There really is an impudence in the press of this age that does the country more disservice in disorganising the people than all the democratic leaders can do, I think; and I’m afraid it is sowing the seeds of a commotion that our children or grandchildren will feel the dire effects of.”

Charles Dibdin, the proprietor of Sadler’s Wells Theatre, was in no doubt about a cultural crisis in Britain in 1813. That same year, the conservative Nottingham Gazette was launched to try to stem “the torrent” overwhelming people’s minds. There is much that is topical about the 1810s: a great state exhausted by war, a nation in the throes of economic and social transformation, and a political system assailed by the demands of radicals for fundamental change.

In such a context, how can stability be maintained? How...


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