The Future Is Another Country: Offshore Views of the British Industrial Revolution





This article is built upon a dense description and inferences drawn from the diaries and memoirs of travellers who visited the British Isles between 1815 and 1850. The majority came from Mainland Europe and North America and arrived aware of the economic growth and social change underway in Britain. We comment upon and analyze the ways that they reported and the language they used to describe novel features of the British economy. We reflect upon the key issues raised by these travellers on the economic, social and political change that they observed at first hand. Finally, we reflect on the overall contribution that sources from offshore might offer for the plurality of meanings attached to the First Industrial Revolution.

1. An Exercise in Recovering Another Meaning for the First Industrial Revolution

Together with the French Revolution and the Italian Renaissance, the First Industrial Revolution belongs to a group of conjunctures that continues to occupy a place of primacy in historiographies for British, European, American and World histories.2 Generations of historians assumed they possessed a rough idea of its nature, chronology, boundaries and significance. Only in the last decade or so what seemed to be an unproblematic label has become a terrain for prolonged debate about the cultural and social meanings of what had been traditionally represented as an economic conjuncture.3 Much of this recent writing has moved away from economic history agendas that for decades had framed debates about the Industrial Revolution by reconstituting and relocating data and other evidence from a pre-selected period, stretching from the end of the Seven Years War to the Great Exhibition, into analyses about economic growth that depend heavily upon the tools, models and vocabularies of economics, sociology and statistics.4

The decline of this style of writing economic history has by no means eroded interest in “The” Industrial Revolution. While the rigorous specification and quantification of British industrialization may be out of fashion, cultural and social historians have been active in debating how this still famous conjuncture in world history might be contextualised and represented in their (modern socio-cultural) texts.5“Agency” is back in the frame along with the problem of “meaning”, namely the question of how people alive at the time perceived and made sense of the dramatic social, cultural, technological and economic changes that characterised the off-shore Island's precocious transition to an urban industrial society.

2. The Sources: Their Strengths and Weaknesses

Abundant testimonies from Britons who experienced the Industrial Revolution have long been available in national archives and are already embodied in whole libraries of secondary literature in British social history. Thus, in this paper we propose to recover another strand of meaning for the ongoing discourse about this famous conjuncture by investigating contemporary “representations” and “perspectives” culled largely from diaries, travelogues and reports written by foreigners who toured England and Scotland between the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the Great Exhibition of 1851.6

We suggest that these sources help us to recover a stronger sense of difference and discontinuity from visitors with a deeper awareness of economic and social departures from an ancién regime that they witnessed emerging on an offshore island.7 Outsiders displayed a sharper eye for the “shock of the new” and expressed deeper anxieties as to how both benign and malign features of British industrialization might foster the development or upset the stabilities of their own countries on the mainland of Europe and the newly independent United States of America.

Novel and interesting as their perceptions are, the writings of foreign travellers are rarely transparent or unambiguous. Recent histories of cultural contacts and encounters has made us aware of the complexities involved in engaging with such challenging bodies of evidence.8 Visitors and their recorded impressions need to be situated geographically, located socially, demarcated politically and categorized intellectually. Furthermore the tropes and images that appear frequently in their diaries were clearly inspired by European vocabularies and aesthetic conventions of the day.9 For example, long before 1800 travel books had matured into a literary genre with specific narrative and descriptive conventions. Thus it was not surprising to find most of our sources open with physical descriptions of towns and cities, discuss manners and customs, and conclude with attempts to analyse the “produce and improvement” of lands, trade and manufactures. Such writings had been around since Defoe's Tour of England in the 1720s.10 Thereafter travellers' narratives evolved into literary forms that incorporated mesmerising industrial processes within acceptable tropes. In short, they matured into “guidance” for neophytes visiting the awesome cotton mills of Manchester or enjoying the inebriating experience of railways.

Most diaries and travelogues referenced here were not intended for publication, but several appeared as well-known books in their respective countries and influenced educated opinion upon Britain's industrial progress.11 For instance, the Revue Britanique appeared in Paris from 1825 and was a “recueil d'observations” on diverse aspects of British society, customs and economic and social matters. The Revue also published abridged versions of travel reports from authors such as Blanqui, Pichot, Chasles and Nodier.12 Diaries of more famous travellers like Beltrami, Goede, Pückler Muskau, Jean Baptiste Say and the King of Saxony were translated into English soon after publication, and reached a British public in search of alien views that might reassure them that all was well with their own society.13 Furthermore, most of the extensive body of literature reviewed here consists of impressions that not only differ from reports of foreigners on missions to study advanced industrial technologies, but are less profound than the more considered reflexions published by European and American intellectuals who conceptualised what they saw or read about developments in England within academic discourses in philosophy, economics and political thought. That illuminating body of scholarship has already been analysed by Gareth Steadman Jones, Emma Rothschild, Roberto Romani and other members of a Cambridge school in history and economics.14

Graphic, occasionally shallow, but sometimes insightful, the reflexions that Europeans and Americans wrote down as observers of the British Isles constitutes a body of evidence that can help historians refine “contemporary conceptions” of Britain's Industrial Revolution. Indeed, in some ways the impressions of travellers and reflexions of intellectuals from the mainland and North America may be more heuristic to contemplate than the familiar bodies of British primary sources that have long informed historical constructions of this seminal episode. That occurs because they emanated as immediate visual reactions from visitors commenting upon contrasts with their own different and possibly “retarded” national economies and societies or emerge as considered reflexions locatable in discourses with compatriots seriously concerned with the nature and desirability of comparable courses of economic, social and political change for their own societies.

After all the very conception of an industrial revolution happens to be foreign not British in origin. None of these observers considered that famous transition without prior assumptions and anticipations.15 Their comments can be located within an evolving body of continental views upon Britain's economy, culture, society and political system that had swung from the Anglophilia of Montesquieu, Voltaire and their generation early in the eighteenth century to the antipathies of Rousseau, Diderot and Manby during the American rebellion.16 After 1815 foreign perceptions moved on to encompass the Anglophobia of liberals against a state that had led and subsidized coalitions of autocratic monarchs to defeat the armies and repress the ideals of the French Revolution.17

Hitherto the best known use of foreign sources by British historians includes reports emanating from technologists and industrial spies on business or official missions to the Isles that began to appear early in the eighteenth century.18 As experts, they came to study machinery, processes and modes of organizing manufacturing and for several decades were normally complimentary about the high quality and novelty of British products and machinery.19 Most arrived convinced that the progress of European industrialization also depended upon specific machines and skills, and lay in the development of particular industries, especially iron and engineering.20 Foreign businessmen who remained sometime in Britain for technical training agreed, but they also continued to be more concerned to collect practical information than to formulate any coherent understanding of the socio-economic transformation taking place on the Island.21 For example, Pierre André Docoster was able to introduce the latest flax-spinning technology into France just a year after visiting similar mills in England.22 Others, like Dufrénoy, Beaumont, Coste and Le Play or the German architects Schinkel and Beuth, came to discover the secrets of iron, hot blast processes and cast steel.23 Many who saw British industry as progressive ignored the ineluctability of social evils associated with factories.

Our selections and interpretation from this quotable body of printed literature from seven offshore countries exposes its potential to make a contribution towards reconfigurations of the Industrial Revolution which are currently underway in cultural, social, political as well as economic history. This article outlines depictions of industrial towns visited by foreign travellers during the period 1815–1850, comments upon the ways they reported and the language they used to describe novel features of English manufacturing, transport and economic organisation that they observed at first hand. By way of conclusion, we speculate what a view from offshore might contribute to negotiable narratives about the British Industrial Revolution.

3. The Gallery of Impressions from Offshore

When travel across the channel and North Sea for affluent, literate and curious Europeans and Americans resumed after the Napoleonic wars, more and more visitors included industrial towns, ports, factories, mines and forges, as well as cathedrals, churches, castles, spas, mountains, lakes and picturesque countryside in their tours of the Isles. Keen to look at the new before complimenting the old, they complained frequently about English factory masters whose paranoia towards foreign espionage excluded them from visits to many a famous factory.24

Most entries in these diaries are devoted to recording the visually striking features of British industrial advance and are represented in romantic images of the day. Here is the French feminist and socialist Flora Tristan looking at “a steam engine with the power of 500 horses”. “Nothing”, she writes:

could be more impressive and awe-inspiring than the sight of these iron masses in motion; their gigantic dimensions strike terror into the imagination and dwarf the capacities of Man . . . The huge bars of gleaming iron, raised and lowered forty or fifty times a minute to set the monster's tongue darting in and out as if to devour everything in sight; the dreadful groans it emits; the rapid revolutions of the immense wheel that issues from its entrails only to return before it has revealed more than half its vast circumference; all this fills the soul with terror. In the presence of the monster, you have eyes and ears for nothing else.25

The growing volume of inanimate energy provided by coal, coke, fire and steam harnessed to speed up production across an ever-widening range of manufacturing processes (brewing, printing, spinning, weaving, pumping, smelting, rolling, forging, cutting and grinding) impressed visitor after visitor and gave rise to a plurality of metaphorical depictions, the most popular of which referred to British industry as the “Empire of Vulcan”.26

As travellers, Europeans and Americans almost never failed to appreciate the potential of moving people and freight speedily, cheaply and comfortably by railways – linking city to city, town to countryside and integrating markets (Illustrations 1 and 2).

