Moral Culture and the March of Mind: Education and Economics in the Early Nineteenth Century
The language of politics and morals in later 18th-century England was suffused with expressions of wonder, fascination, and alarm at the growing power of ‘commerce’, the ubiquitous influence of which extended from public finance to domestic economy, high fashion to popular politics. The growth of a middle-class reading public, the shift from aristocratic patronage to the literary marketplace, and the end of perpetual copyright all testified to the dramatic changes in the ‘polite’ culture of 18th-century Britain brought about by the commercialisation of literature and learning. Perhaps just as importantly, however, these changes also helped to stimulate anxious reflection on the relationship between new wealth, moral propriety, and the concomitant progress of intellectual enlightenment amongst the labouring and ‘mechanical’ classes of society. Thomas Robert Malthus provided a powerful justification for the progressive social diffusion of the moral precepts of Christianity, the principles of political economy, and the basic literacy skills necessary for their effective inculcation.
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