Visual History of the World

(CONTENTS)

 

 


HISTORY OF CIVILIZATION & CULTURE

From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
Gothic Art
Renaissance  Art
Baroque and Rococo Art
The Art of Asia
Neoclassicism, Romanticism  Art
Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
Design and Posters
Photography
Classical Music
Literature and Philosophy

Visual History of the World
I. Prehistory
II. First Empires
III. The Ancient World
IV. The Middle Ages
V. The Early Modern Period
VI. The Modern Era
VII. The World Wars and Interwar Period
VIII. The Contemporary World

Dictionary of Art and Artists
 



 


 

 

 
 


History of Europe


Encyclopaedia Britannica


Prehistory
The Metal Ages
Greeks, Romans, and barbarians

The Middle Ages
The Renaissance
The emergence of modern Europe, 1500–1648
The great age of monarchy, 1648–1789
Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914
European society and culture since 1914

 



Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914

Developments in 19th-century Europe are bounded by two great events. The French Revolution broke out in 1789, and its effects reverberated throughout much of Europe for many decades. World War I began in 1914. Its inception resulted from many trends in European society, culture, and diplomacy during the late 19th century. In between these boundaries—the one opening a new set of trends, the other bringing long-standing tensions to a head—much of modern Europe was defined.

Europe during this 125-year span was both united and deeply divided. A number of basic cultural trends, including new literary styles and the spread of science, ran through the entire continent. European states were increasingly locked in diplomatic interaction, culminating in continentwide alliance systems after 1871. At the same time, this was a century of growing nationalism, in which individual states jealously protected their identities and indeed established more rigorous border controls than ever before. Finally, the European continent was to an extent divided between two zones of differential development. Changes such as the Industrial Revolution and political liberalization spread first and fastest in western Europe—Britain, France, the Low Countries, Scandinavia, and, to an extent, Germany and Italy. Eastern and southern Europe, more rural at the outset of the period, changed more slowly and in somewhat different ways.

Europe witnessed important common patterns and increasing interconnections, but these developments must be assessed in terms of nation-state divisions and, even more, of larger regional differences. Some trends, including the ongoing impact of the French Revolution, ran through virtually the entire 19th century. Other characteristics, however, had a shorter life span.

Some historians prefer to divide 19th-century history into relatively small chunks. Thus 1789–1815 is defined by the French Revolution and Napoleon; 1815–48 forms a period of reaction and adjustment; 1848–71 is dominated by a new round of revolution and the unifications of the German and Italian nations; and 1871–1914, an age of imperialism, is shaped by new kinds of political debate and the pressures that culminated in war. Overriding these important markers, however, a simpler division can also be useful. Between 1789 and 1849 Europe dealt with the forces of political revolution and the first impact of the Industrial Revolution. Between 1849 and 1914 a fuller industrial society emerged, including new forms of states and of diplomatic and military alignments. The mid-19th century, in either formulation, looms as a particularly important point of transition within the extended 19th century.



Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » The Industrial Revolution » Economic effects
Undergirding the development of modern Europe between the 1780s and 1849 was an unprecedented economic transformation that embraced the first stages of the great Industrial Revolution and a still more general expansion of commercial activity. Articulate Europeans were initially more impressed by the screaming political news generated by the French Revolution and ensuing Napoleonic Wars, but in retrospect the economic upheaval, which related in any event to political and diplomatic trends, has proved more fundamental.

Major economic change was spurred by western Europe’s tremendous population growth during the late 18th century, extending well into the 19th century itself. Between 1750 and 1800, the populations of major countries increased between 50 and 100 percent, chiefly as a result of the use of new food crops (such as the potato) and a temporary decline in epidemic disease. Population growth of this magnitude compelled change. Peasant and artisanal children found their paths to inheritance blocked by sheer numbers and thus had to seek new forms of paying labour. Families of businessmen and landlords also had to innovate to take care of unexpectedly large surviving broods. These pressures occurred in a society already attuned to market transactions, possessed of an active merchant class, and blessed with considerable capital and access to overseas markets as a result of existing dominance in world trade.

Heightened commercialization showed in a number of areas. Vigorous peasants increased their landholdings, often at the expense of their less fortunate neighbours, who swelled the growing ranks of the near-propertyless. These peasants, in turn, produced food for sale in growing urban markets. Domestic manufacturing soared, as hundreds of thousands of rural producers worked full- or part-time to make thread and cloth, nails and tools under the sponsorship of urban merchants. Craft work in the cities began to shift toward production for distant markets, which encouraged artisan-owners to treat their journeymen less as fellow workers and more as wage labourers. Europe’s social structure changed toward a basic division, both rural and urban, between owners and nonowners. Production expanded, leading by the end of the 18th century to a first wave of consumerism as rural wage earners began to purchase new kinds of commercially produced clothing, while urban middle-class families began to indulge in new tastes, such as uplifting books and educational toys for children.

In this context an outright industrial revolution took shape, led by Britain, which retained leadership in industrialization well past the middle of the 19th century. In 1840, British steam engines were generating 620,000 horsepower out of a European total of 860,000. Nevertheless, though delayed by the chaos of the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, many western European nations soon followed suit; thus by 1860 British steam-generated horsepower made up less than half the European total, with France, Germany, and Belgium gaining ground rapidly. Governments and private entrepreneurs worked hard to imitate British technologies after 1820, by which time an intense industrial revolution was taking shape in many parts of western Europe, particularly in coal-rich regions such as Belgium, northern France, and the Ruhr area of Germany. German pig iron production, a mere 40,000 tons in 1825, soared to 150,000 tons a decade later and reached 250,000 tons by the early 1850s. French coal and iron output doubled in the same span—huge changes in national capacities and the material bases of life.

Technological change soon spilled over from manufacturing into other areas. Increased production heightened demands on the transportation system to move raw materials and finished products. Massive road and canal building programs were one response, but steam engines also were directly applied as a result of inventions in Britain and the United States. Steam shipping plied major waterways soon after 1800 and by the 1840s spread to oceanic transport. Railroad systems, first developed to haul coal from mines, were developed for intercity transport during the 1820s; the first commercial line opened between Liverpool and Manchester in 1830. During the 1830s local rail networks fanned out in most western European countries, and national systems were planned in the following decade, to be completed by about 1870. In communication, the invention of the telegraph allowed faster exchange of news and commercial information than ever before.

New organization of business and labour was intimately linked to the new technologies. Workers in the industrialized sectors laboured in factories rather than in scattered shops or homes. Steam and water power required a concentration of labour close to the power source. Concentration of labour also allowed new discipline and specialization, which increased productivity.

The new machinery was expensive, and businessmen setting up even modest factories had to accumulate substantial capital through partnerships, loans from banks, or joint-stock ventures. While relatively small firms still predominated, and managerial bureaucracies were limited save in a few heavy industrial giants, a tendency toward expansion of the business unit was already noteworthy. Commerce was affected in similar ways, for new forms had to be devised to dispose of growing levels of production. Small shops replaced itinerant peddlers in villages and small towns. In Paris, the department store, introduced in the 1830s, ushered in an age of big business in the trading sector.

Urbanization was a vital result of growing commercialization and new industrial technology. Factory centres such as Manchester grew from villages into cities of hundreds of thousands in a few short decades. The percentage of the total population located in cities expanded steadily, and big cities tended to displace more scattered centres in western Europe’s urban map. Rapid city growth produced new hardships, for housing stock and sanitary facilities could not keep pace, though innovation responded, if slowly. Gas lighting improved street conditions in the better neighbourhoods from the 1830s onward, and sanitary reformers pressed for underground sewage systems at about this time. For the better-off, rapid suburban growth allowed some escape from the worst urban miseries.

Rural life changed less dramatically. A full-scale technological revolution in the countryside occurred only after the 1850s. Nevertheless, factory-made tools spread widely even before this time, as scythes replaced sickles for harvesting, allowing a substantial improvement in productivity. Larger estates, particularly in commercially minded Britain, began to introduce newer equipment, such as seed drills for planting. Crop rotation, involving the use of nitrogen-fixing plants, displaced the age-old practice of leaving some land fallow, while better seeds and livestock and, from the 1830s, chemical fertilizers improved yields as well. Rising agricultural production and market specialization were central to the growth of cities and factories.

The speed of western Europe’s Industrial Revolution should not be exaggerated. By 1850 in Britain, far and away the leader still, only half the total population lived in cities, and there were as many urban craft producers as there were factory hands. Relatively traditional economic sectors, in other words, did not disappear and even expanded in response to new needs for housing construction or food production. Nevertheless, the new economic sectors grew most rapidly, and even other branches displayed important new features as part of the general process of commercialization.

Geographic disparities complicate the picture as well. Belgium and, from the 1840s, many of the German states were well launched on an industrial revolution that brought them steadily closer to British levels. France, poorer in coal, concentrated somewhat more on increasing production in craft sectors, converting furniture making, for example, from an artistic endeavour to standardized output in advance of outright factory forms. Scandinavia and The Netherlands joined the industrial parade seriously only after 1850.

Southern and eastern Europe, while importing a few model factories and setting up some local rail lines, generally operated in a different economic orbit. City growth and technological change were both modest until much later in the 19th century, save in pockets of northern Italy and northern Spain. In eastern areas, western Europe’s industrialization had its greatest impact in encouraging growing conversion to market agriculture, as Russia, Poland, and Hungary responded to grain import needs, particularly in the British Isles. As in eastern Prussia, the temptation was to impose new obligations on peasant serfs labouring on large estates, increasing the work requirements in order to meet export possibilities without fundamental technical change and without challenging the hold of the landlord class.



Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » The Industrial Revolution » Social upheaval
In western Europe, economic change produced massive social consequences during the first half of the 19th century. Basic aspects of daily life changed, and work was increasingly redefined. The intensity of change varied, of course—with factory workers affected most keenly, labourers on the land least—but some of the pressures were widespread.

For wage labourers, the autonomy of work declined; more people worked under the daily direction of others. Early textile and metallurgical factories set shop rules, which urged workers to be on time, to stay at their machines rather than wandering around, and to avoid idle singing or chatter (difficult in any event given the noise of the equipment). These rules were increasingly enforced by foremen, who mediated between owners and ordinary labourers. Work speeded up. Machines set the pace, and workers were supposed to keep up: one French factory owner, who each week decorated the most productive machine (not its operators) with a garland of flowers, suggested where the priorities lay. Work, in other words, was to be fast, coordinated, and intense, without the admixture of distractions common in preindustrial labour. Some of these pressures spilled over to nonfactory settings as well, as craft directors tried to urge a higher productivity on journeymen artisans. Duration of work everywhere remained long, up to 14 hours a day, which was traditional but could be oppressive when work was more intense and walking time had to be added to reach the factories in the first place. Women and children were widely used for the less skilled operations; again, this was no novelty, but it was newly troubling now that work was located outside the home and was often more dangerous, given the hazards of unprotected machinery.

The nature of work shifted in the propertied classes as well. Middle-class people, not only factory owners but also merchants and professionals, began to trumpet a new work ethic. According to this ethic, work was the basic human good. He who worked was meritorious and should prosper, he who suffered did so because he did not work. Idleness and frivolity were officially frowned upon. Middle-class stories, for children and adults alike, were filled with uplifting tales of poor people who, by dint of assiduous work, managed to better themselves. In Britain, Samuel Smiles authored this kind of mobility literature, which was widely popular between the 1830s and 1860s. Between 1780 and 1840, Prussian school reading shifted increasingly toward praise of hard work as a means of social improvement, with corresponding scorn for laziness.

Shifts in work context had important implications for leisure. Businessmen who internalized the new work ethic felt literally uncomfortable when not on the job. Overall, the European middle class strove to redefine leisure tastes toward personal improvement and family cohesion; recreation that did not conduce to these ends was dubious. Family reading was a common pastime. Daughters were encouraged to learn piano playing, for music could draw the family together and demonstrate the refinement of its women. Through piano teaching, in turn, a new class of professional musicians began to emerge in the large cities. Middle-class people, newly wealthy, were willing to join in sponsorship of certain cultural events outside the home, such as symphony concerts. Book buying and newspaper reading also were supported, with a tendency to favour serious newspapers that focused on political and economic issues and books that had a certain classic status. Middle-class people also attended informative public lectures and night courses that might develop new work skills in such areas as applied science or management.

Middle-class pressures by no means totally reshaped popular urban leisure habits. Workers had limited time and means for play, but many absented themselves from the factories when they could afford to (often preferring free time over higher earnings, to the despair of their managers). The sheer intensity of work constrained leisure nevertheless. Furthermore, city administrations tried to limit other traditional popular amusements, ranging from gambling to animal contests (bear-baiting, cockfighting) to popular festivals. Leisure of this sort was viewed as unproductive, crude, and—insofar as it massed urban crowds—dangerous to political order. Urban police forces, created during the 1820s in cities like London to provide more professional control over crime and public behaviour, spent much of their time combating popular leisure impulses during the middle decades of the 19th century. Popular habits did not fully accommodate to middle-class standards. Drinking, though disapproved of by middle-class critics, was an important recreational outlet, bringing men together in a semblance of community structure. Bars sprouted throughout working-class sections of town. On the whole, however, the early decades of the Industrial Revolution saw a massive decline of popular leisure traditions; even in the countryside, festivals were diluted by importing paid entertainers from the cities. Leisure did not disappear, but it was increasingly reshaped toward respectable family pastimes or spectatorship at inexpensive concerts or circuses, where large numbers of people paid professional entertainers to take their minds away from the everyday routine.

The growth of cities and industry had a vital impact on family life. The family declined as a production unit as work moved away from home settings. This was true not only for workers but also for middle-class people. Many businessmen setting up a new store or factory in the 1820s initially assumed that their wives would assist them, in the time-honoured fashion in which all family members were expected to pitch in. After the first generation, however, this impulse faded, in part because fashionable homes were located at some distance from commercial sections and needed separate attention. In general, most urban groups tended to respond to the separation of home and work by redefining gender roles, so that married men became the family breadwinners (aided, in the working class, by older children) and women were the domestic specialists.

In the typical working-class family, women were expected to work from their early teens through marriage a decade or so later. The majority of women workers in the cities went into domestic service in middle-class households, but an important minority laboured in factories; another minority became prostitutes. Some women continued working outside the home after marriage, but most pulled back to tasks, such as laundering, that could be done domestically. Their other activities concentrated on shopping for the family (an arduous task on limited budgets), caring for children, and maintaining contacts with other relatives who might support the family socially and provide aid during economic hardships.

Few middle-class women worked in paid employment at any point in their lives. Managing a middle-class household was complex, even with a servant present. Standards of child rearing urged increased maternal attention, and women were also supposed to provide a graceful and comfortable tone for family life. Middle-class ideals held the family to be a sacred place and women its chief agents because of their innate morality and domestic devotion. Men owed the family good manners and the provision of economic security, but their daily interactions became increasingly peripheral. Many middle-class families also began, in the early 19th century, to limit their birth rate, mainly through increasing sexual abstinence. Having too many children could complicate the family’s economic well-being and prevent the necessary attention and support for the children who were desired. The middle class thus pioneered a new definition of family size that would ultimately become more widespread in European society.

New family arrangements, both for workers and for middle-class people, suggested new courtship patterns. As wage earners having no access to property, urban workers were increasingly able to form liaisons early in life without waiting for inheritance and without close supervision by a watchful community. Sexual activity began earlier in life than had been standard before the 1780s. Marriage did not necessarily follow, for many workers moved from job to job and some unquestionably exploited female partners who were eager for more durable arrangements. Rates of illegitimate births began to rise rapidly throughout western Europe from about 1780 (from 2 to 4 up to 10 percent of total births) among young rural as well as urban workers. Sexual pleasure, or its quest, became more important for young adults. Similar symptoms developed among some middle-class men, who exploited female servants or the growing numbers of brothels that dotted the large cities and that often did exceptional business during school holidays. Respectable young middle-class women held back from these trends. They were, however, increasingly drawn to beliefs in a romantic marriage, which became part of the new family ideal. Marriage age for middle-class women also dropped, creating an age disparity between men and women in the families of this class. Economic criteria for family formation remained important in many social sectors, but young people enjoyed more freedom in courtship, and other factors, sexual or emotional or both, gained increasing legitimacy.

Changes in family life, rooted in shifts in modes of livelihood and methods of work, had substantial impact on all family members. Older people gained new roles, particularly in working-class families, where they helped out as baby-sitters for grandchildren. Women’s economic power in the family decreased. Many groups of men argued vigorously that women should stick to family concerns. By the 1830s and ’40s one result was the inception of laws that regulated women’s hours of work (while leaving men free from protection or constraints); this was a humanitarian move to protect women’s family roles, but it also reduced women’s economic opportunities on grounds of their special frailty. The position of children also began to be redefined. Middle-class ideals held that children were innocents, to be educated and nurtured. Most working-class families urged a more traditional view of children as contributors to the family economy, but they too could see advantages in sending their children to school where possible and restricting their work in dangerous factories. Again, after the first decades of industrialization, reform laws began to respond. Legislation in Britain, France, and Prussia during the 1830s restricted the employment of young children in the factories and encouraged school attendance.

Along with its impact on daily patterns of life and family institutions, economic change began to shift Europe’s social structure and create new antagonisms among urban social classes. The key division lay between the members of the middle class, who owned businesses or acquired professional education, and those of the working class, who depended on the sale of labour for a wage. Neither group was homogeneous. Many middle-class people criticized the profit-seeking behaviour of the new factory owners. Artisans often shunned factory workers and drew distinctions based on their traditional prestige and (usually) greater literacy. Some skilled workers, earning good wages, emulated middle-class people, seeking education and acquiring domestic trappings such as pianos.

Nevertheless, the social divide was considerable. It increasingly affected residential patterns, as wealthier classes moved away from the crowded slums of the poor, in contrast to the greater mixture in the quarters of preindustrial cities. Middle-class people deplored the work and sexual habits of many workers, arguing that their bad behaviour was the root cause of poverty. City governments enacted harsh measures against beggars, while new national laws attempted to make charity harder to obtain. The British Poor Law Reform of 1834, in particular, tightened the limits on relief in hopes of forcing able-bodied workers to fend for themselves.

Class divisions manifested themselves in protest movements. Middle-class people joined political protests hoping to win new rights against aristocratic monopoly. Workers increasingly organized on their own despite the fact that new laws banned craft organizations and outlawed unions and strikes. Some workers attacked the reliance on machinery in the name of older, more humane traditions of work. Luddite protests of this sort began in Britain during the decade 1810–20. More numerous were groups of craft workers, and some factory hands, who formed incipient trade unions to demand better conditions as well as to provide mutual aid in cases of sickness or other setbacks. National union movements arose in Britain during the 1820s, though they ultimately failed. Huge strikes in the silk industry around Lyon, Fr., in 1831 and 1834 sought a living minimum wage for all workers. The most ambitious worker movements tended to emphasize a desire to turn back the clock to older work systems where there was greater equality and a greater commitment to craft skill, but most failed. Smaller, local unions did achieve some success in preserving the conditions of the traditional systems. Social protest was largely intermittent because many workers were too poor or too disoriented to mount a larger effort, but it clearly signaled important tensions in the new economic order.
 


Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » The age of revolution
During the decades of economic and social transformation, western Europe also experienced massive political change. The central event throughout much of the Continent was the French Revolution (1789–99) and its aftermath. This was followed by a concerted effort at political reaction and a renewed series of revolutions from 1820 through 1848.

Connections between political change and socioeconomic upheaval were real but complex. Economic grievances associated with early industrialization fed into later revolutions, particularly the outbursts in 1848, but the newest social classes were not prime bearers of the revolutionary message. Revolutions also resulted from new political ideas directed against the institutions and social arrangements of the preindustrial order. Their results facilitated further economic change, but this was not necessarily their intent. Political unrest must be seen as a discrete factor shaping a new Europe along with fundamental economic forces.


Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » The age of revolution » The French Revolution
Revolution exploded in France in the summer of 1789, after many decades of ideological ferment, political decline, and social unrest. Ideologically, thinkers of the Enlightenment urged that governments should promote the greatest good of all people, not the narrow interests of a particular elite. They were hostile to the political power of the Roman Catholic church as well as to the tax exemptions and landed power of the aristocracy. Their remedies were diverse, ranging from outright democracy to a more efficient monarchy, but they joined in insisting on greater religious and cultural freedom, some kind of parliamentary institution, and greater equality under the law. Enlightenment writings were widely disseminated, reaching many urban groups in France and elsewhere. The monarchy was in bad shape even aside from new attacks. Its finances were severely pressed, particularly after the wars of the mid-18th century and French involvement against Britain during the American Revolution. Efforts to reform the tax structure foundered against the opposition of the aristocracy. Finally, various groups in France were pressed by economic and social change. Aristocrats wanted new political rights against royal power. Middle-class people sought a political voice to match their commercial importance and a government more friendly to their interests. The peasant majority, pressed by population growth, sought access to the lands of the aristocracy and the church, an end to remaining manorial dues and services, and relief from taxation.

These various discontents came to a head when King Louis XVI called the Estates-General in 1789 to consider new taxes. This body had not met since 1614, and its calling released all the pressures building during recent decades, exacerbated by economic hardships resulting from bad harvests in 1787–88. Reform leaders, joined by some aristocrats and clergy, insisted that the Third Estate, representing elements of the urban middle class, be granted double the membership of the church and aristocratic estates and that the entire body of Estates-General vote as a unit—they insisted, in other words, on a new kind of parliament. The king yielded, and the new National Assembly began to plan a constitution. Riots in the summer of 1789 included a symbolic attack on the Bastille, a royal prison, and a series of risings in the countryside that forced repeal of the remnants of manorialism and a proclamation of equality under the laws. A Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen trumpeted religious freedom and liberty of press and assembly, while reaffirming property rights. Church lands were seized, however, creating a rift between revolutionary and Roman Catholic sentiment. Guilds were outlawed (in 1791), as the revolution promoted middle-class beliefs in individual initiative and freedom for technological change. A 1791 constitution retained the monarchy but created a strong parliament, elected by about half of France’s adult males—those with property.

This liberal phase of the French Revolution was followed, between 1792 and 1794, by a more radical period. Economic conditions deteriorated, prompting new urban riots. Roman Catholic and other groups rose in opposition to the revolution, resulting in forceful suppression and a corresponding growing insistence on loyalty to revolutionary principles. Monarchs in neighbouring countries—notably Britain, Austria, and Prussia—challenged the revolution and threatened invasion, which added foreign war to the unstable mix by 1792. Radical leaders, under the banners of the Jacobin party, took over the government, proclaiming a republic and executing the king and many other leaders of the old regime. Governmental centralization increased; the decimal system was introduced. Mass military conscription was organized for the first time in European history, with the argument that, now that the government belonged to the people, the people must serve it loyally. A new constitution proclaimed universal manhood suffrage, and reforms in education and other areas were widely discussed. The radical phase of the revolution brought increasing military success to revolutionary troops in effectively reorganized armies, which conquered parts of the Low Countries and Germany and carried revolutionary laws in their wake. The revolution was beginning to become a European phenomenon.

Jacobin rule was replaced by a more moderate consolidation after 1795, during which, however, military expansion continued in several directions, notably in parts of Italy. The needs of war, along with recurrent domestic unrest, prompted a final revolutionary regime change, in 1799, that brought General Napoleon Bonaparte to power.


Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » The age of revolution » The Napoleonic era
Napoleon ruled for 15 years, closing out the quarter-century so dominated by the French Revolution. His own ambitions were to establish a solid dynasty within France and to create a French-dominated empire in Europe. To this end he moved steadily to consolidate his personal power, proclaiming himself emperor and sketching a new aristocracy. He was almost constantly at war, with Britain his most dogged opponent but Prussia and Austria also joining successive coalitions. Until 1812, his campaigns were usually successful. Although he frequently made errors in strategy—especially in the concentration of troops and the deployment of artillery—he was a master tactician, repeatedly snatching victory from initial defeat in the major battles. Napoleonic France directly annexed territories in the Low Countries and western Germany, applying revolutionary legislation in full. Satellite kingdoms were set up in other parts of Germany and Italy, in Spain, and in Poland. Only after 1810 did Napoleon clearly overreach himself. His empire stirred enmity widely, and in conquered Spain an important guerrilla movement harassed his forces. Russia, briefly allied, turned hostile, and an 1812 invasion attempt failed miserably in the cold Russian winter. A new alliance formed among the other great powers in 1813. France fell to the invading forces of this coalition in 1814, and Napoleon was exiled. He returned dramatically, only to be defeated at Waterloo in 1815; his reign had finally ended.

Napoleon’s regime produced three major accomplishments, aside from its many military episodes. First, it confirmed many revolutionary changes within France itself. Napoleon was a dictator, maintaining only a sham parliament and rigorously policing press and assembly. Though some key liberal principles were in fact ignored, equality under the law was for the most part enhanced through Napoleon’s sweeping new law codes; hereditary privileges among adult males became a thing of the past. A strongly centralized government recruited bureaucrats according to their abilities. New educational institutions, under state control, provided access to bureaucratic and specialized technical training. Religious freedom survived, despite some conciliations of Roman Catholic opinion. Freedom of internal trade and encouragements to technical innovation allied the state with commercial growth. Sales of church land were confirmed, and rural France emerged as a nation of strongly independent peasant proprietors.

Napoleon’s conquests cemented the spread of French revolutionary legislation to much of western Europe. The powers of the Roman Catholic church, guilds, and manorial aristocracy came under the gun. The old regime was dead in Belgium, western Germany, and northern Italy.

Finally, wider conquests permanently altered the European map. Napoleon’s kingdoms consolidated scattered territories in Germany and Italy, and the welter of divided states was never restored. These developments, but also resentment at Napoleonic rule, sparked growing nationalism in these regions and also in Spain and Poland. Prussia and Russia, less touched by new ideologies, nevertheless introduced important political reforms as a means of strengthening the state to resist the Napoleonic war machine. Prussia expanded its school system and modified serfdom; it also began to recruit larger armies. Britain was less affected, protected by its powerful navy and an expanding industrial economy that ultimately helped wear Napoleon down; but, even in Britain, French revolutionary example spurred a new wave of democratic agitation.

In 1814–15 the victorious powers convened at the Congress of Vienna to try to put Europe back together, though there was no thought of literally restoring the world that had existed before 1789. Regional German and Italian states were confirmed as a buffer to any future French expansion. Prussia gained new territories in western Germany. Russia took over most of Poland (previously divided, in the late 18th century, until Napoleon’s brief incursion). Britain acquired some former French, Spanish, and Dutch colonies (including South Africa). The Bourbon dynasty was restored to the French throne in the person of Louis XVIII, but revolutionary laws were not repealed, and a parliament, though based on very narrow suffrage, proclaimed a constitutional monarchy. The Treaty of Vienna disappointed nationalists, who had hoped for a new Germany and Italy, and it certainly daunted democrats and liberals. However, it was not reactionary, nor was it punitive as far as France was concerned. Overall, the treaty strove to reestablish a balance of power in Europe and to emphasize a conservative political order tempered by concessions to new realities. The former was remarkably successful, preserving the peace for more than half a century, the latter effort less so.


Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » The age of revolution » The conservative reaction
Conservatism did dominate the European political agenda through the mid-1820s. Major governments, even in Britain, used police agents to ferret out agitators. The prestige of the Roman Catholic church soared in France and elsewhere. Europe’s conservative leader was Prince von Metternich, chief minister of the Habsburg monarchy. Metternich realized the fragility of Habsburg rule, not only wedded to church and monarchy but also, as a polyglot combination of German, Hungarian, and Slavic peoples, vulnerable to any nationalist sentiment. He sedulously avoided significant change in his own lands and encouraged the international status quo as well. He sponsored congresses at several points through the early 1820s to discuss intervention against political unrest. He was particularly eager to promote conservatism in the German states and in Italy, where Austrian administration of northern provinces gave his regime a new stake.

Nevertheless, in 1820 revolutionary agitation broke out in fringe areas. Risings in several Italian states were put down. A rebellion in Spain was also suppressed, though only after several years, foreshadowing more than a century of recurrent political instability; the revolution also confirmed Spain’s loss of most of its American colonies, which had first risen during the Napoleonic occupation. A Greek revolution against Ottoman control fared better, for Greek nationalists appealed to European sympathy for a Christian nation struggling against Muslim dominance. With French, British, and Russian backing, Greece finally won its independence in 1829.

Liberal agitation began to revive in Britain, France, and the Low Countries by the mid-1820s. Liberals wanted stronger parliaments and wider protection of individual rights. They also sought a vote for the propertied classes. They wanted commercial legislation that would favour business growth, which in Britain meant attacking Corn Law tariffs that protected landlord interests and kept food prices (and so wages) artificially high. Belgian liberals also had a nationalist grievance, for the Treaty of Vienna had placed their country under Dutch rule.

Liberal concerns fueled a new round of revolution in 1830, sparked by a new uprising in Paris. The French monarchy had tightened regulation of the press and of university professors, producing classic liberal issues. Artisans, eager for more political rights, also rose widely against economic hardship and the principles of the new commercial economy. This combination chased the Bourbon king, producing a new and slightly more liberal monarchy, an expanded middle-class voting system, and some transient protections for freedom of the press; the new regime also cut back the influence of the church. Revolution spread to some German and Italian states and also to Belgium, where after several years an independent nation with a liberal monarchy was proclaimed. Britain was spared outright revolution, but massive agitation forced a Reform Bill in 1832 that effectively enfranchised all middle-class males and set the framework for additional liberal legislation, including repeal of the Corn Laws and municipal government reform, during the next decade.

Europe was now divided between a liberal west and a conservative centre and east. Russia, indeed, seemed largely exempt from the political currents swirling in the rest of the continent, partly because of the absence of significant social and economic change. A revolt by some liberal-minded army officers in 1825 (the Decembrist revolt) was put down with ease, and a new tsar, Nicholas I, installed a more rigorous system of political police and censorship. Nationalist revolt in Poland, a part of the 1830 movement, was suppressed with great force. Russian diplomatic interests continued to follow largely traditional lines, with recurrent warfare with the Ottoman Empire in an effort to gain territory to the south. Only after 1850 did the Russian regime seriously rethink its adamantly conservative stance.

This pattern could not prevail elsewhere in Europe. Scandinavian governments moved toward increasing liberalism by expanding the power of parliaments, a development that was completed in the late 1840s; the Dutch monarchy did the same. Elsewhere, the next major step resulted once again from a series of revolutions in 1848, which proved to be western Europe’s final revolutionary round.


Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » The age of revolution » The Revolutions of 1848
After adopting reforms in the 1830s and the early 1840s, Louis-Philippe of France rejected further change and thereby spurred new liberal agitation. Artisan concerns also had quickened, against their loss of status and shifts in work conditions following from rapid economic change; a major recession in 1846–47 added to popular unrest. Some socialist ideas spread among artisan leaders, who urged a regime in which workers could control their own small firms and labour in harmony and equality. A major propaganda campaign for wider suffrage and political reform brought police action in February 1848, which in turn prompted a classic street rising that chased the monarchy (never to return) and briefly established a republican regime based on universal manhood suffrage.

Revolt quickly spread to Austria, Prussia, Hungary, Bohemia, and various parts of Italy. These risings included most of the ingredients present in France, but also serious peasant grievances against manorial obligations and a strong nationalist current that sought national unification in Italy and Germany and Hungarian independence or Slavic autonomy in the Habsburg lands. New regimes were set up in many areas, while a national assembly convened in Frankfurt to discuss German unity.

The major rebellions were put down in 1849. Austrian revolutionaries were divided over nationalist issues, with German liberals opposed to minority nationalisms; this helped the Habsburg regime maintain control of its army and move against rebels in Bohemia, Italy, and Hungary (in the last case, aided by Russian troops). Parisian revolutionaries divided between those who sought only political change and artisans who wanted job protection and other gains from the state. In a bloody clash in June 1848, the artisans were put down and the republican regime moved steadily toward the right, ultimately electing a nephew of Napoleon I as president; he, in turn (true to family form), soon established a new empire, claiming the title Napoleon III. The Prussian monarch turned down a chance to head a liberal united Germany and instead used his army to chase the revolutionary governments, aided by divisions between liberals and working-class radicals (including the socialist Karl Marx, who had set up a newspaper in Cologne).

Despite the defeat of the revolutions, however, important changes resulted from the 1848 rising. Manorialism was permanently abolished throughout Germany and the Habsburg lands, giving peasants new rights. Democracy ruled in France, even under the new empire and despite considerable manipulation; universal manhood suffrage had been permanently installed. Prussia, again in conservative hands, nevertheless established a parliament, based on a limited vote, as a gesture to liberal opinion. The Habsburg monarchy installed a rationalized bureaucratic structure to replace localized landlord rule. A new generation of conservatives came to the fore—Metternich had been exiled by revolution—who were eager to compromise with and utilize new political forces rather than oppose them down the line. Finally, some new political currents had been sketched. Socialism, though wounded by the failure of the revolutions, was on Europe’s political agenda, and some feminist agitation had surfaced in France and Germany. The stage was set for rapid political evolution after 1850, in a process that made literal revolution increasingly difficult.

The years between 1815 and 1850 had not seen major diplomatic activity on the part of most European powers, Russia excepted. Exhaustion after the Napoleonic Wars combined with a desire to use diplomacy as a weapon of internal politics. Britain continued to expand its colonial hold, most notably introducing more direct control over its empire in India. France and Britain, though still wary of each other, joined in resisting Russian gains in the Middle East. France also began to acquire new colonial holdings, notably by invading Algeria in 1829. Seeds were being planted for more rapid colonial expansion after mid-century, but the period remained, on the surface, rather quiet, in marked contrast to the ferment of revolution and reaction during the same decades.

Peter N. Stearns




Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Romanticism and Realism » The legacy of the French Revolution
To make the story of 19th-century culture start in the year of the French Revolution is at once convenient and accurate, even though nothing in history “starts” at a precise moment. For although the revolution itself had its beginnings in ideas and conditions preceding that date, it is clear that the events of 1789 brought together and crystallized a multitude of hopes, fears, and desires into something visible, potent, and irreversible. To say that in 1789 reform becomes revolt is to record a positive change, a genuine starting point. One who lived through the change, the Duke de La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, was even sharper in his vision when (as the story goes) he answered Louis XVI, who had asked whether the tumult outside was a revolt: “No, sire, it is a revolution.” In cultural history as in political, significance is properly said to reside in events; that is, in the acts of certain men or the appearance of certain works that not only embody the feelings of the hour but also prevent other acts or works from having importance or effect. To list some examples: the year 1790 saw the appearance of Goethe’s Faust, a Fragment, of Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, of Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and of Kant’s Critique of Judgment. In these works are found the Romanticist view of human destiny, of the state, of moral energy, and of aesthetics. The remainder of the decade goes on to show that it belongs to a new age; it gave the world Goya’s “Caprichos” and the portrait of the Duchess de Alba, Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in C Minor (Pathétique), Hölderlin’s Hyperion, the beginning of August Wilhelm von Schlegel and Ludwig Tieck’s translation of Shakespeare into German, Schelling’s Nature Philosophy, Herder’s Letters on the Progress of Mankind, Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, Schiller’s Wallenstein, and Schleiermacher’s On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers. These are so many evidences of a new direction in thought and culture.

To say, then, that the cultural history of the later modern age—1789 to the present—begins with the French Revolution is to discuss that revolution’s ideas rather than the details of its onward march during its first 10 years. These ideas are the recognition of individual rights, the sovereignty of the people, and the universal applicability of this pair of propositions. In politics the powerful combination of all three brings about a permanent state of affairs: “the revolution” as defined here has not yet stopped. It continues to move the minds of men, in the West and beyond. The revolution is “dynamic” because it does not simply change rulers or codes of law but also arouses a demand and a hope in every individual and every people. When the daily paper tells of another new nation born by breaking away, violently or not, from some other group, the revolutionary doctrine of the sovereignty of the people may be observed still at work after two centuries.

Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Romanticism and Realism » The legacy of the French Revolution » Cultural nationalism
The counterpart of this political idea in the 19th century is cultural nationalism. The phrase denotes the belief that each nation in Europe had from its earliest formation developed a culture of its own, with features as unique as its language, even though its language and culture might have near relatives over the frontier. Europe was thus seen as a bouquet of diverse flowers harmoniously bunched, rather than as a uniform upper-class civilization stretching from Paris to St. Petersburg, from London to Rome, and from Berlin to Lisbon—wherever “polite society” could be found, a society acknowledging the same artistic ideals, speaking French, and taking its lead from the French court and culture. In still other words, the revolutionary idea of the people as the source of power ended the idea of a cosmopolitan Europe.

The “uniform” conception presupposed a class or elite transcending boundaries; the “diverse” implied a number of distinct nations made up of citizens attached to their native soil and having an inborn and exclusive understanding of all that had been produced on it. In each nation it is the people as a whole, not just the educated class, that is deemed the creator and repository of culture; and that culture is not a conscious product fashioned by the court artists of the moment: it is the slow growth of centuries. This view of Europe explains one of the great intellectual forces of the postrevolutionary era—the passion for history. An emotion that may be called cultural populism replaced the devotion to a single horizontal, Europe-wide, and “sophisticated” civilization. These vertical national cultures were “popular” not only in their scope but also in their simplicity.

This new outlook, though propagated by the revolution, began as one of those subdued feelings mentioned earlier, as undercurrents beneath Enlightenment doctrine. In England and Germany especially, a taste developed for folk literature—the border ballads, the legends and love songs of the people, their dialects and superstitions. Educated gentlemen collected and published these materials; poets and storytellers imitated them. Horace Walpole in The Castle of Otranto, Macpherson in Ossian, Chatterton in his forgeries of early verse, and Goethe in his lyrics exploited this new vein of picturesque sentiment. A scholar such as Herder or a poet-dramatist such as Schiller drew lessons of moral, psychological, and philosophical import from the wisdom found in the subculture of das Volk. The folk or people was not as yet very clearly defined, but the revolution would shortly take care of this omission.

In France, where the revolution occurred, the situation was somewhat different. There were no collectors of border ballads or exploiters of Gothic superstitions. France by 1789 had been for more than a century the cultural dictator of Europe, and it is clear that in England and Germany the search for native sources of art was stimulated by the desire to break the tyranny of the French language and literature. The rediscovery of Shakespeare, for example, was in part a move in the liberation from French classical tragedy and its rigid limitations of subject matter and form.

 

Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Romanticism and Realism » The legacy of the French Revolution » Simplicity and truth
Yet cultural nationalism was also the expression of a genuine desire for truth. This in turn implied the release of feelings that the confidence of the Enlightenment in the power of reason had tended to suppress. Two 18th-century figures tapped this fount of emotion, Samuel Richardson and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The novels of Richardson, in which innocent girls are portrayed as withstanding the artful seductions of titled gentlemen, might be said to foreshadow in symbolic form the struggle between high cosmopolitan culture and the new popular simplicity. These novels were best-sellers in France, and Rousseau’s Nouvelle Héloïse followed in their wake, as did the bourgeois dramas of Diderot, Beaumarchais’s satirical comedies about the plebeian Figaro, and the peasant narratives of Restif de la Bretonne, to mention only the most striking exemplars of the new simplicity.

At the very centre of sophistication the simple life became a fad, the French court (including Marie-Antoinette) dressing up and playing at the rustic existence of milkmaids and shepherds. However silly the symptoms, the underlying passion was real. It was the periodic urge of complex civilizations to strip off the social mask and recover the happiness imagined as still dwelling among the humble. What was held up to admiration was honesty and sincerity, the strong and pure feelings of people unspoiled by court and city life. Literature therefore came to express an acute sensitivity to scenes of undeserved misfortune, of heroic self-sacrifice, of virtue unexpectedly rewarded—a sensitivity marked by tearfulness, actual or “literary.”