Figure Illustration 1: .

Figure Illustration 1: .

Dampf eilwagen auf der eisenbahn zwischen Liverpool und Manchester. Lithograph, c. 1831. Reproduced courtesy of the Library of Congress.
The two views show passenger, freight and cattle transport on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway Company line.

Figure Illustration 2: .

Figure Illustration 2: .

“View of the London to Birmingham Railway, showing the viaduct at Watford, Hertfordshire”: Plate 4 in “Six coloured views on the London and Birmingham Railway” by T.T. Bury. Guildhall Library Print Room, K1247346.

Count Cavour marvelled at them. “It is something beautiful”, he wrote. “More than a thousand arches will support this unique road: a steam carriage will pass through as quick as thunder and people will think they are flying over rivers and fields. Only England produced buildings that could compete with Roman architecture”.27

Almost no antipathy to railways, the rise of factories or the substitution of iron for wood took the form of pastoral nostalgia.

Thus, in tropes of the day, along with others, Karl Freidrich Schinkel remarked frequently on the widespread use of and substitute for timber – namely cheap iron in civil and mechanical engineering when he observed “magnificent iron roofs, iron vaulting, iron staircases, slender iron columns”.28 Not worried by labour displacement, Count Pecchio was astonished at the sight of machinery that, far from saving labour “multiply the number of hands in factories”.29 Looking at their extent and scale, the German Escher found that one “might have arrived in Egypt since so many factory chimneys . . . stretch upwards towards the sky like great obelisks”.30 The palatial and ecclesiastical appearance of factories in northern towns never failed to excite comments of the kind made by Tocqueville when he approached Manchester and observed “Thirty or forty factories rise on the tops of hills . . . Their six stories tower up; their huge enclosures give notice from afar of the centralization of industry”.31

Alas while the insights into processes of industrialization that historians could derive from this literature are clearly quotable, they are rarely surprising, let alone profound. Our travellers will tell you that manufacturers made ever more extensive use of Britain's abundant supplies of cheap coal to generate and replace traditional sources of energy (wind, water, animal and manpower) with heat and steam power. The immediate and exciting potential of steam engines for transportation and travel was being realized.32 Iron was replacing wood as the primary material for construction and the manufacture of artefacts. Some lines of production (particularly textiles) had been localized and concentrated in very large-scale buildings and units of control (factories). The deployment of machinery was becoming ever more widespread and ready for diffusion and adaptation on the mainland.33

Although a majority of visitors come across as impressed with the pace, intensity and productivity of urban manufacturing, they rarely however praised the design or aesthetic qualities of the artefacts produced. Whatever the view of the luxuries made for affluent consumers of the eighteenth century34, by the nineteenth century British manufactures were, it seems, no longer held in regard for their quality and did not satisfy the tastes of educated and refined foreign visitors. The general perception was the British production was going downmarket both in terms of quality and design: “Woollen cloths and cashmeres are not so good as those made in France”, commented Escher in 1814, and he considered even the famous English calicoes to be “much inferior to those made on the Continent”.35 They attributed the degeneration in the quality of British products to a cultural decline in aesthetic standards that visitors had underlined well before the emergence of a national debate for the improvement of design in the 1840s, or the criticisms mounted against British goods at the Great Exhibition of 1851.36 Interestingly, critique was not necessarily blamed on the use of machinery, mass production or factory organization.37 The French economist Say thought it originated because gothic was superseding classical style in England,38 while the Italian Lanza considered it to be a peculiarly English search for “utility” rather than “beauty”.39“English people” he wrote, “try to improve their production and decrease the cost of production in order to increase quantities at a fixed price; in France and elsewhere this happens in the opposite way, appearance is united to the attempt to produce at a lower price”.40

If the power of steam, the palatial architecture of factories and the wonders of mechanical technologies attracted foreign visitors,41 their sensitivities were deeply offended at the sight of industrial cities in which physical and moral degradation was seen to be omnipresent. If anything, the representations of the environments in which the inhabitants of Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield and other new towns lived and worked by European and American visitors, are more evocative and negative than anything published by their English contemporaries.42 Perhaps their sombre views flowed from contrasts with English agriculture (which had long impressed tourists) and their delight with the picturesque countryside of England and Scotland.43 They all enjoyed the amenities (but not the slums) of London and praised the architecture and social capital of “commercial cities” such as Bristol and Liverpool – although Tocqueville suspected that Liverpool might have been adept at hiding poverty.44 For a majority, Schinkel's observation that “the sight of an English industrial town . . . is most depressing; nothing pleases the eye” became commonplace, especially for Manchester, which was invariably seen – to quote historian David Bindman –“as a violation of nature: a place in which many were enslaved for the profit of the few and the sky was blotted out by smoke and dust.”45

Predictably Manchester will be forever represented in the hyperbole of Engels as the “classic type of new manufacturing town, where the degradation to which the application of steam power, machinery and the division of labour, reduce the working man and the attempts of the proletariat to rise above debasement must likewise be carried to the highest point”.46 Engels' now famous portrait had, we learn from these diaries, been anticipated by several American, French, Italian and German commentaries on the city which also linked the physical and moral condition of its inhabitants to a squalid and polluted environment that aroused little but disgust among visitors. Even the normally uncritical Fredrika Bremer, who came from Denmark to visit a factory which styled itself as “The Great Beehive”, commented upon that “appropriate name for this immense hive of human industry, in which it would be difficult to forget . . . that man is not a mere working bee, living to fill his part in the hive and then to die!”.47

Birmingham attracted very similar comments from the King of Saxony who graced the city with a visit in 1844, but found it “dirty” and “nasty”.48 Yet, he agreed with Prince Pücker Muskau's observation that the place was “one of the most considerable and one of the ugliest towns of England” and with Gaineau, Lanza, Lobe and Stewart who also observed immense wealth and poverty residing side by side in an atmosphere of turbulence and potential for social revolution.49“There is nothing”, wrote Beltrami, “but fire and smoke, forges and smiths; everything is black. It is the empire Vulcan and the seat of the useful arts”.50 But Birmingham appealed more to many visitors than industrial centres further north. Its small establishments producing pins and papier-maché or the whip manufactory of Messrs Ashmore and Clarke were compared positively with the inhuman size of buildings and machines in Boulton's famous Soho factory.51 The depiction of the Midlands as one “immeasurable workshop” was followed by a view of Staffordshire as “acre after acre and mile after mile of kilns and furnaces”.52 Those who travelled to Scotland contrasted Robert Owen's New Lanark with the miserable workers in Glasgow's cotton factories.53 For them Durham and Newcastle could “boast but few objects of interests to the traveller”.54 Leeds and its woollen manufactures and Sheffield and its cutlery workshops attracted even fewer visitors, who then commented on chimneys, forges and mills before moving on towards the ancient buildings of York, and the academic calm of Cambridge.55

4. “The Causes of All this Wealth and Prosperity?”

As visitors to the offshore Isles, Europeans and Americans, emerge from their diaries as far more concerned with the political and social outcomes of the First Industrial Revolution, than with its origins, causes or the transformation of productivity and potential for material progress. Indeed, the economist and Anglophile, Michel Chevalier, criticized his fellow travellers for simply reporting and for failing to enquire into “the causes of all this wealth and prosperity?”. He appreciated that:

If the subject of industry has occupied their attention a moment, it is only in reference to the fashion of some opera decoration. They have, to be sure, stood amazed at the thousands of vessels whose masts stretch out of sight along the Thames or in the docks; they have been delighted with the extent of the great manufacturing towns, the magnitude of the manufactures, and the height of their chimneys, with the magical brilliancy of the gas-lights, with the daring bridges of stone or iron, and with the fantastical appearance of the forge-fires in the night. But they have never asked, how came England to have such a vast number of ships . . . and how created these towns.56

Indeed, there was very little questioning of how – to quote –“this little isle has accomplished all this”. Significantly for our modern debates no consensus appears in the perceptions of visitors from the mainland, let alone from the United States, that the island's industrial lead could be ascribed to any peculiar or particular qualities embodied in British culture or its institutions.57 Although liberty and toleration continued to be emphasised as liberals had earlier in the eighteenth century, they never elaborated however upon just how these vaunted attributes of the English political sphere fed into institutions that actively promoted economic growth.58 And this continues to be a defect of new institutional economic history which lacks a theory connecting states to the formation of institutions. The only references to some special esprit or traits of national character (that goes back to the sojourn of Voltaire and which crops up time and time again to become a cliché in travelogues of the pre- and post-war decades) was English “greed” and reverence for wealth. “A too great eagerness in making money and . . . an unworthy striving after gain”, as the German Goede defined it in 1807, was an English characteristic of which foreign intellectuals, philosophers and even anglophiles had disapproved of since the 1720s.59 By the early nineteenth century Tocqueville generalized about its ubiquity with an asperity which might confirm and even delight the expectations of modern neo-liberal economists:

