Here is a compilation of term papers on the ‘Culture and Society of Britain’ for class 9, 10, 11 and 12. Find paragraphs, long and short term papers on the ‘Culture and Society of Britain’ especially written for school and college students.
1. Term Paper on the Culture and Society of Britain (1815-1832):
Musical composition is of all the arts the most difficult to relate to its social background. For the whole of the period 1815 to 1885 British composers were nonentities. A part of the explanation must be the weaknesses of musical education in Britain, which the foundation of the Royal Academy of Music in 1822 improved only slightly.
Little can be said for Britain’s role in musical development during the period except that she provided wealthy audiences for certain foreign composers, filling a role something like that of the United States in the early twentieth century. Before 1832 the most remarkable achievement of British connoisseurs was the Philharmonic Society’s commission from Beethoven of his Ninth Symphony in 1824.
Painting is not necessarily any easier to fit into general history, and it is difficult to understand why the first half of the nineteenth century should have been the period of Britain’s greatest artists, J. M. W. Turner and John Constable. Turner had been working long before 1815, and his style continued to develop well into the forties.
His momentous first visit to Venice took place in 1819, but its fruits were delayed. Most of Constable’s best-known pictures, however, date from the years between Waterloo and the First Reform Act. The appearance of some of them in the Paris salon of 1824 had a considerable impact on Delacroix and other French artists.
Both Turner and Constable reflect, among other things, the Romantic delight in landscape—in Turner’s case usually wild panoramas, and in Constable’s peaceful Suffolk scenes. They were both ready to record the technological achievements of their time: for example, Constable painted Waterloo Bridge and the Chain Pier at Brighton, and Turner lifeboats and steamships.
Architectural monuments of these ‘Regency’ years are also outstanding. It is surprising that there are not more examples of private extravagance in building in the nineteenth century. The last large group of aristocratic houses was being finished around 1815, for instance Ashridge and Belvoir.
However wealthy, seldom did more than add wings or ornament to existing mansions. The chief exceptions to this generalization are royal houses, Rothschild houses and houses of the family of the Dukes of Sutherland.
The most notable extension in the years 1815-32 was an enormous addition to the already huge house of the Dukes of Devonshire at Chatsworth. This, like Belvoir and the large modifications to Windsor Castle, was under the superintendence of Jeffry Wyatt, later Wyatville.
The building which is usually taken to epitomize the period is the Royal Pavilion at Brighton, completed in 1822, built for the Regent by John Nash, who indulged his master’s eclectic and uncertain taste in attempting to copy Oriental palaces. Nash also began the rebuilding of Buckingham Palace for George IV in 1825. In the same year Benjamin Wyatt, Wyatville’s cousin, began Lancaster House for the Duke of York.
Several of the most notable pieces of town planning in Britain were carried through in these years. ‘Once, and only once, has a great plan for London, affecting the development of the capital as a whole, been projected and carried to completion.’
This was when Nash created Regent’s Park, the terraces around it, and Regent Street between 1812 and the late twenties. Marble Arch was his also. Much of Grecian Edinburgh was built at this time, and a good deal of Brighton and Cheltenham. By 1815 the small ‘villa’ and even the semi-detached house were becoming features of the outskirts of towns.
Institutional building acquired new importance in the nineteenth century. The great new building to house the rapidly- increasing British Museum was begun to the Greek designs of Robert Smirke in 1823.
William Wilkins designed the National Gallery, begun in 1832. The Bank of England was expanding, using Sir John Soane, the eccentric architect of the Dulwich Gallery. One of the most remarkable survivals is the offices built for the Birmingham Improvement Commissioners, ‘the most striking British example of the temple paradigm’, designed in 1831.
The churches for which Liverpool’s Government advanced money are to be found in many towns, especially in London near the boundaries of the Cities—still galleried preaching-houses rather than places of sacramental worship, using Gothic forms, if at all, purely as applied ornament. The bulk of the London Clubs date from around 1830, and are particularly important in architectural history as including early examples of the revival of Renaissance styles, like the Travellers’ Club of 1829.
Cambridge was as active in building in the 1820s as in the 1960s. The first part of Wilkins’ Grecian design for Downing College, which received its charter in 1800, was completed. In King’s College his Hall and screen to King’s Parade and in St John’s Thomas Rickman’s New Court are among the most characteristic of Cambridge buildings.
Several other Colleges built new battle-minted courts or refaced old courts in what was conceived to be the ‘Elizabethan’ manner. If building is symptomatic, Cambridge was far livelier at this time than Oxford.
In poetry this is the age of the young Romantic rebels. About half of Byron’s output comes from after 1815, including bitter attacks, not unlike Shelley’s, on the ‘Establishment’. He lived abroad after 1816 and had even greater influence there than at home, especially in the character of a liberal nationalist: he died fighting for Greek independence in 1824.
Shelley was less well- known and well-regarded in his day, but wrote some of the best lyric poetry in the language. So did John Keats, but, without aristocratic connexions, and comparatively uninterested in politics, he was barely noticed in his life-time. Both, like Byron, died young.
