An Epoch of Life and Vigour
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Thomas Kydd was born in the Georgian Age, into a family whose livelihood depended on wig-making, a trade that would gradually diminish in importance over the coming years.
The Georgian Age, an epoch full of life and vigour, is variously defined (but most generally take it from the reign of George 1 in 1714, to the ascension of Queen Victoria in 1837). It was certainly a time of great change and huge contrasts. During the Georgian period we can point to what was probably the most graceful, leisured and cultivated time that England has known but also to the tragic consequences of the Enclosure Acts, the appalling conditions of factory life, the harsh criminal laws, the incidence of drunkenness, squalor and disease.
The early Georgians were natural, spontaneous, and straightforward. The stiff upper lip had not yet been built into the character of the English. That would come as the Georgian era morphed into the Victorian Age, partly due to the evangelical movement, partly as a reaction against the unsettling of the traditional order by industrialisation.
As the eighteenth century progressed ordinary people enjoyed a far better standard of living than ever before, and the opening up of road communications increased optimism and the feeling of attaining a new level of civilisation.
Between 1700 and 1800 the population doubled (to 8.8 million in England and Wales), many great newspapers were founded, and the middle classes – merchants and small shopkeepers, doctors, lawyers, the new landowners – came to feel more sure of their identity. Exotic influences sprang from a growing internationalism brought about by the Grand Tour and the greater ease of foreign travel, by the trading of the East India Company and other merchants, and by the voyages of explorers like Captain James Cook. These influences made themselves felt in literature, architecture and the sciences.
A steady accumulation of wealth continued throughout the Georgian period. In 1783, it was estimated that there were 28 peers with land in excess of 100,000 acres. The Industrial Revolution had its birth under the Georges but did not reach maturity until Victoria’s time.
London, ‘the Great Wen’, grew remorselessly during the Georgian era. In 1763 James Boswell observed that ‘one end of London is like a different country from the other in look and manners.’ While the rich relocated among the fashionable new squares and terraces of the West End, and the ‘middling’ classes built homes in outlying areas such as Blackheath, Putney and Kew, the poor crammed into the vacated districts on the fringes of the old City. The teeming East End ‘rookeries’ were vividly portrayed by Hogarth’s grim engravings.
Although there was a large-scale movement of workers from the countryside to London and other cities, even in 1801 78% of the population of England and Wales still lived in the country. (A fifty-fifty distribution of country vs. city dwellers was not reached until 1851.)
London’s population had topped the million mark by 1810, becoming the biggest city in the world…
Leicester Square: Public domain via Wikimedia Commons; Hogarth print: Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
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Fantastic and very informative information.
I am a new reader and an avid fan of naval stories in the days of sail or war stories of the British or US Navies. I am presently reading your Kydd novels in order and am reading Victory now via iPad.
My comment concerns your character Renzi. With all respect, I feel there are way too many pages devoted to him and find myself scanning through them and feeling like the novel is very short and overpriced because of this.
Thank you for writing a story that, when it is dealing with Kydd, holds me spellbound.
As an aside, I was a volunteer sail handler for 10 years on the Star of India out of San Diego and memories come flooding back when I read the sail handling parts of your stories.
I welcome comments on the characters in my books – it seems you don’t take to Renzi! Many of my readers find him most intriguing – and a counterfoil to Kydd’s personality…
While reading another author’s tale of sailing on the high seas in the 1790s (just taking a short break from your very interesting works), I wondered how boatswains and their mates survived aboard ship. It seems most were brutal with the cane and rope’s-end, at the orders of officers, and surely the crew disliked them immensely. I am surprised most of them weren’t tossed overboard on dark and dreary nights. Did that happen often? They had to be looking over their shoulders most of the time.
The atmosphere aboard ship in Kydd’s day depended largely on the captain. If he was fair, the men accepted punishment. It was the way things were, and generally, life aboard was better than the lot of a common labourer or farm hand ashore. Of course there were some sadistic captains, officers and sailors but these were in the minority. If there were as many as some suggest there would have been many more mutinies – and there weren’t all that many. That’s not to say, however, that on rare occasions a particularly callous/cruel mariner might not have met his end in a ‘tragic accident’…