The Webbs and Their Work

The Webbs and Their Work

The Webbs and Their Work

The Webbs and Their Work

Excerpt

This group of essays on Sidney and Beatrice Webb and their work is intended to be something rather different from the ordinary run of collective eulogies which appear after the death of eminent persons--as different as the Webb partnership was from the life of the typical eminent person.

There has never been a couple like Beatrice and Sidney Webb in British history; it seems very improbable that there will ever be another. There have been great men who were very much helped by their wives and great women--like Queen Victoria-- who owed an immense amount to their husbands. But there has never been a married partnership which was so complete and so equal in its achievement--so equal and so intertwined that as Bernard Shaw says in this book no one can completely separate the contributions or judge which was the more dominant or the more gifted partner. One can say that the London County Council was mostly Sidney, as the Poor Law Commission was Beatrice; one can observe that he had a talent for committee work and quick drafting which she lacked, or that she had a natural gift of vivid description to which he could lay no claim; but that is all. One cannot say which gift was the more important, or detach the L.C.C. or the Poor Law from the living body of the Webbs' work and purpose as a whole; it is all part of the "design for living" which they evolved between them--and never, perhaps, needed to express explicitly--during the months preceding their marriage. From that June, 1892, onwards, they translated their design into practice, according as opportunity offered. Opportunities varied, and what they actually did was not, in all cases, what they had originally thought of doing. But whatever they did was part of the Webb design, and completely consonant with their habits of thought. There was no person, no institution, having experience of the Webbs over sixty years, that had the slightest doubt about the individual and unmistakeable nature of their influence.

This is what made the Webb partnership unique in our history and, I venture to say, in that of any country in the world. But . . .

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