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.
Reviews'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
'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
'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
'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 JeffreyWright 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
Journal of British Studies, Volume 53 / Issue 01
'Jonathan Jeffrey Wright's assured and accomplished monograph uses a study of the remarkable Tennent family to reconstruct the world view of the liberal Presbyterian elite of Belfast in the decades after the Union.'
Ian McBride, The American Historical Review