To read Tristram Hunt’s delightful new biography of Josiah Wedgwood (1730–95) is to be beamed back to an intellectual environment that, compared with that of our dogmatic and uncompromising twenty-first century, seems a scarcely believable neverland. Imagine, if you can, a time when science and Christian revelation seemed mutually supportive, with the Newtonian universe being perceived as God’s plan. A time when “paternalism” was a positive value rather than a term of opprobrium. A time when a great capitalist could also be a great liberal and feel no conflict between the two creeds. A time when that same great liberal could simultaneously be a great patriot, with a firm belief in “the semi-divine calling of Great Britain.” A time when “mass production” and “craft” were not yet mutually exclusive terms.

It was the dawn of...

 

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