The whole of English society is based on privileges of money . . . So in England wealth has become not only an element in reputation, enjoyment and happiness . . . In England it is a terrible misfortune to be poor. Wealth is identified with happiness and everything that goes with happiness . . . So all resources of the human spirit are bent on the acquisition of wealth.60

Engels, agreed that the English bourgeois was “ultimately” and “alone” determined by “self-interest and money gain. In other countries men seek opulence to enjoy life; the English seek it to live”.61 Yet the uncovering of something approximating to a culturally specific and more complex “English kopf” and entrepreneurship was not, at least in these decades, an interest for travellers from the mainland, even for those evincing real curiosity about their neighbours' economic success.62 Anything approximating a distinctive work ethic is rarely mentioned. Au contraire most Europeans recorded with alarm the intensification of work in Britain through the coercion of mechanized production as recently measured by Joachim Voth.63

When they thought about causes, most visitors echo modern interpretations that hypothesize that the origins of Britain's precocious industrialization lay in the economy's success in international trade and its natural endowments (especially coal). Several reassured their compatriots that convergence – which had after all been a traditional feature of European economic history – had begun to revive after the recovery from revolutionary warfare. Alas there is no comparative body of literature composed by Indian and Chinese travellers,64 but almost no visitor from anywhere in Western Europe or North America evinced apprehension that catching up with the United Kingdom could be inordinately difficult or protracted to achieve. Charles Dupin, Professor of Mechanics at the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers in Paris concluded his visit to Britain with the suggestion that what had been achieved by England over the last quarter of the eighteenth century “we can do it better; we can regain our position by profiting at her experience as she has done with ours. We must just dare to want it”.65 Monsieur Avot predicted a more gradual – but still ineluctable – path towards industrialization for France where “nature must take its time to accomplish its vast designs”.66 The Swiss steel entrepreneur Fischer, who visited Britain several times between 1814 and 1851, foresaw that early industrialization might be followed by relative decline. “Sic transit gloria mundi” he commented looking at the decrepit state of Boulton and Watt's Soho in 1851, while sadly remembering his previous visit forty years earlier.67

In the foreground and dominating all discussions of Britain's precocious industrialisation we can however reference an almost unanimous consensus that its immediate social, environmental and cultural consequences were simply deplorable. Predictably that judgement was voiced by a minority of crypto-physiocrats and romantics who remained resolutely opposed to urban life and considered that industrialization created disequilibrium between town and country, which could become a “risky course” to pursue.68 Nevertheless, the majority of travellers rejected any British model as a way for their own societies to progress. Furthermore, nearly all of their vivid reports anticipated that the malign consequences associated with urbanization and the concentration of production in factories, fluctuations in employment, child labour and other “evils” of Britain's transition – well documented, analysed and debated by generations of social historians – could be avoided.69 In short, these diaries and publications do not suggest that the British way was generally regarded as any kind of paradigm for the rest of Europe let alone the United States to follow.

Most visitors also pondered on the paradox of how an ancién aristocratic régime continued to preside over an industrialising economy and speculated about dangers to stability associated with what they observed to be the growing inequalities of wealth and power that had accompanied structural changes to the economy.70 For example Garneau puzzled over Manchester: “notwithstanding the poverty of the masses of its inhabitants, the town is one of the richest in England”.71 The French radical Ledru-Rollin arraigned the elite of “manufacturing and mercantile England before the assizes of her workers”, who told their masters: “we die of hunger under her laws, their competitions grind us down, her liberty kills us – it is the robbery of our wages”.72 Even the emollient Tocqueville noticed how “the English have left the poor with two rights: that of obeying the same laws as the rich, and that of standing on equality with them if they can obtain equal wealth”.73 His French compatriot and novelist, Stendhal, gloated on the irony of how “the excessive and crushing toil of the English workman avenges us for Waterloo . . . We for our part have buried our dead and our survivors are happier than the English”.74 His literary forays into political economy complements Jean-Baptiste Say's view that the relentless pursuit of hard work and efficiency in England emanated from high taxation. This maintained to service a national debt which had in fact reached the astronomical level of two and a half times the national income by the end of the long wars with France,75 wars that historians now recognise as part and parcel of the rise of the Island's economy.76

Going further down the line with the mainstream thrust of conservative political economy in England, a substantial and substantive strand of European and American opinion exemplified in these sources thought that the entire economic system might be built on dangerous foundations.77 Most travellers underlined the association of cyclical instability with England's pattern of economic specialization. Social tension, poverty and squalor went hand in hand, in this view, with the high priority wrongly accorded by free traders to industry over agriculture and commerce. “Agricultural industry is permanent”, opined Beltrami, and it “at least supplies bread to eat; whilst commercial industry has its phases, like the moon; wanes or changes its place, and often leaves in misery the numerous population it had drawn together”.78 Such advice common to both English and European criticism of industrialisation to return to a more “balance system” included programmes to avoid social evils, and to alleviate poverty. Whatever they thought about the kingdom's precocious transition to an industrial economy, for some decades after the defeat of Napoleon and settlement in favour of the status quo at the Congress of Vienna, very few intellectuals from the mainland (or the United States) represented British institutions and society as a model for political and social progress.79

Nevertheless, Hegel, St. Simon, Chevalier, List, even Marx and Engels insisted that gains for all could eventually flow from structural change and mechanized industry. Politically, however, they detected that England's republican and revolutionary traditions – that liberal Europeans had admired since the sojourn of Voltaire – had given way after the American Revolution to a culture and a set of ossified institutions permeated with the principles of aristocracy and hierarchy, securely buttressed by an economistic and imperialistic sense of the superiority of “Britons” over Europe and the rest of the world.80

That reordered and xenophobic “culture” (the outcome of nearly two centuries of successful mercantilist and naval warfare) over the Netherlands and Catholic “others” (France and Spain) would, as Cavour, Princess Lieven, Stäel-Holstein, Tocqueville and many others predicted, survive and preserve England from the kind of social revolutions recommended by Marx and which many European visitors feared could occur in their own countries.81 Thus while radical observers deplored the complacency of the bourgeoisie and the cowardice of British workers, Tocqueville spotted that while “the French wish not to have superiors, the English wish to have inferiors”.82 He saw that “the strength of the English aristocracy did not depend only on itself, but on the feelings of all classes who hope to enter its ranks”.83

Apart from socialists (like Marx, Engels and Ledru-Rollin) a remarkable consensus pervades both the impressions of visitors and reflexions of intellectuals from the mainland concerning traits of a national and insular culture imbued with an imperial mission that had been consolidated during the long wars with France, and would continue to sustain stability in Victorian England despite the dismal social and environmental manifestations of what mainlanders had labelled as an Industrial Revolution. That consensus was summarized in an eloquent chapter on the island's “Manners and Customs” included in a guide for German visitors to Britain's Great Exhibition of 1851. “A principle trait in an Englishman's character, and the basis not merely of the conventions, but also of the political structures of his nation”– explains the guide –“is his willingness to subordinate himself to anyone in society who is superior to him. At the same time, with inexorable rigidity, he expects from his inferiors that deference to which his station, his fortune and his family standing entitle him”.84 Furthermore the guide went on to warn Germans that “the genuine patriotism of the English, which manifests itself not so much, as the British pretend, in their loving their homeland, as it does in their looking down upon all other lands and people”.85 In short, the culture of the Isles so “eminently aristocratic, deeply ingrained with habits of deference and a common sense of hierarchy” had not been “reordered” by the Industrial Revolution or by the degradation and squalor that accompanied the agglomeration of its industrial working class into new towns.86 Indeed, industrialisation was promoted by the survival of this very tradition.87

5. The Franco-American Gallery

All these reports from offshore must be read and contextualized not merely as products of the time, place and social status of their authors but, above all, as addressed to French, Italian, German, Swiss and American compatriots.88 They do offer somewhat different perceptions of a First Industrial Revolution, less contaminated by national consciousness, social hierarchy and unadulterated by political partisanship or nostalgia for a mythologized past. We have ventured to amalgamate a restricted body of extant personal impressions into “views” from offshore that could, at the loss of coherence and all prospect for generalization, be distinguished by the age, class, gender and cultural and national backgrounds of their authors. Our selection and description make no claims to be representative in a statistically valid sense, but they represent something historians can encapsulate to recover but one (not insignificant) strand of meaning from the meagre evidence at their disposal. Although comparisons by national provenance tends to be the preferred way to analyse responses to industrialization, the sample of sources available is simply too small to do that systematically. Instead we now propose to contrast the views of two distinct groups of visitors to the industrializing Isles, namely the “citizens” of post-revolutionary France and a newly independent United States and to situate them as part of an ongoing discourse between the kingdom's “natural and necessary” enemy on the one hand and its former colony on the other.

