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History Notes > Intellect and Culture in Victorian Britain Notes

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Victorian
Culture

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Culture Class
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Contents

The Victorian Period: The Intellectual and Cultural Context of English Literature,
1830--1890 -- R. Gilmour

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Arthur Sidgwick
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My Apprenticeship -- B. Webb
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Culture and Anarchy: An Essay in Political and Social Criticism -- M. Arnold

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Culture Class
What was the Arnoldian concept of culture and how influential was it?
Arnold 1822--88
~ Son of Thomas Arnold
Culture was fairly undefined
~ Classical definition of high culture
~ Anthropological -- everything around us

~ Civilisation

~ Linked to the meaning of society
Arnold merges these 2 views
Uses persiflage -- irony => to amuse the audience
~ People found it difficult to look past this to the seriousness of his work
Anarchy -- in the way of perfect culture
~ If the state was powerful enough then it would not occur
~ Self--interest is a negative force
~ Nonconformity is the wrong form of order
'Sweetness and light' from Jonathan Swift -- satirical as he does not necessarily embody
this
Persiflage can lead to him going off on a tangent
Lectures are first given in the Sheldonian in 1866
~ Tells the Nonconformists that they have a bad culture
Nonconformists had been kept out of Oxford for 2 centuries -- had an alternate culture
which gave a great deal to Britain

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Criticism of those who are fragmenting the national culture
Combative and knowingly polemical
Has made his contribution to national culture -- 35 years as a school inspector
Was not really patriotic -- very concerned that there should be a unitary national culture
Thomas Arnold -- desire for a more inclusive church

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Is culture a substitute or extension of religion?
~ Need religion in culture but culture goes further
Religion is an arm for reaching out for cultural perfection

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Literature is more important than science
~ Way to educate people and make them good
~ Literature replaces faith as an ethical impetus
Issue of the decline of faith
~ Learn virtues of civilisation through literature

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Responds to critics who accuse him of having a prescriptive taste
~ Does not want this
~ Because we are English we could not organise this like France
Is there a fit between Taunton and what Arnold is trying to do?
Taunton reports in 1868
~ 1869 Endowed Schools Act -- tries to follow through Taunton's conclusions

~ Rebellion across Victorian society to this over--centralisation
Arnold's German inspired statism is not popular
~ He has an extreme view on educational reform
Arnold's root accusation is that the English are provincial
~ Not part of the European liberal tradition
~ Local focus
~ Arnold wants the state to be stronger to militate against parochialism
Uses the word philistine -- this word itself comes from Germany
~ Self--consciously educated
Arnold's European liberalism wants stronger government -- people need to be saved
from themselves
~ Mill has an idea of a higher self -- similar sort of liberalism although more French
than German

'An evolution away from a unified culture towards a mass of specialisms.'
Is this a fair description of the changes in Victorian culture between c. 1835 and
1900?

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G. M. Young, The New Cortegiano -- 'The culture which the 19th century received and we
supposed it would transmit is over and done with. We are left carrying the baby and the
baby is dead'

What is a 'unified national culture'?
! Young described culture as 'a body of assumptions, judgments, tastes and habits' which
together formed 'a frame of reference which, and by which, men of all vocations can
communicate with one another'
! Uniformity in culture was a concord between low, middle and high culture, where the
vanguard of intelligentsia produced and critiqued original thought and served as
exploratory antennae, to discover and capture new ideas for the middle--brow mass to
assimilate

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Did the Victorians ever actually have a 'unified national culture'?
! In Victorian England: Portrait of an Age, G.M. Young divides the Victorian era into 3 ages

~ Early, Middle and Late

~ He argues that the intellectual pioneers of the early Victorian period facilitated a

golden age in the middle, where high and middle--brow cultures worked to spread

the vast amounts of new information being acquired
Young describes 'standing on a railway platform one day in the summer of 1896 when a
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man, certainly not of the aesthetic class ([he] guessed him to be a Gravesend pilot)
opened his paper and exclaimed to a friend 'Millais is dead'

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Arnold's concept of the 'culture bearers ' -- 'the great men of culture . . . those who have
a passion for diffusing, for making prevail, for carrying from one end of society to the
other, the best knowledge, the best ideas of their time; who have laboured to divest
knowledge of all that was harsh, uncouth, difficult, abstract, professional, exclusive; to
humanise it, to make it efficient outside the clique of the cultivated and learned, yet still
remaining the best knowledge and thought of the time, and a true source, therefore, of
sweetness and light'
~ Illustrates his belief in the establishment of a unified culture in Victorian Britain.

