The origins of ‘liberalism’ in Britain: the case of The Liberal


  • The author would like to thank David Moon, James Thompson and the referees for thoughtful suggestions on an earlier version of this article.


This article examines the public reception of the periodical The Liberal to establish how the language of ‘liberalism’ began to develop in Britain in the eighteen-twenties. It shows that Hunt, Byron and Shelley had difficulty establishing a claim to this terminology partly because the conventional meanings of the word ‘liberality’– as in generosity and gentlemanliness – could be turned against their contributions, and partly because of their existing reputations as subversive, irreligious Epicureans. As a result, The Liberal helped to establish a negative typology of ‘liberalism’ that quickly gathered force among reactionaries.