History, Politics & Society
The book tells two connected stories: the first is how the 14 year old Scot, Alexander Stewart, ran away to sea, was captured by Napoleon in the year of Trafalgar, off the coast of Brighton. A prisoner of the French, in often brutal conditions, he stood up to the bullies, taught himself French, the theory of navigation and Enlightenment philosophy. He made four attempts to escape before returning to England and becoming a highly successful Congregational minister who was presented to Queen Victoria on her accession and her coronation.
The second story tells how the Nonconformists returned from the margins of British society after the failure of Cromwell’s rule to help transform the political and moral landscape of the nation. In two seismic years, the middle classes got the vote and slavery was abolished in the British Empire. The nation moved, along with the bulk of its population, from asking ‘what do we want to do’ to ‘what ought we do’. Stewart, a distinguished preacher and educator, was at the heart of this revolution.
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