The early decades of the eighteenth century represent a period of calm and prosperity after the dissensions and turmoils of the previous century. The lively picture of the state of the country given by Daniel Defoe (1660–1731) in his Tour through the Whole Island of Great Britain (1724–6) shows a nation busily and contentedly at work. It was an age when industry and commerce were expanding, when agriculture, sheep-farming and woollen manufacture prospered. ‘Puritanism’ was taking on a different guise. Energies which had gone into religious controversy were being devoted to trade and industry. In this respect the dissenter Defoe himself seems to represent a new breed. With his heroine Moll Flanders, spiritual self-examination and financial accountancy go hand in hand as she repeatedly takes stock of her sins and her income. The same Defoe had been sent as an agent to Edinburgh in 1706 by the arch-political intriguer Robert Harley, Earl of Oxford (1661–1727). His brief was to pose as a disinterested friend of the Scots (‘a hardened, refractory, and terrible people’, he called them) and persuade them that union with England would be in their best interests. The Union was achieved in 1707.
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