2007, 389 p & notes
One of the basic questions in writing history is how to define the period under examination. Sometimes historians use seminal events- particularly military ones- as markers. Others use famous people: “the age of Beethoven” or “Austen’s world”. Centuries can be used as markers, stretched out to form “the long 18th century” or “the long 19th century”. A recent approach, reflecting no doubt the effect of sociology on history, has been to look at generations.
My own research takes an individual life as its starting point: that of John Walpole Willis, born in 1793. I’ve been interested in some time in the mental furniture with which his mind would have been stocked, having grown to adulthood in pre-Victorian times, yet living most of his professional life under Victoria’s reign. As a judge, his pronouncements from the bench seem steeped in Victorian rectitude, but he was himself born in Georgian times. Using the British royal family as periodization (Georgian, Victorian) is convenient, but it doesn’t explain how any qualitative change from one era to another occurred. How did the rambunctious disorder and ribaldry of Georgian times turn into the moralistic earnestness of Victorian times? How did this affect the way that people thought? Continue reading