The State of the Nation

To solve a problem it first helps to understand it, and many writers tackling political and social questions have journeyed through Britain to collect information with which to formulate their arguments. In periods of rapid economic change, publications describing innovations and good practice in industry and husbandry fostered further advances. The distress of the rural population during times of agricultural depression and the endemic poverty of the urban underclass were highlighted by investigations undertaken in the afflicted areas: nineteenth-century controversialists such as William Cobbett in the southern English countryside and Henry Mayhew in London did not merely describe the circumstances they encountered but placed them within forthright political and moral frameworks. Foreign visitors observed the distinctive political and religious institutions of Great Britain from fresh, and not always admiring, viewpoints.


A seller of ‘long-songs’, or collections of song-lyrics, a print based on a daguerreotype, from Henry Mayhew, London labour and the London poor..., London, 1851. XIX.49.16


A cart convertible into a wagon, one of the innovations encountered in Norfolk by Arthur Young and described in The farmer’s tour through the east of England... to enquire into the state of agriculture..., London, 1771. XVIII.4.28