While I have him in mind: two more interesting (?) points about Samuel Laing the Elder.
He was one of the first assertive and ideological philistines I’ve come across in history. He argued that ‘art’ was an unrelievedly bad thing, suited only to peoples at low stages of civilization, before they had advanced into the state of progressive utilitarianism he thought he saw in Norway, where no-one wasted their time on such fripperies but instead concentrated on the solid, material things of life. So one sign of Sweden’s inferiority to Norway was her superiority in the fine arts – painting, decorative architecture, and so on. The same was true all over Europe (where he travelled and recorded after leaving Scandinavia). Italy and France were at the lowest stages because they were artistically accomplished; Britain near the top because she was unartistic, devoting her people’s time, money and efforts to making useful things like steam engines and money. I explored this in another ‘Laing’ article: ‘”Monstrous Vandalism”: Capitalism and Philistinism in the Works of Samuel Laing (1780-1868)’, in Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies, Vol. 23, No. 2 (Summer, 1991). In a later reply to comments on this, I waspishly suggested that this might be the reason why modern ultra-capitalist America was so relatively poor at ‘art’ (except jazz); only to be denounced as elitist, of course. (I’m not really.)
Secondly – and this should be borne in mind when we consider the early ideology of ‘liberalism’ generally – Laing was convinced that the free market and all its trappings were conducive to human equality. It was this that made him a democratic as well as an economic radical. John Stuart Mill, the doyen of Victorian liberals, took this idea from him, in his Principles of Political Economy, where he wrote (2nd edn.) that if that did not turn out to be the case he, for one, would become a ‘socialist’. (Michael Caine voice:) ‘Not many people know that’. It shows how fundamentally the ideology of ‘liberalism’ has changed over the years: indeed, has almost metamorphosed into its opposite. Victorian liberalism, which Thatcher for example professed to worship, must not be confused in any way with the ‘neo’ kind.
Samuel Laing would not have approved of our present-day ultra-capitalists. Or indeed, to return to his ‘philistinism’: of Edvard Grieg. (We hope to make a pilgrimage to Grieg’s house in Bergen next week, after visiting Laing’s Levanger.)