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1.4 Wilberforce in Parliament

When Wilberforce made his first major speech against the slave trade in the House of Commons in April 1789, few could have anticipated that it was the start of a campaign that he would have doggedly to maintain for 18 years. During most of the period between 1789 and 1807 Wilberforce brought forward at least one anti-slave trade motion or measure every year, to be met often with defeat, sometimes with partial successes that could not be translated into effective legislation. His initial timin
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1.3 Wilberforce’s ‘Conversion’ to Evangelicalism

Wilberforce’s religious ‘conversion’ in 1785 was profound but not instantaneous. Through the influence of Isaac Milner, an Evangelical clergyman who was his companion on extended journeys on the Continent, he first became intellectually convinced of the truth of Christian doctrines that he had doubted in the early 1780s. This process of rational argument, study and consideration was characteristic of an Enlightenment way of thinking, even if the conclusion was diametrically opposed to t
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1.2 Upbringing; MP for Yorkshire

William Wilberforce (Figure 1) was born in Hull, the son and grandson of substantial merchants who had made their fortune in trade between Yorkshire and the Baltic. His father died in 1768 and he subsequently went to live for a period with his uncle and aunt. Through them he was exposed not only to the influence of John Newton, but also to that
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1.1 Early influences

In the early summer of 1771, the clergyman and writer John Newton (1725–1807) was visited at Olney by two of his admirers, William and Hannah Wilberforce, a wealthy childless couple, and their 11-year-old nephew and heir, also named William. Newton made a profound impression on the boy. In 1785 it was to Newton that the younger William Wilberforce (1759–1833), now Member of Parliament for Yorkshire and a close friend of Prime Minister William Pitt (the Younger), turned for counsel in the
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Learning outcomes

When you have completed your work on this unit you should have developed:

  • a knowledge of key aspects of William Wilberforce’s political career and writings, and an appreciation of their historical and religious significance;

  • an awareness of the relationship of Evangelicalism to cultural transitions between the Enlightenment and Romanticism;

  • an understanding of the contribution of religion to cultural, social and political change in Britain in the
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Introduction

William Wilberforce, the politician and religious writer, was instrumental in the abolition of slavery in Britain in 1807. This unit explores Wilberforce’s career and writings and assesses their historical significance. In particular it examines the contribution that Evangelicalism, the religious tradition to which Wilberforce belonged, made in the transitions between the Enlightenment and Romanticism. Throughout it relates Wilberforce’s career and writings to wider social and cultural de
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5.3 Do we have a duty to God not to commit suicide?

Why, you may be wondering, would anyone think that we have a duty to God not to take our own lives? Because it would have been so familiar to his original readership, Hume barely bothers to state the position he is opposing before criticising it. His concern is to refute the charge that in taking our own lives we would be ‘encroaching on the office of divine providence, and disturbing the order of the universe’ (paragraph 8). This position can be expressed less elegantly but more t
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5.2 Philosophy, religion and everyday life

Perhaps because he is aware he will be stirring up trouble by publishing his views on this topic, Hume warms to his theme by talking in paragraphs 1–4 about how he conceives of the relation between philosophy, religious ‘superstition’ and ordinary life. The rest of the essay can be read independently of this opening, but these early ruminations are worth pausing over. They reveal subtleties in Hume's sceptical outlook that are drowned out in the more polemical parts of the two essays.
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5.1 The reception of Hume's views

‘Of suicide’ was received with the same degree of public hostility as his essay on immortality. Here is what an anonymous reviewer of the 1777 posthumous edition of both essays had to say in the Monthly Review (1784, vol. 70, pp. 427–8):

Were a drunken libertine to throw out such nauseous stuff in the presence of his Bacchanalian companions, there might be some excuse for him; but were any man to advan
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4.1 Why was our immortality an issue?

When reading about Hume's death you may have been puzzled as to why people became so worked up about Hume's attitude. The question of what, if anything, happens after death is something most of us are at least curious about, just as most of us are curious to know what we will be doing in a few years’ time. But curiosity cannot explain the venom evident in the condemnations of Hume.

