Although William Huskisson (1770–1830) was a prominent member of the British Parliament and a cabinet member in several governments, he is more famous for the circumstances of his death in a rapidly industrializing Great Britain. While attending the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in northern England, on September 15, 1830, Huskisson rode in a carriage with the Duke of Wellington, a political figure and venerated hero of the Napoleonic Wars. Exiting the train during a stop, he was attempting to shake hands with the duke when he failed to notice another locomotive, George Stephenson’s Rocket, traveling down an adjacent track. Huskisson attempted to swing into the carriage but fell on the tracks in front of the Rocket. With his leg horribly mangled by the train, Huskisson was rushed to a hospital (in a train driven by George Stephenson), but he died of his injuries a few hours later. He is, therefore, the world’s first reported railway casualty.
Letter from Thomas Creevey to Miss Ord., available online at http://www.victorianweb.org/history/accident.html.
W. H. Bernard and W. D. Hall
When hostilities broke out between China and Britain in 1839, the British fleet was the most powerful in the world and in a high state of readiness. The Chinese had no real naval forces to contest the British, but a small Chinese squadron sailed out to confront the British men-o’-war. The underfunded and frantically assembled Chinese navy could not stand up to armored steam gunboats like the Nemesis, whose heavy pivot gun dominated riverside batteries and allowed British expeditionary forces to land wherever they pleased. The British methodically attacked and occupied forces along the Chinese coast from Guangzhou to Shanghai, and the Treaty of Nanjing (1842) marked an end to hostilities. However, the “heroes” of the Nemesis continued to receive attention for their victory over the Chinese, and a book detailing the ship’s voyages and military successes was rushed into print in 1845.
W. H. Bernard and W. D. Hall, Narrative of the Voyages and Services of the Nemesis from 1840 to 1843, and of the Combined Naval and Military Operations in China: Comprising a Complete Account of the Colony of Hong-Kong and Remarks on the Character and Habits of the Chinese, 2nd ed. (London: Henry Colburn, 1845), 149–152, available online at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/43669/43669-h/43669-h.htm.
Sir Charles Lyell (1797–1875), a friend of Charles Darwin, was a Scottish geologist who was so notable that to this day, in his honor, a crater on the moon and a type of armored fish both bear Lyell’s name. Lyell examined the premise that the earth is governed by the same principles regardless of era and that geological evolution can be broken down into tiny changes over long spans of time—a notion that also appears in Darwin’s evolutionary theory. This selection examines revolutions in climate over the eons, using evidence from, among other phenomena, mammoths preserved in ice.
From Charles Lyell, “On Extinct Quadrupeds,” Principles of Geology. London: J. Murray, 1830–1833, pp. 74–82.
Charles Darwin (1809–1882), a British naturalist, propounded the theory of evolution in his famous work On the Origin of Species (1859). With this theory, Darwin launched a massive debate concerning the spiritual repercussions of belief in natural selection—such as the contradiction inherent in the evolution of humans from apes and the story of the Creation of Adam and Eve in the Book of Genesis. This second work, The Descent of Man, explores the physiological connections between mankind and what Darwin calls “lower animals.” This selection examines the notion of sociability and how it plays out in various associations of animals; Darwin even makes a case for “lower animals” (like dogs) having characteristics that would be called “moral” in humans. Consider the impact of such “scientific discoveries” on a society that views humans as an elevated creation modeled on God.
From Philip Appleman, Ed., Darwin: A Norton Critical Edition, Second ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1980, pp. 196–203, 208.
Despite the well-publicized and scandalous reports of the reformers, there remained many supporters of unregulated factory labor among British liberals. One of the most influential was Andrew Ure (1778–1857), a Scotsman who taught chemistry at the University of Glasgow and who later conducted scientific research for the government and several private companies. Angered by Sadler’s attempt to harness free enterprise, Ure toured the textile factory districts of Britain in 1834, collecting evidence from business owners and factory foremen. The result was The Philosophy of Manufactures (1835), which he hoped would provide a more accurate assessment of industrialization and stem Parliament’s pursuance of “dangerous ideas.” Although Ure did not attain his immediate goals, he did give voice to advocates of “laissez-faire” capitalism whose arguments continue to echo in contemporary political debates.
Andrew Ure, The Philosophy of Manufactures, or An Exposition of the Scientific, Moral, and Commercial Economy of the Factory System of Great Britain (London: Chas. Knight, 1835): 5–8, 13–15, 17–19, 29–30.
Traditional Micronesian and Polynesian maps of the Pacific, such as this example from the Marshall Islands, from about 1880, show sea lanes across the ocean in the form of reeds that link islands and atolls, which are represented as small shells. Each straight stick indicates regular currents or waves, while the curved sticks show ocean swells.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
The prime architect of Russia’s railroad and industrial expansion in the late nineteenth century was Sergei Witte (1849–1915). Witte traced his ancestry on his father’s side to Dutch immigrants, but the family had worked its way up in Russian society. Sergei’s father held the rank of a midlevel bureaucrat in Russia and had married into a noble and well-connected Russian family. Sergei earned a degree from Novorossiiskii University and wanted to pursue a career in mathematics, but he lacked the resources to do so. Oddly, for someone with his family connections, he took a job as a cashier at a ticket window, but by dint of work and a genius for detail, he worked his way up to head the Department of Railways in 1889. His adept handling of the railroad, along with his proven managerial skills, ultimately led to his appointment as minister of communications (1892) and minister of finance (1892–1903).
