High Minds: The Victorians and the Birth of Modern Britain

High Minds: The Victorians and the Birth of Modern Britain

by Simon Heffer
High Minds: The Victorians and the Birth of Modern Britain

High Minds: The Victorians and the Birth of Modern Britain

by Simon Heffer



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An ambitious exploration of the making of the Victorian Age—and the Victorian mind—by a master historian.

Britain in the 1840s was a country wracked by poverty, unrest, and uncertainty; there were attempts to assassinate the queen and her prime minister; and the ruling class lived in fear of riot and revolution. By the 1880s it was a confident nation of progress and prosperity, transformed not just by industrialization but by new attitudes to politics, education, women, and the working class. That it should have changed so radically was very largely the work of an astonishingly dynamic and high-minded group of people—politicians and philanthropists, writers and thinkers—who in a matter of decades fundamentally remade the country, its institutions and its mindset, and laid the foundations for modern society.

High Minds explores this process of transformation as it traces the evolution of British democracy and shows how early laissez-faire attitudes to the fate of the less fortunate turned into campaigns to improve their lives and prospects. The narrative analyzes the birth of new attitudes in education, religion, and science. And High Minds shows how even such aesthetic issues as taste in architecture collided with broader debates about the direction that the country should take.

In the process, Simon Heffer looks at the lives and deeds of major politicians; at the intellectual arguments that raged among writers and thinkers such as Matthew Arnold, Thomas Carlyle, and Samuel Butler; and at the "great projects” of the age, from the Great Exhibition to the Albert Memorial. Drawing heavily on previously unpublished documents, he offers a superbly nuanced portrait into life in an extraordinary era, populated by extraordinary people—and show how the Victorians’ pursuit of perfection gave birth to the modern Britain we know today.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781643139180
Publisher: Pegasus Books
Publication date: 04/05/2022
Format: eBook
Pages: 896
Sales rank: 987,120
File size: 31 MB
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About the Author

Simon Heffer took a PhD in modern history at Cambridge. His previous books include: The Age of Decadence; Moral Desperado: A Life of Thomas Carlyle; Like the Roman: The Life of Enoch Powell; Power and Place: The Political Consequences of King Edward VII; and Nor Shall My Sword: The Reinvention of England. In a thirty-year career on Fleet Street, he has held senior editorial positions on The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator and is now a columnist for The Sunday Telegraph. He lives in London.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements xi

Preface xiii

Prologue: Dr Arnold of Rugby 1

Part I The Condition of England

1 The Angry Forties: Poverty Agitation and Riot 33

2 Noblesse Oblige: Politics and the Aristocracy 50

3 The Ascent of the Bourgeoisie: Radicalism and the End of the Corn Laws 81

4 Chartism: The Rise of Working-class Politics 112

Part II The Victorian Mind

5 The Godly Mind: National Apostasy and the Victorian Church 135

6 The Doubting Mind: Struggles in the Sea of Faith 152

7 The Rational Mind: Intellectuals and the Growth of Secularism 197

8 The Political Mind: High Principle and Low Ambition 252

9 The Progressive Mind: The Great Exhibition and Its Legacy 285

10 The Heroic Mind: Albert and the Cult of the Great Man 340

Part III The Transformation of Britain

11 The Leap in the Dark: Reform and the Coming of Democracy 377

12 Broadening Minds: The Battle for Education 412

13 The End of Privilege: Inventing the Meritocracy 469

14 The Rights of Women: Divorce, the Vote and Education 506

Part IV The Birth of the Modern

15 The Pursuit of Perfection: Victorian Intellectuals and the New Britain 577

16 Doing Good: Philanthropists and the Humane Impulse 632

17 The Way We Live Now: The Creation of the Victorian City 691

18 A Glimpse of the Gothic: Founding a National Style 728

19 The Reforming Mind: Parliament and the Advance of Civilisation 765

Epilogue 815

Bibliography 819

Notes 831

Index 857

Picture Acknowledgements 877

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