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By Jeremy Black

During this first quantity within the new Palgrave ''History of Britain'' sequence, Jeremy Black builds an image of 18th century society and polity exceptional via its variety, variety of instance, and interesting freshness of favor. scholars should still locate this a useful advisor to the interval, and others will benefit from the lightness of contact with which an impressive physique of information is deployed .

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Wild animals, especially hares, partridges, pheasants and moorfowl, fed on crops; while rats and mice attacked grain stores. Urban life was also vulnerable, with spectacular fires that brought great devastation, as at Warwick in 1694 and Blandford Forum in 1731. Lightning was a particular problem and its dramatic destructive powers made a powerful impact, as when the spire of St Andrew’s, Worcester was destroyed in 1733. A sense of insecurity contributed to a widespread belief in an animistic world.

However, understanding of good works varied and could include both religious services and satisfying the demands of the occult and spirit world. It is possible to point to an increasing questioning of the notion of direct divine intervention in the fate of individuals and communities. For example, there was growing scepticism that earthquakes reflected divine displeasure. Yet, this was not a secular society, and the contemporary notion of progress was not inherently sceptical. Instead, it rested in part on a diluted millenarianism, as well as on the traditional conviction that God provided means to cure all ills if only they could be discovered.

Developments in life insurance and improvements in institutional medical care provide important examples. Life insurance took a long while to develop because the basis for assessing risk was absent. In the absence of comprehensive mortality statistics, actuarial knowledge and a sound grasp of probability theory, it was difficult to assess risk and there was a powerful element of gambling, rather than risk avoid­ ance. More than sixty companies were formed in the period 1690 –1720, an age of speculation or, as it was termed, ‘projects’, and life insurance was then very Life and death  risky.

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