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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: October 2020

4 - The Hubris of Youth


As was seen in the previous chapter, fewer youths from the middle ranks of society were being apprenticed during the second half of the eighteenth century. At the same time, the quasi-parental master became more of an employer, and the policing of poorer youths transferred to the criminal justice system. This left middling youths without a civic form of social regulation, as responsibility for their behaviour shifted from the legislated patriarchal household to the private family home. Yet, in trying to understand the changing nature of the eighteenth-century family, attention has been focused upon spousal relationships and concepts of childhood without recognising that it was also as middling parents were adjusting to their new role as guardians of their own teenage children that a growing emphasis was placed upon the importance of the nuclear family. Investigating the interpersonal relationships between youths and adults, therefore, sheds a fresh light on the history of the family while exposing the cultural change that accompanied the structural developments uncovered in Chapter 3.

Youths are a particularly useful gauge of cultural mores. They try the patience of their elders, testing and transforming the boundaries of adult authority, and the consternation they provoke highlights the social norms they are seen to transgress. However, concentrating upon adult concerns presents a mediated picture of young people's experiences. In order to focus attention towards the perceptions of youths, rather than the adult world that they unsettle, this chapter centres upon an adolescent named Ralph Jackson. Ralph kept a daily record of his life from the age of thirteen, beginning in 1749 when he embarked upon a seven-year apprenticeship in Newcastle upon Tyne. He was the second surviving son of a moderately well-to-do family from Richmond in the county of York. The specific details of his life reflect his relatively privileged social status, and he presents a somewhat male-centric account of his teenage years. But, the copious and often mundane entries in his journal paint a vivid picture of growing up in Newcastle during the 1750s, and many of the insights this provides are not class or gender specific.

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