All three contributed to the myth or ideal of the Romantic genius, brilliant, unstable, in ill-health, freethinking, in and out of love, scornful of the public. It is not difficult to find a plausible, though obviously incomplete, explanation for the remarkable phenomenon they represent, a brief efflorescence of Romantic poetry, in the desperate discontents of the repressive period before and after Waterloo.
The earlier Romantic poets, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey and Blake, all still alive, had lost the revolutionary fervor they had felt in 1789. Southey was the apologist of Liverpool’s regime, ridiculed by Byron in The Vision of Judgment. The most notable work of any of them after 1815 was Coleridge’s semi-philosophical writing.
He devoted himself to study of recent German philosophy, which in many respects was concerned to revive Greek attitudes, glorification of the community, of an ideal ‘reality’, of myth and even inutility. Though Coleridge’s thought was anything but clear, its influence on men like Carlyle, Gladstone, Newman and J. S. Mill is undoubted.
Mill saw Coleridge as the antithesis of Bentham, and both as necessary to intellectual salvation – ‘the one demanding the extinction of the institutions and creeds which had hitherto existed; the other that they be made a reality.’
Coleridge had written – ‘My opinion is this: that deep thinking is attainable only by a man of deep feeling and that all truth is a species of revelation . . . . It is insolent to differ from the public opinion. . . . .’ The echoes of Burke are unmistakable.
According to Jane Austen, the young men of the 1810s were reading Lord Byron, the old Walter Scott. The reputation of the latter was fantastically high, abroad as well as in Britain. His poetry was mainly written before 1815, his novels afterwards. Some took advantage of, and strengthened, the growing cult of the middle Ages.
Many of them used themes from Scottish history, and so did much to put Scotland on the tourist map and to revive Scottish national pride. Jane Austen herself wrote her last novel, Persuasion, in 1815, but never attained until the late nineteenth century anything like the popularity of Scott.
Of course, polite education was still based on the Greek and Roman Classics. The standard of teaching and scholarship in these fields was rising fast. Perhaps the most characteristic single artistic manifestation of the period is the Greek revival. It is at the back of Coleridge’s thought. At length the democracy of the city- state is appreciated and glorified, and the philosophy of Aristotle restored to favour.
It had taken an astonishingly long time for the West to take an interest in Greek architecture as distinct from Roman. The future Prime Minister, Aberdeen, was one of the earliest serious travellers in Greece and founded the Athenian Society in 1804. The Earl of Elgin’s removal to London of the Parthenon frieze, bought for the British Museum in 1816, led to much imitation of the figures on buildings of the period.
The movement was not only artistic, literary and philosophical. The Philhellenes of the ‘twenties, who helped those whom they supposed to be the modern representatives of the Ancient Greeks towards independence, form an important link in the history of British sympathy with nationalism abroad.
2. Term Paper on the Culture and Society of Britain (1832-1850):
‘We are not now called upon to prove; says the Camden Society’s Few Words to Church-Builders of 1844, ‘that Gothick is the only true Christian Architecture.’ That the Society could make this claim at that date witnesses to an astoundingly rapid shift of taste and outlook.
The Camden Society, founded in 1839, was Cambridge’s contribution to the Oxford Movement. While ‘Romanism is taught Analytically at Oxford; wrote a critic, ‘it is taught Artistically at Cambridge.’ The Society had to change its name during the crisis of Tractarianism, in 1845, to the Ecclesiological Society, but its teaching continued to flourish, capturing Evangelicals and even Nonconformists at a time when, doctrinally and ritualistically, the High Church was under a cloud.
The Webb’s called the years 1832 to 1836 ‘the iconoclastic years’. They had in mind constitutional and legal changes. But the epithet was apt on a broader front. Nothing better signalizes the end of iconoclasm than the Gothic Revival, and 1836 marks its serious beginning.
Its ideas as well as their execution owed most to Pugin, who first propounded the views that artistic style is organically connected with the state of society, that the choice of style is a moral question and that Gothic is the most natural and the true Christian style. Pugin himself in 1834, when his vision was fully developed, followed his opinions to a logical conclusion and joined the Roman Catholic Church. His outlook, however, proved acceptable in some degree to most denominations.
The story of the Gothic Revival continues into the twentieth century. Progressively from the 1840s churches in its style, either new buildings or old buildings ‘restored’, became more numerous; if they were Anglican, surplice choirs were put into their chances, there to be screened in so that they could hardly be heard by the congregation; organs, now considered indispensable, joined the choirs, deafening them without sustaining the singing of the people. J. M. Neale, one of the founders of the Camden Society, additionally rediscovered something of medieval symbolism and translated dozens of Latin hymns of the Dark and Middle Ages, which, associated with insipid tunes, formed the core of Hymns Ancient and Modern, published in its first complete form in 1861. A memorial window in stained glass was considered a novelty in 1842, not thereafter.
Before 1850 the Revival produced few of its greater monuments. It was still fighting for acceptance. This was the period of Grey Street in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Greek and greatly admired. When the Fitzwilliam Museum came to be built in the ‘thirties, it was in a classical style. So was St. George’s Hall, Liverpool, in the ‘forties.
