John Britton 1771-1857: Habits, Culture and Belief

John Britton dearly believed that education was the most important thing for all men in England be there of working or upper class in order for the country to improve and be a better place to live. The following quote gives a brilliant insight into Britton’s own beliefs, ‘In spite of obstinacy, of vulgar intolerance, and the besotted prejudices of illiberal minds, the good and glorious work of education has made rapid advances in this intellectual and affluent country; and aided, as it is, by men of enlightened minds and ardent spirits, we may fairly anticipate that all classes of Englishmen must become wiser and better as their minds become more cultivated and expanded.’ Britton believed that it was education that was required to become wiser and better, and as someone from a working-class background he is proof that if you work hard in education you can succeed in life. Britton proved that through education it was possible to achieve a great deal in life, which he did as he died a wealthy man who was well loved by many people and whose scholarly work was deemed to be of great significance.

Although Britton was a Christian he questioned the purported Christianity of some members of the church. The following quote comes from his autobiography, ‘The infatuated intolerance of too many of the established clergy is the greatest difficulty which the true friends of useful education have hitherto contended against, and have to encounter. Were they more sincerely intent on practising Christian charity and Christian principles, than on personal aggrandizement and power, they would be more respected and beloved by their fellow -men.’ This quote shows that although Britton believed in Christian values and Principles he did not believe that the ‘established clergy’ did instead suggesting that they were more interested in power which resulted in them not being respected or loved by their fellow man.

The book ‘Religion in Victorian England’ by author and historian Gerald Parsons looks at the decline of Christianity in Victorian England in it Parsons writes the following in regard to the church, ‘On the one hand he suggests, there began to be an increasing public expression of hitherto ’latent dissatisfaction’ with the conventional orthodoxy both social and theological of the proceeding era. Such latent dissatisfaction included a sense of embarrassment over some of the practices of conventional middle class piety, such as daily family prayers.’ From this quote, it can be seen that the Victorian era gave rise to the public’s questioning and dissatisfaction with the church which is exactly what Britton was talking about in the quote above where he suggested that the clergy act more Christian and less power hungry. It could be argued therefore that Britton’s beliefs and questioning of Christian is a by-product of the Victorian era.

John Britton was a very interesting man, he was brave, intelligent and caring and this is made very clear from his own beliefs, brave as he was willing to stand up for his beliefs in terms of politics and stand up when he felt an organisation was doing wrong such as the Christian Church, intelligent as he knew how important education was and dedicated his entire life to learning, reading and writing and caring as he firmly believed in the Christian teachings of charity and personal freedom.



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  • Rose, Jonathan, ‘Rereading the English Common Reader: A Preface to a History of Audiences.’ Journal of the History of Ideas. 53. 1 (1992): 47-70
  • Page 60
  • Parsons, Gerald. ‘Religion in Victorian Britain: Controversies.’ Manchester University Press (9 Nov. 1988)



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