A strong streak of puritanism lasted throughout the 18th century; radical politicians and protesting workers were joined by reforming churchmen in criticising the social and moral ills of society. John Bowdler’s defence of the spiritual rights of the church was combined with strong protests against economic abuses; as a ‘high-church’ supporter, he attacked the idea of dissent against Anglicanism, and proposed that priests in the Church of England should not be allowed to dance, that playing cards should be abolished, and that the Sabbath should be kept for worship alone, by law if necessary.
Bowdler’s strongly worded pamphlet Reform or ruin: take your choice! (1797) exposes the immorality and lack of religious observance in the nation. As the title page points out, nobody is free from his critical eye: all must reform in order to ‘save the country’.
John Bowdler was brother of Thomas Bowdler, editor of the Family Shakespeare (1818), which removed the racy parts of the text, and gave rise to the word ‘bowdlerise’.
- Article by:
- Ruth Mather
- Power and politics, Romanticism
In August 1819 dozens of peaceful protestors were killed and hundreds injured at what became known as the Peterloo Massacre. Ruth Mather examines the origins, response and aftermath of this key early 19th century political event.