The ‘Natural Leaders’ and their World

Politics, Culture and Society in Belfast, c. 1801–1832

Jonathan Jeffrey Wright

£25.00
- +

ISBN: 9781781387771

Publication: January 3, 2013

Series: Reappraisals in Irish History 1

This book is a richly detailed exploration of the complex and cosmopolitan urban culture inhabited by the Presbyterian elite of late-Georgian Belfast, which will prove to be of interest to a wide range of scholars working on the political, cultural and intellectual histories of both Ireland and Britain during the age of reform. Employing both biographical and thematic approaches, the book begins by examining the story of the Tennents, one of the most prominent Presbyterian families in early-nineteenth-century Belfast, before turning to reconstruct their milieu. Challenging existing narratives, the study provides a major re-assessment of the political life of late-Georgian Belfast, highlighting the activities of a close-knit group of advanced reformer – the ‘natural leaders’ of the books title – who sought to promote the cause of reform and engage with British and European political events. In addition, the book contains the first serious scholarly examination of the cultural and intellectual life of the town in the early-nineteenth century, and the first major treatment of the middle classes’ philanthropic activities. The interplay of politics and culture is discussed, as is the accuracy of Belfast’s reputation as the ‘Athens of the North’ and the religious underpinnings of the town’s charitable societies. In examining these areas, attention is paid to the influence of trends such as romanticism and evangelicalism and of writers such as Lord Byron, Walter Scott, Robert Owen and Thomas Chalmers, and it is argued that, both culturally and politically, the Presbyterian middle classes of Belfast inhabited a British world.

Dr Jonathan Jeffrey Wright holds an IRCHSS-funded postdoctoral fellowship at Trinity College, Dublin and is a research fellow on the AHRC-funded Scientific Metropolis project at Queen's University Belfast.

Abbreviations Introduction 1. Will Tennent’s band of ‘bastards and rebels’: the Tennent family in its contexts Introduction I. ‘Blest Tenant … faithful servant of the Lord’ II. ‘A moderate in times of popular excitement’? III. ‘A totally new man’ IV. ‘A dismal home’ V. ‘An entire change of inhabitants Conclusion 2. The ‘natural leaders’, part one: politics and personalities Introduction I. Setting the scene II. Aristocrats, ‘alarmed whigs’ and ‘young men’ III. ‘Such Orangemen as good William would have approved’ IV. ‘The progress of public opinion’ V. Turning points VI. ‘A scene for history to scorn’ Conclusion 3. The ‘natural leaders’, part two: Belfast, Europe and the world Introduction I. ‘Buonaparte-Protestants’ II. ‘The contagious blaze of freedom’ III. ‘A new world’ IV. ‘The Destruction of the Naturals’ Conclusion 4. ‘The manhood of the mind’: classicism, romanticism and the politics of culture Introduction I. The politics of culture II. The Athens of the North? III. ‘Athens fam’d Institution’ IV. ‘The seat of the muses themselves’? V. Robert Hyndman’s toe Conclusion 5. ‘Thank-offerings to the God of providence’: philanthropy, evangelicalism and social change Introduction I. ‘Money in its pockets and roast beef for dinner’ II. ‘Admirably conduced charitable institutions’ III. ‘Prayers and preachments from morning to night’ IV. The ‘pernicious visionary’ and the ‘gigantic genius’ V. ‘We should as it were compel them’ Conclusion CONCLUSION Appendices Bibliography Index

A fine book, a well-written and insightful study on early nineteenth-century Belfast politics. By focusing on the Tennent family and using a rich array of underutilized sources, Jonathan Jeffrey Wright has produced an important book that greatly adds to our understanding of this critical era. If the book raises as many questions as it answers, we are further indebted to the author’s work, particularly if this stimulating study leads other talented scholars to examine the rich and often ignored experience of early nineteenth-century Belfast.
Sean Farrell   Journal of British Studies, Volume 53 / Issue 01

Informed by the most recent historiographical trends and research, Wright’s book demonstrates the numerous new avenues available to historians of Ulster. Smartly organized and engagingly written, it is an important work.
  Reviews in History

An important contribution to the history of Belfast as well as to the broader subjects of Ulster liberalism and Presbyterianism. By stepping out of the usual historiographical constraints placed upon the period, Wright has produced a confident and enlightening first monograph, one that hopefully will help to steer future research into what is perhaps the most neglected period of modern Ulster’s history.
  Reviews in History

A rigorous, painstaking study by Jonathan Wright that authoritatively skewers myth after myth. It shines a revealing light on the political, cultural and social life of Belfast in the early 19th century.
  The Irish Times

Format: Ebook

ISBN: 9781781387771

Publication: January 3, 2013

Series: Reappraisals in Irish History 1

Scroll to top