These views appeared within living memory of the French and American revolutions. After such long and destructive bouts of revolutionary violence and international warfare, all European statesmen and their advisers remained deeply anxious about nationalism, disintegration and social disorder. Every state also continued to be deeply concerned about the potential possessed by Britain, as a hegemonic power, to intervene in their domestic affairs, with their geopolitical ambitions and, above all, to constrain their overseas trade.89

Frenchmen also remained worried about the stability of their restored monarchical regime and the potential for protest and violence precariously contained in Paris and other expanding towns within France.90 They were also preoccupied with a search for an alternative to Bonapartism which had gripped the imagination of the nation's younger generations since 1799.91 French economists (including, Say, Dupin, Chaptal, Blanqui and Chevalier) studied the “British model” to ask how commerce, railways and mechanised manufacturing industry powered by steam, might create the conditions for the prosperity and stability for the new kind of civic society that they advocated for France. But to a man, the majority of French travellers who crossed the channel after Waterloo emphatically dissociated their recommendations from two integral features of the British Industrial Revolution, namely urban degradation and the continuation of an ancién political regime and social hierarchy. In several ways they correlated pauperism with the survival of aristocracy, which in England had combined with a new “industrial feudalism” and other hierarchical privileges that their own political revolution had successfully undermined in France.92

At the same time, most French travellers rejected any return to physiocracy as advocated by the Swiss economist Sismondi, the nostalgia for a hierarchy based on birth expressed by Chateaubriand and other royalists, or the lament for Bonapartist heroism eloquently enunciated by Stendhal.93 Their “sonderweg” for France envisaged planned investment in social overhead capital, especially railways, a decentralized industrial sector of small-scale family firms producing high-quality products, the development of their nation's human resources and, above all, the resolute avoidance of the kind of urban poverty that Flora Tristan deplored so vehemently in her accounts of the underclass in England's manufacturing towns.94“You cannot appreciate”, she wrote, “the physical suffering and moral degradation of this class of the population . . . They live suspended between an insufficiency of food and an excess of strong drink; they are all wizened, sickly and emaciated; their bodies are thin and frail, their limbs feeble, their complexions pale, their eyes dead”.95

The chauvinism, and political and social agendas that clearly formed essential elements in the conflictual feelings evinced by French travellers as they toured Britain after the war, can be juxtaposed against the pastoral nostalgia and burgeoning nationalism that marks the accounts of Americans travelling from a newly emancipated republic to their former motherland.96 They usually entered the British Isles through the port of Liverpool, rather than traversing the idyllic countryside of Kent and Sussex to sample amenities of the metropolis. They found themselves thrown into an environment of immense prison-like warehouses, narrow streets, wagons laden with cotton, and the sight of men, women and children “clothed in wretched garments”.97 Their admiration for the size and modernity of that great port and the scale of its commerce was soon diminished by views of an “unadorned”, “sombre” and “gloomy” city.98 More than any continental traveller, Americans mourned the disappearance of an older and idealized Britain, blaming the “spirit of improvement” for sweeping away “every relic of antiquity” or “picturesque relief”.99

Although they admired the steam, the machines and the enormous chimneys, they rejected English assumptions of technological superiority. If, for older generations of American travellers, Britain was a lost homeland, younger Americans proclaimed their own distinctive cultural, social and economic identity.100 For example Orville Dewey dismissed the famous Liverpool railway line as “not impressive at all”101 and his compatriot, the Boston lawyer, Elias Derby, found English operatives “generally less intelligent, and less well-clad than our own”.102 Significantly he singled out many processes still conducted by manual labour, to which mechanization and water power had already been applied in New England.103“I am fully of the opinion”, proclaimed Nathaniel Carter, after visiting a Manchester cotton mill, “that both in point of machinery and skill in operation, the factory is far inferior to some of those of the same kind in our country”.104 An American sense of “modernity” had already appeared, entwined with an emerging national spirit based on “prosperity and happiness” in contrast to what visitors from a new world saw as the “poverty, hunger, and ruin” of many English industrial cities.105

Americans held no geopolitical anxieties and had less need for revanchism – so common among French travellers – but unlike them were far less interested in conceptualising economic and social change.106 They latched onto the misery, ignorance and the heavy drinking of the British industrial population, but seem as ready to blame human nature as industrialization as the root of all evil.107 Like English Tories of the day, they juxtaposed American “small communities and country village” life to “the moral depravity and vices of many of the labouring classes” witnessed in places like Manchester.108 America was presented a happier nation, characterized by a simple way of living that could be preserved even through the economic development and industrialization of their country.109 Some like McLellan even rejected industrialisation altogether:

better had our wheels cease, and the busy shuttle move no more; better those bright towns, which like Aladdin's palace have sprung up as it were by magic in a single night, with factories, and stores, and dwelling-houses and churches, filled with an active, moral and happy population, should be merged in the wilderness again.110

Most Americans believed, however, that there was nothing unavoidable about the deplorable outcomes of industrialization as seen in Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow, which they labelled as something peculiarly British. They contrasted the poverty and debauchery of English factory workers with “the well dressed, healthy factory girls of our manufacturing towns”.111 Some agreed to be careful not to “foster a snake in our bosoms or translate to our fertile regions and happy shores, the depravities of such places as Manchester, Sheffield and Birmingham”.112 Others like the entrepreneur, Francis Cabot Lowell, went back to Massachusetts after a two-year tour of the Lancashire cotton mills, with ideas of how to mechanize and industrialize production, but at the same time avoid the proletarianization of his workforce.113 While Silliman was “not disposed to join those who rail at manufacturers without informing us how we can do without them”, he returned home “fully persuaded of their importance to mankind”, and simply regretted the physical and, above all, moral evils which they produce.114

6. Offshore Perceptions and Modern Reconstructions of the First Industrial Revolution

Aware of their partial, situated and literary nature, our paper has amalgamated and configured contemporary perceptions from an unavoidably restricted group of European and American travellers, who toured the British Isles after the Napoleonic Wars. This endeavour was prompted by a wish to ascertain what an elaboration a semi-detached body of impressions might offer to historians attempting to construct a more satisfactory narrative about the First Industrial Revolution.

As expected, foreign travellers diaries, autobiographies, and memoirs and books recording and ordering their impressions certainly abound with quotable depictions of and commentaries upon the world's first transition to an industrial society. They contain the perceptions of outsiders and ways of conceptualizing a historical process that the Victorians simply referred to as “industrialism”.115 As observers from offshore, they testified to a type, rate and pattern of economic and social change that they certainly regarded as entirely novel. Perhaps it is not that surprising to find foreign travellers referring to what they witnessed as an Industrial Revolution decades before their British contemporaries ever used that now well-established label.116 Foreigners framed the discourse, topics and vocabulary on which the first generation of British economic historians based their own subsequent and situated reconstructions of this famous conjuncture some fifty years later when they inaugurated a historiographical tradition and chronology for “The” Industrial Revolution.

Most of our sample of travellers envisaged that famous conjecture as revolutionary in its implications and as a case of what is today referred to as unbalanced growth marked by a set of technological transformations confined in scale and scope to cotton textiles, the substitution of iron for wood and gradual diffusion of new sources of energy powered by coal and steam.117 Long before cliometricians made and qualified their point about unbalanced growth, foreigners had selected this particular set of innovations to visit and comment upon.118 Thus and by default, they “testified” to the essential continuities for extensive sectors of industry, agriculture and commerce, evolving in comparable ways and rates of growth both on and off the Isles. If and when a minority of visitors discussed the causes of Britain's industrial lead, they also tended to strengthen precisely the set of factors that continue to be accorded the strongest weight by modern economic historians who seek extra assurance from economic theory and all the support they can muster from statistical methods and evidence. For example, this set of visitors continued to appreciate the significant role played by British agriculture, recognized the profound significance of coal and other endowments and singled out the country's outstanding record of competitive success in overseas trade for special emphasis. Their impressions and comments are easily transposed into modern analyses of the Industrial Revolution.

Coming as they did from countries with very different histories and geographies, none of the travellers saw any simple prospects for the immediate diffusion of British technology, modes of industrial organization or institutions onto the mainland, or across the Atlantic. As educated elites and stakeholders in a Western culture permeated by notions of enlightenment and optimism about science and technology, most evinced few (other than aesthetic) doubts that advanced techniques and modes of production on display in British industries and factories should be adopted by their own societies as soon as possible. Their writings, which evoke natural endowments and success in overseas trade as preconditions for accelerated growth leading to technological progress, accord limited attention to the peculiarities of English institutions or culture for the promotion of economic development. Travellers entertained few apprehensions that convergence across Western Europe and the Atlantic could be inordinately difficult or protracted to achieve. Although none of this sample mentioned the preoccupation with wage rates as an incentive or restraint on the mechanisation of production, they (particularly the French) remained aware that the states and social systems of their countries might not be powerful enough to contain the disorder and potential instabilities associated with rapid mechanisation and urbanization.119

Their writings do, however, express rather clear contrasts with a now dated generation of economic historians who represented the gradual convergence of European economies towards British standards of productivity, entrepreneurial vigour, political freedoms and efficient institutions from a base of retardation.120 Their perceptions were that the discontinuity with England's past and divergence with economic and social change, proceeding on the mainland only became “revolutionary” in the late eighteenth century and not long before. While special features of the Island's economy including the shifts embodied in the workforce were noted by previous generations of visitors, profound contrasts and the challenge to conceptualize British economic and social change really appeared after – rather than before – the cataclysm of the French Revolution.

