated by an English force, but the Jacobite standard was erected again in 1745, when James’s son Charles, or ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’, marched an army into England.  The second Jacobite Rising met with the same fate as the first, at Culloden, but with this difference: the later, bloody defeat resulted in the eradication of the traditional ways of life in the Highlands, as the Hanoverian regime in England sought to preclude any possibility of a third Jacobite Rebellion.  This loss of history and corresponding gaining of modernity was the specific subject of Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley, often regarded as the first historical novel, after its publication in 1814.  What this novel promoted ideologically was a British identity, ideally superseding but also incorporating earlier Scottish and English identities. 

It is a version of this ideological construct that is being put to the political test in the referendum of 2014 in Scotland, such that 1714, and George I’s recently united kingdom, is newly relevant to the present moment.  At this writing, there are only days left before the referendum, on 18th September 2014, on the issue of Scottish independence.  Watch this space!  Back in 1822, this construct of Britain was embodied when Scott stage-managed George IV’s visit to Edinburgh, when the King wore a kilt.  This same construct of a transcendent British identity was compounded in 1800 by an Act of Union between Britain and Ireland.  Some of the real consequences of this Act, which echoes the union between England and Scotland a century earlier, in 1707, were explored by way of fiction in Maria Edgeworth’s national tale, The Absentee, from 1812.        

A largely positive ending to the Georgian Age might be plotted in the Reform Act of 1832.  This Act abolished the old ‘Rotten Boroughs’ and made the House of Commons a more democratically representative institution, not least by expanding the franchise.  This was an Act on which subsequent democratic reforms were built.  Recollecting the Georgians is self-evidently salutary for putting our own commercial modernity in some perspective.  And there is a sense in which the two exhibitions at Buckingham Palace and the British Library are particularly apposite.  Buckingham Palace itself, now a compulsory item on any standard sight-seeing list for London, was, to a significant extent, the creation of George III and George IV.  Meanwhile, at the historical core of the British Library, and now enshrined behind glass in the centre of the modern building, is the collection of books donated to the nation by George II.  George III was also the original royal patron of the British Academy and of the Royal Academy of Arts.  In providing the impetus for several national institutions, of learning and the arts, these Georges were, in a sense, copying and hoping to catch up with the French, and their earlier institution-building.  Perhaps the best public service supplied by the imported German Georges was to turn parts of Britain into versions of France.  By George.


Bate, Jonathan, Shakespeare and the English Romantic Imagination (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989)

Butler, Marilyn, Romantics, Rebels, and Reactionaries: English Literature and its Background 1760-1830 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981)

Carey, Brycchan and Kitson, Peter, eds., Slavery and the Cultures of Abolition: Essays marking the Bicentennial of the British Abolition Act of 1807 (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2007)

Deary, Terry, Gorgeous Georgians (London: Scholastic, 1996)

De Grazia, Margreta, Shakespeare Verbatim: the Reproduction of Authenticity and the 1790 Apparatus (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991)

Hadlow, Janice, The Strangest Family: the Private Lives of George III, Queen Charlotte and the Hanoverians (London: Harper Collins, 2014)

Hobsbawm, Eric, The Age of Revolution 1789-1848 (New York: Vintage Books, 1996)

Hunter, J. Paul, Before Novels: The Cultural Contexts of Eighteenth-Century Fiction (New York and London: Norton, 1990)

Johnson, Samuel, A dictionary of the English language: in which the words are deduced from their originals, and illustrated in their different significations by examples from the best writers, to which are prefixed, a history of the language, and an English grammar, 2 vols (London: Printed by W. Strahan for J. and P. Knapton, etc., 1755)

— The lives of the most eminent English poets: with critical observations on their works, 4 vols (London: Printed for C. Bathurst, etc., 1781)

McVeigh, Simon, Concert Life in London from Mozart to Haydn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993)

Moody, Jane and O'Quinn, Daniel, eds., The Cambridge Companion to British Theatre 1730-1830 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007)

Paine, Thomas, Rights of Man, ed. Henry Collins (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982)

Pope, Alexander, The Poems of Alexander Pope, ed. John Butt (London: Methuen, 1965)

Porter, Roy, Enlightenment: Britain and the Creation of the Modern World (London: Penguin, 2000)

Richetti, John, ed., The Cambridge Companion to the Eighteenth-Century Novel (Cambridge: CUP, 1996)

Sambrook, James, The Eighteenth Century: The Intellectual and Cultural Context of English Literature 1700-1789 (London and New York: Longman, 1993)


[1] Some of this notice might be explained by the popularity of the children’s history series called ‘Horrible Histories’.  The particular volume that might have helped in this regard is Gorgeous Georgians (London: Scholastic, 1996), to which my own title here is indebted.

