Victorian England: Aspects of English and Imperial History, 1837-1901

By L. C. B. Seaman | Go to book overview
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People of the Book


And none, O Lord, have perfect rest,
For none are wholly free from sin;
And they, who fain would serve Thee best,
Are conscious most of wrong within.

Hymns, Ancient and Modern

Nobody is gay now; they are so religious.

LORD MELBOURNE to Queen Victoria, 1837

The word ‘Victorian’, like all such terms, is misleading. Victorianism neither began in 1837 nor ended in 1901. A man of sixty in 1867, no less than a man who reached that age as late as 1927, could certainly be described as a Victorian. Yet the Victorianism of the first would have been shaped almost wholly by the pre-Victorian experience of the thirty years he had lived before the Queen’s accession in 1837; and the second would almost certainly carry with him, into the fourth decade of the twentieth century, ideas and attitudes acquired in the last thirty-four years of the Queen’s reign. Victorian ideas and attitudes were in many ways symbolized by Darwin, Tennyson and Gladstone; yet all three were already twenty-eight years of age when Victoria became queen. That great ‘Victorian’ headmaster, Arnold of Rugby, was a subject of the Queen for only the last five years of his life; and Jeremy Bentham, by 1837, had been dead for five years. In 1837, Dickens, Browning and Samuel Smiles were all twenty-five, John Bright twenty-six, John Stuart Mill thirty-one, John Henry Newman thirty-six and Palmerston as much as fifty-three. When the Queen died, Bernard Shaw had another fifty years to live, H. G. Wells another forty and Florence Nightingale another nine. Stanley

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