How did this arise?
! Young argues that there were various factors that enabled the construction of a 'unified
national culture' in the mid Victorian era

~ Included the rise of positivism, rationalism, biblical criticism, education and
political reform combined with the established concept of the Cortegiano or
courtier -- the man of letters or 'culture--bearer'

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Why did it fracture into specialisms?

Humanistic Ideal and Mechanistic Agency / Zeitgeist
! Young goes on to argue it was the very factors that initiated the formation of a unified
national culture that would eventually lead to its fragmentation

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The initial factors that allowed for a flowering of artistic and scientific development,
that is, a humanistic ideal of development through self knowledge, like that Arnold
identified in his chapter Sweetness and Light, would eventually implode onto itself as
the pursuit of knowledge => the machinery of research superseded the reason for such
investigation and descended into pedantry and faddism
~ The main factors these authors put forward for the fragmentation of culture are
political reform, educational and university reform and the decline of the church
and natural theology due to rationalism and science

Education and Social Reform
! Collini in his Public Moralists argues that as the intelligentsia became more homogenous
due to social changes led by educational and political reform, academic effort originally
spent intellectually justifying partisan interests was transferred to conflicts within
subjects in terms of their taxonomy and direction
! Pattison -- the Party of Progress

~ Pattison's ideal of research, of academism and the university as an oasis divided

from the general concerns of society can be understood as representing the
academic impetus towards specialisation and the destruction of the 'middle brow'
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possibility of a 'unified national culture'

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Church / Science Split and 'the failure of the clerisy'
! R. Young in Darwin as Metaphor plots out how the effects of biblical criticism and
Darwinism tore the unification of culture and academicism at the seams and how the
moral and ethical concerns of the church were substituted for empirical and scientific
purity
! G. M. Young puts forward that it was not only this general fission between church and
culture that lead to the break down of a Victorian unified culture but the failure of the
clerisy to act as bridge between high culture and the ordinary man

~ As the agent of culture, the clerisy was responsible for its diffusion downward

and outward throughout society

~ The late Victorian decline, according to Young, can largely be attributed to a
failure of leadership -- unlike the educated class of the previous generation, the late
Victorian clerisy was derelict in its duty to critical intelligence

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G. M. Young -- 'It is the business of a clerisy to keep all conventions under review, to
maintain an informed and critical resistance against the propagandist, the advertiser
and all other agents of the mass--mind. The charge against the higher education of the
late Victorian Age is that it surrendered the freedom it was meant to guard. In a world of
exact progressive knowledge, where the foundations not of belief only but of daily habit
were perishing, the public schools overstressed and standardised ideals which were
becoming inadequate to the conduct of modern life, and they did not adjust the balance
by breadth of observation fineness of reasoning'

Conclusion
! To argue that there was a breakdown of a 'unified national culture' between 1835 and
1900 would be a fair assessment

~ To call it an evolution however, may be wrong

~ It may be more accurate to describe it as a 'dissolution' into specialisms

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Specialisation had destroyed a central middlebrow culture
Central culture had been fed by high culture
Specialisation => polarisation between avant--grade and mass culture with a kitsch taste
Culture permeated through society to a greater extent than it does today

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Arnold -- 'sweetness and light' => quite frivolous
Young -- culture is central to society and transmits major ideas
~ Frame of reference
~ Superstructure for coherent broadcasting of information

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Unification of high and middle culture in the middle of the century
Cycles of growth and decay -- similar to Vasari

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Man of letters -- idea of bearing culture => diffusion
Middle culture was essentially humanistic
~ For the benefit of man and society
Intelligentsia -- very small group of individuals
~ Part of a movement away from unification
Break between science and religion
Specialism -- 2 main reasons
~ Humanistic ideal
~ Use of mechanisation to benefit society
Collini -- distancing of motivations in pursuit of a scientific ideal
~ Reform led to a more homogenous intelligentsia
~ Everything should be broken down to be understood
Pattison -- opposed to Jowett's education for rounded individuals
~ Had an ideal of research -- is still concerned with culture

~ As research became a priority, knowledge became distant from culture
~ Writes on Milton for a general audience
Failure of the clerisy to bring culture to the masses
~ Did not save the population from the split in culture -- became absorbed in the
kitsch as opposed to high culture
Culture was broken down -- dissolution more than evolution
~Specialisation only benefited academics -- not society as a whole
Only have knowledge of what is important for a particular role

Secularisation thesis
~ Late 19th century urbanisation and modernity undermine faith
Is this cultural change unique to Victorian England?
~ Humanism v. Mechanisation

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High culture can be spread by middle culture -- transference

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