In Edinburgh and Glasgow Greek Revival building continued to predominate into the ‘fifties at least. Pugin’s own churches were, through no fault of his own, generally mean. Not until the late ‘forties did the full programme of the Ecclesiological Society, which demanded the use of the Decorated style, attain dominance.
The most characteristic Gothic buildings of the period are secular and less than pure, the Scott Monument at Edinburgh and the Houses of Parliament at Westminster. But the latter was of immense importance. After the destruction of most of the old Palace of Westminster by fire in 1834, the decision was taken to rebuild in the Gothic style.
The reasons were partly special to the site, namely, the style of the surviving Abbey and Hall. But ‘ethical’ arguments supervened. Gothic, it was claimed, was the English style par excellence, the style most appropriate to constitutionalism, the only natural style.
Starting in 1836, Charles Barry designed the building’s plan, Pugin all the ornament and detail. Barry had been the architect of the Travellers’ Club and preferred other styles to Gothic. The plan, in consequence, is a compromise: the design seemed to Pugin Palladian, but it is asymmetrical.
The detail, on the other hand, down to the inkstands, is Gothic. The House of Lords was ready for occupation in 1847, Big Ben was completed only in 1858 and the Victoria, Tower in 1860. The result commanded admiration from the first. It is a proper testimony to the faith and pride of the Victorians in their representative institutions. But it marks also the triumph of the Gothic Revival, and so the defeat of iconoclasm.
It was not a total victory, though. The greatest investment of the ‘forties was in the railways, and to some extent they were insulated from the battle of the styles. Though Euston Station was given a classical portico and at Temple Meads in Bristol the roof was based on the hammer-beam at Westminster Hall, iron and glass structures more commonly covered the platforms.
One of the greatest and simplest of road bridges, Clifton Suspension Bridge, designed by the railway engineer, Brunei, was begun in 1836, though not completed until 1864. An oddly important building was the large new conservatory required by the Duke of Devonshire, 277 feet long, 132 feet wideband 67 feet high, using a glass vault with an iron framework, designed by his gardener, Joseph Paxton.
These structures have been regarded as forerunners of modern functionalism, a new type of architecture, using the materials made available by the Industrial Revolution. Pugin repudiated them, however, and so did John Ruskin, whose Seven Lamps of Architecture, published in 1849, developed the notion that art was bound to morality, which, he thought, led to the view that art was opposed to utility and negated the possibility of beauty in iron and true architecture in railway stations.
In the ‘thirties and ‘forties Turner painted what are now regarded as his masterpieces, including the Venetian oil-paintings, the fiercest of his horror seascapes and Rain, Steam and Speed of 1844. At the time they were scarcely understood. But here again Ruskin in Modern Painters, the first volume of which appeared in 1843, transmuted aesthetic criticism, taking Turner as his hero and arguing that art is not a matter of faithful realist representation, but of expression of thought.
Five years later, in the excitement of the last Chartist demonstration, Holman Hunt and John Millais, two art-students, founded the ‘Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’, rather vaguely concerned to go behind Raphael for their inspiration, more precisely devoted to the most exact realism in the painting of poetic, religious and allegorical subjects. Dante Gabriel Rossetti joined them almost at once. With glorious inconsistency Ruskin found it in his heart and mind to fight for them as well as for Turner.
An invention of this period, photography, which became a practical proposition in 1839, makes it possible to illustrate nineteenth-century history more fully than that of earlier centuries. It also totally changed the situation of painters, who, if interested in realism, now faced competition from an infallible machine.
It is remarkable how quickly some of the greatest writers of the nineteenth-century conquered the widening public. Tennyson’s Poems 1842 established his reputation, and by around 1860, when he had thirty more years to live, he was to all classes The Poet, Dickens made his name with The Pickwick Papers in 1836-37.
It appeared in monthly parts, and the later ones sold 40,000 copies each. This figure surpassed even Scott’s sales. Nicholas Nickleby in 1838-39 sold 50,000 a part. The Old Curiosity Shop reached 100,000 a part in 1841. The first two volumes of Macaulay’s History of England, which came out in 1848, sold about 20,000 in a year.
Further, it seems that the popularity of some of the writings of this period was unusually tenacious. From 1870 to 1882 Dickens’ works sold over 4,000,000 volumes in England alone. Macaulay remained the best-known historian, and Tennyson’s poetry was rivaled only by Martin Tupper’s Proverbial Philosophy (1838-42), ‘commonplace maxims and reflections couched in a rhythmical form,’ and, later, by the American Longfellow’s.
A new edition of Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus in 1882 sold 70,000. With government encouragement of libraries, and with railway book-stalls, perhaps the writers of these years had special advantages.
But it must be remembered that, for whatever reasons, and beyond, it was the authors who made their name in the ‘thirties and ‘forties who exerted the widest influence. Spencer and Ruskin and the dominant writers of the second half of the century have been named.