Finally, on balance, one can say that diaries and impressions of visitors from the mainland and America lend support to long-established and recently restored pessimistic interpretations of the first Industrial Revolution. Since these accounts are not deeply interested in the Industrial Revolution simply as an economic phenomenon, let alone in theories of economic growth and social changes as elaborated by generations of economic and social historians, what they seem to offer could be dismissed as both apt and unrepresentative illustrations. Nevertheless, it is the case that what they saw is in tune with modern statistically-based reconstructions. At the same time, this particular strand of recovered meaning falls more into line with today's social interpretations of an industrial revolution conceptualised as a portend of transnational and epochal relevance whose outcomes were difficult to understand and predict.

In line with today's historians, visitors to the Isles saw two faces of the industrial revolution: the optimism associated with new technologies, economic growth, rising wealth and commercial and manufacturing power; and the pessimism of inequality, urban squalor, destitution, the alienation of the working masses and fear for a future of their own societies made of adverse social change and a potential for political instability.


  • 1

    We would like to thank Maxine Berg, Colin Jones, Ulrich Lehmann, Liliane Pérez, Emma Rothschild, Gareth Steadman Jones and John Styles for their comments. Previous versions of this paper were presented at the “Economic and Social History of Pre-Industrial England” Seminar, Institute of Historical Research, University of London, January 2004 and the conference “Les échanges techniques entre la France et l'Angleterre (XVIe-XIXe siècles): Réseaux, comparaisons, representations”, Paris, December 2006.

  • 2

    For a general survey of notion, nature and historiography of the Industrial Revolution see David Cannadine, “The Present and the Past in the English Industrial Revolution 1800–1900”, Past and Present vol. 108 (1984), pp. 131–72; Julian Hoppit, “Understanding the Industrial Revolution”, Historical Journal vol. 30 (1987), pp. 211–24; Joel Mokyr, “That which we Call Industrial Revolution”, Contention vol. 4 (1994), pp. 189–206; and Peter Temin, “Two Views of the British Industrial Revolution”, Journal of Economic History vol. 56 (1997), pp. 63–82. Martin Daunton, Progress and Poverty. An Economic and Social History of Britain 1700–1850 (Oxford, 1995) provides an excellent bibliography. On the concept of Industrial Revolution see: William Hardy, The Origins of the Idea of the Industrial Revolution (Victoria, BC, 2006).

  • 3

    Already in the 1980s some historians stated doubts about the term “Industrial Revolution”. See for instance Michael Fores who defines the Industrial Revolution as a Whigish construction ‘of great dramas unfolding’. Michael Fores, “The Myth of a British Industrial Revolution”, History vol. 46, no. 217 (1981), p. 194. See also Rondo Cameron, “Industrial Revolution: Fact or Fiction?”, Contention vol. 4 (1994), pp. 163–88.

  • 4

    See for instance Maxine Berg, Luxury and Pleasure in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Oxford, 2005). For recent overviews going beyond classic the economic history remit see: Peter N. Stearn, The Industrial Revolution in World History (Boulder, CO and London, 3rd edn. 2007); Jeff Horn, The Industrial Revolution: Milestones in Business History (Westport, CO and London, 2007).

  • 5

    For a classic critique see Donald C. Coleman, Myth, History and the Industrial Revolution (London, 1992), esp. pp. 38–9. For a more recent analysis see the papers in Jeff Horn, Leonard N. Rosenband and Merritt Roe Smith, eds., Reconceptualising the Industrial Revolution (Cambridge, MA, forthcoming 2009).

  • 6

    Out of the c. 90 diaries and travelogues examined, c. 60 have been here included. Although our sample is clearly not representative in any statistical sense, all our travellers were aware of the economic growth and social problems experienced by Britain at the time and often visited industrial sites, mines, bridges, shipyards and engineering works. Although this collection of sources might be dismissed as too narrow in scope and biased. General collections of extracts from foreigners' diaries and memoires for the period considered include: Edward Smith, Foreign Visitors in England and what they Have Thought of us (London, 1889); Frederick Charles Roe, ed., French Travellers in Britain, 1800–1926. Impressions and reflections (London, 1928); Ethel Jones, Les Voyageurs Français en Angleterre de 1815 à 1830 (Paris, 1930); Margaret I. Bain, Les Voyageurs Français en Écosse, 1770–1830, et Leurs Curiosités Intellectuelles (Paris, 1931); Harry Ballam and Roy Lewis, eds., The Visitor's Book: England and the English as Others have seen Them A.D. 1500 to 1950 (London, 1950); Francesca Mary Wilson, ed., Strange Island. Britain through Foreign Eyes, 1395–1940 (London, 1955); Roy Ernest Palmer, French Travellers in England 1600–1900: Selections from their Writings (London, 1960); William O. Henderson, Industrial Britain under the Regency: the Diaries of Escher, Bodmer, May and de Gallois 1814–18 (London, 1968); Anthony Burton and Pip Burton, The Green Bag Travellers: Britain's First Tourists (London, 1978); and Richard Trench, ed., Travellers in Britain: Three Centuries of Discovery (London, 1990).

  • 7

    Observations on the traditional features of the British economic system are less well represented. The German travel writer Johann Georg Kohl, for example, observed when visiting Leeds in the early 1840s how wonderful it was that “with all the prodigious advances of the factory system, its steam-engines and capital, the ‘domestic clothiers’ have not long since vanished from the land, and that the little manufacturers have not sunk into mere salaried servants of the great capitalists and machinery owners.” Johann Georg Kohl, Travels in England and Wales (Bristol, 1845), p. 160.

  • 8

    See for instance Jás Elsner, and Joan-Pau Rubiés, “Introduction”, in Jás Elsner and Joan-Pau Rubiés, eds., Voyages and Visions: Towards a Cultural History of Travel (London, 1999), pp. 1–56; Joan-Pau Rubiés, Travel and Ethnology in the Renaissance: South India through European Eyes, 1250–1625 (Cambridge, 2000), pp. 1–34; and Justin Stagl and Christopher Pinney, “Introduction: From Travel Writing to Ethnography”, History and Anthropology vol. 9 (1996), pp. 121–24.

  • 9

    Francis D. Klingender, Art and the Industrial Revolution, ed. A. Elton (London, 1972), pp. 72–90.

  • 10

    Charles L. Batten, Pleasurable Instruction: Form and Conversation in Eighteenth-Century Travel Literature (London, 1978), p. 32. See also Carole Fabricant, “The Literature of Domestic Tourism and the Public Consumption of Private Property”, in Felicity Nussbaum and Laura Brown, eds., The New Eighteenth Century: Theory, Politics, English Literature, (New York and London, 1987), pp. 254–75.

  • 11

    Some even used the genre as critical prose. The fictional Don Manuel Alvarez Esprilla's “Letters from England” (1807) was one of the best-known travelogues in the early nineteenth century. Joan-Pau Rubiés, “Instructions for Travellers: Teaching the Eye to See”, History and Anthropology vol. 9 (1996), pp. 141–42.

  • 12

    Margery E. Elkington, Les Relations de Société entre l'Angleterre et la France sous la Restauration, 1814–1830 (Paris, 1929), p. 189.

  • 13

    Nigel Leask, Curiosity and the Aesthetics of Travel Writings, 1770–1840: “From an Antique Land” (Oxford, 2002), p. 11. See also Marjorie Morgan, National Identities and Travel in Victorian Britain (London, 2001).

  • 14

    Gareth Stedman Jones, “National Bankruptcy and Social Revolution: European Observers on Britain, 1813–1844”, in Donald Winch and Patrick K. O'Brien, eds., The Political Economy of British Historical Experience (Oxford, 2002); id., Gareth Stedman Jones, An End to Poverty? A Historical Debate (London, 2004); Roberto Romani, National Character and Public Spirit in Britain and France 1750–1914 (Cambridge, 2002); Emma Rothschild, “The English Kopf”, in Donald Winch and Patrick K. O'Brien, eds., The Political Economy of British Historical Experience, 61–92; Emma Rothschild, Economic Sentiments: Adam Smith, Condorcet, and the Enlightenment (Cambridge, MA, and London, 2002).

  • 15

    On the early use of the term “Industrial Revolution” see: Anna Bezanson, “The Early Use of the Term Industrial Revolution”, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 36 (1922), pp. 343–49; Keith Tribe, Genealogies of Capitalism (London, 1981), pp. 101–20 and David S. Landes, “The Fable of the Dead Horse; Or, the Industrial Revolution Revisited”, in Joel Mokyr, ed., The British Industrial Revolution: An Economic Perspective (Boulder, CO, 2nd edn., 1999), pp. 128–59.

