HIS hopes of a Radical party having failed, John withdrew from active politics--as he thought for good. He continued, however, to watch with his usual intense interest the signs of changes in public opinion.
The forties were a time of ferment. The economic depression of 1839-43 had given impetus to the middle-class movement for freeing trade from the old shackles imposed in favour of agricul- ture. The Chartists were voicing the discontent of the working classes with the limited franchise won under the Reform Bill and with economic distress. The two movements fused with the strongly awakening Victorian social conscience. The new 'social' theme began to dominate literature: Mrs. Gaskell wrote Mary Barton, Mrs. Browning The Cry of the Children, Thomas Hood his Song of the Shirt, Charles Kingsley Alton Locke and Yeast, Carlyle Chartism and Past and Present--they all heralded reform as certainly as the literature glorifying the underdog in the nineteen-twenties heralded the Welfare State in the nineteen-forties. Social aware- ness had originated in the nonconformist religious sects but soon permeated all religious life in England. The emphasis was on self- improvement and on duty to God and to others. To spend one's time well, to work well, became part of religious life. This personal discipline was a powerful factor in shaping the remark- able expansion that set in during the middle forties and, during one generation, transformed England into the most prosperous,