This surge of self-consciousness about sophisticated culture has often been confused with an idealization of primitive man and attributed to Rousseau. But contrary to common opinion, the so-called back-to-nature movement does not at all echo the noble-savage doctrine of the 17th century. Rousseau’s attack on “civilization,” which evoked such a powerful response in the latent feelings of his contemporaries, goes with a characterization of the savage as stupid, coarse, and amoral. In Rousseau and his abettors, what is preached is the simple life. What nature and the natural really are remains to be found by trial and error—the fit methods and forms of religion, marriage, child rearing, hygiene, and daily work.

 

Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Romanticism and Realism » The legacy of the French Revolution » Populism
It is easy to see in these beliefs and sentiments (which often passed into sentimentality) additional materials for the populism that the revolution fostered. Revolution, to begin with, is also an urge to simplify. The revolutionary style was necessarily populist—Marat’s newspaper was called L’Ami du peuple (“The Friend of the People”). The visible signs that a revolution had occurred included the wearing of natural hair instead of wigs and of common workmen’s trousers instead of silk breeches, as well as the use of the title of citoyen instead of Monsieur or any other term of rank. Now, equality coupled with sincerity and simplicity logically leads to fraternity, just as honest feeling coupled with devotion to the people leads to puritanism: a good and true citizen behaves like a moral man. He is, under the revolutionary principles, a responsible unit in the nation, a conscious particle of the will of the sovereign people, and as such his most compelling obligation is love of country—patriotism.

With this last word the circle of ideas making up the cultural ambient of the French Revolution might seem to be complete. However, in the effort to trace back and interweave the strands of feeling and opinion that make up populism, one must not overlook the first political axiom of revolutionary thought, which is the recognition of individual rights. Their source and extent is a subject for political theory. The recognition of the individual goes with the assertion that his freedom rests on natural law, a potent idea, as we know who have witnessed the vast extension of rights far beyond their first, political meaning. Here the concern is with their cultural role, which can be simply stated: individual rights generate individualism and magnify it. That -ism denotes both an attitude and a doctrine, which together amount to a passionate belief: every human being is an object of primary interest to himself and in himself; he is an end in himself, not a means to the welfare of class or state or to other group purposes. Further, the truly valuable part of each individual is his uniqueness, which he is entitled to develop to the utmost, free of oppression from the government or from his neighbours. That is why the state guarantees the citizen rights as against itself and other citizens. Again, this power accrues to him for himself because he is inherently important—not because he is son or father, peasant or overlord, member of a clan or a guild.

These ideas shift the emphasis of several thousand years of social beliefs and let loose innumerable consequences. Individualism lowers the value of tradition and puts a premium on originality; it leads to the now familiar “cult of the new”—in art, manners, technology, and social and political organization. True, the individual soul had long been held unique and precious by Christian theology, but Christian society had not extended the doctrine to every man’s mundane comings and goings. Nor were his practical rights and powers attached to him as a man but, rather, to his status. Now the human being as such was being officially considered self-contained and self-propelling; it was a new regime and its name was liberty.

 

Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Romanticism and Realism » The legacy of the French Revolution » Nature of the changes
The contents and implications of these powerful words—liberty, equality, and fraternity, individualism and populism, simplicity and naturalness—enable us to delineate the cultural situation of Europe at the dawn of the era under review. Yet these continuing ideas necessarily modified each other and in different times and countries were subject to still other influences.

For example, the active phase of the revolution in France—say, 1789 to 1804—was influenced by the classical education of most of its public men. They had been brought up on Roman history and the tales of Plutarch’s republican heroes, so that when catapulted into a republic of their own making, the symbols and myths of Rome were often their most natural means of expression. The eloquence of the successive national assemblies is full of Roman allusions. Later, when General Bonaparte let it be seen that he meant to rule France, he was denounced in the Chamber as a Caesar; when he succeeded, he took care to make himself consul (a title of the ancient Roman Republic), flanked by two other consuls of lesser rank. The title was meant to show that no Caesar was in prospect.

In the fine arts this Roman symbolism facilitated a thorough change of taste and technique. The former “grand style” of painting had been derived from royal and aristocratic elegance, and its allusions to the ancient classical past were gentle and distant, architectural and mythological. Now, under the leadership of the painter David, the great dramatic scenes of ancient history were portrayed in sharp, uncompromising outlines that struck the beholder as the utmost realism of the day.

In David’s “Death of Socrates” and “Oath of the Horatii” civic and military courage are the respective subjects; in his pencil sketches of the victims of the Terror as they were led to execution, reportorial realism dominates; and, in his designs for the setting of huge popular festivals, David, in collaboration with the musicians Méhul and Grétry, provided the first examples of an art in scale with the new populism: the courtly taste for intimate elegance and subtle manners gave way to the more striking, less polished large-scale feelings of a proud nation.

It must be added, however, that except for a few canvases and a few tunes (including the “Marseillaise”) the quality of French Revolutionary art was not on a par with its aspirations. Literature in particular showed the limitations under which revolutionary artists must work: political doctrine takes precedence over truth, and the broad effects required to move the masses encourage banality. There is no French poetry in this period except the odes of Chénier, whom the revolution promptly guillotined, as it did France’s greatest scientist, Lavoisier. The French stage was flourishing but not with plays that can still be read. The revolutionary playwrights only increased the dose of sentiment and melodrama that had characterized plays at the close of the old regime. The aim was to hold up priests and kings to execration and to portray examples of superhuman courage and virtue. Modern operagoers who know the plot of Beethoven’s Fidelio can judge from that sample what the French theatre of the revolutionary years thrived on. Others can imagine for themselves Molière’s Misanthrope rewritten so as to make Alceste a pure patriot and hero, undermined by the intrigues of the vile courtier Philinte.

It may seem odd that once the revolution was under way there should be such persistent indignation and protest against courtiers, priests, and kings and such fulsome homage paid to virtue and patriotism. What accounts for it is the difficulty of transforming culture overnight. People have to be persuaded out of old habits—and must keep on persuading themselves. Even politically, the revolution proceeded by phases and experienced regressions. Manners and customs themselves did not change uniformly, as one can see from portraits of Robespierre at the height of his power wearing a short wig and knee breeches, republican and Rousseauist though he was.

 

Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Romanticism and Realism » The legacy of the French Revolution » Napoleon’s influence
After Bonaparte’s coup d’état, tension eased as the high revolutionary ideals dropped to a more workaday level, just as the puritanism was replaced by moral license. The general’s expedition to Egypt in 1798 before his self-elevation to power introduced a new style competing with the ancient Roman in costume and furnishings; the Middle East became fashionable and out of the cultural contact came the new science of Egyptology. The Roman idea itself shifted from republic to empire as the successful general and consul Bonaparte made himself into the emperor Napoleon in 1804.

The emperor had an extraordinary capacity for attending to all things, and he was concerned that his regime should be distinguished in the arts. He accordingly gave them a sustained patronage such as a revolutionary party rent by internal struggles could not provide. Napoleon, nonetheless, had tastes of his own, and he had to control public opinion besides. In literature (he had been a poet and writer of novels in his youth), he relished the Celtic legends of Ossian and encouraged his official composer Lesueur in the composition of the opera Ossian ou les Bardes. In painting, he favoured the surviving David and the younger men Gros and Géricault, both “realists” concerned with perpetuating the colour and drama of imperial life. But to depict matters of contemporary importance on the stage (except perhaps in the ballet, which was flourishing) did not prove possible, for the stage must present genuine moral conflict if it is to produce great works, and moral issues are not discussable under a political censorship.

The paradox of the Napoleonic period is that its most lasting cultural contributions were side effects and not the result of imperial intentions. Two of these contributions were books. One, Chateaubriand’s The Genius of Christianity (1802), was a long tract designed to make the author’s peace with the ruler and revigorate Roman Catholic faith. The other, Madame de Staël’s Germany (1810), was a description of the new and thriving literature, philosophy, and popular culture in Germany. Napoleon prohibited the circulation of the book in France, but its message percolated French public opinion nonetheless. Two other sources of future light were the Idéologues, a group of philosophers who were scientific materialists particularly concerned with abnormal psychology, and Napoleon Bonaparte himself, or rather the figure of Napoleon as seen by his age after Waterloo.



Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Romanticism and Realism » General character of the Romantic movement
The mention of Waterloo (1815) suggests the need to make clear a number of chronological discrepancies. It has been possible so far to discuss the general shift in the temper of European life without naming fixed points. It sufficed to say “before or after 1789” or “from 1789 to the Napoleonic empire.” However, from now on the generations of culture makers and the dates of some of their works must be duly situated, without on that account losing sight of unities and similarities in the onward march of artistic and intellectual movements. If, for example, one considers the poets called Romantic or Romanticist, one finds that Goethe came to maturity in the 1770s, when the English Romantics were just beginning to be born. Their French, Italian, Russian, Polish, and Spanish counterparts were, in turn, born about the year 1800, when the English were already in mid-career. The same irregularity in the onset of Romanticism is found in the other arts, and it is complicated (at least superficially) by the names given to various movements and persons in the different countries of Europe. Thus, in Germany the term Romantismus is applied to only a small group of writers, and Goethe and Schiller are called classic. In Poland and in Russia, classic is likewise the label for the great writers whose characteristics in fact align them with the Romantics elsewhere.

All these accidents of birth and nomenclature can be taken in stride by remembering the patterns found in each country or decade and the reasons for their appearance at that time and place. Within the slightly more than half century between 1789 and 1848, the phenomenon of Romanticism occurred and developed its first phase. Those who made it may have come early or late, belonged to this or that nationality, proved to be originators or synthesizers of existing elements—all such considerations appertain to individual biography or the history of a particular art or nation. What matters in the evolution of European culture considered as a whole is the orchestration of all the voices as they come in to swell the ensemble.

The main purport of the Romantic movement is commonly said to be a revolt against 18th-century rationalism and a resulting variety of new attitudes and activities: a turning in upon the self, a love of nature, the rediscovery of the Middle Ages, the cult of art, a taste for the exotic, a return to religion, a fresh sense of history, a yearning for the infinite, a maudlin sentimentality, an overvaluing of emotion as such, a liberal outlook in politics, a conservative outlook, a reactionary outlook, a socialist-utopian outlook, and several other “characteristic features.”

It is clear that not all these can be equally true, characteristic, or important, since some contradict the others. At the same time it was inevitable that so sweeping a cultural revolution as Romanticism should contain incompatible elements. For instance, the political opinions enumerated above did in fact win the allegiance of different groups among the Romantic artists and thinkers for a longer or shorter time. But—to take note of other supposed definitions—not all Romanticists returned to religion: Goethe and Berlioz were pantheists; Byron and Heine, atheists; and Victor Hugo, a sort of Swedenborgian. As for sentimentality, its occurrence was rather a hangover from the 18th century than a new fashion of feeling, for the Romantic cult of art and of strong emotion goes dead against the weak sentimental mood. Similarly, the taste for history, for the Middle Ages, and for the exotic shows a strong curiosity about the particulars of what is real though ignored by previous conventions. All critics, however, are agreed upon one Romantic trait: individualism. And it is here that the figure of Napoleon plays its cultural role.

Napoleon, or more exactly Bonaparte, the revolutionary general, the overthrower of old monarchies and creator of new national republics, the organizing genius who rescued France from chaos and who held off the reactionary forces leagued against him throughout Europe—that figure is the one that inspired Beethoven’s Eroica symphony, Balzac’s and Stendhal’s heroes, and the poems, paintings, and compositions of many others. Here was the model of the new man. He was the self-made man and the man of genius. His career was the manifestation of will and intelligence overcoming the greatest imaginable resistance. He typified the individual challenging the world and subduing it by his genius. A movement that numbered as many artists and geniuses as did Romanticism was bound to find in Napoleon the individual par excellence or, as might be said in modern jargon, a supremely autonomous personality. This perception explains why nearly all the great names of the first half of the 19th century are found on the roster of those who praised Napoleon—from Beethoven and Byron to Hazlitt and Stendhal and Manzoni. Some who were politically his enemies—Sir Walter Scott, for example—nonetheless respected and pondered over the miracle of his achievements. No comparable attention has been paid to the dictators of the 20th century, a fact sufficiently explained by the real difference between them and Napoleon. Stendhal, who as a military intendant took part in the Russian campaign of 1812, stated that difference: Napoleon was a man of thought and vision, and not merely a successful soldier and politician. In everything he touched, he showed originality of conception, a stupendous grasp of detail in execution, and the utmost speed in acting out his vision. This sequence, translated to other realms, was the very pattern of the artist-creator’s imagination. It also seemed the vindication of individualism as a philosophy of life: open the world to the individual and the world will witness marvels unimagined before.

These remarks about Napoleon should convey a sense of the Romantics’ attitude toward themselves and their situation. It is true that culturally they stood in opposition to their immediate forebears. All generations do the same; yet it is not always true that out of the conflict comes great art. The Romanticists had an advantage in undergoing or being emotionally close to a quarter century of violent change. Besides being a stimulus, the tumult of battle and political overturns did its share to clear the ground for artistic innovation. When habits and expectations are repeatedly upset and frustrated in the broad public realm, the general mind opens up to novelty offered in other realms. That is one avenue of cultural, stylistic, and emotional change. When Stendhal was expounding Romanticism to the French in 1822, he argued that to go on writing in the Neoclassic vein was “to provide literary pleasure for one’s grandfather.” His remark was readily understood—at least by his young readers. Mighty events had dug a chasm between past and present, making plain the remoteness of the 18th century.

And yet a paradox remains. When a Romantic artist first published his innovative work—say Wordsworth with the Lyrical Ballads of 1798—he had to wait a good while for a hearing, though he might have expected that readers would share his conviction that the style and forms of 18th-century Neoclassicism were dead. Already in 1783 Blake had written of contemporary English verse that “The sound is forced, the notes are few.” But these two poets’ estimate was, so to speak, the professional’s view of the state of the art. The public, no longer the small, concentrated court-and-town coterie, lagged behind this perception. It is a cliché that such artists are ahead of their time. It would be more accurate to say that it is the public which lags behind its own time.

This phenomenon is characteristic of the modern period generally, because through social and educational emancipation the audience for things artistic and intellectual has steadily grown larger. That fact complicates the study of the Romantic movement: When did it conquer public opinion in different countries and why at different times? In England and Germany one can point to the 1790s: Blake, Wordsworth, and Coleridge; Goethe (with the first fragment of Faust), Schiller, Herder, Jean Paul (Richter), Beethoven, Tieck, Wackenroder, Hölderlin, Schelling, Schleiermacher, and the “rediscovery” of Shakespeare mark the advent of the new age.

In Italy, France, and Russia, the decisive years opened in 1820. They are signalized in Russia by the abundant poetic output of Pushkin, in Italy by the work of Manzoni and Leopardi and by the surrounding discussions of literary theory, and in France by the poems of Lamartine, Vigny, Musset, Victor Hugo, and Mme Desbordes-Valmore. The paintings of Delacroix, the first compositions of Berlioz, and Balzac’s Chouans show that a new spirit was at work. Finally, in the 1830s, Poland—through its poet and novelist Mickiewicz—and Spain—through the works of Rivas, Espronceda, José de Larra, and Zorrilla—joined the rest of Europe in its richest artistic flowering since the Renaissance: the leading nations can boast one or more Romantic artists of the first magnitude.




Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Romanticism and Realism » Romanticism in literature and the arts
The fundamental Romantic purpose was to grasp and render the many kinds of experience that classicism had neglected or had stylized. Romanticism was the first upsurge of realism—exploratory and imaginative as to subject matter and inventive as to forms and techniques. The exploration of reality surveyed both the external world of peoples and places and the internal world of man. The Scottish and medieval novels of Sir Walter Scott, beginning with Waverley in 1814, illustrate the range of the new curiosity, for Scotland was a “wild” place, outside the centres of civilization, and the Middle Ages were similarly “barbarous” and distant in time. When Byron or Chateaubriand went to the Middle East or Goethe to Italy, it was not in the tradition of gentlemen’s tourism; it was in the spirit of the cultural explorer. Byron, for one, by using “the Isles of Greece” and the Mediterranean as settings for his wildly popular narrative poems, was developing in the Western mind a new interest, a new sense that the “exotic” was as real, as important, as Paris or London. In all these writers, factual detail is essential to the new sort of effect: the scenery is observably true, and so is the history, given through local colour. As Byron said when criticized: “I don’t care two lumps of sugar for my poetry, but my costume is correct.” Blake, 20 years earlier, had taken a stand against Sir Joshua Reynold’s academic doctrine that the highest form of painting depicted the broadest general truth. Said Blake: “To particularize is the only merit.”

Particulars, moreover, are all equally proper for the artist; the use he makes of them is what matters. When Wordsworth and Coleridge sought to revivify English poetry, they hit upon two divergent kinds of subject: Coleridge took superstition and the folk tale and wrote “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” in the form of an old ballad; Wordsworth took the modern street ballad—a kind of rhymed newspaper—and produced his versified incidents of common life in common speech. In France, where the division of the vocabulary into “noble” and “common” (i.e., unfit for poetry) had been made and recorded in dictionaries, the Romantics led by Hugo used the prohibited words whenever they saw fit. Hugo’s verse drama Hernani (1830) created a scandal in the audience when the heroine was heard to speak of her handkerchief and when a character did not use a roundabout phrase about “the march of the hours” to say: “It is midnight.”

The importance of such details can hardly be exaggerated and can perhaps be best understood by recalling what the rediscovery of Shakespeare meant to the Romantics. His rise from grudging esteem, even in England, to European idolatry by 1830 had a significance beyond the one already mentioned of serving to put down French classical tragedy and, with it, French cultural tyranny. The German scholar, critic, and playwright Lessing was among the first to use Shakespeare for that purpose, but the arguments in his theatre reviews, called Hamburgische Dramaturgie, sprang from critical genius and not mere national resentment. Shakespeare spelled freedom from narrow conventions—the set verse form in couplets, the lofty language and long declamations, the adherence to verse throughout, the exclusion of low characters, comic effects, and violent action—or, in a word, from royal and artistic etiquette.

What the rediscovery and idolization of Shakespeare meant (and not to poets and playwrights alone—witness his enormous influence on Berlioz) was the right of the artist to adapt or invent forms to suit contents, to use words formerly excluded from poetic diction, loosen the joints of grammar and metric (or the canons of any art), follow the promptings of his spirit (tragic or gay, vulgar or mysterious, but in any case venturesome), and see where this emancipation from artificial rules led the muse. There was danger in freedom, as always; the conventions ensure safety. The aim of the Romantic genius, however, was not to play safe or even to succeed; it was to explore and invent, multiply modes of feeling and truth, and thereby breathe new life into a dead or dying culture. The motto was not common sense but courage. This resolve explains why the men who came to worship Shakespeare also rediscovered Rabelais and Villon and revalued Spinoza, the lone dissenter who had revered a God pervading the cosmos; Benvenuto Cellini, the fearless artist at grips with the principalities and powers; and “Rameau’s Nephew,” the ambiguous hero of Diderot’s posthumous dialogue, a strange figure disturbingly in touch with the dark forces of the creative unconscious.

 

Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Romanticism and Realism » Romanticism in literature and the arts » Drama
With so much feeling astir and so many novel ideas being agitated, it might seem logical to expect a flourishing school of Romantic drama. Yet only a few isolated works, more interesting than irreplaceable, compose the dramatic output of the Romanticists—Shelley’s Cenci, Byron’s Manfred, and Kleist’s brilliant pieces in several genres. Ironically, Shakespeare’s new role as emancipator had a curiously paralyzing effect on the theatre down to the middle of the century and beyond. In England, poet after poet tried his hand at poetic drama, only to fail from too anxious a desire to be Shakespearean. On the Continent, various misconceptions about him and old habits of classical tragedy prevented a new drama from coming to life. Victor Hugo’s plays contained brilliant verse, and their form influenced grand opera (Wagner’s no less than Verdi’s), but the fact remained: the dramatic quality could be found everywhere in Romanticist art except on the stage.

Reflection on this point suggests that, quite apart from Shakespeare, the very concern of the Romantics with exploring the inner and outer worlds simultaneously hampered the playwright. Perhaps great drama requires that one or the other world be taken as settled so that conflict, which is the essence of drama, develops between a strong new force and a solid resistance. Be that as it may, the Romantics found themselves in an age when both inner and outer worlds were in flux and from that double uncertainty derived their creative impetus.

