Primary Source Archives
Gale Primary Sources contains full-text archives and digitized literature that provide researchers with firsthand articles from 18th century literature in England and primary sources to drive research at your university.
Review the events and developments that occurred during the eighteenth century in the United Kingdom (UK), the political entity that includes the island of Great Britain (England, Wales, and Scotland), part of the island of Ireland, and the grouping of islands off the west coast of Great Britain. Prior to 1707, the nations were separate territories, but in May of that year, the parliaments of England and Scotland finalized the Acts of Union that combined the British and Scottish parliaments and two royal titles into one United Kingdom of Great Britain. (Ireland joined in 1800.) The newly formed Great Britain would rise to become the world's dominant colonial power over France and Spain, but also lose its territories in North America during the eighteenth century, a period of British history that is marked by several major wars with various combatants. These included the Seven Years' War (also called the French and Indian War) from 1756–1763, when British power was strengthened at France's expense; several wars with Spain (the Anglo-Spanish War and the War of Jenkin's Ear) the last rebellion of Scottish Jacobites, beginning in 1745 and ending at the Battle of Culloden in 1746; several Indian Wars related to the British East India Company (the Anglo-Maratha and Anglo-Mysore Wars); and the American Revolution, 1775-1783, which lessened British colonial power. It was a time of significant economic and geographic expansion (with the value of British exports soaring more than 500% from 1700 to 1800) and the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, when technological advances led first to the modernization of textile, iron, and steel production, and then to far-ranging changes in factory production of all sorts, transforming British society along with many traditional aspects of the British landscape. One of the major advancements came with inventor James Watt's enhancement of Thomas Newcomen's steam engine.
One of the most prosperous countries in the world during this period, Great Britain built a strong royal navy to help protect a vast worldwide trading network for its manufacturers, merchants, shippers, and financiers. However, what has become known as the First British Empire collapsed with the loss of colonial holdings in North America following the American Revolution. After the revolution of the American colonies threw off the British monarchy, Great Britain turned its imperial gaze away from the Americas and toward Asia, the South Pacific, and later Africa (marking the start of the period of Second Empire). Though Great Britain was a participant in the Transatlantic slave trade from Africa, which continued throughout the eighteenth century especially in its colonies, abolitionists began a movement to stop it, which came to fruition in the nineteenth century. The mid-century and late century politics of the time were heavily influenced by Age of Enlightenment philosophers, ideas upon which the American Revolution and the French Revolution (1789-1799) were based, as the traditional reign of royal dynasties and the privileges of nobility were questioned. The political dynamics of the British Parliament, divided into the House of Commons and the House of Lords, also showed some of the same divisions.
This century was also an age of notable literary, cultural, and artistic achievement. Eighteenth-century English literature included works of poetry and prose still recognized in the modern era. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe was one of the earliest of English novels (1720), followed by Jonathan Swift's classic prose satire on travel, discovery, and human nature, Gulliver's Travels (1726), and the mid-century English novel The History of Tom Jones (1749) by Henry Fielding. Irish author and satirist Oliver Goldsmith wrote the popular novel The Vicar of Wakefield (1760). One of the most acclaimed literary achievements was the influential A Dictionary of the English Language, published Samuel Johnson in 1755. During the last quarter of the century, Adam Smith published his influential economics treatise on The Wealth of Nations (1776). The English poet and essayist Alexander Pope was popular in the early eighteenth century, using satire in his mock-heroic narrative poetry, including The Rape of the Lock (1717) and The Dunciad (1728). English poetry by William Blake, William Wordsworth, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge marked the beginning of Romanticism in English literature—celebrating the innocence of nature while decrying the corrupting influences of modern industry—and the novel The Castle of Otranto (1764) by Horace Walpole sparked interest in the Gothic horror novel. In 1792, Mary Wollstonecraft published Vindication of the Rights of Woman, one of the first prominent feminist tracts, calling for equal political rights and improvements in women's education. Her book, written after the American Revolution and during the French Revolution, referenced the ideals of equal rights for men on which the revolutions were predicated. Rules for cricket, the first modern ball game, were codified in 1744, and Britain's Royal Academy (for artists) was founded in 1768.
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