  • 16

    For a brief but incisive analysis of eighteenth-century French views of England's success see the chapter on “Les Sources de la Richesse de l'Angleterre, vues par les Français du XVIIIe Siècle” in François Crouzet, De la Supériorité de l'Angleterre sur la France (Paris, 1985), pp. 105–19.

  • 17

    Norman Hampson, The Perfidy of Albion: French Perceptions of England during the French Revolution (Basingstoke, 1998), pp. 1–18; Paul Langford, “The English as Reformers. Foreign Visitors' Impressions, 1750–1850”, in Timothy Blanning and Peter Wende, eds., Reforms in Great Britain and Germany, 1750–1850 (Oxford, 1999), pp. 101–19.

  • 18

    See for instance: Martin Fritz, “British Influence on Developments in the Swedish Foundry Industry around the Turn of the Eighteenth Century” in Kristine Bruland, ed., Technology Transfer and Scandinavian Industrialisation (New York and Oxford, 1991), pp. 59–72.

  • 19

    On the perception of British artefacts in the eighteenth century sew: John Styles, “Manufacturing, Consumption and Design in Eighteenth-Century England”, in John Brewer and Roy Porter, eds., Consumption and the World of Goods (London and New York, 1993), pp. 527–54; Maxine Berg, “Product Innovation in Core Consumer Industries”, in Maxine Berg and Kristine Bruland, eds., Technological Revolutions in Europe: Historical Perspectives (Cheltenham, 1998), pp. 138–60.

  • 20

    For examples of this genre see: Marilyn Palmer, R.R. Angerstein's Illustrated Travel Diary, 1753–1755: Industry in England and Wales from a Swedish Perspective (London, 2001); M.W. Flinn, Svendenstierna's Tour of Great Britain 1802–3: The Travel Diary of an Industrial Spy (Newton Abbot, 1993), in particular vii-xix; Gallois, “Rapport sur les Chemins de Fer en Angleterre notamment à Newcastle”, Annales des Mines, 30 (1818), pp. 129–44; J. M. Dutens, Mémoires sur les travaux publics de l'Angleterre, suivis d'un mémoire sur l'esprit d'Association et sur les Différents Modes de Concession (Paris, 1819); Charles Dupin, Voyages dans la Grande-Bretagne entrepris relativement aux Services Publics de la Guerre, de la Marine et des Ponts et Chausséees depuis 1816 (Paris, 1819–24); Carlo Bernardo Mosca, Relazione su alcuni lavori pubblici, ed. Laura Guardamagna, and L. Re (Turin, 1998); William O. Henderson, J. C. Fischer and his Diary of Industrial England 1814–51 (London, 1966). On Iron see: Alan Birch, “Foreign Observers of the British Iron Industry during the Eighteenth Century”, Journal of Economic History, 15 (1955), pp. 23–33.

  • 21

    For an analysis of French industrialists, see Peter Stearns, “British Industry through the Eyes of French Industrialists (1820–1848)”, Journal of Modern History vol. 37 (1965), pp. 50–61.

  • 22

    William O. Henderson, Britain and Industrial Europe 1750–1870 (Leicester, 1972), p. 33.

  • 23

    Pierre Armand Dufrénoy, and de Elie Beaumont, Voyage Métallurgique en Angleterre, ou Récueil de Memoires sur le Gisement, l'Exploitation et le Traitement des Minerais . . . (Paris, 1827); Léon Coste, and Auguste Perdonnet, Mémoires Métallurgiques sur le Traitement des Mineurs de Fer . . . (Paris, 1830); Pierre Guillaume Frédéric Le Play, Description des procédés métallurgiques employés dans le Pays de Galles pour la fabrication du cuivre (Paris, 1848); Karl Friedrich Schinkel, The English Journeys. Journal of a Visit to France and Britain in 1826, ed. David Bindman, and Gottfried Riemann (New Haven, 1993).

  • 24

    The Italian Rotella had already noticed it in Birmingham during his visit in the early 1790s, where he saw production carried out “in the greatest mystery, and jealousy, not just against foreigners, but also between one artificer and another”. Giovanbattista Rotella, Relazioni di varie osservazioni in proposito di machine . . . per occasione del suo recente viaggio d'Inghilterra (Padua, 1974), pp. 6–7. The sea of espionage suggests that the Europeans could and would rather easily copy what they saw. John R. Harris, Industrial Espionage and Technology Transfer: Britain and France in the Eighteenth Century (Aldershot, 1997); and for the eighteenth century: John R. Harris, “Industrial Espionage in the Eighteenth Century”, Industrial Archaeological Review vol. 7 (1985), pp. 164–75. See also Liliane Hilaire-Pérez, “Transferts technologiques, droit et territoire: Le cas franco-anglais au XVIIIe siècle”, Revue d'Histoire Moderne et Contemporaine 44 (1997), pp. 547–79.

  • 25

    Flora Tristan, Promenades dans Londres (Paris, 1840), p. 71.

  • 26

    Fisk, in a highly lyrical tone, describes the Black Country as “Vulcania” burning like “the perpetual fires of the Valley of Hinnom, with the smoking sacrifices of writhing infants offered upon altars of Moloch”. Willbur Fisk, Travels on the Continent of Europe, in England, Ireland, Scotland . . . (New York, 1838), p. 504. A similar metaphor is used by Beltrami, MacLellan and the economist Chevalier. Giacomo Costantino Beltrami, A Pilgrimage in Europe and America leading to the Discovery of the Sources of Mississippi and Bloody River (London, 1828), p. 432; Henry Blake MacLellan, Journal of a Residence in Scotland, and tour through England, France, Germany, Switzerland and Italy (Boston, 1834), p. 116; and Michel Chevalier, Society, Manners and Politics in the United States being a Series of Letters on North America (Boston, 1839), p. 25.

  • 27

    Camillo Benso di Cavour, Diario (1833–1843) del Conte di Cavour, ed. Luigi Salvatorelli (Milan and Rome, 1941), pp. 202–3. On the identification of the railway with the new industrial age in literature see: Jessie Givner, “Industrial History, Preindustrial Literature: George Eliot's Middlemarch”, English Literary History vol. 69 (2002), pp. 223–43.

  • 28

    Schinkel, English Journeys, pp. 17–9. On the “birth of the industrial landscape” and the reactions of contemporaries and visitors see: François Crouzet, “Naissance du Paysage Industriel”, Histoire, Economie et Societé, 16 (1997), pp. 419–38, and Isabelle Lescent-Giles, “La Naissance du Paysage Industriel en Grande-Bretagne: l'Example des West Midlands”, Histoire, Economie et Societé vol. 16 (1997), pp. 439–52. See also Barrie Trinder, The Making of the Industrial Landscape (Gloucester, 1987).

  • 29

    “Infinite machine che nelle manifatture centuplicano le mani dell'uomo”. Count Giuseppe Pecchio, Osservazioni Semiserie di un Esule sull'Inghilterra, ed. Giuseppe Nicoletti (Milan, 1976), pp. 114–5.

  • 30

    “Escher's letters” in Henderson, Industrial Britain, p. 84. See also Girolamo Orti, Lettere d'un recente viaggio in Francia, Inghilterra, Scozia (Verona, 1819), p. 157.

  • 31

    Alexis de Tocqueville, Journeys to England and Ireland (London, [1833] 1968), p. 106.

  • 32

    The French economist Say underlined how “there is industry wherever there is coal”, although he keenly emphasised technology over the natural endowment: “But is principally the introduction of machinery in the arts which has rendered the production more economical.” Jean-Baptiste Say, England and the English People . . . (London, 1816), p. 35.

  • 33

    These factors are particularly underlined by Pierre J.B. Nougaret, Londres, la Cour et les provinces d'Angleterre, d'Ecosse, et d'Irlande, ou Esprit, Mœurs, Coutumes, Habitudes privées des habitans de la Grande-Bretagne (Paris, 1816), p. 6; Herman Humphrey, Great Britain, France and Belgium: a Short Tour in 1835 (New York, 1838), p. 222; and Zachariah Allen, The Practical Tourist, or Sketches of the State of the Useful Arts, and of Society, Scenery, &c. &c. in Great-Britain, France and Holland (Beckwith, Providence, 1832), p. 124.

  • 34

    Maxine Berg, “From Imitation to Invention: Creating Commodities in Eighteenth-Century Britain”Economic History Review, 55/1 (2002), pp. 1–30; id., Luxury and Pleasure.

  • 35

    “Escher's letters” in Henderson, Industrial Britain, pp. 31 and 33. See also Barry M. Ratcliffe, “Manufacturing in the Metropolis: The Dynamism and Dynamics of Parisian Industry in the Mid 19th century”, Journal of European Economic History vol. 23 (1994), pp. 263–328.