 

Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Romanticism and Realism » Romanticism in literature and the arts » Painting
This generality holds for the painters as well; their “reality,” too, was by no means “given,” so that the notation of fresh detail and the study of new means to transmute the visible into art occupied all those who came after David. Goya led the way in Spain by depicting the vulgarity of court figures and the horrors of the Peninsular War. In England, Constable painted country scenes with a vividness at first unacceptable to connoisseurs. He had to argue with his patron, Sir George Beaumont, about the actual colour of grass. To prove that it was not of the conventional brownish tint used by academicians, he seized a violin, ran out of the room with it, and laid it on the lawn, forcing the unaccustomed eye to perceive the difference between chlorophyll and old varnish. At the same time, Géricault astonished the Parisians by painting, in harrowing detail, “The Raft of the Medusa,” not an antique and noble subject but a recent event: the survivors of a shipwreck adrift and starving on a raft.

The young Delacroix was emboldened by the example and, inspired also by the work of his English friend Bonington, began to paint contemporary scenes of vivid realism—e.g., the Turkish massacre of the Greek peasants at Chios. Later, Delacroix was to visit Morocco (exoticism again) and to discover there the secret of coloured shadows and other pre-Impressionist techniques. His English counterpart, J.M.W. Turner, was pursuing the same goal of realistic truth, though along a different path that nonetheless also led to Impressionism—and beyond. When asked one day why he had pasted a scrap of black paper on a portion of his canvas, he replied that ordinary pigment was not black enough. And he added: “If I could find something even blacker, I would use that.”

 

Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Romanticism and Realism » Romanticism in literature and the arts » Sculpture and architecture
No similar transformations of the visual occurred in sculpture or architecture. Canova and Thorvaldsen continued to produce figures and busts on Neoclassical lines; and only Barye, the great sculptor of animals, and Rude, the creator of the Marseillaise panel on the Arc de Triomphe, showed any signs of the new passions. As for architecture, it may have been the love of history that prevented distinctive work. Pugin and Viollet-le-Duc did grasp the principles of what a new style should be, the former’s love of Gothic reinstating the merit of framework construction and the latter’s breadth of vision as a restorer leading him to predict that iron construction would one day pass from mere utility to high art.

It was actually in railway construction that the seeds of a new architecture were sown. Tunnels and bridges and terminals were needed as early as the mid-1830s, and unassuming engineers such as the Brunels and Robert Stephenson set to work to design them. All they had for solving the new and awkward problems of topography, speed, and cost were the ideas they drew from machinery and the vulgar materials, chiefly wood and iron, that they had learned how to handle in industry. The results were often remarkable, and they remained to inspire the makers of 20th-century steel and concrete architecture.

 

Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Romanticism and Realism » Romanticism in literature and the arts » Music
It may seem as if the art of music by its nature would not lend itself to the exploration and expression of reality characteristic of Romanticism, but that is not so. True, music does not tell stories or paint pictures, but it stirs feelings and evokes moods, through both of which various kinds of reality can be suggested or expressed. It was in the rationalist 18th century that musicians rather mechanically attempted to reproduce stories and subjects in sound. These literal renderings naturally failed, and the Romanticists profited from the error. Their discovery of new realms of experience proved communicable in the first place because they were in touch with the spirit of renovation, particularly through poetry. What Goethe meant to Beethoven and Berlioz and what German folk tales and contemporary lyricists meant to Weber, Schumann, and Schubert are familiar to all who are acquainted with the music of these men.

There is, of course, no way to demonstrate that Beethoven’s Egmont music—or, indeed, its overture alone—corresponds to Goethe’s drama and thereby enlarges the hearer’s consciousness of it; but it cannot be an accident or an aberration that the greatest composers of the period employed the resources of their art for the creation of works expressly related to such lyrical and dramatic subjects. Similarly, the love of nature stirred Beethoven, Weber, and Berlioz, and here too the correspondence is felt and persuades the fit listener that his own experience is being expanded. The words of the creators themselves record this new comprehensiveness. Beethoven referred to his activity of mingled contemplation and composition as dichten, making a poem; and Berlioz tells in his Mémoires of the impetus given to his genius by the music of Beethoven and Weber, by the poetry of Goethe and Shakespeare, and not least by the spectacle of nature. Nor did the public that ultimately understood their works gainsay their claims.

It must be added that the Romantic musicians—including Chopin, Mendelssohn, Glinka, and Liszt—had at their disposal greatly improved instruments. The beginning of the 19th century produced the modern piano, of greater range and dynamics than theretofore, and made all wind instruments more exact and powerful by the use of keys and valves. The modern full orchestra was the result. Berlioz, whose classic treatise on instrumentation and orchestration helped to give it definitive form, was also the first to exploit its resources to the full, in the Symphonie fantastique of 1830. This work, besides its technical significance just mentioned, can also be regarded as uniting the characteristics of Romanticism in music: it is both lyrical and dramatic, and, although it makes use of a “story,” that use is not to describe the scenes but to connect them; its slow movement is a “nature poem” in the Beethovenian manner; the second, fourth, and fifth movements include “realistic” detail of the most vivid kind; and the opening one is an introspective reverie.

 

Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Romanticism and Realism » Romanticism in literature and the arts » Self-analysis
In this Romantic investigation of the self, some critics have seen little more than excessive ego or, in modern terms, a tiresome narcissism. No doubt certain Romantic works arouse boredom or disgust with hairsplitting analysis. The boredom, however, is often due to the fact that after a hundred years the discoveries have staled. When fresh, they came as a revelation; in the works of the great poets and novelists, in Hazlitt’s essays and Jean Paul’s fictions, and the irony of Byron’s letters or Heine’s journalism, the truth has not grown dim or platitudinous.

It was in any case desirable that this extensive analysis of the self should be attempted then, for only an age in which individualism was both theoretical and passionate could see the logic of the undertaking and act upon it. The logic was this: given the autonomous and unique individual, a search by himself into his moods, motives, fears, and loves must bring forth data otherwise unobtainable. Add these results together, and one has a repertoire of clues to the inner life of mankind as a whole. For the uniqueness of each individual is bounded by traits he shares with his fellows, and this common element enables the psychologist to connect and organize the reports of the self-searchers. It is on this hypothesis, incidentally, that the demand for originality in art has continued unabated since the Romanticists. Forget the “model,” for there is no such thing; avoid conformity; discover your true self, the buried child; be authentic and sincere—these precepts, which still govern art and criticism, are the legacy of Romantic individualism.

Introspection naturally implies an inner life worth looking into, and most Romantic artists brought forth extraordinary findings. They form the groundwork of modern thought. One cannot easily imagine Freud or Joyce, much less the degree of self-consciousness shared by Westerners today, without the deliverances of Blake, Wordsworth, Keats, Leopardi, Stendhal, Constant, Sainte-Beuve, Heine, and innumerable other writers of the early 19th century. And towering above them as the creator of the prototype of Romantic introspection is Goethe with his Faust.

Faust was the figure in which a whole age recognized its mind and soul; and the adjective Faustian, as Spengler’s use of it makes clear, still describes tendencies at work in culture today. The principal one, already mentioned, self-consciousness—the identity crisis—remains. The belief, moreover, that movement, activity, is better than repose and that striving is better than achieving is clearly the great postulate of contemporary civilization. Faust himself ends by giving his life to practical works in behalf of his fellow man; however, he sets himself on that path only after a slow and deep analysis of his divided soul, which has been ruled in turn by despair, lust, superstition and the forces of the unconscious, the love of innocence, the conviction of sin and crime, the horrors of hypocrisy and conventional life, the temptations of wealth and power, the disgust with pedantry and established religion, and the yearning for infinite knowledge, in the hopes of attaining by it wisdom and peace. Faust, in short, traverses the whole cosmos, made up of the inner and outer worlds, to find in the act of self-dedication to humanity the justification of his existence.



Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Early 19th-century social and political thought
The Romantics who studied society through the novel or discoursed about it in essays and pamphlets were no less devoted to this “cause of humanity,” but they arrived at politically different conclusions from Goethe’s and from one another’s. Scott and Disraeli were forerunners of Tory democracy as Burke was of liberal conservatism. Dickens, a passionate humanitarian, stirred the masses with his examples of the law’s stupid cruelty, but he proposed no agency of betterment, content to despise Parliament, the law courts, and the complacency of the wealthy. Balzac wrote his huge array of novels as a “social zoology” that was to show what a bloody jungle society becomes without the church and the monarchy to restrain human passions.

Stendhal noted the same reality but was more concerned with the free play of individual genius; he resigned himself to the social struggle, provided not too many stupid individuals ran the inevitably heavy-handed regimes. Freedom might be found by the happy few through the loopholes of a mixed government such as England’s, whereas in the ostensibly free United States there was no protection against social pressure and no likelihood of genius in art or in politics.

The great authority on American democracy was Tocqueville, whose astonishing survey in two volumes contained many true predictions and is still packed with useful lessons. Tocqueville confirmed Stendhal’s low estimate of freedom of thought in America, but he foresaw in the United States the first example of a type of democracy that would surely overtake the Western world. He found in such a future many good things and many defects; he predicted a day when slavery would threaten disaster to America; he foretold what kind of poetry a democracy would produce and delineated the art of Walt Whitman; he apprehended the complication of laws and the declining quality of justice; but he was reconciled to what must be.


Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Early 19th-century social and political thought » Postrevolutionary thinking
What lay behind all 19th-century writings on politics and society was the shadow of the French Revolution. In the 1790s the revolution had aroused Burke to write his famous Reflections and Joseph de Maistre his Considérations sur la France. They differed on many points, but what both saw, like their successors, was that revolution was self-perpetuating. There is no way to stop it because liberty and equality can be endlessly claimed by group after group that feels deprived or degraded. And the idea that these principles are universally applicable removes any braking power that national tradition or circumstance might afford.

Proof that the revolution marched on, slow or fast, could be read (as it still can be) in every issue of the daily paper since 1789. In the early 19th century the greatest pressure came from the liberals, whether students, bankers, manufacturers, or workmen enlisted in their cause. They wanted written constitutions, an extension of the suffrage, civil rights, a free-market economy, and from time to time wars of national liberation or aggrandizement in the name of cultural and linguistic unity. For example, all the intellect of western Europe sided with Greece in the 1820s when it began its war of emancipation from Turkey. Byron himself died at Missolonghi while helping the Greeks. Poets wrote odes that musicians set to music, and painters painted scenes of war. Between this liberalism and the nationalism that sought freedom from foreign rule the line could not be clearly drawn. In Italy, Germany, Poland, Russia, Spain, Portugal, and South America, revolt in the name of liberty was endemic until the middle of the century. Only England escaped by a timely reform of Parliament in 1832, but it averted revolution only by a hair’s breadth, after protracted threats of civil war and many violent incidents expressing the same animus as elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the first disturbances resulting from machine industry—sabotage, strikes, and conspiracies (for trade unions were generally held illegal)—reinforced the revolutionary momentum, not only in fact but also in theory. As early as 1810 the business cycle, the doctrine of the exploitation of the worker, and the degradation of life in industrial societies had been noted and discussed. By 1825 the writings of the Count de Saint-Simon, which proposed a reorganization of society to cure these evils, had won adherents; by 1830 the Saint-Simonians were an acknowledged party with sympathizers abroad, and by 1832 the words socialism and socialist were in use.

The Saint-Simonian doctrine proposed a benevolent dictatorship of industrialists and scientists to remove the inequities of the free-for-all liberal system. Other reformers, such as the practical Robert Owen, who organized successful communities in Scotland and the United States, depended on a strong leader using ad hoc methods. Still others, such as Leroux and Cabet, were communists of divergent kinds seeking to carry out elaborate blueprints of the perfect state. Proudhon denounced the state, as such, and all private property. As a philosophical anarchist, he wished to substitute free association and contract for all legal compulsions. In England, the school of Bentham and Mill—utilitarians or philosophical radicals—attacked existing institutions in the name of the greatest good of the greatest number, and by their arguments they succeeded in reforming the top-heavy legal system. Without doctrine but moved by a similar sense of wrong, Thomas Carlyle fought the utilitarians for their materialistic expediency and himself sought light on the common problem by pondering the lessons of the French Revolution and publishing in 1837 what is still the greatest account of its catastrophic course. Later, Carlyle gave in Past and Present a suggestive picture of what he deemed a true community: quasi-medieval, based on the Faustian joy of work, and relying for its cohesion on its leader’s genius and strength of soul.

In the Germanies, repeated outbreaks changed little the system imposed from Vienna by Metternich—censorship, spying on students and intellectuals, repression of group activities at the first sign of political or social advocacy. This drove original thought underground or abroad in the persons of refugees such as the poet Heine and later Karl Marx. At home, the prevailing mood was despair. Max Stirner in his book The Ego and His Own (1845) recommended, instead of social reform, a ruthless individualism that should seek satisfaction by any means and at whatever risk. A small group of other individualists, Die Freien (“The Free”), found that satisfaction of the ego through total disillusion and radical repudiation: nothing is true or good—the state is a monster, society sheer hypocrisy, religion a fraud, for God is dead (1840).

Elsewhere the struggle went on, taking shape as reform or revolt as occasion arose. In Italy and France, secret societies carried on propaganda for programs that might be liberal, nationalist, or socialist, but all revolutionary. One irony about the socialists is that the tag that has clung to them is utopian. It suggests purely theoretical notions, whereas the historical fact is that a great many were tried out in practice, and some lasted for a considerable time. As in Carlyle’s book, the force of character of one man (Owen was a striking example) usually proved to be the efficient cause of success. Throughout this social theorizing, whatever the means or ends proposed, two assumptions hold: one is that individuals have a duty to change European society, to purge it of its evils; the other is that individuals can change society—they need only come together and decide what form the change shall take. These axioms by themselves, without the memory of 1789, were enough to keep alive in European culture the hope and the threat of continuing revolution.



Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Early 19th-century social and political thought » The principle of evolution
Yet it should not be imagined that revolution by force or radical remodeling inspired every thinking European. Even if liberals and reactionaries were still ready to take to the barricades to achieve their ends, the conservatives were not, except in self-defense. The conservative philosophy, stemming from Burke and reinforced by modern historical studies, maintained the contrary principle of evolution. Evolution indeed swayed as many 19th-century minds as its rival, and it was sometimes the same minds.

Evolution was the belief that lasting and beneficial change comes about by slow and small degrees. It is often imperceptible and therefore congenial to human habits. It breaks no heads and spills no blood; it is natural, organic. The idea of evolution is patterned on biology—the slow growth and decay of living things. More than that, evolution in the zoological sense of “descent with modification” had been a recognized speculation among men of science since 1750, when Buffon included it in his Histoire naturelle. Lamarck had elaborated the idea at the turn of the 18th century, while Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of Charles, had by 1796 worked out for himself a compendious theory of similar import. In 1830–33 the geologist Lyell, setting forth the corresponding notion that changes in the Earth take place through the operation of constant and not cataclysmic causes, devoted a chapter to Lamarckian biology—to the evolution of species by imperceptible steps.

As if these teachings were not enough to implant a form of thought, the revival of interest in history made easy and obvious the transition from the world of nature to that of man. It seemed logical to think of both as evolutions and even to liken the state to an organism. Certainly the student of institutions finds them steadily and profoundly altered by minute incidents and variations. Compared to these causes, the violent breaks made by war and revolution seem more superficial and less permanent.

The evolutionary scheme encouraged several other beliefs while also furnishing fresh arguments and convenient principles. Anyone who had inherited from the previous era a faith in progress could now attach it to this new motive power, evolution. Anyone who wished to classify nations or institutions by rank could place them as he thought proper on an evolutionary scale. Anyone who resisted change or wished to speed it up could be admonished with the aid of some evolutionary yardstick. Finally, anyone who intended to write a work of history or propaganda found the organizing principle ready-made. In the first half of the 19th century, every subject of interest, from costume to the criminal law, was presented in innumerable studies as proceeding majestically at an evolutionary pace.

Another way of stating the influence of this great idea is to say that the mind of Europe had experienced the “biological revolution.” Whereas in the 17th century Newtonian physics and its description of the cosmos had imposed the model of mechanics and mathematics, what impressed itself on the 19th century as the universal pattern was the living organism—change and variety as against fixity and regularity. The logic of preferring “biology” to “mechanics” in an age of individualism, of realism about concrete particulars, and of passionate imagination and introspection need only be stated to be evident.


Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Early 19th-century social and political thought » Science
This is not to say that the science of physics stood still during the Romanticist period. It was the time when the conservation of energy was established and the mechanical equivalent of heat demonstrated. There also prevailed the “physical” pseudo-science of phrenology, which professed to relate individual attributes to bumps and hollows in the skull and which led to the physical anthropology that defined 3, 10, 20, and 100 different races of man by the end of the century. Still, the 19th was more emphatically the century that furnished the theory of the cell (Schleiden and Schwann, 1838–39), which led ultimately to the notion of microscopic creatures responsible for putrefaction and disease and, later still, to cytology and genetics.

It is noteworthy, too, that the 19th century saw the establishment of chemistry on the Daltonian hypothesis of the atom, but it was coloured by the “biological” notion of elective affinities to explain compounds. Goethe, who was an early evolutionist and the scientific expositor of the metamorphosis of plants, called his last novel of human love Elective Affinities.

On the surface the poetic mind of the age seemed hostile to both science and technology. Wordsworth looks like an enemy of science when he says: “We murder to dissect” and deprecates the man who is willing to “peep and botanize upon his mother’s grave.” Yet reflection shows that the animus here is not so much against science in general as for the science of life and the reality of human thought and feeling. To understand this temper of the times one must remember how uncertain the intellectual status of physical science still was. Eighteenth-century philosophy had ended in materialism and skepticism. Some writers, such as d’Holbach, had reduced all phenomena to the interaction of hard and unfeeling particles; others, such as Hume, had “proved” that man can know nothing beyond his impressions and therefore can have no certainty about the truth of cause and effect, on which scientific statements depend. The Romanticist generations could neither agree that life was a concourse of unfeeling atoms nor trust the physicists’ assertions based on a law of causation that the most acute thinkers had discredited.

Such were the iron constraints within which the famous “crises of the soul” and conversions to religions new or old took place in the 1820s and ’30s. Carlyle, Mill, Lamennais, and many others described these crises in famous autobiographical works. The choice seemed to be between a blind and meaningless universe and human life conceived as a brief, pointless exception to the mechanical play of forces. Even if the latter scheme “explained,” it was vulnerable to Hume’s irrefutable doubts.


Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Early 19th-century social and political thought » Early 19th-century philosophy
What enabled 19th-century culture to pursue the scientific quest and regain confidence in spiritual truth was the work of the German idealist philosophers, beginning with Immanuel Kant.
 

Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Early 19th-century social and political thought » Early 19th-century philosophy » Kant
Kant took up Hume’s challenge and showed that, although we may never know “things as they are,” we can know truthfully and reliably the data of experience. The reason for this certitude is that the mind imposes its categories of time and space and causation on the flowing stream and gives it shape. Science, therefore, is not a guess, nor is human knowledge a dream. Both are solid and verifiable. Indeed, certainty, according to Kant, extends as far as morals and aesthetics. The essence of morals is the commandment not to perform any act that one would not want to become a precedent for all human action and always to consider an individual as an end in himself, not as the instrument of another’s purpose. The fusion in Kant of ideas stemming from Rousseau and the Enlightenment with ideas fitting the needs of the coming century (Kant died in 1804) made him the fountainhead of European philosophy for 50 years.

Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Early 19th-century social and political thought » Early 19th-century philosophy » Kant’s disciples
His disciples—Fichte, Hegel, Schopenhauer—twisted or amplified his teachings. Coleridge in England and Victor Cousin in France adapted to home use what seemed fitting. The school as a whole was known as German idealism because it relied on the distinction between the thinking subject and the perceived object; “idea” and “thing” were unlike, but idea (or the mind) played a role in shaping the reality of things, from which derived all stability and regularity in the universe.

