William Beveridge: A Biography

By Jose Harris | Go to book overview

2
A LATE-VICTORIAN CHILDHOOD

I

THE upper grades of the Indian Civil Service during the late nineteenth century embodied, perhaps more clearly than any domestic institution, the characteristic Victorian ideals of morality, government, and social organization. The Benthamite principles of utility, efficiency, impartiality, and open competition were incorporated into the Indian Civil Service much earlier and more systematically than in the home departments; and the service attracted into its ranks men who formed a new model army for the Victorian administrative state.1Drawn mainly from the ancient universities, many of these officials were administrators and lawyers of remarkable calibre who, within the rather narrow bounds of the British vision of India, devoted themselves to public service of a high order. Inspired in many cases by the twin ethics of utilitarianism and evangelical Christianity, they were deeply committed to bringing justice, rationality, and true religion into a dark continent where injustice, unreason, and impiety had previously prevailed. This sense of mission was reinforced by extreme geographical and social isolation. In the cities ICS officials mixed to a certain extent with army officers, merchants, and educated Indians; but outside Madras and Calcutta the average Anglo-Indian civil servant and his family enjoyed the lonely eminence of a feudal lord.

It was into this hybrid layer of Anglo-Indian society -- highly traditional in its functions but reformist and bureaucratic in attitudes and ideals -- that William Beveridge was born at Rangpur on 5 March 1879. He was the first son and second child of Henry Beveridge, a district sessions judge in the Bengal section of the Indian Civil Service, and of Henry's second wife Annette. His forebears on either side were modestly middle class and had been so for four generations -- masons, master-printers, and publishers on his father's side, farmers and clothiers on his mother's.2The Beveridge parents shared many of the social assumptions of their class and generation,

____________________
1
Eric Stokes, The English Utilitarians in India ( 1959), esp. parts III and IV.
2
ICT, pp. 377-8.

-43-

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