In 1899, Minister of Finance Witte wrote a “secret memorandum” on economic strategy to Tsar Nikolas II, outlining his program of industrialization. The reading that follows comprises excerpts from this official memo to the tsar. This memo is particularly revealing and interesting because the goals and methods proposed for industrialization are connected with national power rather than with individual prosperity and freedom. In order to achieve industrialization, Witte also advocated governmental planning, protective tariffs, and reliance on foreign creditors and loans. Some scholars have suggested that his policy was merely a new expression of state power and centralization in Imperial Russia; others have contended that Witte’s proposals foreshadowed the development of the massive “five-year plans” devised in later years by the Soviets.
Sergei Witte, Report of The Minister of Finance to His Majesty on The Necessity of Formulating And Thereafter Steadfastly Adhering to a Definite Program of a Commercial And Industrial Policy of The Empire (Extremely Secret). In T. H. Von Laue, “A Secret Memorandum of Sergei Witte on the Industrialization of Imperial Russia,” Journal of Modern History, 26, no. 1 (March 1954): 60–74. Copyright © The University of Chicago Press.
Michael Sadler (1780–1835) was raised in an affluent and prominent English family, and after a brief stint in the family import-export business (for which he had no liking), he was elected to Parliament in 1829 as a member of the Tory party. Although the Tories generally advocated for the interests of the landed aristocracy in England, they also showed a paternalistic concern for the welfare of the lower working classes. Sadler persuaded Parliament to appoint a select committee to investigate the problem of child labor in textile factories, and as chairman of the committee, he collected testimony from eighty-seven witnesses that produced a 682-page report. Critics charged that the committee’s leading questions biased the testimony of witnesses such as Matthew Crabtree (in the reading that follows), but Sadler achieved his goals when Parliament accepted the report and passed the Factory Act of 1833, which, for the first time, regulated working conditions for children. From this point on, government implicitly accepted the right and responsibility to monitor and regulate private economic concerns.
Andrew Ure, The Philosophy of Manufactures, or An Exposition of the Scientific, Moral, and Commercial Economy of the Factory System of Great Britain. London: Chas. Knight (1835): 5–8, 13–15, 17–19, 29–30.
In his essay The Painter of Modern Life, the French poet Baudelaire (1821–1867) lays out his vision of modernism, which became perhaps the closest thing to a “manifesto” the movement had. In discussing the work of the painter Constantin Guys (1802–1892), he argues that the habit of contemporary painters to look for truth or beauty in antiquity is senseless; instead, painters should, like Guys, be looking to capture the specifics of the modern age, as new techniques of painting would surely uncover new perspectives on reality. Looking to the past for technique or inspiration, therefore, results in not only historically inaccurate work, but also artistic failure. But in attempting to capture the modern moment, the painter, he said, was in search of something indefinable, “something we can perhaps call modernity.”
From Charles Baudelaire, Selected Writings on Art and Literature. Trans. P. E. Charvet. New York: Viking, 1972, pp. 395–422.
Oscar Wilde, an Irish poet and writer, became one of London’s most popular playwrights in the 1890s. Trained as a classicist in Dublin, then at Oxford, Wilde became a journalist in London and made a name for himself as a flamboyant proponent of the new philosophy of aestheticism. After several popular stage plays, he wrote his most famous work, The Importance of Being Ernest, in 1895. The same year, Wilde was put on trial for homosexuality, a crime in England at that time, and imprisoned for two years. Upon his release Wilde immigrated to Paris, where he died in 1900 at the age of forty-six. In The Soul of Man, Wilde explores the manner in which socialism, allowing people to realize greater individualism, will provide the best context for art—Wilde’s ultimate goal. The chief advantage that would result from the establishment of Socialism is undoubtedly, the fact that Socialism would relieve us from that sordid necessity of living for others which, in the present condition of things, presses so hardly upon almost everybody. In fact, scarcely anyone at all escapes.
From Oscar Wilde, “The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” New York: Humboldt, 1891.
The British Parliament took on a series of initiatives to investigate the lives of women and children in the mid-nineteenth century, and the resulting testimonies, presented by workers to the various parliamentary commissions make for fascinating—and uniquely visceral—reading. The lives of working children are rarely detailed in historical sources from any era, but these testimonies had a direct impact, if not a fully humane one, on the lives of British laborers. These documents were collected for Lord Ashley’s Mines Commission of 1842, and the shocking testimony resulted in the Mines Act of 1842, which prohibited the employment in the mines of all females and of boys under 13 years of age.
http://www.victorianweb.org/history/ashley.html, from Readings in European History Since 1814, ed. Jonathan F. Scott and Alexander Baltzly (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1930), drawing on Parliamentary Papers, 1842, vols. 25–27, Appendix 1, 252, 258, 439, 461; Appendix 2, 107, 122, 205.