Stability was desirable as a guarantor of natural science, but in the social world it was obviously contradicted by events, especially by those since the French Revolution. By 1840 many historians had told the story of the past 50 years, and the lesson they drew from it was almost uniformly that of pessimism. Deprived of Providence and the explanation it used to supply by its “mysterious workings,” history seemed neither morally rational nor humanly tolerable.

The German philosopher Hegel, however, drew a different conclusion. Coming after Kant and having witnessed Napoleon’s victory at Jena in 1806, he conceived the world as ruled by a new logic, no longer a logic of things static but of things in movement. He saw the forces of history in perpetual battle. Neither side wins, but the upshot of their struggle is an amalgam of their rival intentions. Hegel called the pros and the cons and their survivors thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. Human affairs are ever in dialectic (dialoguing) progression. At times a “world-historical figure” (Luther, Napoleon) embodies the aspirations of the masses and gives them effect through war, revolution, or religious reformation. Yet throughout the succession of events, what is taking place is the unfolding of Spirit or Idea taking on itself the concrete forms of the real. Hegel’s was another version of evolution and progress, for he foretold the extension of liberty to all men as the fulfillment of history. It is interesting to note that until 1848 or 1850 Hegel was generally considered a dangerous revolutionary, a believer in an irresistible progress that mankind must earn by blood and battle. Karl Marx, as a younger Hegelian, was to carry out Hegel’s unspoken promise on a different base.

Other branches of the all-powerful German philosophy deserve attention but can be spoken of only as they relate to high Romantic themes. Fichte’s modification of Kant made the ego the “creator” of the world, an extreme extension or generalization of individualism. At the other extreme, but more in tune with contemporary science and art, Schelling made nature the source of all energy, from which individual consciousness takes off to become the observer of the universe. Nature is a work of art and man is, so to say, its critic, and because human consciousness results from an act of self-limitation, it perceives moral duty and feels the need to worship.



Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Early 19th-century social and political thought » Religion and its alternatives
That need made itself felt ecumenically throughout Europe from the beginning of the 19th century. It had indeed been prepared by the writings of Rousseau as early as 1762 and in England by the even earlier preaching of John and Charles Wesley, the founders of Methodism. The surviving atheism and materialism of the 18th-century philosophes was in truth a greater stimulus to the religious revival of the early 19th century than anything the French Revolution had done, briefly, to replace the established religions. When in the 1800s the Roman Catholic writings of Chateaubriand and Lamennais in France, the neo-Catholic Tractarian movement in England, and the writings of Schleiermacher and his followers in Germany began to take effect, their success was due to the same conditions that made Romanticist art, German idealism, and all the “biological” analogies succeed: the great thirst caused by dry abstractions in the Age of Reason needed quenching. Religious fervour, artistic passion, and “gothic” systems of philosophy filled a void created by the previous simple and mechanical formulas.

The religious revivals, Catholic or Protestant, also aimed at political ends. Their participants feared the continuation in the 19th century of secularism and wholly material plans. In every country the liberals proposed to set up in the name of tolerance (“indifference,” said the Christian believers) governments that would serve exclusively practical (indeed commercial) interests. Church and state were to be separated, education was to be secular, which would really mean antireligious. National traditions would be broken, forgotten, and youth would grow into “economic man,” Benthamite utilitarian man, with no intuition of unseen realities, no sensitivity to art or nature, no humility, and no inbred morals or sanction for their dictates.

 

Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Early 19th-century social and political thought » Religion and its alternatives » Scientific positivism
This desire for renewed faith and passion, however, found alternative goals. One was scientific positivism; the other was the cult of art. The name positivism is the creation of Auguste Comte, a French thinker of a mathematical cast of mind who in 1824 began to supply a philosophy of the natural sciences opposed to all metaphysics. Science, according to Comte, delivers unshakable truth by limiting itself to the statement of relations among phenomena. It does not explain but describes—and that is all mankind needs to know. From the physical sciences rise the social and mental sciences in regular gradation (Comte coined the word sociology), and from these man will learn, in time, how to live in society.

Having elaborated this austere system, Comte discovered the softer emotions through a woman’s love, and he amended his scheme to provide a “religion of humanity” with the worship of secular saints, under a political arrangement that the sympathetic Mill nonetheless described as “the government of a beleaguered town.” Comte did not attract many orthodox disciples, but the influence of his positivism was very great down to recent times. Not alone in Europe but also in South America it formed a certain type of mind that survives to this day among some scientists and many engineers.

Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Early 19th-century social and political thought » Religion and its alternatives » The cult of art
The second “religious” alternative, the cult of art, has had even greater potency, being at the present time the main outlet for spirituality among Western intellectuals. In the Romantic period this fervour was allied with the love of nature and the idolatrous admiration of the man of genius, beginning with Napoleon. A writer as sober as Scott, a thinker as cogent as Hegel, and an artist as skeptical as Berlioz could all say that to them art and its masters were a religion; and they were not alone. At the death of Goethe in 1832, Heine inveighed against the great man’s followers who made art the only reality. In the second and third Romantic generations, born about 1820, the religion of art grew still more pronounced and took on an antisocial tone that became more and more emphatic as time passed. “Art for art’s sake” ended by signifying, among other things, “art the judge of society and the state.” This doctrine was expounded in full detail by the Romantic poet Gautier as early as 1835 in the preface to his entertaining and sexually daring novel Mademoiselle de Maupin. In those pages the familiar argument against bourgeois philistinism, against practical utility, against the prevailing dullness, ugliness, and wrongness of daily life was set forth with much wit and that spirit of defiance which one usually thinks of as belonging to the 1890s or the present day. Its occurrence then is but another proof that Romanticism was the comprehensive culture from which later styles, thoughts, and isms have sprung.

 


Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Early 19th-century social and political thought » The middle 19th century
During the half century when Romanticism was deploying its talents and ideas, the political minds inside or outside Romanticist culture were engaged in the effort to settle—each party or group or theory in its own way—the legacy of 1789. There were at least half a dozen great issues claiming attention and arousing passion. One was the fulfillment of the revolutionary promise to give all Europe political liberty—the vote for all men, a free press, a parliament, and a written constitution. Between 1815 and 1848 many outbreaks occurred for this cause. Steadily successful in France and England, they were put down in central and eastern Europe under the repressive system of Metternich.

A second issue was the maintenance of the territorial arrangements of the treaties that closed the Napoleonic Wars at the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Metternich’s spies and generals also worked to keep this part of the post-Napoleonic world intact; that is, the boundaries that often linked (or separated) national groups in order to buttress dynastic interests. Except in Belgium, the surge of national, as distinct from liberal, aspirations throughout Europe was unsuccessful in the 1830s. Defeats only strengthened resolve, particularly in Germany and Italy, where the repeated invasions by the French during the revolutionary period had led to reforms and stimulated alike royal and popular ambitions. In these two regions, liberalism and nationalism merged into one unceasing agitation that involved not merely the politically militant but the intellectual elite. Poets and musicians, students and lawyers joined with journalists, artisans, and good bourgeois in open or secret societies working for independence: they were all patriots and all more or less imbued with a Romanticist regard for the people as the originator of the living culture, which the nation was to enshrine and protect.

To be sure, this patriotic union of hearts did not mean agreement on the details of future political states, and the same disunion existed to the west, in England and France, where liberals, only half satisfied by the compromises of 1830 and 1832, felt the push of new radical demands from the socialists, communists, and anarchists. Reinforcing these pressures was the unrest caused by industrialization—the workingman’s claims on society, expressed in strikes, trade unions, or (in England) the Chartists’ demanding “the Charter” of a fully democratic Parliament. This cluster of parties agitated for a change that went well beyond what the advanced liberals themselves had not yet won. Add to these movements those that purposed to stand still or to restore former systems of monarchy, religion, or aristocracy, and it is not hard to understand why the great revolutionary furnace of 1848–52 was a catastrophe for European culture. The four years of war, exile, deportation, betrayals, coups d’état, and summary executions shattered not only lives and regimes but also the heart and will of the survivors. The hoped-for evolution of each nation and would-be nation, as well as the desire for a Europe at peace, was broken and, with all other hopes and imaginings, rendered ridiculous. The search began for new ways to achieve, on the one side, stability and, on the opposite, the final desperate revolution that would usher in the good society.

For although they seemed decisive, the battles of ’48 and after did not, in fact, test the worth of any one idea. Nationalism won and lost in different parts of Europe. Liberalism gained in Italy and Switzerland, but was set back in Germany and France. English Chartism seemed to collapse, yet its demands began to be carried out. The socialist experiment in France (Louis Blanc’s national workshops) also seemed discredited; yet the ensuing regime of Napoleon III made attempts, however clumsy, to deal with poverty by welfare methods. There was peace, but war was imminent; and subversive groups continued to plot and frighten the bourgeois, to try to kill royal heads of state, while machine industry and the resulting urbanization contributed their gains at the cost of the now familiar miseries and sordor.

In these circumstances the mind of Europe suffered an eclipse, followed by a protracted mood of despondency. Many established or emerging artists and thinkers had been killed or torn from their homes or deprived of their livelihood: Wagner fleeing Dresden, where he conducted the opera; Chopin and Berlioz at loose ends in London, because in Paris music other than opera was moribund; Verdi going back to Milan with high patriotic hopes and returning to Paris in a few months, utterly disillusioned; and Hugo in exile in Belgium and later in Guernsey—all typify the vicissitudes in which men of reputation found themselves in mid-career. For the young and unknown, such as the poet Baudelaire or the English painters who formed the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, it was no time to invite the public to admire boldness and accept innovation. Critics and public alike were all nerves and hostility to subversion. To read Flaubert’s masterpiece, Sentimental Education (1869), is to understand the atmosphere in which the first phase of Romanticism ended and its ramified sequels came into being.



Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Early 19th-century social and political thought » Realism and Realpolitik
The dominant feeling was that high hopes had perished in gunfire, and this realization bred the thought that hope itself was an error. Any new effort must therefore stay close to the possible, the “real.” Realism with a capital R and Realpolitik together sink their roots in a distrust of man’s imagination. This grim caution born of harsh experience coincided with a sense of fatigue that made Romanticist work seem like the foolishness of youth.

The appropriate cultural note must no longer be the infinite or heroic or colourful but rather their opposites. If the commonly accepted term Realism for this reaction of the 1850s is used, it must be with these presuppositions in mind. For the Romantic passion for the particular and exact was a realism, too; it was what Dr. Johnson much earlier had called “vehement real life.” The Realism of the disillusioned ’50s dropped the vehement, the passionate and, in order to run no risk of further disillusion, limited what it called real to what could be readily seen and felt: the commonplace, the normal, the workaday, and often the sordid.

In the same spirit Realpolitik rejected principles. The word did not mean “real” in the English sense; in German it connotes “things”—hence a politics of adaptation to existing facts, pursuing plain objects, admitting no obligation to ideals. In this light we can understand the unexpected epithet “scientific” that Marx and his followers bestowed on their brand of socialism. It was a science not merely because it was presumably based on the laws of history but even more because in its view the advent of the socialist state was to result from the interaction of things (classes, means of production, and economic necessity) and not, as in earlier socialism, from the will (that is, the imaginative efforts of thinking men). The “objective” appearance given to the new politics of things, socialist or other, generated that tough, no-nonsense atmosphere, which people then wanted as a source of reassurance in all their dealings.

 

Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Early 19th-century social and political thought » Realism and Realpolitik » Scientific materialism
This search for certainty went with a swinging back of the pendulum in science itself from the vitalism of the previous period to the materialism of the mid-century. German philosophers derided idealism and taught the equivalence of consciousness and chemistry: “without phosphorus, no thinking.” The machine once more became the great model of thought and analogy—and nowhere more vividly and persuasively than in biology, where Darwin’s advocacy of natural selection won the day because it provided a mechanical means for the march of evolution. The struggle for life (Spencer’s phrase of 1850, adopted by Darwin in the subtitle of his book) obviously had the requisite “toughness” to convince and, like Realpolitik, it followed no principle—whoever survived survived. That Darwin to the very last included other factors in his theory of evolution—Lamarckian “use and disuse” as well as direct environmental forces—carried no weight with a generation bent upon machine certainty. These secondary explanations were ignored, in the usual way of cultural single-mindedness, and for 30 years after the publication of the Origin of Species in 1859, an orthodoxy of universal mechanism reigned over all departments of thought.

It prevented the recognition of Mendel’s work on genetics; it put religious, philosophical, and ethical thought on the defensive—only what was “positive” (i.e., material) held a presumption of being real and true. The same reasoning produced a school of social Darwinists who saw war between nations and economic struggle among individuals as beneficent competition leading to the survival of “favoured races”—another phrase from Darwin’s subtitle. And by a final twist of logic, the creed of materialism reinforced the moral gloom of the period by casting doubt on both the permanence and the validity of all that was being redefined as “really real.” For on the one side, the second law of thermodynamics guaranteed the cooling of the Sun and the pulverization of the cosmos into cold and motionless bits of matter; and, on the other, orthodox “machine-ism” brought its leading prophets, Huxley and Tyndall, to consider people and animals as automatons moved as helplessly as atoms and planets. Consciousness is an epiphenomenon—in plain words, an illusion—precisely as in Karl Marx consciousness and culture are illusions floating above the reality of economic relations.

 

Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Early 19th-century social and political thought » Realism and Realpolitik » Victorian morality
To be sure, not everybody in Europe believed or worried about these affirmations. And although ideas long debated do in the end filter down to the least intellectual layers of the population, the time and place of triumph for a philosophy are limited by this cultural lag—a fortunate delay, without which whole societies might collapse soon after the publication of a single book. What kept mid-19th-century civilization whole was a subdued faith in the reality of all the things Realism and materialistic science denied: religious belief, civic and social habits, the dogma of moral responsibility, and the hope that consciousness and will did exist.

The sum of these invisible forces is conveniently known as the Victorian ethos or Victorian morality, a formula applicable to the Continent as well as Britain and one whose meaning antedates not only the mid-century revolutions but also the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837. Like Romanticism, this powerful moralism had its roots in the late 18th century—in Wesleyan Methodism and the Evangelical movement, in Rousseau, Schiller, and Kant. Its earnestness was of popular origin; it was antiaristocratic in manners, and it sought the good and the true in a simple, direct, unhesitating way. Perceiving with warm feeling that all men are brothers under God, the moral man saw that slavery was wrong; and having so concluded, he proceeded to have it abolished by act of Parliament (Britain, 1833).

Such fervent convictions when widely shared exert tremendous power, and this concentration of belief and emotion made Victorian morality long impregnable. As Chesterton said of the Victorian painter Watts:

He has the one great certainty which marks off all the great Victorians from those who have come after them: he may not be certain that he is successful, or certain that he is great, or certain that he is good, or certain that he is capable: but he is certain that he is right.

The sense of rightness generated a sense of power, which the Victorians applied to the monumental task of keeping order in a postrevolutionary society.

Partly by taking thought and partly by instinct, they perceived that the drive to revolution and the sexual urge were somehow linked. Therefore they repressed sexuality; that is, repressed it in themselves and their literature, while containing it within specified limits in society. Further, they knew that the successful working of the vast industrial machine required a strict, inhuman discipline. The idolatry of respectability was the answer to natural waywardness. To pay one’s bills, wear dark clothes, stifle individual fancy, go to church regularly, and turn aggression upon oneself in the form of worry about salvation became the approved common modes of pursuing the pilgrimage of life.

It could not be expected that everybody would or could conform. From its beginning to the end, the Victorian age numbered a galaxy of dissenters and critics who scorned the conformity, called the religion a sham, and viewed respectability as mere hypocrisy. Yet the front held, and the massed forces behind it were at their strongest after the multiplied assaults of 1848.

Nothing gives a better idea of the astonishing moral structure called Victorianism than the development of the London Metropolitan Police, begun under Sir Robert Peel in 1829. A lawyer and a former captain who had fought in the Peninsular War were the first joint commissioners and creators of the force. At first they had to weed out the drunks and the bullies who had been the main types of recruit in earlier attempts at policing cities. At first, too, the people both ridiculed and fought with the new police. Gradually, the “peelers” came to be trusted; they remained unarmed regardless of circumstances; they learned to handle rioters without shedding blood; and in the putting down of crime they finally enlisted the public on their side. For something less than a century this unique relationship lasted, in which “law-abiding” and “police” were terms of respect—correlative terms, since the peelers (later “bobbies”) could not have become what they were without the self-discipline and moral cohesion of the “respectable.”

The upheavals of the mid-century, cultural as well as political, put Victorianism to a severe test, for after wars and civil disorders laxity is natural, and ensuing despair induces a reckless fatalism. There was cause indeed for apprehension. When the Great Exhibition of 1851 was planned on a scale theretofore unattempted, many expressed the fear that to allow tens of thousands from all over Europe to come together under the Crystal Palace was to invite massive riots. Ministers and heads of state would be assassinated. In the event, no protracted assembly of common people and their leaders was ever so quiet and orderly. The moral machinery worked as efficiently as that which was on display under the glass dome.

 

Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Early 19th-century social and political thought » Realism and Realpolitik » The advance of democracy
Yet, while a stringent moralism held in check endemic subversion and anarchy, Darwinism and the machine analogy stimulated endless forms of self-consciousness. If man could fashion and continually improve these engines, perhaps he could also engineer an improved society. Because evolution was at last “proved,” thanks to Darwin, perhaps it also gave warrant for social and political progress by gradual steps. Spencer’s all-inclusive philosophy, likened then to Aristotle’s, foresaw an inevitable movement from the simple and undifferentiated to the complex and specialized—as in modern life. Clearly, whether automatons or not, people kept thinking and having purposes; and among evolutionists and scientific socialists alike, thought and purpose included the hastening by voluntary action of what was sure to come by force of natural laws. These and other desires acting in the light of Realism and taking shape in the increasing organization of the toiling masses brought Europe to accept democracy as inevitable.

The word democracy is used here in a cultural sense. It does not imply a set of political institutions so much as the signs and the agencies that herald the coming populist state of our day: for example, the extension of the franchise, in parliamentary or plebiscite form; the secret ballot; the legalization of trade unions; the rise of a Roman Catholic social movement; the passage of education acts providing free, public, and compulsory schooling; the formulation of the paternalistic Tory democracy as a cure for the evils of free-for-all economic liberalism; the beginnings of welfare legislation (in France under Napoleon III, in Germany under Bismarck); the secularization of life by state action, by the prestige of science, and also by the liberal movements within the churches themselves; and finally, after a decade or so of public education, the great extension and popularization of the press. At the passage of the Reform Act of 1867 in Britain, which gave the vote to urban workingmen, Robert Lowe had said, “Now we must educate our masters.” In a parliamentary system the means to that education cannot be the schools alone. The adult “common man” must continually be informed and appealed to for his own satisfaction as well as for coherent policy in government. The instrument for this purpose was the new journalism. The quarterlies of the early 19th century gave way to the monthlies in the 1860s and they in turn to the weeklies, while the daily papers, costing now but a penny and simplifying all they touched, began to reach the millions.




Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Early 19th-century social and political thought » Realism in the arts and philosophy
In the period of so-called Realism, the arts and philosophy as usual supplied—at least for the educated elite—form and substance to the prevailing fears and desires. The mood of soberness and objectivity was alone acceptable, and what art presented to the public confirmed the reasonableness of the mood.

Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Early 19th-century social and political thought » Realism in the arts and philosophy » Literature
This interaction accounts for such things as the marked change of tone in Dickens’ novels that occurs between David Copperfield (1850) and Bleak House (1853). The temper expressed in most concentrated form the very next year in Hard Times now dominates Dickens’ mind and works to the end: life is a dreary sort of underworld; happy endings are artificially contrived and not to be believed.

The same mood explains why Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (1857), which ranks today as the realistic novel par excellence and is on all counts grim enough in its rendering of boredom and vulgar misery, was judged “too artistic” by some contemporary critics, not close enough to the most common of realities, that of common speech. At the same time, the sought-for effect could be achieved in poetry by juxtaposing the ideal, or simply the decent, with the dreary and disgusting, especially the occurrence of these in the now hateful urban life. This is what Baudelaire did in a volume of poems called The Flowers of Evil (1857). The attack this time came not from critics who found the work insufficiently real, but from the “respectable” readers who found it indecent and immoral.