The reason for the hostility can be approached by considering the opera Don Giovanni. The opera i
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3.4 Proving God's existence

Deists had at their disposal three traditional ways of arguing for the existence of God.

The most popular in the late eighteenth century was the argument from design (also known as the teleological argument, from the Greek word telos, meaning end or purpose). This argument begins with an observation: the world around us is not chaotic but ordered and harmonious. Some examples: whenever the tide comes in it goes out again shortly after; without an ability to inhale a
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5.1 Revolutionary calendar and metric system

We considered earlier the universalist principles of 1789 deriving from the Enlightenment that inspired the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the redivision of France into departments. As the dominant group in the Convention by 1793, the Jacobins regarded themselves as mandated to enact the ‘general will’ of the people in a sense inspired by Rousseau: not as the aggregate weight of the individual aspirations of 28 million Frenchmen, but as the expression of that which, as virtuous men
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4.4 The guillotine

The new system of departments introduced in 1790 removed the many differing and often overlapping jurisdictions of Old Regime France and replaced them with a uniform system of justice. Each department had its own criminal court, each district a civil court. All criminal cases were to be tried by jury, another revolutionary innovation. Enlightenment thinkers including Montesquieu and Voltaire had criticized the arbitrariness and brutality of penal practice in Old Regime France. Judicial tortur
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3.1 The moderate reformers

1789–92 was a period of relatively moderate reform in the spirit of the Enlightenment – moderate, that is, compared with what followed. It was certainly revolutionary in relation to what went before. The Constituent Assembly (August 1789–September 1791) and its successor, the Legislative Assembly (October 1791–August 1792), comprising educated members of the Third Estate joined by liberal-minded nobles and clergy, were satisfied with the transformation of absolute monarchy into
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2.4 Enlightened reformism – dismantling the Old Regime

The National Assembly, the self-proclaimed and now de facto supreme representative and legislative organ of state, set to work on the constitution which it had sworn to introduce. Calling itself the Constituent Assembly (to stress both its representative credentials and its constitutional mission), it consisted of 745 deputies elected for two years with virtually unlimited power to pass laws. The king, by interposing his veto, might delay but could not override laws passed by it
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1.3 Napier's approach to logarithms

Napier's major and more lasting invention, that of logarithms, forms a very interesting case study in mathematical development. Within a century or so what started life as merely an aid to calculation, a set of ‘excellent briefe rules’, as Napier called them, came to occupy a central role within the body of theoretical mathematics.

The basic idea of what logarithms were to achieve is straightforward: to replace the wearisome task of multiplying two numbers by the simpler task
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1.2 Napier's bones

Before pursuing who logarithms were for (and what they are), we first look briefly at another of Napier's computational aids. For in the years following his death, it was in fact his numerating rods, the so-called Napier's bones, that were more widely known and used. These consisted of the columns of a multiplication table inscribed on rods, which could make the multiplying of two numbers easier by setting down the partial products more swiftly. This simple contrivance was derived from
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2.5 Is the author dead?

When Roland Barthes (1915–80) wrote ‘The Death of the Author’ (first published 1968, reprinted in Barthes 1977), he did not mean that, like Wimsatt and Beardsley, the author had been, or should always have been, absent in the interpretation of art works. Instead his position is a historicised one: while once it might have been acceptable to refer to the author in the interpretation of an art work, now, in a post-modern world, it is not. Michel Foucault (1926–84) responded to Barthes (
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Learning outcomes

By the end of this unit you should be able to:

  • analyse the pros and cons of the biographical monograph in art history;

  • examine the strengths and weaknesses of the biographical monograph in relation to other kinds of art history writing.


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Introduction

This unit will concentrate on one of the most common forms of art history writing – a biographical monograph about a single artist's life and work. You will be focusing on the way that one author, Helen Langdon, has used biography in her book about one artist, Caravaggio. In order to get the most out of studying this unit you will need access to a copy of this book (ISBN 071266582x)

You will look in detail at the methods she has used to approach her subject and the different kinds of
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