The great body which he thus founded numbered a hundred thousand members at his death, and now counts its members in England and America by millions. But the Methodists themselves were the least result of the Methodist revival. Its action upon the Church broke the lethargy of the clergy; and the "Evangelical" movement, which found representatives like Newton and Cecil within the pale of the Establishment, made the fox-hunting parson and the absentee rector at last impossible. In Walpole's day the English clergy were the idlest and most lifeless in the world. In our own time no body of religious ministers surpasses them in piety, in philanthropic energy, or in popular regard. In the nation at large appeared a new moral enthusiasm which, rigid and pedantic as it often seemed, was still healthy in its social tone, and whose power was seen in the disappearance of the profligacy which had disgraced the upper classes, and the foulness which had infested literature, ever since the Restoration. A yet nobler result of the religious revival was the steady attempt, which has never ceased from that day to this, to remedy the guilt, the ignorance, the physical suffering, the social degradation of the profligate and the poor.
It was not till the Wesleyan impulse had done its work that this philanthropic impulse began. The Sunday Schools established by Mr. Raikes of Gloucester at the close of the century were the beginnings of popular education. By writings and by her own personal example Hannah More drew the sympathy of England to the poverty and crime of the agricultural labourer. A passionate impulse of human sympathy with the wronged and afflicted raised hospitals, endowed charities, built churches, sent missionaries to the heathen, supported Burke in his plea for the Hindoo, and Clarkson and Wilberforce in their crusade against the iniquity of the slave-trade. It is only the moral chivalry of his labours that amongst a crowd of philanthropists draws us most, perhaps, to the work and character of John Howard. The sympathy which all were feeling for the sufferings of mankind he felt for the sufferings of the worst and most hapless of men. With wonderful ardour and perseverance he devoted himself to the cause of the debtor, the felon, and the murderer.
An appointment to the office of High Sheriff of Bedfordshire in 1774 drew his attention to the state of the prisons which were placed under his care; and from that time the quiet country gentleman, whose only occupation had been reading his Bible and studying his thermometer, became the most energetic and zealous of reformers. Before a year was over he had personally visited almost every English gaol, and he found in nearly all of them frightful abuses which had been noticed half a century before, but left unredressed by Parliament. Gaolers who bought their places were paid by fees, and suffered to extort what they could. Even when acquitted, men were dragged back to their cells for want of funds to discharge the sums they owed to their keepers. Debtors and felons were huddled together in the prisons which Howard found crowded by the cruel legislation of the day. No separation was preserved between different sexes, no criminal discipline enforced. Every gaol was a chaos of cruelty and the foulest immorality, from which the prisoner could only escape by sheer starvation, or through the gaol-fever that festered without ceasing in these haunts of wretchedness. Howard saw everything with his own eyes, he tested every suffering by his own experience.
In one gaol he found a cell so narrow and noisome that the poor wretch who inhabited it begged as a mercy for hanging. Howard shut himself up in the cell and bore its darkness and foulness till nature could bear no more. It was by work of this sort, and by the faithful pictures of such scenes which it enabled him to give, that he brought about their reform. The book in which he recorded his terrible experience, and the plans which he submitted for the reformation of criminals made him the father, so far as England is concerned, of prison discipline. But his labours were far from being confined to England. In journey after journey he visited the gaols of Holland and Germany, till his longing to discover some means of checking the fatal progress of the plague led him to examine the lazarettos of Europe and the East. He was still engaged in this work of charity when he was seized by a malignant fever at Cherson in Southern Russia, and "laid quietly in the earth," as he desired.
While the revival of the Wesleys was stirring the very heart of England, its political stagnation was unbroken. The fall of Walpole made no change in English policy, at home or abroad. The bulk of his ministry, who had opposed him in his later years of office, resumed their posts, simply admitting some of the more prominent members of opposition, and giving the control of foreign affairs to Lord Carteret, a man of great power, and skilled in continental affairs. Carteret mainly followed the system of his predecessor. It was in the union of Austria and Prussia that he looked for the means of destroying the hold France had now established in Germany by the election of her puppet, Charles of Bavaria, as Emperor; and the pressure of England, aided by a victory of Frederick at Chotusitz, forced Maria Theresa to consent to Walpole's plan of a peace with Prussia at Breslau on the terms of the cession of Silesia. The peace enabled the Austrian army to drive the French from Bohemia at the close of 1742; an English fleet blockaded Cadiz, and another anchored in the bay of Naples and forced Don Carlos by a threat of bombarding his capital to conclude a treaty of neutrality, while English subsidies detached Sardinia from the French alliance.
Unfortunately Carteret and the Court of Vienna now determined not only to set up the Pragmatic Sanction, but to undo the French encroachments of 1736. Naples and Sicily were to be taken back from their Spanish King, Elsass and Lorraine from France; and the imperial dignity was to be restored to the Austrian House. To carry out these schemes an Austrian army drove the Emperor from Bavaria in the spring of 1743; while George the Second, who warmly supported Carteret's policy, put himself at the head of a force of 40,000 men, the bulk of whom were English and Hanoverians, and marched from the Netherlands to the Mam. His advance was checked and finally turned into a retreat by the Due de Noailles, who appeared with a superior army on the south bank of the river, and finally throwing 31,000 men across it, threatened to compel the King to surrender. In the battle of Dettingen which followed, however, not only was the allied army saved from destruction by the impetuosity of the French horse and the dogged obstinacy with which the English held their ground, but their opponents were forced to recross the Main. Small as was the victory, it produced amazing results.