Yet the evolution of Flaubert’s mind remains instructive for an understanding of Realism as a literary creed. Flaubert had begun by writing a highly coloured, imaginative story on The Temptation of Saint Anthony (1848), which the author’s friends advised him to burn, tone down, or rewrite. Flaubert put it aside and began the novel that became Madame Bovary. Its setting was the provincial world around him, not the Egyptian desert; the characters were of the most ordinary type, not an improbable Christian ascetic haunted by visions. Yet, even in the working out of his plain tale, Flaubert had to subdue his lyrical Romantic genius to the discipline he had adopted. The description of a rainstorm, for instance, had to be done over and over again so that it would not stand out and be “interesting” by virtue of the observer’s mind. It had to be made ordinary and the observer kept outside, just as in science. Madame Bovary, begun as a magazine serial, was soon censored by the editor and then prosecuted as immoral by the state. For Flaubert’s Realism had gone so far as to portray in no flattering colours the dreary lives and motives of average provincials of both sexes, and the picture violated the rules of the indispensable moralism. What is more, the fate of Flaubert’s unhappy heroine symbolized what had happened to the more daring and poetic-glorious time before 1848: as Flaubert said, Emma Bovary was himself.

His novel is thus simultaneously a model and a critique of the new genre—a critique, too, of the state of Europe that produced it. Many other writers between 1850 and 1890 pursued matter-of-factness without this ulterior effect and rendered the details of middling life with such impassiveness and fidelity that to this day many use “realistic” as a synonym for dreary or sordid and regard “the novel” as a reliable historical source. On the precise definition of Realism, George Gissing gave, through a character in one of his own novels, a brilliant commentary: the character is at work on a novel which shall be so true to the dullness of daily life that no one will be able to read it.

 

Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Early 19th-century social and political thought » Realism in the arts and philosophy » Painting and sculpture
The term Realism applies no less to the plastic arts than to literature, but in painting and sculpture it proved difficult to give form overnight to the change of attitude just noticed in literature and political life. The transition between the passionate poetry and drama of Géricault and Delacroix and the Realism of Courbet and Manet was gradual. It came by way of the “open-air” school of Barbizon, whose landscapes seemed arid (at least to the classically trained academic painters of the day) and pointless in the sense that they depicted the commonplace. Still, when the full shock of Realism inflicted by the works of Courbet and Manet occurred, it was severe: here were coarseness and violence in manner and subject. Courbet’s backgrounds are thick and his people drab; Manet’s nude “Olympia” is no goddess nor even a beautiful woman; she is a prostitute, and her name seems like a piece of irony. The portrait of his parents is a painful representation of simple poverty unrelieved by any glow of spirit or intelligence—yet the work itself is beautiful: such was, throughout, the aim and achievement of Realism.

In England, by an historical accident, pictorial realism was embodied in subjects that seem far removed from the commonplace. The school that took up the challenge against academic painting and modified the vision of Constable and Turner called itself Pre-Raphaelite. Its members were Holman Hunt, John Millais, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and the name they took for their “brotherhood” expressed their resolve to paint like the masters who came before the imitators of Raphael. It is necessary to put it in this clumsy way in order to make clear that Raphael himself was not being condemned, but only his academic followers who introduced “unreality.”

To be a Pre-Raphaelite was to see the world with a sharp eye and an undistorting mind and to render it with intense application to solidity of form, bright colour, and natural pose and grouping. All this was to be understood from the motto “Death to Slosh!” In order to make the new virtues vividly clear and also because the Pre-Raphaelites were reared on great literature, their subjects tended to draw upon legend, or Dante, or the New Testament. It was the conception and treatment that constituted the innovation. Everybody could see it, because it went against the habit of “pretty-pretty” illustration. In fact the nominal subject dropped out of sight in the startled response to form and colour. Paradoxically, then, the commonplace subjects of the French Realists and the legendary ones of the English Pre-Raphaelites were alike insignificant when compared with the effort to re-create by art the texture and “feel” of actuality—and nothing more. Such was precisely the goal Flaubert pursued and reached in Madame Bovary. His final version of the St. Anthony story (1874) made the same point with a legendary subject, like the Pre-Raphaelites.

 

Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Early 19th-century social and political thought » Realism in the arts and philosophy » Popular art
It hardly needs to be added that this conscious purpose of high art could interest but a relatively small portion of the public and that, for the growing mass of readers of fiction and viewers of art, other kinds of satisfaction were necessary. The ordinary three-volume novel from the lending library and the continued serial in the magazine or newspaper supplied the demand by aping, adapting, and diluting not one but half a dozen literary tendencies, old and new. The number of novels produced in all languages in the 19th century has never been estimated, but it surely must be on the order of astronomical magnitudes. And the whole output was realistic in the sense that it professed to impart the real truth about life. It was contemporary in setting and speech, took the form of a history, and taught its readers how other people lived. The pictorial counterpart was the “chromo,” the cheap colour lithograph that illustrated either fiction or news stories in forms which, however false they must seem to a critical eye, again gave the illusion of commonplace reality.

 

Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Early 19th-century social and political thought » Realism in the arts and philosophy » Music
At first sight, it would seem as if music were a medium in its nature resistant to Realism, but that is to reckon without the obvious use that music has always made of sounds directly associated with life—church bells, hunting horns, military bands, and the like. In an age when Realism was at a premium, the opera would be the form where these and other associations easily found their place. So it was in mid-century Europe, where Meyerbeer and others provided the effects to suit the fussily “real” staging of all plays, musical or not. Clocks, tables, animals, waterfalls, and especially costume could be relied on to be genuine up to the limit of the possible: live bullets for real deaths were shied away from, and real lightning was out of reach.

A genius who is often mistakenly grouped with the Romantics, Richard Wagner, supplied this ultimate deficiency—and by musical means. As critics have pointed out, Wagner’s system of leitmotivs, or musical tags that denoted an object, a person, or an idea, was consciously or unconsciously an accommodation of Realist intent to operatic understanding. This is true not simply because the musical notes “wave” up and down as Isolde waves her scarf at Tristan—a trivial enough device of a sort found in many composers; it is also true in the deeper sense, which constitutes Wagner’s unique genius, namely that he was able to compose great music that was steadily and precisely denotative of items in the story by repeating and interweaving their assigned musical tags.

 

Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Early 19th-century social and political thought » Realism in the arts and philosophy » Summary
Looking back from the perspective of Modernism, which is characteristic of 20th-century culture, it is clear that its predecessor, Romanticism, did not stop in the middle of the 19th. Rather, it evolved and branched out into the phases known as Realism, Neo-Classicism, Naturalism, and Symbolism. All the tendencies and techniques that gave passing unity to these actions and reactions are found in germ in the original flowering of art and thought that dates from about 1790.

By concentrating on one purpose, by specializing as it were in one affirmation, the succeeding movements after 1848 made their emphatic mark, until the original inspiration was exhausted. It is thus that cultural movements end—in sterile imitation and pointlessness—and thereby earn the scorn of the next generation. This in turn explains why in the decade before World War I one finds, besides a fresh surge of energy and shocking creations, the driving force of anti-Romanticism, anti-Victorianism, anti-everything that was not some form of the new and “Modern.”

Jacques Barzun



Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » A Maturing Industrial Society » The “second industrial revolution”
As during the previous half century, much of the framework for Europe’s history following 1850 was set by rapidly changing social and economic patterns, which extended to virtually the entire continent. In western Europe, shifts were less dramatic than they had been at the onset of the Industrial Revolution, but they posed important challenges to older traditions and to early industrial behaviours alike. In Russia, initial industrialization contributed to literally revolutionary tensions soon after 1900.

The geographic spread of the Industrial Revolution was important in its own right. Germany’s industrial output began to surpass that of Britain by the 1870s, especially in heavy industry. The United States became a major industrial power, competing actively with Europe; American agriculture also began to compete as steamships, canning, and refrigeration altered the terms of international trade in foodstuffs. Russia and Japan, though less vibrant competitors by 1900, entered the lists, while significant industrialization began in parts of Italy, Austria, and Scandinavia. These developments were compatible with increased economic growth in older industrial centres, but they did produce an atmosphere of rivalry and uncertainty even in prosperous years.

Throughout the most advanced industrial zone (from Britain through Germany) the second half of the 19th century was also marked by a new round of technological change. New processes of iron smelting such as that involving the use of the Bessemer converter (invented in 1856) expanded steel production by allowing more automatic introduction of alloys and in general increased the scale of heavy industrial operations. The development of electrical and internal combustion engines allowed transmission of power even outside factory centres. The result was a rise of sweatshop industries that used sewing machines for clothing manufacturing; the spread of powered equipment to artisanal production, on construction sites, in bakeries and other food-processing centres (some of which saw the advent of factories); and the use of powered equipment on the larger agricultural estates and for processes such as cream separation in the dairy industry. In factories themselves, a new round of innovation by the 1890s brought larger looms to the textile industry and automatic processes to shoe manufacture and machine- and shipbuilding (through automatic riveters) that reduced skill requirements and greatly increased per capita production. Technological transformation was virtually universal in industrial societies. Work speeded up still further, semi-skilled operatives became increasingly characteristic, and, on the plus side, production and thus prosperity reached new heights.

Organizational changes matched the “second industrial revolution” in technology. More expensive equipment, plus economies made possible by increasing scale, promoted the formation of larger businesses. All western European countries eased limits on the formation of joint-stock corporations from the 1850s, and the rate of corporate growth was breathtaking by the end of the century. Giant corporations grouped together to influence the terms of trade, especially in countries such as Germany, where cartels controlled as much as 90 percent of production in the electrical equipment and chemical industries. Big business techniques had a direct impact on labour. Increasingly, engineers set production quotas, displacing not only individual workers but also foremen by introducing time-and-motion procedures designed to maximize efficiency.


Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » A Maturing Industrial Society » Modifications in social structure
Developments in technology and organization reshaped social structure. A recognizable peasantry continued to exist in western Europe, but it increasingly had to adapt to new methods. In many areas (most notably, The Netherlands and Denmark) a cooperative movement spread to allow peasants to market dairy goods and other specialties to the growing urban areas without abandoning individual landownership. Many peasants began to achieve new levels of education and to adopt innovations such as new crops, better seeds, and fertilizers; they also began to innovate politically, learning to press governments to protect their agricultural interests.

In the cities the working classes continued to expand, and distinctions between artisans and factory workers, though real, began to fade. A new urban class emerged as sales outlets proliferated and growing managerial bureaucracies (both private and public) created the need for secretaries, bank tellers, and other clerical workers. A lower middle class, composed of salaried personnel who could boast a certain level of education—indeed, whose jobs depended on literacy—and who worked in conditions different from manufacturing labourers, added an important ingredient to European society and politics. Though their material conditions differed little from those of some factory workers, though they too were subject to bosses and to challenging new technologies such as typewriters and cash registers, most white-collar workers shunned association with blue-collar ranks. Big business employers encouraged this separation by setting up separate payment systems and benefit programs, for they were eager to avoid a union of interests that might augment labour unrest.

At the top of European society a new upper class formed as big business took shape, representing a partial amalgam of aristocratic landowners and corporate magnates. This upper class wielded immense political influence, for example, in supporting government armaments buildups that provided markets for heavy industrial goods and jobs for aristocratic military officers.

Along with modifications in social structure came important shifts in popular behaviour, some of them cutting across class lines. As a result of growing production, prosperity increased throughout most of western Europe. Major economic recessions interrupted this prosperity, as factory output could outstrip demand and as investment speculation could, relatedly, outstrip real economic gains. Speculative bank crises and economic downturns occurred in the mid-1850s and particularly in the middle years of both the 1870s and ’90s, causing substantial hardship and even wider uncertainty. Nevertheless, the general trend in standards of living for most groups was upward, allowing ordinary people to improve their diets and housing and maintain a small margin for additional purchases. The success of mass newspapers, for example, which reached several million subscribers by the 1890s, depended on the ability to pay as well as on literacy. A bicycle craze, beginning among the middle classes in the 1880s and gradually spreading downward, represented a consumer passion for a more expensive item. Improvement in standards of living was aided by a general reduction in the birth rate, which developed rapidly among urban workers and even peasants. Families increasingly regarded children as an expense, to be weighed against other possibilities, and altered traditional behaviour accordingly. Reduction in the birth rate was achieved in part by sexual abstinence but also by the use of birth control devices, which had been widely available since the vulcanization of rubber in the 1840s, and by illegal abortions, while infanticide continued in rural areas. Completing the installation of a new demographic regime was a rapid decline in infant mortality after 1880.

Rising living standards were accompanied by increased leisure time. Workers pressed for a workday of 12, then 10 hours, and shortly after 1900 a few groups began to demand an even shorter period. Scattered vacation days also were introduced, and the “English weekend,” which allowed time off on Saturday afternoons as well as Sundays, spread widely. Middle-class groups, for their part, loosened their previous work ethic in order to accommodate a wider range of leisure activities.

The second half of the 19th century witnessed the birth of modern leisure in western Europe and, to an extent, beyond. Team sports were played in middle-class schools and through a variety of amateur and professional teams. Many sports, such as soccer (football), had originated in traditional games but now gained standardized rules, increasing specialization among players, and the impassioned record-keeping appropriate to an industrial age. Sports commanded widespread participation among various social groups and served as the basis for extensive commercial operations. Huge stadiums and professional leagues signaled the advent of a new level of spectatorship. While many sports primarily focused on male interests, women began to participate in tennis and entire families in pastimes such as croquet and bicycling.

Leisure options were by no means confined to sports. Mass newspapers emphasized entertaining feature stories rather than politics. Parks and museums open to the public became standard urban features. Train excursions to beaches won wide patronage from factory workers as well as middle-class vacationers. A popular theatre expanded in the cities; British music-hall, typical of the genre, combined song and satire, poking fun at life’s tribulations and providing an escapist emphasis on pleasure-seeking. After 1900, similar themes spilled into the new visual technology that soon coalesced into early motion pictures.


Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » A Maturing Industrial Society » The rise of organized labour and mass protests
Mass leisure coexisted interestingly with the final major social development of the later 19th century, the escalating forms of class conflict. Pressed by the rapid pace and often dulling routine of work, antagonized by a faceless corporate management structure seemingly bent on efficiency at all costs, workers in various categories developed more active protest modes in the later 19th century. They were aided by their growing familiarity with basic industrial conditions, which facilitated the formation of relevant demands and made organization more feasible. Legal changes, spreading widely in western Europe after 1870, reduced political barriers to unionization and strikes, though clashes with government forces remained a common part of labour unrest.

Not surprisingly, given the mood of reaction following the failures of the 1848 revolutions, the 1850s constituted a period of relative placidity in labour relations. Skilled workers in Britain formed a conservative craft union movement, known as New Model Unionism, that urged calm negotiation and respectability; a number of durable trade unions were formed as a result, and a minority of workers gained experience in national organization. Miners and factory workers rose in strikes occasionally, signaling a class-based tension with management in many areas, but no consistent pattern developed.

The depression of the 1870s, which brought new hardship and reminded workers of the uncertainty of their lot, encouraged a wider range of agitation, and by the 1890s mass unionism surfaced throughout western Europe. Not only artisans but also factory workers and relatively unskilled groups, such as dockers, showed a growing ability to form national unions that made use of the sheer power of numbers, even in default of special skills, to press for gains. Strike rates increased steadily. In 1892 French workers struck 261 times against 500 companies; most of the efforts remained small and local, and only 50,000 workers were involved. By 1906, the peak French strike year before 1914, 1,309 strikes brought 438,000 workers off the job. British and German strike rates were higher still; in Britain, more than 2,000,000 workers struck between 1909 and 1913. A number of nationwide strikes showed labour’s new muscle.

Unionization formed the second prong of the new labour surge. Along with mass unions in individual industries, general federations formed at the national level, such as the British Trades Union Congress and the French and Italian general confederations of labour. Unions provided social and material benefits for members along with their protest action; in many industries they managed to win collective bargaining procedures with employers, though this was far from a uniform pattern in an atmosphere of bitter competition over management rights; and they could influence governmental decisions in the labour area.

The rise of organized labour signaled an unprecedented development in the history of European popular protest. Never before had so many people been formally organized; never before had withdrawal of labour served as the chief protest weapon. Many workers joined a sweeping ideological fervor to their protest. Many were socialists, and a number of trade union movements were tightly linked to the rising socialist parties; this was particularly true in Germany and Austria. In other areas, especially France and Italy, an alternative syndicalist ideology won many adherents in the union movement; syndicalists urged that direct action through strikes should topple governments and usher in a new age in which organizations of workers would control production. Against these varied revolutionary currents, many workers saw in unions and strikes primarily a means to compensate for changes in their work environment, through higher pay (as a reward for less pleasant labour) and shorter hours. Even here, there was an ability to seek new ends rather than appealing to past standards. Overall, pragmatism battled with ideology in most labour movements, and in point of fact none of the large organizations aimed primarily at revolution.

Labour unrest was not the only form of protest in the later 19th century. In many continental nations (but not in Britain or Scandinavia), nationalist organizations drew the attention of discontented shopkeepers and others in the lower middle class who felt pressed by new business forms, such as department stores and elaborate managerial bureaucracies, but who were also hostile to socialism and the union movement. Nationalist riots surfaced periodically in many countries around such issues as setbacks in imperialist competition or internal political scandals. Some of the riots and accompanying organizations were also anti-Semitic, holding Jews responsible for big business and socialism alike. France witnessed the most important agitation from the radical right, through organizations like the Action Française; but anti-Semitic political movements also developed in Germany and Austria.

Important women’s movements completed the new roster of mass protests. The basic conditions of women did not change greatly in western Europe during the second half of the 19th century, with the significant exception of the rapidly declining birth rate. The steady spread of primary education increased female literacy, bringing it nearly equal to male levels by 1900. A growing minority of middle-class women also entered secondary schools, and by the 1870s a handful reached universities and professional schools. Several separate women’s colleges were founded in centres such as Oxford and Cambridge, and, against heavy resistance, a few women became doctors and lawyers. For somewhat larger numbers of women, new jobs in the service sector of the economy, such as telephone operators, primary-school teachers, and nurses, provided opportunities for work before marriage. Gradually some older sectors of employment, such as domestic service, began to decline. Nevertheless, emphasis on a domestic sphere for women changed little. Public schools, while teaching literacy, also taught the importance of household skills and support for a working husband.

These were the circumstances that produced increasingly active feminist movements, sometimes independently and sometimes in association with socialist parties. Feminist leaders sought greater equality under the law, an attack on a double-standard sexuality that advantaged men. Above all, they came to concentrate on winning the vote. Massive petitions in Britain, accompanied by considerable violence after 1900, signaled Europe’s most active feminist movement, drawing mainly on middle-class ranks. Feminists in Scandinavia were successful in winning voting rights after 1900. Almost everywhere, feminist pressures added to the new variety of mass protest action.


Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » A Maturing Industrial Society » Conditions in eastern Europe
Social conditions in eastern and southern Europe differed substantially from those of the west, but there were some common elements. Middle- and upper-class women in Russia, for example, surged into new educational and professional opportunities in some numbers. Growing cities and factories produced some trade union activity, on the part of skilled groups such as the printers and metalworkers, that resembled efforts elsewhere.

Rural conditions, however, were vastly different from those in western Europe. Eastern and southern Europe remained dominated by the peasantry, as urbanization, though rapid, was at a far earlier stage. Peasant conditions were generally poor. Amid growing population pressure, many peasants suffered from a lack of land in areas dominated by large estates. One result was rapid emigration, to the Americas and elsewhere, from Spain, southern Italy, and eastern Europe. Another result was recurrent unrest. Peasants in southern Spain, loosely organized under anarchist banners, rose almost once a decade in the late 19th century, seizing land and burning estate records.