To summarize the significance of the literature published between 1832 and 1850 is impossible in a short space. Among the famous works of that period which have yet to be noticed are Disraeli’s major political novel, Coningsby (1844); Dickens’ Oliver Twist (1837-8) and other novels; Carlyle’s French Revolution (1837) and Cromwell (1845); Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome (1842); W. M. Thackeray’s Vanity Fair (1847-8); Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights (1847) by Charlotte and Emily Bronte respectively; and James Mill’s son, J. S. Mill’s Political Economy (1848). The list is so tremendous that it can only be a list.
Certain observations, however, on four of these works contribute to the general argument. Macaulay’s History is the locus classics of Victorian optimism and pride.
For Macaulay personally this is scarcely just: he was always sanguine. It presented to the public a renovated Whiggism, justifying the 1688 Revolution by subsequent material prosperity as much as by the constitutional blessings it secured.
Dickens’ novels, it was said, contributed greatly to concern for improvement of social conditions. This claim requires definition. The Pickwick Papers, of course, is partly historical, and glorifies the days of coaching, which were soon to pass. Oliver Twist often appears to be about the unreformed Poor Law, not the New. Dickens knew little about the North and its industry.
Further, he was not an advocate of State action in principle or in many particular cases. He trusted in individuals, not institutions. But he exposed certain evils, especially abuses of the Poor Law and in Chancery, and squalid housing conditions; he was humanitarian; and he was absolutely without ‘deference’.
If he was not good at portraying the very poor, his message was that rank and wealth were in no way correlated with goodness or worth. Though anything but a revolutionary, he was, politically and socially, though not economically, an egalitarian. The combination of attitudes is characteristic of much Radicalism throughout the period, in all classes.
Mill’s Political Economy became the stock textbook of economics as soon as it was published. Its interest is that, while asserting the iron laws of supply and demand, wages and so on, it showed distaste for them. Progressively in its later editions it became more sympathetic to what was called socialism.
Mill came to support restrictions and taxes on inheritances, taxes on rent from land, and co-operation in industry. In these attitudes he joins the Christian Socialists, who also date from 1848, and anticipates much later discussion and legislation, for example the Irish Land Acts.
Tennyson was working during the ‘forties on what is regarded as his greatest poem, In Memoriam, for his friend Arthur Hallam, who had died in 1833. It was published in 1850. What is so striking about it is its reflection of the spiritual questionings of the period. It confides in an after-life, guaranteed no doubt by the Incarnation.
It accepts, or is compatible with, the Christian stress on personal responsibility and fulfillment. But it is anything but dogmatic. Tennyson was thoroughly aware of scientific thought. In Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology (1830-33) and, vulgarized, in Robert Chambers’ Vestiges of Creation (1844), the evidence had been set out which made it impossible to maintain any longer the literal truth of the Bible in its account of the Creation and the Flood.
In Memoriam’s burden is that there is ground for faith in Man and the development of the human race, though ‘the implied metaphysic will be in detail shadowy—a philosophy of Somehow, wavering between a hopeful doubt and a doubtful hope’.
It was this conviction which was adopted by those who, unable to accept Catholic or Evangelical dogma, clung to elements of Christian faith, ideals and ethics. After the debacle of the Oxford movement in 1845, this was the dominant attitude of intellectuals to philosophy and religion.
3. Term Paper on the Culture and Society of Britain (1850-1868):
In 1851 was held ‘the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations’. Historians have found it an inexhaustible source of humour, ugliness, illustrations and lessons. It was the first large exhibition ever held anywhere in the world. As such it is a landmark in the history of the ‘public’. Jeremiahs did not believe it would succeed: there would be vandalism, or no one would come.
In fact the crowds were amazingly orderly, from which the moral was drawn that the failure of the British to revolt in 1848 was no accident and that they were contented, law-abiding and respectable. Further, the crowds were enormous. Latterly, the attendance reached 100,000 a day.
The total was over 6,000,000. The provision of non-alcoholic refreshments, catalogues and lavatories was novel, and set the pattern for similar events in Britain. The profit was over £ 180,000. London had appropriated the Industrial Revolution. It had its lunatic side.
There were exhibited:
Railway trains constructed to prevent collision. Square carriage wheels, termed scrapers, to advance by steps and without jolting.
Silent alarm bedstead to turn any one out of bed at given hour.
Piece of mechanism intended to represent the proportions of the human figure; it admits of being expanded from the standard size of Apollo Belvedere to that of a colossal statue. Composed of, more than 7000 pieces of steel.
Many of the exhibits, though more practical, were hideous. It seems hard to escape the conclusion that the triumph of industrialization, bringing mass production and a flood of new materials, together with pride and confidence in material progress, were fatal to taste.
The greatest aesthetic success of the affair was the building in which it was housed, the Crystal Palace, which was an expanded version by Paxton of one of his Chatsworth conservatories. It was prefabricated; 1848 feet long, 408 feet wide and 100 feet high at maximum, and was the classic glass-and-iron functional building of the nineteenth century.