  • 36

    Toshio Kusamitsu, “British Industrialization and Design before the Great Exhibition”, Textile History vol. 12 (1981), pp. 77–95; Whitney Walton, France at the Crystal Palace: Bourgeois Taste and Artisan Manufacture in the Nineteenth Century (Berkeley, 1992), pp. 198–220 and Lara Kriegel, “Culture and the Copy: Calico, Capitalism, and Design Copyright in Early Victorian Britain”, Journal of British Studies vol. 43 (2004), pp. 233–65.

  • 37

    Espriella, “Letters” (1807), in Trench, ed., Travellers in Britain, p. 199. As Ferri di San Costante underlined “Il est certain que les manufacturiers de cette nation, sur-tout ceux qui travaillent à des articles de luxe, le font avec moins de goût que ceux de plusieurs autres nations”. Count Giovanni L. Ferri di San Costante, Londres et les Anglais (Paris, 1804), vol. iii, p. 235.

  • 38

    Say, England, pp. 40–1.

  • 39

    Francesco Lanza, Viaggio in Inghilterra e nella Scozia (Trieste, 1859), pp. 235–36.

  • 40

    Lanza, Viaggio.

  • 41

    Liliane Hilaire-Pérez and Marie Thébaud-Sorger, “Les techniques dans l'espace public: Publicités des inventions et littérature d'usage en France et en Angleterre au XVIIIe siècle”, Revue de Synthèse 2 (2006); Liliane Pérez , “Technology, Curiosity and Utility in France and England in the 18th Century”, in Christine Blondel and Bernadette Besaude-Vincent, eds., Nouvelle parution: Science and Spectacle in the European Enlightenment (Aldershot, 2008), pp. 25–42.

  • 42

    For the views on eighteenth-century English cities see: Göran Rydén, “Enlightened City, Industrial Towns. Swedish Views on Eighteenth Century Urban Development” (Paper presented at the conference “Les échanges techniques entre la France et l'Angleterre (XVIe-XIXe siècles): Réseaux, comparaisons, representations”, Paris, December 2006.

  • 43

    Malcolm Andrews, In Search of the Picturesque: Landscape Aesthetics and Tourism in Britain, 1760–1800 (Stanford, 1989), passim; Amanda Gilroy, Romantic Geographies: Discourses of Travel 1775–1844 (Manchester, 2000), pp. 4–5; James Buzard, “The Grand Tour and After (1660–1840)” in Peter Hulme and Tim Youngs, eds., The Cambridge Companion to Travel Writing (Cambridge, 2002), pp. 37–52, 42–7.

  • 44

    Toqueville, Journeys in England and Ireland, ed. Jacob Peter Mayer (London, 1958), p. 110.

  • 45

    In Schinkel, English Journeys, p. 13.

  • 46

    Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844 (London, [English ed. 1887] 1987), p. 67. See also Gareth Stedman Jones, “Voir sans entendre. Engels, Manchester et l'observation sociale en 1844”, Genèses vol. 22 (1996), pp. 4–17.

  • 47

    Bremer, England in 1851: or, Sketches of a Tour in England (Boulogne, 1853), p. 16. One cannot fail to notice how this is in line with the views of the “first generation” of economic historians of the industrial revolution such as Cole, the Hammonds and the Webbs.

  • 48

    Carl Gustav Carus, The King of Saxony's journey through England and Scotland in the year 1844 (London, 1846), p. 170.

  • 49

    Prince Pückler Muskau, Tour in England, Ireland and France in the Years 1826–29 (Philadelphia, 1833), p. 78; Francois Xavier Garneau, Voyage en Angleterre et en France, dans les années 1831, 1832 et 1833 (Quebec, 1855), pp. 294–5; Lanza, Viaggio in Inghilterra, pp. 190–1 and 235; Lobe, Cartas à mis hijos, p. 196; and Charles Samuel Stewart, Sketches of Society in Great Britain and Ireland (Philadelphia, 1835), p. 51.

  • 50

    Beltrami, Pilgrimage, p. 424.

  • 51

    Samuel Heinrich Spiker, Travels through England, Wales, and Scotland, in the Year 1816 (London, 1820), pp. 58–67.

  • 52

    Fisk, Travels, p. 503.

  • 53

    Heinrich Meidinger, Reisen durch Grossbritannien und Irland, vorzüglich in topographischer, kommerzieller und statistischer Hinsicht (Frankfurt am Main, 1828), p. 188; Jérôme Adolphe Blanqui, Voyage d'un jeune français en Angleterre et en Ecosse, pendant l'automne de 1823 (Paris, 1824), p. 99; Spiker, Travels, p. 235, See Louis Simond, Journal of a Tour and Residence in Great Britain during the Years 1810–1811 (Edinburgh, 1812), p. 279.

  • 54

    Kohl, Travels in England and Wales, p. 135.

  • 55

    Nathaniel Hazeltine Carter, Letters from Europe, Comprising the Journal of a Tour through Ireland, England, Scotland, France, Italy, and Switzerland, in 1825, '26 and '27 (New York, 1827), p. 95.

  • 56

    Chevalier, Society, Manners and Politics, p. 25.

  • 57

    Bremer, England in 1851, p. 64. See also Paul Langford, Englishness Identified: Manners and Character, 1650–1850 (Oxford, 2000), pp. 29–36.

  • 58

    This factor is examined by Stedman Jones, “National Bankruptcy”, pp. 31–60, and Rothschild, “English Kopf”. See also Katherine Turner, British Travel Writers in Europe 1750–1800: Authorship, Gender and National Identity (Aldershot, 2001), pp. 38–49.

  • 59

    Christian August Gottlieb Goede, The Stranger in England: Or, Travels in Great Britain . . . (London, 1807), vol. ii, p. 109. On eighteenth-century attitudes towards the English see: Linda Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707–1837 (New Haven and London, 1992), pp. 30–43 and David A. Bell, “Jumonville's death: war propaganda and national identity in eighteenth-century France” in Colin Jones and Dror Wahrman, eds., The Age of Cultural Revolutions: Britain and France, 1750–1820 (Berkeley, 2002), pp. 45–57.

  • 60

    Toqueville, Journeys in England and Ireland, pp. 90, 115.

  • 61

    Cit. in Wilson, ed., Strange Island, p. 197.

  • 62

    Baron Auguste Louis de Staël-Holstein, Letters on England (London, 1825), p. 18; Beltrami, Pilgrimage, p. 334. On the concept of kopf see Rothschild, “English Kopf”.

  • 63

    Voth, Time and Work in England 1750–1830 (Oxford, 2000), esp. pp. 1–16. On the intensification of work before the Industrial Revolution, see Jan de Vries, The Industrious Revolution: Consumer Behavior and the Household Economy, 1750 to the Present (Cambridge, 2008).

  • 64

    We are aware of two diaries of Indians who visited Britain in the early 1840s: Ardaseer Cursetjee, Diary of an Overland Journey from Bombay to England, and a Year's Residence in Great Britain (London, 1840); and Jehangeer Nowrojee and Hirjeebhoy Merwanjee, A Residence of Two Years and a Half in Great Britain (London 1841).We thank Alex Werner for these references. So far we have not found direct evidence of visitors from the Ottoman Empire. However Selim III was very interested in learning about Europe's industrial progress as for instance through the embassy sent to Paris. See Moralı Seyyid Alî efendi and Seyyid Abdürrahim Muhibb efendi, Deux ottomans à Paris sous le Directoire et l'Empire. Relations d'ambassade, trans. and ed. Stéphane Yérasimos (Le Méjan, 1998). We thank Onur Yildirim for this reference.

  • 65

    “nous pouvons le faire plus promptement encore, nous pouvons reprendre notre rang en profitant de son expérience comme elle a su profiter de la nôtre. Osons vouloir”. Cit. in Jones, Voyageurs Français, p. 142.

  • 66

    “il faut que la nature mette le temps nécessaire pour accomplir ses vastes desseins”. M. d'Avot, Lettres sur l'Angleterre, au Deux Années à Londres (Paris, 1821), p. 269. Von Raumer observed how “Other nations now move at an accelerated pace in the same track; but their advance is no loss to England”. Friedrich Ludwig Georg Von Raumer, England in 1835: Being a Series of Letters written to Friends in Germany during a Residence in London and Excursions into the Provinces (London, 1836), vol. ii, p. 210.

  • 67

    Henderson, Fischer, pp. 131 and 134.

  • 68

    Sismondi criticised that “The English nation has found it most economical to give up those modes of cultivation which require much hand-labour, and she has dismissed half the cultivators who lived in her fields; she has found it more economical to supersede workmen by steam-engines; she has dismissed, then employed, then dismissed again, the operatives in towns, and weavers giving place to power-looms, are now sinking under famine; she has found it more economical to reduce all working people to the lowest possible wages on which they can subsist”. Jean Charles Léonard Simonde de Sismondi, Political Economy and the Philosophy of Government; a Series of Essays Selected from the Works of Sismondi, ed. M. Mignet (London, 1847), p. 17. See also Maurice Rubichon, Of England (London, 1812), pp. 6–8; Simond, Journal of a Tour, vol. ii, pp. 214–15 and Giovanni Domenico Romagnosi, Del Trattamento de' Poveri e della Libertà Commerciale in Oggi Decretata in Inghilterra. Discorsi (Milan, 1829), pp. 45–7.