The social and economic situation was most complex in Russia. Stung by the loss of the Crimean War (1854–56) to Britain, France, and the Ottoman Empire, literally in their own backyard, Russian leaders decided on a modernization program. The key ingredient was an end to the rigid manorial system, and in 1861 Alexander II, a reform-minded tsar, issued the Emancipation Manifesto, freeing the serfs. This act sought to produce a freer labour market but also to protect the status of the nobility. As a result, noble landlords retained some of the best land and were paid for the loss of their servile labour; in turn, serfs, though technically in control of most land, owed redemption payments to the state. This arrangement produced important changes in the countryside. Peasants did develop some commercial habits, aided by gradually spreading education and literacy. More and more peasants migrated, temporarily or permanently, to cities, where they swelled the manufacturing labour force and also the ranks of urban poor. Rural unrest continued, however, as peasants resented their taxes and payments and the large estates that remained.

From the 1870s the Russian government also launched a program of industrial development, beginning with the construction of a national rail network capped by the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Factory industry was encouraged; much of it was held under foreign ownership, though a native entrepreneurial class emerged. Large factories developed to produce textiles and to process metals. Conditions remained poor, however, and combined with the unfamiliar pace of factory work and rural grievances to spur recurrent worker unrest. Illegal strikes and unions became increasingly prominent after 1900. A minority of urban workers, especially in St. Petersburg and Moscow, were won to socialist doctrines, and a well-organized Marxist movement arose, its leadership after 1900 increasingly dominated by Vladimir Ilich Lenin, a creative theorist who adapted Marxist theory to the Russian situation and who concentrated single-mindedly on creating the network of underground cells that could foment outright revolution. Russia was embarked on a genuine industrial revolution; with its massive size and resources, it ranked among world leaders in many categories of production by 1900. However, it operated in an exceptionally unstable social and political climate.




Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » The emergence of the industrial state » Political patterns
During the second half of the 19th century, politics and socioeconomic conditions became increasingly intertwined in Europe, producing a new definition of government functions, including a greatly expanded state and a new political spectrum. Linkage to cultural trends also showed through an interest in hard-headed realism. Predictably, political conditions in eastern Europe, though mirroring some of the general developments, remained distinctive.

The decades between 1850 and 1870 served as a crucial turning point in European politics and diplomacy, somewhat surprisingly given the apparent victory of conservative forces over the revolutions of 1848. Reactionary impulses did surface during these years. A Conservative Party eager to hold the line against further change emerged in Prussia. A number of governments made new arrangements with the Roman Catholic church to encourage religion against political attacks. Pope Pius IX, who had been chased from Rome during the final surge of agitation in 1848, turned adamantly against new political ideas. In the Syllabus of Errors accompanying the encyclical Quanta cura (“With What Great Care,” 1864), he denounced liberalism and nationalism and insisted on the duty of Roman Catholic rulers to protect the established church, even against religious toleration. The proclamation of papal infallibility (1870) was widely seen as another move to firm up church authority against change.

Many conservative leaders, however, saw the victory over revolution as a chance to innovate within the framework of the established order. They were aided by a pragmatic current among liberals, many of whom were convinced that compromise, not revolution, was the only way to win reform. Thus in Britain Benjamin Disraeli, the Conservative leader in the House of Commons, in 1867 sponsored a new suffrage measure, which granted the vote to most urban workers; Disraeli hoped that the new voters would support his party, and some of them did so. In France Emperor Napoleon III, who had insisted on an authoritarian regime during the 1850s, began to sponsor major industrial development while maintaining an active foreign policy, designed to win growing support for the state. In the 1860s, pressed by diplomatic setbacks, Napoleon also granted liberal concessions, expanding parliamentary power and tolerating more freedom of press and speech. The Habsburg monarchy promoted an efficient, largely German bureaucracy to replace the defunct manorial regime and in the 1860s sought to make peace with the leading nationalist movement. In the Ausgleich (“compromise”) of 1867, Hungary was granted substantial autonomy, and separate parliaments, though based on limited suffrage, were established in Austria and Hungary. This result enraged Slavic nationalists, but it signaled an important departure from previous policies bent on holding the line against any dilution of imperial power.

The key centres of dynamic conservatism, however, were Italy and Germany. In the Italian state of Piedmont during the early 1850s, the able prime minister, Camillo di Cavour, conciliated liberals by sponsoring economic development and granting new personal freedoms. Cavour worked especially to capture the current of Italian nationalism. By a series of diplomatic maneuvers, he won an alliance with France against Austria and, in a war fought in 1859, drove Austria from the province of Lombardy. Nationalist risings followed elsewhere in Italy, and Cavour was able to join these to a new Italian state under the Piedmontese king. The resultant new state had a parliament, and it vigorously attacked the power of the Roman Catholic church in a liberal-nationalist combination that could win support from various political groups.

Inspired in part by Italian example, a young chief minister in Prussia, Otto von Bismarck, began a still more important campaign of limited political reform and nationalist aggrandizement. The goal was to unite Germany under Prussia and to defuse liberal and radical agitation. In a series of carefully calculated wars during the 1860s, Bismarck first defeated Denmark and won control over German-speaking provinces. He then provoked Austria, Prussia’s chief rival in Germany, and to general surprise won handily, relying on Prussia’s well-organized military might. A Prussian-dominated union of northern German states was formed. A final war with France, in 1870–71, again resulted in Prussian victory. This time the prize was the province of Alsace and part of Lorraine and agreement with the southern German states to form a single German empire under the Prussian ruler. This new state had a national parliament with a lower house based on universal manhood suffrage but an upper house dominated by Prussia, whose own parliament was elected by a voting system that assured the political power of the wealthiest elements of society. As in Italy, appointment of ministers lay with the crown, not parliament. Freedoms of press and speech were extended and religious liberty expanded to include Jews, but the government periodically intervened against dissident political groups.

These developments radically changed Europe’s map, eliminating two traditional vacuums of power that had been dominated by a welter of smaller states. Nationalism was triumphant in central Europe. At the same time, regimes had been created that, buoyed by nationalist success, appealed to moderate liberal and conservative elements alike while fully contenting neither group. The old regime, attacked for so many decades, was gone, as parliamentary politics and a party system predominated through western and central Europe. Concurrently, important powers for throne and aristocracy remained, as liberals either compromised their policies or went into sullen, usually ineffective, opposition.

A slightly different version of the politics of compromise emerged in France in the 1870s. Defeated by Prussia, the empire of Napoleon III collapsed. A variety of political forces, including various monarchist groups, contended for succession after a radical rising, the Paris Commune, failed in 1871. Eventually, through a piecemeal series of laws, conservative republicans triumphed, winning a parliamentary majority through elections and proclaiming the Third Republic. This was a clearly liberal regime, in which parliament dominated the executive branch amid frequent changes of ministry. Freedoms of press, speech, and association were widely upheld, and the regime attacked the powers of the church in education and other areas. At the same time, dominant liberals pledged to avoid significant social change, winning peasant and middle-class support on this basis.

With the emergence of the Third Republic, the constitutional structure of western Europe was largely set for the remainder of the 19th century. All the major nations (except Spain, which continued to oscillate between periods of liberalism and conservative authoritarianism) had parliaments and a multiparty system, and most had granted universal manhood suffrage. Britain completed this process by a final electoral reform in the mid-1880s. Belgium, Italy, and Austria held out for a longer time, experiencing considerable popular unrest as a result, though voting reforms for men were completed before 1914. Important political crises still surfaced. Bismarck warred with the Roman Catholic church and the Catholic Centre Party during the 1870s before reaching a compromise agreement. He then tried virtually to outlaw the socialist party, which remained on the defensive until a liberalization after he fell from power in 1890. During the 1890s, France faced a major constitutional crisis in the Dreyfus affair. The imprisonment of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish army officer falsely accused of treason, triggered a battle between conservative, Catholic, and military forces, all bent on defending the authority of army and state, and a more radical republican group joined by socialists, who saw the future of the republic at stake. The winning pro-Dreyfus forces forced the separation of church and state by 1905, reducing Catholicism’s claims on the French government and limiting the role of religion as a political issue.

The politics of compromise also affected organized religion, partly because of attacks from various states. A number of Protestant leaders took up social issues, seeking new ways to reach the urban poor and to alleviate distress. The Salvation Army, founded in Britain in 1878, expressed the social mission idea, whereby practical measures were used in the service of God. Under a new pope, Leo XIII, the Roman Catholic church moved more formally to accommodate to modern politics. The encyclical Rerum Novarum (“Of New Things,” 1891) urged Catholics to accept political institutions such as parliaments and universal suffrage; it proclaimed sympathy for working people against the excesses of capitalism, justifying moderate trade union action though vigorously denouncing socialism. Steps such as this muted religious issues in politics, while on the whole relegating organized religion to a more modest public role.

In general, the resolution of major constitutional issues led to an alternation of moderate conservative and liberal forces in power between 1870 and 1914. Conservatives, when in charge, tended to push a more openly nationalistic foreign policy than did liberals; liberals, as the Dreyfus affair suggested in France, tended to be more concerned about limiting the role of religion in political life. Both movements, however, agreed on many basic goals, including political structure itself. Both were capable of promoting some modest social reforms, though neither wished to go too far. In Italy, conservatives and liberals were so similar that commentators noted a process of transformism (trasformismo), by which parliamentary deputies, regardless of their electoral platforms, were transformed into virtually identical power seekers once in Rome.

As the range of dispute between conservatives and liberals narrowed (save for fringe movements of the radical right that distrusted parliamentary politics altogether), the most striking innovation in the political spectrum was the rise of socialist parties, based primarily on working-class support though with scattered rural and middle-class backing as well. Formal socialist parties began to take shape in the 1860s. They differed from previous socialist movements in focusing primarily on winning electoral support; earlier socialist leaders either had been openly revolutionary or had favoured setting up model communities that, they thought, would produce change through example. Most of the socialist parties established in the 1860s and ’70s derived their inspiration from Karl Marx. They argued that revolution was essential and that capitalists and workers were locked in a historic battle that must affect all social institutions. The goal of socialist action was to seize the state, establishing proletarian control and unseating the exploitative powers of capitalism. In practice, however, most socialist parties worked through the political process (with support for trade union activities), diluting orthodox Marxism. Universal manhood suffrage created a climate ripe for socialist gains, especially since, in most countries, these parties were the first to realize the nature of mass politics. They set up permanent organizations to woo support even apart from election campaigns and sponsored impassioned political rallies rather than working behind the scenes to manipulate voters. Newspapers, educational efforts, and social activities supplemented the formal political message.

By the 1880s the German socialist party was clearly winning working-class support away from the liberal movement despite Bismarck’s antisocialist laws. By 1900 the party was a major political force, gaining about two million votes in key elections and seating a large minority of parliamentary deputies. By 1913 the German party was polling four million votes in national elections and was the largest single political force in the nation. Socialist parties in Austria, Scandinavia, and the Low Countries won similar success. Socialism in France and Italy, divided among various ideological factions, was somewhat slower to coalesce, but it too gained ground steadily. In 1899 a socialist entered the French Cabinet as part of the Dreyfusard coalition, shocking orthodox Marxists who argued against collaboration with bourgeois politicians. By 1913 the French party had more than a hundred delegates in parliament. British socialism grew later and with less attention to formal ideology. The Labour Party was formed in the 1890s with strong trade union connections; it long lagged behind the Liberals in winning workers’ votes. Nevertheless, even in Britain the party was a strong third force by 1914. In many countries socialists not only formed a large national minority capable of pressing government coalitions but also won control of many municipal governments, where they increased welfare benefits and regulated urban conditions for the benefit of their constituents.

The rise of socialism put what was called “the social question” at the forefront of domestic policy in the late 19th century, replacing debates about formal constitutional structure. Fear of socialism strengthened the hand of ruling conservative or liberal coalitions. At the same time, success mellowed many socialist leaders. In Germany about 1900 a revisionist movement arose that judged that revolution was not necessary; it was thought that Marxism should be modified to allow for piecemeal political gains and cooperation with middle-class reformers. Most parties officially denounced revisionism in favour of stricter Marxism, but in fact they behaved in a revisionist fashion.




Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » The emergence of the industrial state » Changes in government functions
Shifts in the political spectrum and larger issues of industrial society prompted important changes in government functions through the second half of the 19th century. Mass education headed the list. Building on earlier precedents, most governments in western Europe established universal public schooling in the 1870s and ’80s, requiring attendance at least at the primary levels. Education was seen as essential to provide basic skills such as literacy and numeracy. It also was a vital means of conditioning citizens to loyalty to the national government. All the educational systems vigorously pushed nationalism in their history and literature courses. They tried to standardize language, as against minority dialects and languages (opposing Polish in Germany, for example, or Breton in France).

A second extension of government functions involved peacetime military conscription, which was resisted only in Great Britain. Prussia’s success in war during the 1860s convinced other continental powers that military service was essential, and conscription, along with steadily growing armaments expenditures, enhanced the military readiness of most governments.

Governments also expanded their record-keeping functions, replacing church officials. Requirements for civil marriages (in addition to religious ceremonies where desired), census-taking, and other activities steadily expanded state impact in these areas. Regulatory efforts increased from the 1850s. Central governments inspected food-processing facilities and housing. Inspectors checked to make sure that safety provisions and rules on work hours and the employment of women and children were observed. Other functionaries carefully patrolled borders, requiring passports for entry. Most countries (Britain again was an exception) increased tariff regulations in the 1890s, seeking to conciliate agriculturalists and industrialists alike; while not a new function, this signaled the state’s activist role in basic economic policy. Most European governments ran all or part of the railroad system and set up telephone services as part of postal operations.

Educator, record-keeper, military recruiter, major economic actor—the state also entered the welfare field during the 1880s. Bismarck pioneered with three social insurance laws between 1883 and 1889—part of his abortive effort to beat down socialism—that set up rudimentary schemes for protection in illness, accident, and old age. Austria and Scandinavia imitated the German system, while the French and Italian governments established somewhat more voluntary programs. Britain enacted a major welfare insurance scheme under a Liberal administration in 1906, and in 1911 it became the first country to institute state-run unemployment insurance. All these measures were limited in scope, providing modest benefits at best, but they marked the beginnings of a full-fledged welfare state.

The growth of government, and the explosion of its range of services, was reflected in the rapid expansion of state bureaucracies. Most countries installed formal civil service procedures by the 1870s, with examinations designed to assure employment and seniority by merit rather than favouritism. State-run secondary schools, designed to train aspiring bureaucrats, slowly increased their output of graduates. Taxation increased as well, and just before the outbreak of war in 1914, several nations installed income tax provisions to provide additional revenue. Quietly, amid many national variants, a new kind of state was constructed during the late 19th century, with far more elaborate and intimate contacts with the citizenry than ever before in European history.




Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » The emergence of the industrial state » Reform and reaction in eastern Europe
Political patterns in Spain, the smaller nations of southeastern Europe, and, above all, Russia followed a rather different rhythm. Parliamentary institutions were installed in some cases after 1900, but these were carefully controlled. Censorship severely limited political expression.

Russia continued a reformist mode for several years after the emancipation of the serfs. New local governments were created to replace manorial rule, and local assemblies helped regulate their activities, giving outlet for political expression to many professional people who served these governments as doctors, teachers, and jurists. Law codes were standardized and punishments lightened. The military was reformed and became an important force in providing basic education to conscripts. No national representative body existed, however, as tsarist authority was maintained. Further, after Alexander II’s assassination by anarchists in 1881, the government reversed its reformist tendencies. Police powers expanded. Official campaigns lashed out brutally at Jews and other national minorities. Agitation continued at various levels, among intellectuals (many of whom were anarchists) and among workers and peasants. A small liberal current took shape within the expanding middle class as well.

Economic recession early in the 1900s was followed by a shocking loss in a war with Japan (1904–05). These conditions led to outright revolution in 1905, as worker strikes and peasant rioting spread through the country. Nicholas II responded with a number of concessions. Redemption payments were eased on peasants, and enterprising farmers gained new rights to acquire land, creating a successful though widely resented kulak class in the countryside. Rural unrest eased as a result. On the political front a national parliament, or Duma, was established. Socialist candidates, however, were not allowed to run, and the Duma soon became a mere rubber stamp, unable to take any significant initiative. Repression returned and with it substantial popular unrest, including growing illegal trade unions. Russia did not make the turn to compromise politics, and in the judgment of some historians renewed revolution loomed even aside from the outbreak of war in 1914.


Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » The emergence of the industrial state » Diplomatic entanglements
Many features of Europe’s evolution in the late 19th century turned renewed attention to the diplomatic and military arena. Advancing industrialization heightened competition among individual nations and created a massive power disparity between Europe and most of the rest of the world. Wealth allowed new international ventures. Specific inventions such as steamships (capable of rapid oceanic transit and travel upstream in such previously unnavigable waters as the rivers of Africa), machine guns, and new medicines provided fresh opportunities for world domination. The changes in Europe’s map caused by Italian and German unification inevitably prompted diplomatic reshufflings. The politics of compromise encouraged governments to rely on diplomatic goals as a means of pleasing the new and somewhat unpredictable electorate.

During the 1870s and ’80s Europe itself remained relatively calm. Bismarck, by far the ablest statesman on the scene, professed the newly united Germany to be a satisfied power, interested only in maintaining the European status quo. His most obvious opponent was recently defeated France, and he carefully constructed a diplomatic network that would make French enmity impotent. Peacetime alliances were an innovation in European diplomacy, but for a time they had the desired stabilizing effect. Bismarck conciliated the Habsburg regime, forming an arrangement in 1879 between the two emperors. In 1882 he joined Italy to this understanding, completing a Triple Alliance on the basis of assurances of mutual aid against outside attack. Beyond this, Bismarck negotiated a separate understanding with Russia in 1887. These linkages required sensitive juggling, because they loosely grouped some potential opponents (such as Russia and the Habsburgs). They did offer a means of isolating France, especially since Bismarck also cultivated good relations with Britain, which was interested primarily in colonial expansion where France was its most obvious rival.

Even before it was fully constructed, Bismarck’s plan to stabilize Europe faced an important challenge. Revolts in the Balkans, in areas nominally under Ottoman control, called attention to what was then Europe’s most volatile area. Effective Ottoman dominion over this region had been declining steadily along with the vigour of the government more generally, and nationalist fervor, spreading from western Europe, had galvanized many ethnic groups. Revolts in Serbia and Romania won partial independence earlier in the 19th century, and Greece had gained national status outright. In the 1870s rioting broke out in several regions, and Serbia and another small nation, Montenegro, declared war on the Ottoman empire. Russia joined in, to protect its Slavic “brethren” and to gain new territory at Turkey’s expense. Easy victories followed, and a large new Bulgarian state was proclaimed, along with Russian acquisitions along the Black Sea. At this point Austria-Hungary and Britain, both interested in stability in the region, intervened. Bismarck, anxious for peace, called a Berlin Congress in 1878 to win an acceptable compromise. The result was a smaller Bulgaria, full independence for Serbia, Montenegro, and Romania, and Austrian occupation of the Slavic provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Britain gained the island of Cyprus, which gave it a closer watchdog position over its routes to India, and France was encouraged to take over Tunisia. The great loser at the Congress of Berlin was Russia, which left resentful that its enormous gains were nullified. Although Bismarck claimed that Germany had acted as an honest broker, the Russians believed that he had favoured Austria-Hungary. Germany would not be able to conciliate Russia for almost a decade. In the meantime, Bismarck’s alliance system unfolded in the wake of the Congress of Berlin with Germany siding first with Austria-Hungary because both countries faced Russian enmity.




Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » The emergence of the industrial state » The scramble for colonies
The most obvious result of the Congress and of nationalist yearnings, juxtaposed with a more structured European map, was a new and general scramble for colonies in other parts of the world. Even before the 1870s some new gains had occurred. French explorers fanned out in equatorial Africa, and a French mission began the conquest of Indochina in the 1860s. Many European nations exhibited a growing interest in colonies as sources of raw materials and new markets and as potential outlets for excess population and for administrators who could not be accommodated at home. Opportunities for individual adventurism and profit also ran high. Overriding motivations for the climactic imperialist scramble involved a desire to appeal to domestic nationalism and an interest in maintaining or gaining place as world powers. New nations such as Italy and Germany sought empires to prove their status; France sought expansion to compensate for its humiliating defeat at Germany’s hands; Britain pressed outward in order to protect existing colonies. Russia, and at the century’s end the United States and Japan, also joined the competition.