The Exhibition illustrated Britain’s superiority in technology. It was appropriate that, among the advertisements in the catalogue—with those of the Religious Tract Society, Novello’s for cheap editions of oratorios, Madame Tussaud’s, Colman’s for mustard, Dinneford’s for magnesia and the St. Helen’s Crown, Sheet and Plate Glass Company—there figured that of John Murray for G. R. Porter’s The Progress of the Nation and Longmans’ for J. R. M’Culloch’s Descriptive and Statistical Account of the British Empire.
These works published in the late ‘thirties were the first notable statistical glorifications of Britain’s industrial progress. ‘The progress of the human race, resulting from the common labour of all men, ‘ran one of the Exhibition’s mottoes, ‘ought to be the final object of the exertion of each individual. In promoting this end, we are carrying out the will of the great and blessed God.’
Self-satisfaction apart, the promoters of the Exhibition, chief of whom was Prince Albert, saw in it a triumph of peace and internationalism. It was comprehensive, of course, and so there was even a medieval court. There was also a model artisan dwelling. Art, Industry and Social Progress were supposed to go hand in hand.
With the profits the museum site in South Kensington was bought, on which was erected ‘an accumulation of cultural institutions as compact and varied as exists. . . . . anywhere’. The only one of the buildings completed in this period, however, was a museum on the site of, and partly preserved within, the Victoria and Albert Museum. The Albert Hall was not finished until 1873.
Paxton’s vein of architecture was still being worked in the ‘fifties and ‘sixties for the railways. In London the arches over the rails at King’s Cross (1851-52) and St. Pancras (1868) Stations are the best examples. In a different field, the dome of the circular Reading Room of the British Museum (1854-57) is outstanding.
However, functionalism was not widely popular, whereas Gothic was. As if to counterbalance the austerity of the Station behind, Sir George Gilbert Scott built the St. Pancras Hotel in a style which ‘is a combination of various medieval features the inspection of which calls to mind the Lombardic and Venetian brick Gothic. . . while the critical eye of the student will observe touches of Milan. . . , interlaced with good reproduction of details from Winchester and Salisbury Cathedrals, Westminster Abbey, etc.’
By the criterion of output, Scott was easily the most important British architect of the nineteenth century. Between 1847 and 1878 he built or restored at least 39 cathedrals and minsters, 476 churches, 25 schools, 23 parsonages, 43 mansions, 26 public buildings, 58 monuments and 25 colleges or college chapels.
Earlier he had built at least 50 workhouses. He did not positively insist on Gothic. He agreed, ‘for the sake of his family’, to build the new Foreign Office of 1868-73 in the ‘Italian’ style on which Palmerston had insisted. But almost all his other work was Gothic of a kind. His restorations are notorious for their ferocity, but he himself defended them as comparatively mild, since the Camden Society liked them more drastic still.
In general, sharing Pugin’s love of Gothic but lacking his Catholicism and philosophy, he proved the perfect popularize of the Revival. His best-known piece is the Albert Memorial, of 1863-72. The most thoroughgoing High Church Gothic building of the period is All Saints’, Margaret Street, by William Butterfield, completed in 1859.
In 1867 G. E. Street won, with a Gothic design, a competition for the central Law Courts. These are the architects who are considered to have been the most distinguished of the Gothic Revival.
Ruskin, although his aesthetic theories so much resembled Pugin’s, was bewitched by what he called The Stones of Venice. The polychromy and some of the forms he advocated in the book of that title, which appeared in 1851, are to be found in the Oxford Museum (1854-59) and Keble College, Oxford (1868-70), the former inspired by Ruskin himself, the latter built by Butterfield.
Under Ruskin’s influence, Italian styles which were not very specifically Gothic became popular at this time, as exemplified in the Free Trade Hall at Manchester (1856). ‘Classical’ styles were still sometimes employed, as in Leeds Town Hall (1853-59). Amid so much elaboration of ornament, the Red House at Bexley, built by Philip Webb in 1859, represented a specially simple design for a private house, and inaugurated a long British tradition. Its owner was William Morris.
In literature, as has been stressed, the mixture is somewhat as before. With Enoch Arden in 1864 Tennyson captured a still wider public, aligning himself with the ethos of self-help so characteristic of the ‘sixties. Less noticed, Matthew Arnold’s poems were mostly published in the early ‘fifties.
Dickens continued to succeed with almost every production, including Bleak House (1852-53), The Tale of Two Cities (1859) and Great Expectations (1860-61). Two new novelists of special importance, however, emerged during this period, Anthony Trollope and George Eliot.
Trollope positively embodies the complacency, the indulgence towards anachronism and anomalies, and the unheroic worldliness of the middle period of Victoria’s reign. He seized in The Warden (1855) on an excellent milieu for novels, the clerical life of ‘Barsetshire’, into which the reforms of the Ecclesiastical Commission and the intensities of Low and High Church were but slowly penetrating.
The Warden is a manifesto directed against several of the stronger literary trends of the day. It dissociates itself from the ruthless revelation of abuses, as defined by the standards of utilitarianism and illustrated in The Times; from Carlyle, ‘Dr. Pessimist Anticant’, who compared ‘ancient and modern times, very little to the credit of the latter’; and from Dickens, Mr. Popular Sentiment, who set the world right ‘by shilling numbers’.
