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Victorian History Notes

History Notes > Intellect and Culture in Victorian Britain Notes

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Victorian
History

Contents

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Whig History Tutorial
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History and Professionalisation Class
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Macaulay and the Heritage of the Enlightenment -- P. R. Ghosh
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Protestant Histories: James Anthony Froude, Partisanship and National Identity
-- J. Garnett

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The Whig Interpretation of History -- H. Butterfield
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The Idea of History -- E. G. Collingwood
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Introduction: Historicism and the Nineteenth Century -- C. Brooks
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Lord Macaulay: Introduction -- H. Trevor--Roper
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Macaulay and the Whig Tradition -- J. Hamburger
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History and Historians in the Nineteenth Century -- G. P. Gooch
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A Liberal Descent: Victorian historians and the English past -- J. W. Burrow
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The Organisational Development of the British Historical Profession, 1884--1921
-- D. S. Goldstein

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The Invention of Progress: The Victorians and the Past -- P. J. Bowler
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Seventeen Lectures on the study of mediaeval and modern history and kindred
subjects -- W. Stubbs

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The Muse of History -- G. Macaulay Trevelyan

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History of England -- Thomas Babington Macaulay
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Past and Present -- Thomas Carlyle
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Inaugural Lecture & its Appendix -- Thomas Arnold

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Whig History Tutorial
Butterfield -- 'Whiggism is a faith in progress'
~ Continuity and progress towards the future
Stubbs -- constitutional progress
~ Present goes towards a future goal
Does not account for non--liberal progressive thinking

Concept of progress was to appease middle class theologians
~ Not a break from the past
~ Reaction to outside pressures
'Trimming' -- Whigs wanted compromise
~ 1832 -- appeasement

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Optimism and industrialisation
Development of science -- idea that absolute truth was an attainable goal
Macaulay portrayed Britain as the chief repository of liberal values -- superior

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Carlyle's Signs of the Times (1829) -- disconcerting change
~ Railways are too fast
~ 'Men are growing mechanical in heart as well as head'
Comte -- did not have to follow the past but could study it to show progress


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'Whig history' is ambiguous
~ Also problematic to explain its emergence
~ Manipulation of the age -- is it part of social control?

~ Lack of evidence for control
J. R. Green wrote popular histories that were used in schools
Progress is reliant upon the present
~ Aetiology -- history has a telos, a purpose, which is the present
Macaulay's narrative explains the superiority of English government, constitution and
Parliament
No desire to have an objective view -- judge by present standards
~ Construct history as they would like it to be
Macaulay fails to discuss Catholics, Ireland, radicals etc. -- fails to take 'regressive'
aspects into account
Different disciplines can share a concept of progress
Scottish Enlightenment
~ Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, John Millar, Hume
~ Beginning of conceiving history as stages of development
Comte is another developmental figure -- law of 3 stages
~ Theological --> metaphysical --> positive (science)
Whigs are particularist -- not everyone will progress
~ Britain is exceptional -- they are British exceptionalists


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~ This is not what the Scottish Enlightenment was arguing -- they wanted to write a
universal history
1848 revolutions -- liberals could not succeed
All conservatives would buy into progressive narratives -- yet they might put emphasis in
other places
Stubbs is part of Whig history but he is a Tory
Carlyle -- we have mechanised everything and lost our morals and motions
~ 12th century monastery used to show harmony and content

~ Common good where individualism has been suppressed
1830s and 40s -- Sir Robert Peel and the Tories accept industrialisation
~ Yet the majority of the party remained deeply sceptical
~ Opposition to the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846
Repeal of the Corn Laws splits the party
Many rural landed Tories are slow to come to grips with industrialisation
Tory party -- modernising v. majority who are hostile to what they see as too many
concessions
Medieval escapism
~ Idyllic portrayal in art, literature and architecture
~ Time of harmony, piety and peace
~ Morris makes traditional goods e.g. tapestry
Style of the age is Pre--Raphaelite and consciously medieval -- not Macaulay's period
Pre--Raphaelite Brotherhood -- after the High Renaissance and beginning with Raphael
art degenerated
~ High point was prior to the 15th century
Medievalism is seen as antithetical to modernity
'Christ in the House of his parents'
~ Naturalistic view -- criticised for not being reverential enough
1916 -- the Somme ends all theories of progress
1931 -- Great Depression
~ Butterfield's book on the Whig Interpretation of History
1890s -- beginnings of the rejection of elite culture
German philosophy will become much more influential but not in the 1830s

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History and Professionalisation Class

To what extent is it possible to talk of a 'Whig' orthodoxy in the historical writing
of this period?

