Aspects of Platform Culture in Nineteenth-Century Britain

By Hewitt, Martin | Nineteenth-Century Prose, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

Aspects of Platform Culture in Nineteenth-Century Britain


Hewitt, Martin, Nineteenth-Century Prose


This Introduction provides background to the more focused essays that follow. It calls attention to the continued neglect of the nineteenth-century platform, and especially--in the wake of Meisel's recent study of the political platform--of the lecture, pointing out that the extent to which oral performance underpinned written text in the Victorian period is still too little understood. It attempts a chronological survey designed to emphasize the significance of public speech in the era before the 1860s. It also seeks to provide context for a number of the key themes of the essays in the rest of the issue, arguing for the importance of the platform for transatlantic cultural exchange, and suggesting that despite the pressures, women were not completely banished from the mid-century platform as has sometimes been suggested.

**********

The platform culture of nineteenth-century Britain was so ubiquitous that its omnipresence has helped to render it strangely invisible. We look through it in search of material on all aspects of the period, but we fail to look at it, to interrogate it as a cultural form in its own right. As is illustrated by the smattering of references in G.M. Young's Victorian England: Portrait of an Age superficially, the importance of the platform in Victorian intellectual culture is well established. Historians had recognized the importance of public speech in the conduct of nineteenth-century politics long before Colin Matthew's suggestive survey of the rise of extra-parliamentary politics in the last third of the century gave a new impetus to the study of the practices of the political platform. (1) Labor historians had similarly placed practices of oratory and the "mass platform" at the centre of their accounts of nineteenth-century radical movements. (2) In general, however, there has been little attention to the practice of public speech itself. There are one or two general surveys of rhetoric, such as Robert T. Oliver's Public Speaking in the reshaping of Great Britain, and some material in studies of rational recreation by Mabel Tylecote and J.F.C. Harrison; (3) but until the recent appearance of Joseph Meisel's Public Speech and the Culture of Public Life in the Age of Gladstone, the only comprehensive study of the nineteenth century platform remained Henry Jephson's The Platform, Its Rise and Progress (1892), a revealing but essentially whiggish account that concentrates almost exclusively on the political platform, and the public meeting as its most common variant, and there is no British equivalent to the book length studies of the American lecture platform of Carl Bode and David Mead, or the more recent work of Donald M. Scott. (4) Only within the relatively narrow confines of the history of science has the public lecture been subjected to sustained attention. (5)

Meisel's study demonstrates the dangers of neglecting this aspect of nineteenth-century culture. This neglect is of especial significance once we begin to recognize the central place public speaking had within nineteenth-century modes of intellectual production. Perhaps because of the dominance of the histories of science, education, and politics in the historiography of public speech, at least in Britain, the culture of the platform has tended to be interpreted through notions of "popularization," "dissemination," or "mobilization," as a derivative or imitative process designed to transfer ideas, probably in a diluted form, from arenas in which they are produced to arenas in which they can obtain wider consumption. Yet to consider the platform purely from this perspective is to ignore its productive role. It is twenty-five years since Raymond Williams pointed out the extent to which "much of the important social thought of the [nineteenth] century was in lecture form." (6) Even cursory reflection suggests that a good deal of the important social criticism of the period was framed in the form of lectures and addresses, from Carlyle's Heroes and Hero-Worship through Ruskin's Sesame and Lilies to much of Morris' thought. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Aspects of Platform Culture in Nineteenth-Century Britain
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.