Five other Barchester novels followed, The Last Chronicle of Barset appearing in 1867. Trollope also allowed himself to be amused by the politics of the day, though he described them as, even more pointless than they were. He was thankful they led to few reforms; he sympathized with the Protectionist squires and laughed at working-class politicians. He revered, and wrote the life of, Palmerston.
In his Autobiography of 1883 he described how he had written his novels in measured stints, disclaiming Romantic inspiration. Nothing better shrews the oppressiveness of the age than the fact that Trollope, the prophet of normality, as decorous as one can imagine, felt it necessary to censor himself. The ‘fifties are clearly the highpoint of nineteenth-century prudery.
George Eliot, the pseudonym of Mary Ann Evans, started her career as a novelist only two years after Trollope’s The Warden appeared, and on a similar subject. Scenes of Clerical Life, indeed, opens with a passage rather, in Trollope’s spirit, doubting whether reform and restoration have improved the Church.
She was, however, in many respects the opposite of Trollope. She was aggressively intellectual, she purveyed German philosophy and theology, she wished to assert the independence of her sex, and she was a subtle psychologist. Middlemarch, reckoned to be her greatest book, came out only in 1871-72, but The Mill on the Floss appeared in 1860 and Silas Marner in 1861.
What exactly Henry Adams meant by his statement, quoted at the head of this Part, that the English mind was utterly decousu in the ‘sixties, when he was Secretary to the American Legation in London, he made it as difficult as usual to find out. But among the literary manifestations, which impressed him, as it well might, was the early poetry of Algernon Swinburne, far from the philosophical sobriety of Tennyson.
Atalanta in Calydon appeared in 1865. The most important intellectual influence of the ‘sixties, however, was the impact of Darwin, which may certainly be regarded as ‘disintegrating’, breaking up a whole way of thought, in its first effect.
General evolutionary notions and attitudes were, characteristic of much early nineteenth-century thought. Wordsworth’s Prelude, written by 1805 but published posthumously in the same year, 1850, as In Memoriam, illustrates the point, as do the works of Coleridge, Gladstone, J. S. Mill and Tennyson himself.
Already, for those who studied these matters, Lyell had pushed far back the origins of Life and indicated a pattern of organic development. What Darwin added to this general evolutionism in The Origin of Species (1859) was an explanation of the variety of existing species of plants and animals in terms of an autonomous process which he thought of as operating, at least from the time when Life began, into the future.
In Paley’s time the study of the variety of species had been a matter for Natural Theology, and it had been widely believed that the glory of the Creation was displayed in their once-for-all differentiation, as proclaimed in Genesis. Darwin definitively removed this subject from Theology.
Living things necessarily produce numerous variants, he argued; and those variants prosper which are ‘the fittest to survive in the struggle for life’. The principle of Natural Selection explains the whole process and the existing situation.
‘Unbroken Evolution under uniform conditions,’ says Henry Adams, ‘pleased every one—except curates and bishops; it was the very best substitute for religion; a safe, conservative, practical, thoroughly Common Law deity.’ Bishops denounced it, but were easily proved ignorant when they did so. In a famous confrontation of 1860 Bishop Samuel Wilberforce of Oxford was worsted by the biologist, T. H. Huxley.
In the same year the orthodox had to face another attack, a collection of Essays and Reviews by young clergy, some of which were condemned by church courts as heretical, though the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council upheld their appeals.
This was the point at which the Church and Science, and, within the Church, dogmatic and un-dogmatic religion—the High and the Low Church here on the same side versus the ‘Broad’ Church—fought their pitched battles. But of course the war was of long standing.
It would be possible to write many volumes on the implications of Darwin’s work. The relationship between Darwinism and religion is not simple. Literal interpreters of the Bible had for centuries found themselves in growing difficulties.
Darwin’s ideas were scarcely more damaging than Lyell’s, though they made more of a stir. Undoubtedly The Origin of Species shook the belief of many. Yet some churchmen soon found it possible to adapt evolutionary ideas so that they did not conflict with Christianity.
Spencer claimed Darwin as a supporter, as did many who applied the notion of the survival of the fittest to conflicts between races or to capitalist competition. Marx and Engels thought they were doing for the study of society what Darwin had done for biology.
As Burrow says:
The uniformitarian’s rejection of catastrophism [i.e. Lyell’s attitude in geology], the Darwinian’s of Special Creation, are paralleled by the rejection of the Social Contract, the Great Man theory of history, and the mechanical conception of society as an artifact, transformable almost at will; all the newer theories were concerned to present the relation of past and present as a steady growth, a chain of cause and effect related in accordance with discoverable natural laws.
Newman’s theology of Development, positively applauding modifications of dogma over time, is another intellectual position which can be added to the catena, even though Darwin and Newman had no other attitude in common. Many of those who sympathized with Darwin, like Spencer, conceived of Natural Selection as a progressive process. The ideas of Progress and Evolution are obviously related. But they are distinct. For Darwin the process he was describing was morally neutral.
