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Victorian Poetry, Drama and Miscellaneous Prose 1832–1890$
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Paul Turner

Print publication date: 1990

Print ISBN-13: 9780198122395

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198122395.001.0001

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The Spirit of the Age

The Spirit of the Age

(p.1) 1. The Spirit of the Age
Victorian Poetry, Drama and Miscellaneous Prose 1832–1890

Paul Turner

Oxford University Press

‘Reform, that you may preserve’, Thomas Babington Macaulay urged the House of Commons in 1831. The alternative was to ‘persist in a hopeless struggle against the spirit of the age’. John Stuart Mill thought so too. His articles on ‘The Spirit of the Age’, published the same year, described the age as one of ‘transition’, in which ‘worldly power’ must cease to be monopolized by ‘the landed gentry, and the monied class’. Thirty years later another student of the Zeitgeist, Matthew Arnold, announced: ‘Democracy is trying to affirm its own essence; to live, to enjoy, to possess the world as aristocracy has tried, and successfully tried, before it’. The affirmation was most explicit in a series of Reform Acts, which enfranchised first the industrial middle class, then some working men in towns, and finally agricultural labourers, but democratic feeling was shown in many other ways, and drew strength from sources not purely political.

Keywords:   Thomas Babington Macaulay, The Spirit of the Age, John Stuart Mill, landed gentry, Zeitgeist, Matthew Arnold, democracy, Reform Acts

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