‘When histories, too often, have little room for the individuals who are the life and soul of the past, there is a place for a history which is composed of the lives of those who helped to make it what it was – and is.’ From Introduction
The seventh in the eight-volume Who’s Who in British History series spans the period from the outbreak of the French Revolution to the accession of Queen Victoria. Its themes include the wars against revolutionary France, liberal and radical campaigns for reform of society and institutions, a new and turbulent phase in the ‘Irish question’, the evolution of mature imperial power, the transforming effect of industrialism on a fast-growing population, and the abolition of slavery.
It was a heroic time in many ways. Not only were there the soldiers, sailors and statesmen who defended the nation and consolidated the empire; there were also the great engineers who tackled the obstacles of nature in the conviction that nothing was impossible, evangelical Christians who felt called to take the Gospel to the furthest parts of the world, artists and writers who responded to the visionary spirit, and politicians and students intoxicated by the fall of the Bastille. Revolution did not occur but violence was endemic – two prime ministers fought duels, a third was shot by a bankrupt merchant.
175 short essays convey more than the bare facts about their subjects’ lives by placing them in the context of their time and evoking what was distinctive and interesting in their personality and achievement.
Each biographical entry is a complete essay, skilful in its selection of evidence and its methods of assessment. The author has been a teacher, but it is his view that history which is instructive can also be entertaining.
The sequence is broadly chronological rather than alphabetical, making it easier for the reader to gain a sense of the period in which they lived by browsing from one contemporary to another. The index, with its cross-references, facilitates the tracing of further information.
Geoffrey Treasure, general editor of the Who’s Who in British History series (Shepheard-Walwyn, 1988-1997) was Senior Master at Harrow School. Besides his two volumes for this series, he has written about French and European history, notably Seventeenth Century France (revised ed., John Murray, 1981), The Making of Modern Europe (Routledge, 1985), Mazarin (Routledge, 1955) and Louis XIV (Longmans, 2001). He has contributed articles to the Encyclopaedia Britannica on Europe and the Enlightenment and to the New Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004).
Keywords: Who’s Who in British History