Some thinkers who were evolutionists in other fields shared his approach. For example, what are usually thought of as primitive societies developing towards civilization were now being conceived as deserving of equal respect and attention with so-called advanced societies, as by Henry Maine in his Ancient Law (1861).
Roman Catholic writers had a notable impact in this period. Newman tried to win acceptance for his Idea of a University among the Roman Catholics of Ireland in lectures of 1852, but not yet under that title. In 1864 he published Apologia pro Vita Sua, an account of his conversion to Rome, in the hope of justifying himself against the attacks of Low Churchmen. His chief poem, The Dream of Gerontius, appeared in the following year.
The two prose works, superbly argued and magically written, convey some of the attraction which his hearers had found in his Oxford sermons. The lectures did not achieve their immediate object of establishing an Irish University such as Newman wanted; rather they provided a justification for Oxford and Cambridge.
The Apologia contributed much to make Roman Catholicism respectable among British intellectuals. A very different Roman Catholic, Sir John Acton, made his name in the years around 1860. He had a cosmopolitan aristocratic background, being closely related to members of the nobility of Britain, Naples and the Holy Roman Empire.
He made himself a phenomenally learned historian, as he displayed in a succession of short-lived reviews, the Rambler, the Home and Foreign Review and the North British Review. Quite unlike Newman, he passionately supported freedom of religion, and believed in Progress. In consequence he had differences with the Papacy.
In 1865 appeared, over the pseudonym Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Special writing for children is a feature of the nineteenth century; and, although some upper-class Victorians were notoriously restrictive parents, in no previous period was so much concern shown over the happiness and education of the young.
4. Term Paper on the Culture and Society of Britain (1868-1885):
The history of the arts is concerned, as one of progressive disintegration. In retrospect, the ‘fifties appear a moment of unity, when almost all new buildings were Gothic, when almost everyone was a believer, when writers wrote in a direct style, with a high moral tone, distinguishing unsubtly between good and evil. Comparatively, the ‘seventies and early ‘eighties were years of diversity and doubt.
The period is notable in secular architecture for the spreading popularity of what was called the ‘Queen Anne’ style, and of related rejections of Gothic, as practised especially by Philip Webb and Norman Shaw. The influence of the architecture of Anne’s reign on their buildings was seldom specific, but they liked to use bare red brick and they avoided Gothic forms.
Churches were nearly always made Gothic, but a more correct and austere style, derived from English medieval architecture rather than from French or Italian, become fashionable. J. L. Pearson is the best-known of the architects concerned, and St Augustine’s, Kilburn (1870-80) probably his best-known building.
Perhaps, more important than this trend was a reaction against the drastic restoration of old churches. Scott had been quite capable of ‘restoring’ a whole building on the evidence of one bricked-up window. William Morris founded in 1877 the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, devoted to safeguarding them in their mixture of styles and in their oddities form those who wished to unify them ruthlessly.
The test-case, which provoked Morris to establish the Society, was Tewkesbury Abbey. The preservation movement nicely typifies a loss of confidence in late Victorian taste. In one sense the adoption of Gothic itself had betrayed a lack of artistic assurance. Now it was admitted that the nineteenth century could not make as good Gothic as the Middle Ages.
More important even than this aspect of Morris’ work was his improvements in the decorative arts. He followed in the theoretical tradition of Pugin and Ruskin. Art was a reflection of a good society. The Industrial Revolution had made society bad, in that it divorced the workman from direct creation. Mass-produced structures like the Crystal Palace did not deserve to rank as architecture; machine-made patterns were not art.
In furniture Morris’ firm, started in 1861, made relatively simple but fairly conventional Gothic pieces, but used all the conveniences of mechanization. In tiles, wallpaper, textile patterns, stained glass and (after 1885) printing the work was more original, and the method of production more in accordance with his theories.
Even so the reproduction of patterns was often mechanical. In all these fields Morris’ designs, usually based on medieval examples, exerted great influence, and, more important still, his concern for the quality of such work inspired later developments in quite different styles.
Britain was the home of the Gothic Revival. Nowhere in the world was it so pervasive, and nowhere else were its theories so significant. But the British took Gothic with them on their travels: hence the Anglican churches scattered over the Continent.
They carried it with them when they emigrated. It captured other nations to some extent. The tradition of building associated with Shaw and Webb was also a British product, but was scarcely exported at all outside the English-speaking countries. Morris’ ‘arts and crafts’ movement has no parallel abroad at all.
At last it is worthwhile to say something of British musical composition. The early Gilbert and Sullivan operas fall into this period: Trial by Jury (1875), H.M.S. Pinafore (1878), The Pirates of Penzance (1879), Patience (1881), and Iolanthe (1882). The musical Renaissance is usually dated from the performance of Hubert Parry’s Prometheus Unbound in 1880.
It clearly owed much to a broader cultivation of music in the country, for instance to the Crystal Palace concerts after 1855 and to the Halle Orchestra’s concerts in the North after 1857. The Royal College of Music was founded in 1882 in competition with the Academy.
