Rachel Hewitt’s first book, Map of a Nation, showed how the institution that created our Ordnance Survey Landranger maps also shaped the United Kingdom. Her new book is similarly ambitious, setting out to chart how the revolutionary 1790s transformed the Western world by inventing some aspects of the modern mind. According to Hewitt, the decade of the French Revolution saw a revolution of feeling, and of feeling about feeling, as 18th-century conceptions of the passions faded and disappointed hopes gradually revealed a modern emotional landscape.
Anyone who has read Blake or Wordsworth knows that a generation of British radicals and intellectuals blazed with enthusiasm for the French Revolution. ‘Hey for the … Millennium! And peace and eternal beatitude be unto the soul of Thomas Paine!’ declared the journalist Thomas Holcroft. Hewitt finds something