Claire Grogan


The fear of contamination in Britain during the 1790s from foreign bodies—whether food, fashion, or politics—preoccupied many writers and public personages. The quotation by Elizabeth Hamilton’s mock-heroine Bridgetina Botherim in Memoirs of Modern Philosophers (1800) illustrates a pervasive fear shared by educationalists and authority figures that the most innocent packages might harbour foreign bodies—in this instance, and of paramount importance to writers—even when remaindered. Perceiving the nation under attack from foreign influences, the writer invariably creates or calls upon the reader’s sense of being uniquely British to resist foreign invasion and assert his or her own national identity. Stirring up nationalistic fervour to dissuade or encourage, as the case may be, the revolutionary ideas in the New Philosophy evoked a common response in the reader. Consider Edmund Burke’s famous passage in Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) when he shames his English readers as “unmanly” and un-British for sympathizing with the French revolutionary forces rather than the beleaguered French queen. Burke reiterates a common belief that “the French act from feeling, and the British from principle,” since the latter are noted for their “innocence, honesty, originality, frankness and moral self reliance.” An appropriate empathy with the threatened French queen reflects true breeding as an English gentleman. Thomas Paine evokes a similar nationalistic strain in Rights of Man, Part One, but in support of a diametrically opposed political agenda, when he calls upon his fellow Englishmen to assert and claim their God-given rights as Englishmen under foreign “English” monarchs. Mary Hays’s Appeal to the Men of Great Britain in Behalf of Women clearly expects nationality to figure in the reader’s enlightened response to the female’s predicament.