Tennyson continued to write freely, and so did Swinburne, and in 1868-9, with The Ring and the Book, Robert Browning made his name, rather late in life, as a poet. Oscar Wilde’s first book of verse was published in 1881. Quite unknown to the world at large, Gerard Manley Hopkins, a convert to Roman Catholicism and a Jesuit, was writing the revolutionary poetry which, when published in the twentieth century, had immense influence.
Prose-writing was more notable. Thomas Hardy’s first successful novel was Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), George Meredith’s Beauchamp’s Career (1876). The work of both authors illustrates the disintegration of the mid-Victorian unity. Meredith’s involved writing is characteristic of the later nineteenth century, Hardy’s belief in Fate rather than God one of the many aspects of the period’s ‘doubt’. Both, implicitly if not explicitly, criticized the conventional view of marriage.
Samuel Butler’s Erewhon (1872) was more forthright, an attack on law, morality and religion as found in Victorian society. The Churches figure as ‘Musical Banks’ purveying Handelian harmony, the Universities as ‘colleges of unreason’; even the family is not spared. Erewhon represents the extreme of revolt in this period, and was too much for the vast majority.
There was great social risk in admitting unbelief. The House of Commons spent weeks over a period of five years refusing Charles Bradlaugh, elected M.P. for the first time in 1880, the right to take his seat, initially because he would not swear the oath of allegiance and later because, while he now agreed to swear it, he had stated that it was not binding on his conscience, since he was an atheist. But Bradlaugh had made his name anathema to the respectable by supporting republicanism and birth control.
In educated circles disbelief was tolerated, if not flaunted and if not associated with too open a disregard for conventional morality. In the special case of George Eliot, living with another woman’s husband, many people recognized her as a moralist, not just as a novelist, and public homage was paid to her even by some of the younger members of the royal family. Her philosophic position was widely shared by intellectuals.
I remember [wrote F. W. H. Myers, a young don in 1873, at the time of the incident] how at Cambridge I walked with her once in the Fellows’ Garden of Trinity, on an evening of rainy May; and she, stirred somewhat beyond her wont, and taking as her text the three words which had been used so often as the inspiring trumpet-call of men—the words God, Immortality, Duty—pronounced with terrible earnestness how inconceivable was the first, how unbelievable was the second, and yet how peremptory and absolute the third.
Never, perhaps, have sterner accents confirmed the sovereignty of impersonal and un-recompensing Law. I listened, and night fell; her grave, majestic countenance turned towards me like a sibyl’s in the gloom; it was as though she withdrew from my grasp, one by one, the two scrolls of promise and left me the third scroll only, awful with inevitable fates.
And when we stood at length and parted, amid that columnar circuit of forest trees, beneath the last twilight of starless skies, I seemed to be gazing, like Titus at Jerusalem, on vacant seats and empty halls—on a sanctuary with no Presence to hallow it, and heaven left empty of God.
At length, in the upper classes anyway, religion was on the decline and, despite the continuing advance of Roman Catholicism and the persistence of Anglo-Catholicism as a minority movement within the Church of England, dogmatism was decaying among those, the great mass of the respectable, who were still believers. It is symbolic that, whereas in 1870 the largest group of new works published was on religious subjects, in 1886 there were fewer of these, and novels had taken first place.
Other prose work in this period was especially important. Matthew Arnold, principally in Culture and Anarchy, was the prophet of a literary culture as virtually a substitute for religion. Two pieces of art criticism, Walter Pater’s Studies of the Renaissance (1873) and. J.A. Symonds’ History of the Italian Renaissance (1875-86), both restored interest in their period and helped to found another movement of a kind unknown in the preceding decades, the ‘Aesthetic’ movement, valuing Art and the pleasure derived from it for their own sake.
R. L. Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1883) and H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines (1885) represented a new vogue for ‘adventure-stories’, the latter obviously related to rising imperialism. The period is particularly notable in historiography.
William Stubbs followed his Select Charters (1870), documents of English medieval history, with his Constitutional History of England (1874-78). William Lecky’s History of England in the Eighteenth Century began to appear in 1878. The Dictionary of National Biography was started in 1885.
Certainly there were some signs of disintegration. But they must not be exaggerated. By comparison with the modern situation, late Victorian culture was highly unified. Intellectuals were to some degree becoming distinct from the ‘Establishment’, but there was still a very close network connecting the more intelligent of the aristocracy with churchmen, the Universities, the professions, artists and writers.
If the public now provided sufficient financial rewards to successful authors for them to be independent of aristocratic patronage, and if they were treated with a respect unusual in earlier history, they were a small and select band. It is not difficult to show that, just as statesmen were related to each other, so were men of science and letters.
There was a small group of upper middle-class families which contributed a high proportion of the intelligentsia of the late nineteenth century: interrelated Darwins, Wedgwoods, Huxleys, Macaulays, Arnolds, Butlers, Trevelyans and Stephens. It was possible to enter the circle from outside, but many were born into it.
Hence English intellectuals were not alienated from their society, as those of other countries often were. These families formed a link between the ‘Establishment’ proper and those whose talents demanded admission to it.