[2] The TV series was broadcast in May 2014.  In addition to the exhibition at Buckingham Palace, detailed at n. 7 below, there are exhibitions and events at Hampton Court relating to George I, at Kensington Palace in connection with George II, and at Kew Palace linked with George III.  These exhibitions, etc., run between 17 April and 30 November 2014.  Another topical source is Janice Hadlow’s recent The Strangest Family: the Private Lives of George III, Queen Charlotte and the Hanoverians (London: Harper Collins, 2014).

[3] See Simon McVeigh’s Concert Life in London from Mozart to Haydn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).  Simon McVeigh is a member of the academic staff in the Music Department at Goldsmiths.

[4] See Margreta de Grazia, Shakespeare Verbatim: the Reproduction of Authenticity and the 1790 Apparatus (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991) and Jonathan Bate, Shakespeare and the English Romantic Imagination (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989).

[5] A more balanced sense of the range, and the conditions, of contemporary theatre can be gained from The Cambridge Companion to British Theatre 1730-1830, eds., Jane Moody and Daniel O’Quinn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007). 

[6] Johnson’s The lives of the poets (London: Printed for C. Bathurst, etc., 1781), which includes biographies of numerous English poets, along with some copious quotation from their work, and some literary-critical appreciation of it, might be seen as another component in this construction of a national canon of literature around poetry, at the heart of which is the Bard.

[7] Another version of the period concentrates it on the reigns of the first four Georges, occluding William IV.  The exhibition at Buckingham Palace, in the Queen’s Gallery, is titled ‘The First Georgians: Art and Monarchy 1714-1760’, and it runs between 11 April and 12 October 2014.

[8] Among the very good surveys of the literature of this period are James Sambrook, The Eighteenth Century: The Intellectual and Cultural Context of English Literature 1700-1789 (London and New York: Longman, 1993) and Marilyn Butler’s Romantics, Rebels, and Reactionaries: English Literature and its Background 1760-1830 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981). 

[9] Thomas Paine used the phrase in his Rights of Man, ed., Henry Collins (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1982) p. 168.  The eminent twentieth-century historian, Eric Hobsbawm, also made use of the term in his compelling The Age of Revolution 1789-1848 (New York: Vintage Books, 1996), which addresses both the French and Industrial Revolutions.

[10] Georgian architecture, though a term in its own right, encompasses a range of styles, including the relative austerity of neo-Palladian Chiswick House, in west London, from the earlier Georgian period, and the orientalist exoticism of George IV’s palace at Brighton, which challenged a strong current of neoclassicism not only prominent within the Regency period but also as it had prevailed though much of the eighteenth century.   Notable architects of the period include William Kent, Sir John Soane and John Nash.  Susan Watson's piece in the present issue of GLITS-e, 'In the House of the Architect: Thoughts on Sir John Soane and the Art of Biography', reflects on some of Soane's work.  The Georgian period is also known for an architecture of the landscape, as designers such as Kent and Capability Brown constructed gardens and parks around the country houses of wealthy, landed families.

[11] For useful accounts of ‘the rise of the novel’, see J. Paul Hunter, Before Novels: The Cultural Contexts of Eighteenth-Century Fiction (New York and London: Norton, 1990) and The Cambridge Companion to the Eighteenth-Century Novel, ed., John Richetti (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

[12] Despite the contemporary sense of Enlightenment universals such as reason, and even the public, transcending mere national boundaries, Roy Porter makes a persuasive historical argument for the powerful distinctiveness of Britain in his Enlightenment: Britain and the Creation of the Modern World (London: Penguin, 2000).

[13] Alexander Pope, The Poems of Alexander Pope, ed., John Butt (London: Methuen, 1965) p. 151.

[14] Percy Bysshe Shelley, Shelley’s Poetry and Prose, eds., Donald H. Reiman and Sharon B. Powers (New York and London: Norton, 1977) p. 210.

[15] See, for example, Slavery and the Cultures of Abolition: Essays marking the Bicentennial of the British Abolition Act of 1807, eds., Brycchan Carey and Peter Kitson (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2007).

[16] ‘Turner and the Sea’ ran from 22 November 2013 to 21 April 2014.  No mention of British painting of the period, even as slender as this one, can be allowed to pass without the association of John Constable's name.  There is currently an exhibition of Constable's works at the Victoria and Albert Museum

[17] A union of the crowns of Scotland and England had already taken place, in effect, when James VI of Scotland became James I of England, in 1603, on the death of the childless Elizabeth I.