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Butterfield's definition can be applied to many historians
~ Not specific enough
~ Developed in his second book

Macaulay
! Does not see his period as the perfect end
! Not a purely Whig perspective

~ Religion was a private matter
Constitutionally he was a
Whig historian
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Carlyle
! Idea of Parliament as a 'talking shop' like Dickens
! Saw revolution as essential and inevitable to cleanse government

~ Macaulay sees revolution as having been avoided
! Forster is converted to a hero worship of Cromwell

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Arnold has a classical understanding -- nations go through cycles
Woking in a milieu of great change -- may be rejecting continuity in reverence for the
past
~ Things have changed in modern times
After 1860

Seeley
! Not a Whig historian -- not interested in continuity --> wants a change
! 'Expansion of England' starts in the 18th century
! Interested in law, political economy, political science, jurisprudence etc. -- wanted to get
away from the focus on government
! 1885 -- Cambridge statutes are revived to make sure it teaches constitutional history
! Oxford is central --> Stubbs

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Stubbs
! High churchman -- conforms to the idea of liberties coming down from Anglo--Saxon
times

~ Avoids issue of religion so he does not write on the Reformation

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In general, people did focus on Parliament and liberty
In intellectual areas, however, it was not an orthodoxy
~ Not solely focused on constitutional history

What is 'Whig' history?
! Two definitions, wide and narrow
! 1) Butterfield, The Whig Interpretation of History (1931)

~ A criticism of certain fallacies -- an assessment of the past on the terms of the

present; writing history as if it were the teleological endpoint; partisanship.
! 2) After Butterfield's The Englishman and His History (1944)

~ Partisan roots in the constitutional struggles of the 17th century and the
subsequent development of a bipartisan, national reverence for the libertarian,
parliamentary and ancient constitution; a view of history grounded in the central
realities of the present experience

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Macaulay and Whig Historians
! Roper -- Macaulay was 'unquestionably the greatest of the Whig historians'

~ Was this true?
! Presentism / Teleology?

~ No -- he works through the concept of the development of the constitutional

state

~ Teleology implies pessimism -- Essay on 'Mackintosh'


~ 'We do not flatter ourselves with the notion that we have attained

perfection, and that no more truth remains to be found'
Partisan?
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~ Not actively -- Macaulay did not address theological debate, beyond occasional

examples, e.g. the Seven Bishops --> he considered religion a private matter
[consider the debate over the Martyrs' Memorial and the religious turmoil of the
period]
! He was not part of a strong Whig tradition -- his origins owed more to his bipartisan
background (Clapham Sect, Lansdowne) and understanding of the English constitution,
than partisan Whig politics.

~ 'Though both parties have often seriously erred, England could have spared
neither.' (c.1)
! Love of the constitution?

~ Yes but we can also see the use of social history and his understanding of material

progression ('The rich grind the faces of the poor')
! Yet he always came back to politics, as seen with the 'Peculiar Character'

~ 'It was a revolution strictly defensive [... ] The main principles of our government

were excellent [...] found scattered over our ancient and noble statutes; and, what

was of far greater moment, they had been engraven on the hearts of Englishmen

during four hundred years [.,. ] held, both by Whigs and Tories, to be fundamental

laws of the realm.' (c.10)
! But, there were dissenting voices throughout the period, offering different approaches
to history, rejecting or adopting different aspects of Whig History

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Carlyle
! Scottish -- lack of reverence for the English Constitution
! He argued that no 'Morrison's Pill' of parliamentary reform would effectively correct
social ills
! Predicted revolution in the future (rejected Whig progress and continuity) --a 'toilsome,
all but 'impossible' return to Nature' would have to be undergone

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His German idealism and moralism meant he could only see things as right or wrong,
therefore making progress impossible.
Presentist in the sense that Past and Present is rooted in the issues of his own day
~ Hero Worship and emulation (Cromwell, Frederick the Great).
He is most interested in God -- a modern Christian thinker that could be embraced by
both religious and secular thinkers
Parliament was 'built on Cant, Speciosity, Falsehood, Dilettantism and Mammonism',
ornamented with hustings, pulpits and benches; 'out with thy scissors, and cut that
cloth or thy own windpipe' (c. 3)

Was Carlyle an influential thinker?
! He had a major effect on historians, including Froude and Forster, in understanding the
importance of violent interruptions in history by men like Cromwell (disruptions being
more important than continuity)
! But Froude emphasised the danger of partisanship, despite being accused of being a
dogmatic Protestant apologist by Freeman -- he pointed to the danger that the religious
tensions of national life presented in the 1830s and 40s

~ Forster continued to revere Parliament.

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Arnold and the Liberal Anglicans
! Cycles of history (see the Appendix to Thucydides) -- they did not view history along
constitutional lines -- Arnold's view was affected by classicism but was incompatible with
the progression of England under the constitution
! They attacked both 'irreligious rationalism' and 'Romeward tendencies', therefore
opposing the Oxford Movement's 'unhistoric' romantic attachment to medievalism
! Scepticism was intensified with the Industrial and French Revolutions, which
demonstrated the difference between past and present

~ The past was a useful means of escape from the present, implying discontinuity

~ They looked to the Golden Age of the classical world in the context of immorality,

rife in their own time
! They did not assume progress -- they wanted a history that was rational, in showing
history in its fullness and depth, but based on fact and the practical problems of the
condition of England

~ This was discovered in Vico and Niebuhr
! Hare -- 'When civilisation is severed from moral principle and religious doctrine, there is
no power in it to make the heart gentle'

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See also other examples, such as Disraeli and Ruskin.

Stubbs, Seeley and the Universities
! Seeley was not a Whig historian

~ He, along with Sidgwick, created the Cambridge History Tripos.
! He denied ancient and medieval history's utility (although included in order to ensure
continuity)

~ But study was accompanied by the 'chief theoretical studies which find their

illustration in history',

~ i.e. constitutional law, political economy and science, economic history and
jurisprudence

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