  • 69

    See for instance the scholarship of John Rule, The Labouring Classes in Early Industrial England (London, 1986).

  • 70

    Boyd Hilton, A Mad, Bad, and Dangerous People? England, 1793–1846 (Oxford, 2006), passim.

  • 71

    “malgré la pauvreté de la masse de ses habitants, la ville est une des plus riches de l'Angleterre”. Garneau, Voyage, p. 295.

  • 72

    Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin, De la Décadence de l'Angleterre (Paris, 1850). Cit. in Ballam and Lewis, The Visitor's Book., p. 120.

  • 73

    Toqueville, Journeys in England and Ireland, p. 91.

  • 74

    Cit. in Wilson, ed., Strange Island, p. 165.

  • 75

    Say, England. A similar theory was supported also by Jérôme Adolphe Blanqui, Histoire de l'Économie Politique en Europe, depuis les Anciens jusqu'à Nos Jours . . . (Paris, 1837), pp. 232–8.

  • 76

    François Crouzet, “The Second Hundred Years War: Some Reflections”, French History vol. 10 (1996), pp. 432–450. See also Jeff Horn, The Path not Taken: French Industrialization in the Age of Revolution, 1750–1830 (Cambridge, MA, 2006).

  • 77

    Patrick K. O'Brien, and Caglar Keyder, Economic Growth in Britain and France, 1780–1914. Two Paths to the Twentieth Century (London, 1978), pp. 185–98. See also Anne Gambles, Protection and Politics: Conservative Economic Discourse, 1815–52 (Oxford, 1999) and Hilton, Mad, Bad, and Dangerous, esp. pp. 3–12.

  • 78

    Beltrami, Pilgrimage, p. 426.

  • 79

    Elkington, Relations, pp. 101–20.

  • 80

    Ballam and Lewis, The Visitor's Book, pp. 97–125.

  • 81

    Jones, Les Voyageurs Français, pp. 199–212.

  • 82

    Toqueville, Journeys in England and Ireland, p. 71.

  • 83

    ibid., p. 60.

  • 84

    Walter L. Arnstein, “A German View of English Society: 1851”, Victorian Studies vol. 16 (1972), p. 185.

  • 85

    ibid., p. 203.

  • 86

    Staël-Holstein, Letters, p. 41. See also A. Hiley, “German-Speaking Travellers in Scotland, 1800–1860, and Their Place in the History of European Travel Literature” (Unpub. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Edinburgh, 1985), pp. 469–500.

  • 87

    Boyd Hilton and Ross Porters idea of “ungovernable people” take a very different stand on this issue. We are using the source to support the view that English hierarchy, deference and xenophobia supported a more peaceful and efficient transition. This is more in line with the historiography of Victorian Britain, rather than the industrial revolution. See Hilton, Bad, Mad, and Dangerous.

  • 88

    Robert E. Spiller, The American in England during the First Half Century of Independence (New York, 1926), p. 166.

  • 89

    Harvey, Collisions of Empires, pp. 79–90.

  • 90

    Jeff Horn, Path not Taken.

  • 91

    R. S. Alexander, Bonapartism and Revolutionary Tradition in France: the Fédérés of 1815 (Cambridge, 1991).

  • 92

    Romani, National Character, ch. 3; id., “Political Economy and Other Idioms: French Views on English Development”, European Journal of the History of Economic Thought vol. 9 (2002), pp. 359–83.

  • 93

    For a brief overview of Frenchmen's travels in England in the nineteenth century see Roe, French Travellers.

  • 94

    Stedman Jones, “National Bankruptcy”, pp. 71–2.

  • 95

    Tristan, Promenades, pp. 68–9. De Montulé also obseved how “sous le nom d'industrie ou de spéculation, condamne à des travaux forcés une partie de la population”. Édouard De Montulé, Voyage en Angleterre et en Russie (Paris, 1825), p. 103.

  • 96

    O'Brien and Keyder, Economic Growth, pp. 185–8. See also Robert B. Mowat, Americans in England (London, 1935); Allison Lockwood, Passionate Pilgrims: the American Traveler in Great Britain, 1800–1914 (London, 1981); Christopher Mulvey, Anglo-American Landscapes. a Study of Nineteenth-century Anglo-American Travel Literature (Cambridge, 1983); id., Transatlantic Manner: Social Patterns in Nineteenth-century Anglo-American Travel (Cambridge, 1990).

  • 97

    MacLellan, Journal of a Residence, p. 95.

  • 98

    Fisk, Travels, p. 492; John Griscom, A Year in Europe, Comprising a Journal of Observations in England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Switzerland, the North of Italy and Holland (New York, 1823), pp. 25–7.

  • 99

    Carter, Letters from Europe, p. 48; Henry Theodore Tuckerman, A Month in England (London, 1854), p. 62.

  • 100

    Mulvey, Transatlantic Manner, pp. 4–6.

  • 101

    Orville Dewey, The Old World and the New: or a Journal of Reflections and Observations Made on a Tour in Europe (London, 1836), vol. i, p. 55.

  • 102

    Elias Hasket Derby, Two Months Abroad: Or, a Trip to England, France, Baden, Prussia and Belgium (Boston, 1844), p. 6.

  • 103


  • 104

    Carter, Letters from Europe, p. 75.

  • 105

    America & England Contrasted, or, The Emigrants Hand-book and Guide to the United States (London, [1842]), p. i; Humphrey, Great Britain, p. 222; Benjamin Silliman, A Journal of Travels in England, Holland and Scotland and of Two Passages over the Atlantic in the Years 1805 and 1806 (Boston, 1812), p. 78. A point to be emphasised is that this is in line with our present knowledge that real wages in the United States were already higher than urban wages in England in the early nineteenth century. See also Robert C. Allen, The British Industrial Revolution in a Global Perspective (Cambridge, forthcoming 2009).

  • 106

    Mulvey, Anglo-American Landscapes, pp. 6 and 37; id., Transatlantic Manner, pp. 172–96.

  • 107

    Fisk, Travels, p. 605.

  • 108

    Allen, Practical Tourist, vol. i, pp. 153–4. See also Andrew Lees, Cities Perceived: Urban Society in European and American Thought, 1820–1940 (Manchester, 1985).

  • 109

    Frederick Law Olmsted, Walks and Talks of an American Farmer in England (London, 1852), pp. 50–65. See also Lawrence A. Peskin, Manufacturing Revolution: The Intellectual Origins of Early American Industry (Baltimore, 2003).

  • 110

    MacLellan, Journal of a Residence, p. 112.

  • 111


  • 112

    Joshua E. White, Letters on England: Comprising Descriptive Scenes with Remarks on the State of Society, Domestic Economy, Habits of the People, and Condition of the Manufacturing Classes Generally (Philadelphia, 1816), vol. ii, pp. 218.

  • 113

    Walter Licht, Industrializing America: the Nineteenth Century (Baltimore and London, 1995), pp. 26–8.

  • 114

    Silliman, Journal of Travels in England, vol. i, pp. 78–9.

  • 115

    A recent book investigating the relationship between culture and technology in the early nineteenth century is Ben Marsden and Crosbie Smith, Engineering Empires: A Cultural History of Technology in Nineteenth-century Britain (Basingstoke, 2005).

  • 116

    See note 15.

  • 117

    See the debate between Berg & Hudson and Crafts & Harley: Nicholas F.R. Crafts and C.K. Harley, “Output Growth and the British Industrial Revolution: A Restatement of the Crafts-Harley View”, Economic History Review 45 (1992), pp. 703–30; Maxine Berg and Pat Hudson, “Rehabilitating the Industrial Revolution”, Economic History Review 45 (1992), pp. 24–50; Id., “Growth and change: a comment on the Crafts-Harley view of the Industrial Revolution”, Economic History Review 47 (1994), pp. 147–9.

  • 118

    On the modern concept of “unbalanced growth” see the chapters by Nick Crafts and Joel Mokyr in vol. 2 of Roderick Floud and Paul Johnson, eds., The Cambridge Economic History of Modern Britain (Cambridge, 2004).

  • 119

    See for instance Chevalier, Society, Manners and Politics. For modern analyses see Horn, Path not Taken; and Hilton, Bad, Mad, and Dangerous.

  • 120

    W. W. Rostow, The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Comunist Manifesto (Cambridge, 1960); Rondo Cameron, France and the Economic Development of Europe 1800–1914: Conquests of Peace and Seeds of War (Princeton, 1961); David S. Landes, The Unbound Prometheus: Technological Change and Industrial Development in Western Europe from 1750 to the Present (Cambridge, 1969). However Gerschenkron did not share this position: Alexander Gerschenkron, Economic Backwardness in Historical Perspective: A Book of Essays (Cambridge, MA, 1962).