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Welsh History Review

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Vol. 19, nos. 1-4 1998-99

Religion and society in England and Wales, 1689-1800. Book review.

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Religion AND SociETY IN ENGLAND AND WALES, 1689-1800. Edited by
William Gibson. Leicester University Press, London and Washington,
1998. Pp. £ 69.95 hardback; £ 17.99 paperback.
This volume is a collection of excerpts and documents aimed at students of
eighteenth-century religion. It is presumably also designed to woo new
students to the subject (which currently seems rather unfashionable in
British schools and universities) and so must be doubly commended, even
though it battles against some difficulties. This book was prompted, as the
editor candidly states in his introduction, by the appearance of Cressy's
and Ferrell's similar collection of sources dealing with religion and society
in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. But the earlier period has
inbuilt organizing principles, such as the imposition of the Reformation,
the rise of puritanism or the Laudian contribution to the civil wars, which
are largely absent from the religious history of the period from 1689 to
1800. Dr Gibson arranges his texts under ten thematic headings: the
Glorious Revolution; the early Hanoverian church; the Bangorian,
Sacheverell and other controversies; evangelicalism and Wesley; popular
piety; the Church of England; Catholicism; religious continuity and
change; politics and religion; and foreign views of English religion. A brief
and breezy introduction clearly summarizes each of these themes and each
excerpt has a succinct headnote. Some of the material is what one would
expect: generous helpings of Bishops Burnet, Gibson and Porteus, of texts
generated by Wesley and the Methodists, the SPCK, and the visitation
system, and of course plenty from diaries and memoirs. Much of this is
enlightening and some of the less well-known material is intriguing,
whether it is Silas Todd's description of his commitment to Wesley, Bishop
Hough fencing with Nonjurors, Archdeacon Ball turning down a deanery,
or handbills advertising the auction of pews in Sheffield. It is good, too, to
have excerpts from the great thinkers, Locke, Leslie, Paley, Law, Warburton
among them, alongside the social history, but it should be pointed out that,
bar a couple of pages from Wesley on 'salvation by faith', there is very little
theology here. Although the range of texts is geographically wide, little
attempt is made at regional comparisons. Wales enjoys substantial
coverage-material is reproduced from Clement's 1952 edition of SPCK
correspondence relating to Wales, from G. N. Evans's study of Anglesey,
from Erasmus Sanders, Howell Harris, and others-and much of it makes
for gloomy reading. The same, however, can be said of the excerpts which
relate to Wiltshire, Norfolk, the Pennines and elsewhere. Indeed, after
reading through this collection, it is difficult to decide what one thinks of
eighteenth-century religion and society. That is to some extent less a
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