The Wretch of Today, may be Happy Tomorrow: poverty in England, c 1700-1840
This chapter explores what we can know about the conceptualization and representation of by poorer Britons. It draws on ‘pauper letters’ to parish authorities, written tactically, and on autobiographies and letters composed by the relatively poor, noting echoes of the characterization of happiness by elite social commentators. It draws attention to a growing interest (linked to the development of the concept of nostalgia) in the emotional charge that could be derived from reflection on emotional experience as people contrasted past happiness with present misery, or vice versa. While reading such accounts may lead us to think that we are penetrating the interior lives of marginal people in the past, Lloyd suggests that our response is probably coloured by the fact that we are heirs to these ways of conceptualizing and representing experience. We need to work harder to glean insight from earlier ways of representing happiness and suffering.