It was a diverse set of characters that made up the hard-core of Josiah Wedgwood’s circle of friends, including even the fascinating figures on the fringes. They were collectively, the most brilliant group in England and also the most eccentric. By and large they are forgotten today, not really transferable into the contexts of pop culture. But, some of them changed the world…
Their attitude to the American war was typical of their feelings. Like all intelligent men they found the folly of their own country the hardest to bear, and they denounced the actions of the ministry with the bitterness of the betrayed. As Wedgwood ironically put it: “I could as soon pardon a man making crockery ware malleable ( as keeping) our present set of rulers” in power. Anna Seward dared rebuke even the mighty Dr. Johnson for his anti American opinions; Wedgwood and Bentley wrote in horror and alarm at the idiocy and incompetence of it all; and Thomas Day thundered his indignation in verse.
They were not satisfied with mere abuse, however. The folly of the American war did more than disturb their conscience; it insulted their sense of competence, underlined their feeling of frustration, and strengthened their desire for parliamentary reform. In defeat minor irritants seemed gross afflictions. What had seemed regrettable now seemed intolerable. Wedgwood and his friends were sickened by the corruption of Parliament, infuriated by the venality of local elections, and frustrated by their lack of power to reform them.
Wedgwood might rejoice that America was free and greet the French Revolution as glorious, but it was little compensation for the situation in England. They had built roads, financed canals, conquered steam, and organized the factory system. Now they wanted to extend such rational and systematic reform elsewhere. Half measures could not satisfy them. When in April, 1785, Pitt’s abortive scheme for parliamentary reform was announced, Day spoke for them all when he wrote in contempt in The Disgusted Patriot:
When faithless Senates venally betray,
When each degenerate noble is a slave,
When Britain falls an unresisting prey,
What part befits the generous and the brave?
In vain the task to rouse my country’s ire,
And imp once more the stork’s dejected wings;
To solitude indignant I retire,
And leave the world to courtiers, priests,