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Pugin and the Gothic Dream

When peace came to Europe in 1815, Britain was in the unique position of possessing empire, wealth, and power, which would make possible a century of commercial and industrial growth and prosperity. There were disquieting signs, however. The capitalism that Mill and Ricardo would advance was entering a mature phase, so that the age of the impersonal enterprises, involving millions of pounds and pursued at arm's length from any responsible person for nothing but profit, was unfolding. The life of man was passing from the land to the city. The way of making things was passing from the household or the shop to the factory. The Baconian project, the ability to master nature such that her secrets could be used for the comfort of mankind, was at last literally delivering the goods—the 1830's being the hinge on which modern technology turns. If, at mid-19th century, England was giddy on the subject of religion, this was surely not the case when the Napoleonic Wars ended in 1815. There were just 29 Easter communions at St. Paul's Cathedral in 1809. Reform was in the air, with the implication that, if there were no reform, there might be revolution. So while, on one hand, there were the facts of commercial prosperity and a rising middle class, the increase of the culture of comfort, and the first hints that medicine could become a science, perceptive souls saw that all was not well in the heart of the civilization.

There...

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