Between 1880 and 1900 much of Asia was divided. Britain held Burma; Britain, Germany, France, and the United States divided the Pacific islands of Polynesia. All the major European powers save Italy took advantage of China’s weakness to acquire long-term leases on port cities and surrounding regions, easily putting down the Chinese Boxer Rebellion against Western encroachments in 1899–1900. Germany gained new advisory and investment roles within the Ottoman Empire, while Britain and Russia divided spheres of influence in Afghanistan; Britain also effectively controlled several small states on the Persian Gulf.

The dismemberment of Africa was even more complete. Portugal expanded its control over Angola and Mozambique, Belgium took over the giant Congo region, and Germany gained new colonies in southern Africa. Britain and France, the big winners, gained new territory in West Africa, and Britain built a network of colonies in East Africa running from South Africa to Egypt. The French occupation of Morocco and the Italian conquest of Tripoli, after 1900, completed the process. Only Ethiopia remained fully free, defeating an Italian force in 1896.


Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » The emergence of the industrial state » Prewar diplomacy
By the early years of the 20th century the major imperialist gains had been completed, but some of the excitement that the process had generated remained, to spill back into European diplomacy. Germany had begun construction of a large navy, for example, in the late 1890s, in part to assure its place as an imperialist power; but this development, along with Germany’s rapid industrial surge, threatened Britain. France ran a massive empire, but its nationalistic yearnings were not fully satisfied and the humiliating loss of Alsace-Lorraine had not been avenged. Russia encountered a new opponent in the Far East in the rise of Japan. The Japanese, fearful of Russian expansion in northern China, defeated the tsarist forces in the Russo-Japanese War in 1904–05, winning Korea in the process. The unstable Russian regime looked for compensatory gains in the hothouse of the Balkans rather than in the distant reaches of Asia. The stage was set for intensification of European conflicts.

Furthermore, the complex alliance system developed by Bismarck came unraveled following the statesman’s removal from power in 1890 at the hands of a new emperor, William II. Germany did not renew its alliance with Russia, and during the 1890s an alliance developed between Russia and France, both fearful of Germany’s might. Britain, also wary of German power, swallowed its traditional enmity and colonial rivalries with France, forming a loose Entente Cordiale in 1904; Russia joined this understanding in 1907. Europe stood divided between two alliance systems.

In 1908 Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was eager to strike a blow against South Slavic nationalism, which threatened the multinational Habsburg empire. This move antagonized Russia and Serbia, the latter claiming these territories as part of its own national domain. In 1912 Russia aided several of the Balkan states in a new attack on the Ottoman Empire, with the allies hoping to obtain Macedonia. The Balkan nations won, but they quarreled with each other in the Second Balkan War in 1913. Further bitterness resulted in the Balkan region, with Serbia, though a winner in both wars, eager to take on Austria-Hungary directly.

On June 28, 1914, Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian nationalist, assassinated the Austrian Archduke and apparent heir to the throne Francis Ferdinand. Austria-Hungary resolved to crush the Serbian threat in response. Germany supported its Austrian ally, partly because it feared that its most reliable partner needed a victory and partly because many leaders judged that war had become inevitable and was preferable sooner than later, given ongoing military modernizations in France and Russia. Russia refused to abandon Serbia, and France hewed to its alliance with Russia. Last-minute negotiations, led by Britain, failed. Russia began a general mobilization following Austria’s July 28 attack on Serbia. Germany, eager to take advantage of Russia’s slowness by striking a lightning blow in the west, then invaded neutral Belgium and pushed into northern France. Britain, briefly hesitant, was committed by treaty to defend Belgium and entered the fray on August 4, and World War I was under way.

The patterns of European diplomacy in the late 19th century are not an unrelieved story of nationalist rivalries. From the 1850s onward European nations signed a number of constructive international agreements designed to link postal systems, regularize principles of international commercial law, and even install some humanitarian agreements in the event of war. The International Red Cross was one fruit of these activities, as was the establishment of a World Court, in The Netherlands, to help settle international disputes. But efforts to negotiate a reduction of armaments, in a series of conferences beginning in 1899, failed completely amid growing national military buildups. Britain and Germany, in particular, refused to abandon their naval race, which took a new turn in 1906 with the development of the massive British battleship HMS Dreadnought.

World War I, a bloody struggle that served to reduce Europe’s world role, resulted not only from escalating international tensions but also from domestic strains. Russia and Austria-Hungary, internally pressed by social and nationalist strife, looked to diplomatic successes, even at the cost of war, as a means of diverting internal discontents, and the alliance system trapped more stable nations into following suit. Germany, Britain, and France, beleaguered by growing socialist gains that frightened a conservative leadership and urged on by intense popular nationalism, also accepted war not only as a diplomatic tool but also as a means of countering internal disarray. Cultural emphasis on irrationality, spontaneity, and despair contributed to the context as well. War thus resulted from a number of basic developments in 19th-century Europe, just as its catastrophic impact resulted from the military technologies that the 19th-century industrial revolution had created.

Peter N. Stearns



Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Modern culture
In the last quarter of the 19th century European thought and art became a prey to self-doubt and the fear, as well as the pleasures, of decadence. Writers as different as Baudelaire and Matthew Arnold, Henry Adams and Flaubert, Ruskin and Nietzsche had begun from the mid-century onward to express their revulsion from the banality and smugness of surrounding humanity, debased—they felt—by “progress.” It seemed as if with the onset of positivism and science, Realpolitik and Darwinism, realistic art and popular culture, all noble thought and true emotion had been suffocated. The only things that stood out from banality and smugness were their own appalling extremes—vulgarity and arrogance—against which all the weapons of the mind seemed powerless.

Such intellectuals and artists were hopelessly outnumbered not only in the literal sense but also in the means of influencing culture. A newspaper that reached half a million readers with its clichés, its serial story, and its garish illustrations “educated” the people in a fashion that actively prevented any understanding of high culture. The barrier was far more insurmountable than mere ignorance or illiteracy, and it was cutting off not just the populace but also—to use Arnold’s terms—the barbarian upper class and the Philistine middle class. Similarly, Nietzsche anatomized what he called the culture-Philistine; that is, the person whose mind fed on middling ideas and “genteel” tastes halfway between those of the populace and those of the genuinely cultivated. Numerous artists and writers, high in repute and believed then to be the leaders of modern civilization, provided the materials for these conscientious consumers of art, literature, and “sound opinion” in every field. In other words, the prudent, self-limiting impulse of Realism after 1848 had generated the middlebrow, while the evolution of industrial democracy had generated the mass man. By the late 1880s the gap between this compact army with its honoured officers and common soldiers and the hostile, half-visible avant-garde was a permanent feature of cultural evolution.

Out of the uneven conflict came increasingly violent expressions of hatred and disgust, and the age that had defined Realism as the commonplace and average gradually succumbed to a variety of proffered opposites. Their forms and tendencies can be grouped into half a dozen kinds, not all on the same intellectual or artistic plane, nor all distinctly named then or now. One discerns first a retreat from the ugly world into a species of Neoclassicism. Such were the French poets known as Parnassians. Strict form, antique subjects, and the pose of impassivity constitute their hallmark. In painting, the work of Puvis de Chavannes stands in parallel.

In music, the explicit revolt against Wagner and Liszt, of which Brahms was made the torchbearer, offers similarities, particularly in the desire to learn and employ the “purer” forms of an earlier time. Likewise, the shift in tone and temper of the later poems of Tennyson, Arnold, or Gautier; the resurgence of Thomist orthodoxy in Roman Catholic thought; the haughty detachment in the plays of Becque and those of Ibsen’s middle period, all suggest a search for stability, for a fixed point from which to judge and condemn contemporary “progress.”


Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Modern culture » Symbolism and Impressionism
Next, it appeared that those who wanted to withdraw from vulgar actuality were making of art with a capital A an independent region of thought and feeling into which to escape, by which to reduce the pain of living. Steady contemplation of “the beautiful” created a “truer” world than the one accepted by ordinary people as real. Walter Pater, a critic writing from the shelter of Oxford, gave eloquent expression to this conception of life, in which every possible minute must be charged with fine and rare sensation. His brilliant disciple Oscar Wilde made the doctrine so clear and persuasive that it generated a characteristic atmosphere, now known as Aestheticism, or more simply as “the Nineties.”

This creed of self-redemption through art is related to the movements known as Symbolism and Impressionism. It is noteworthy that the Impressionist painters were able to take as subjects some of the sights that most depressed their fellow man and by recomposing them in brilliant, shimmering colour to create a refreshing world of new sensation. Subject once again mercifully disappeared. As Monet said: “The principal subject in a painting is light.”

The Symbolists in literature had a more difficult task than the painters, because their medium, words, must be shared with all those who speak the language for ordinary purposes. To disinfect grammar and vocabulary for poetry and “art prose” required severe measures. All set phrases had to be broken up, unusual words revived or common ones used in archaic or etymological senses; syntax had to be bent to permit fresh juxtapositions from which new meanings might emerge; above all, the familiar rhetoric and rhythms had to be avoided, until the literary work, poetry or prose, created the desired “new world.” It is a world difficult to access but worth exploring, all its tangible parts being the symbols of a radiant reality beyond—in short, the antithesis of a newspaper editorial.

In music there was no need of any indirect device to establish the mood of Impressionism. It was already to be found here and there in the great Romantics, and when the new generation began to compose on themes drawn from contemporary literature, the hints and opportunities needed only a delicate genius to develop them into a style. Debussy was that genius, soon followed by Ravel, Delius, Hugo Wolf, and others. Alike, yet independently of one another, they replaced eloquence, melodic clarity, and harmonic consecutiveness by capricious melodic contour and pointillist chord progressions to produce the shimmer and mystery of musical Impressionism.


Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Modern culture » Aestheticism
To those who dedicated their lives to Symbolist literature and criticism the name of aesthetes is often given, for it was at this time, from 1870 to the end of the century, that questions of aesthetics became the intense concern of artists, critics, and a portion of the public. The phrase “art for art’s sake,” which the Romanticists had toyed with, was revived and made the hallmark of high art. Whatever claimed the attention of the intellectual elite must receive this authentication, which guaranteed that no ulterior motive, such as propaganda, and no appeal to the middlebrow audience was discernible in the poem, painting, or musical composition. Common subject matter, ease of understanding, accessibility were signs of compromise with vulgar taste. Having cut loose from evil society, art repudiated its former role of moral teacher and even of communicator; it was—or was to be—completely “autonomous,” else it could not serve its devotees as a refuge from intolerable workaday existence.

Yet Aestheticism was by no means as languid and fatalistic as it tried to appear. Writers such as Oscar Wilde, George Moore, Stéphane Mallarmé, and Edmond and Jules Goncourt, though promoting the idea of art as spiritual shelter, took an active part in current affairs. Moore wrote naturalistic novels; Mallarmé gave interviews to the press and wrote advertisements for perfume and other luxuries; and Wilde, whom it is easy, because of his notoriety on many counts, to dismiss as colourful but ephemeral, was an effective propagandist in the assault on the Victorian ethos. He was not a symptom but the representative man. His book reviewing and critical essays, his story The Picture of Dorian Gray, his great Ballad of Reading Gaol, the autobiographical De Profundis, and the greatest farce in the language, The Importance of Being Earnest, together form a kind of sourcebook for the period and have also lasted as literature. What Wilde accomplished through these works was the liberation of English literature from ancestral (and not merely Victorian) preconceptions. He reconnected England with the Continent artistically by phrasing with finality their different assumptions. He showed that art could be morally responsible only by discarding moralism. In a word, he played again in 1890 the role Gautier had played in France in 1835 with his anti-bourgeois diatribe in Mademoiselle de Maupin. Whoever, starting with Wilde or Gautier, wishes to follow the historical sequence and recapture the atmosphere in which this activity went on will find no better source than the Journal of the Goncourts, who were the inventors of a mannered “art prose,” of contemporary lives, characters, and gossip.

The reader of their voluminous pages will also find there references to the movement called Naturalism, which does not merely parallel but also intermingles with Symbolism and Impressionism. The Goncourts themselves wrote a number of Naturalistic novels; their friend Zola was the theorist and greatest master of the genre; another novelist, Joris-Karl Huysmans, passed from Naturalism to Symbolism, as did several other writers. In the poets Rimbaud and Verlaine, as later in the Irish Yeats, the elements of the two tendencies alternated or mixed.




Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Modern culture » Naturalism
The name Naturalism suggests the philosophy of science, and the connection is genuine. Zola thought that in his great series of novels, Les Rougon-Macquart, he was studying the “natural and social history” of a family during the time of Napoleon III. The claim was bolstered by the method Zola used of gathering data like a scientist—every material fact could be proved by reference to actuality or statistics. Naturalism would thus appear to be an intensification of Realism, as indeed it was—more “research.” It differed markedly in spirit, however. Realism professed to be depiction of the commonplace in a mood of stoicism or indifference—a photographic plate from a camera held almost at random in front of unselected mediocrity; it was, as Flaubert was the first to say, a refusal to share previous Romanticist hopes and interests. Naturalism, on the contrary, readmitted purpose and selectivity. Each novel was a “study” designed to exhibit and denounce the dismal truths of social existence, for which purpose the worst are the best. Zola’s novels throb with a passionate love of life, a life which he showed as tortured and twisted by character and condition. In the end he defined his scientific or “experimental” novel as “a corner of nature seen through a temperament.” The aim of the Naturalists was not only to show but to show up; they meant to teach the great prosperous middle class how those beneath them lived and even beyond that to disgust the sensitive with the human condition, whatever its social embodiment. In this effort it shares with the aesthetes the animus of denunciation.

In the plastic arts, a plausible counterpart of Naturalism is the work of those known as Postimpressionists, notably Cézanne and van Gogh in painting, Rodin and Maillol in sculpture. Their various styles and aims had a common result in restoring solidity and “weight” to the visual object after the fluidity and lightness of Impressionism.

Musical naturalism was, by contrast, an attempt at dramatic literalness. Richard Strauss boasted that he could render a soup spoon. Actually, he could not and did not. The noises of his Sinfonia Domestica are standard orchestral sounds fitted with a preliminary explanation, like the libretto or synopsis of a Wagnerian or other opera. When the sheep bleat in Strauss’s Don Quixote, the clarinets play notes that are decorative on their own account and do not in the least suggest wool. It is rather the thickness of Strauss’s orchestration and chromatic harmony that connect him with naturalist doctrine—the headlong embrace with matter. And so it is also in the operas of Bruneau or Charpentier or in the verismo of Puccini and the late Italian school generally. Music remains atmospheric; never, except in Wagner’s system, denotative.

This definition of Naturalism, coupled with the aesthetic, or “art for art’s sake,” impetus in Symbolism and with the Impressionists’ transmutation of concreteness into light, justifies the name of Neoromanticism that has been given to the cultural temper with which the 19th century ended. After the glum self-repression of the middle period, it was an outburst of vehement self-assertion, whether directed inward or outward. “Art for art’s sake” and Naturalism are indeed but twin branches of one doctrine: art for life’s sake.




Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Modern culture » The new century
In 1895 George Bernard Shaw said: “France is certainly decadent if she thinks she is.” The remark is characteristic of Shaw, but it is also indicative of a new wave of energy. From under the despair and decadence, the scattered retreats and the violent nihilism, the same human strength that produced Symbolist and Naturalist art was trying to reshape the civilization that all found so unsatisfactory.

In England, the Fabians, of whom Shaw was one, were preaching the “inevitableness of gradualism” toward the socialist state. It was they, seconded by the growing strength of the trade unions after a spectacular dock strike of 1889, who paved the way to Labour governments and the British welfare state. Throughout Europe, socialism was no longer the creed of a lunatic fringe but was the ideal of many among the masses and the intellectuals. The original fight for liberty and democracy in political action had turned into a fight for economic democracy—freedom from want. Laissez-faire liberalism had turned inside out, and the liberal imagination at work in the many brands of socialism now demanded state interference to remove the appalling conditions causing all the despair.


 

Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Modern culture » The new century » Arts and Crafts movement
Among the socialists belonging to no party, Ruskin and William Morris worked also to effect immediate changes in the quality of their surroundings: they started the so-called Arts and Crafts movement, whose aim was to make objects once again beautiful. Because machine industry produced only the “cheap and nasty” (as it was commonly called), they tried to produce by hand the cheap and handsome—good furniture, hangings, and household articles; fast dyes of good colour; well-printed books on good paper; and jewelry and ornaments of all kinds that showed visual talent as well as manual skill. In a word, the movement reinstated the ideal of design and succeeded in forcing it on machine industry itself. Within two decades manufacturers began to hire artists as designers, and by 1910 the 20th-century omnipresence of design, from clothes to print and from gadgetry to packaging, was a fait accompli. The visual revolution can be seen easily by looking back with modern eyes to a page of advertising at the turn of the century.


 

Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Modern culture » The new century » New trends in technology and science
In parallel with the new craftsmanship, the new technology of the 1900s began to give hope of wider improvements. The use and transmission of electric power suggested the possibility of the clean factory, all glass and white tile. Better machines, new materials and alloys, a greatly expanded chemical industry—all supplied more exact, more functional, less hazardous objects of use and consumption, while the application of science to medicine nourished the hope of greatly reducing the physical ills of mankind. Those closest to all these developments were certainly not among the despairers and fugitives from the world. Like all those who struggle successfully with practical difficulties, they were inspirited by what they knew to be demonstrable progress along their chosen lines.

The same outlook animated workers in the natural and social sciences. It was for both a time of transformation, and genuine novelty exerted its usual invigorating effect. From the 1880s onward it had been clear that simple mechanistic explanations based on “dead” matter were inadequate. The Michelson-Morley experiment of 1887 had given the coup de grace to the mere push-pull principle by showing that, though light consisted of waves, the waves were not in or of anything, such as the ether, which did not exist. Even earlier, James Clerk Maxwell’s attempt to work out the facts of electromagnetism on Newtonian principles had failed. And on the philosophic front, the notion of natural “laws” was being radically modified by thinkers such as Poincaré, Boutroux, Ernst Mach, Bergson, and William James. All this prepared the ground for the twin revolutions of relativity and quantum theory on which the 20th-century scientific regime is based.

The decline of the machine analogy had its counterpart in the biological sciences. With narrow Darwinian dogmas in abeyance, the genetics of Gregor Mendel were rediscovered, and a new science was born. The fixity of species was again regarded as important (Bateson), while the phenomenon of large mutations (de Vries) caught the public imagination, just as the slow, small changes had done 60 years earlier. The elusive “fitness of the environment” was being considered of as much importance in the march of evolution as the fitness of the creature. Vitalism once more reasserted its claims, as it seems bound to do in an eternal seesaw with mechanism.


 

Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Modern culture » The new century » The social sciences
Finally, in the social sciences, fresh starts were made on new premises. Anthropology dropped its concern with physique and race and turned to “culture” as the proper unit of scientific study. Similarly in sociology, Durkheim, seconded by Tönnies, Weber, Tarde, and Le Bon, concentrated on “the social fact” as an independent and measurable reality equivalent to a physical datum. Psychology, also long under the exclusive sway of physics and physiology, now established at the hands of William James that the irreducible element of its subject matter was the “stream of consciousness”—not a compound of atomized “ideas” or “impressions” or “mind-stuff” but a live force in which image and feeling, subconscious drive and purposive interest, were not separable except abstractly. A last domain of research was mythology, to the significance of which James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough gave massive witness, thereby exerting proportional influence on literature and criticism.

 

Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Modern culture » The new century » Reexamination of the universe
The net effect of these innovations in the sciences of man and of nature was liberating. Whatever each specialty or subspecialty meant to its practitioners, the persons who carry in their minds the general culture of an age took the new message to mean that the universe, formerly closed and complete like a machine, had been reopened and shown to be more alive than dead—and by the same token more mysterious, full of questions to be resolved by new research and new sciences. The term astrophysics, replacing astronomy, symbolized the change of perspective from Newton’s cosmology to Einstein’s. In turn, these conclusions furnished a new opportunity for the exercise of individual thought and will in the realm of mind and spirit, of ethics and religion. Man was no longer deemed an automaton, he had free choice in the all-important matters that lay outside physical science.

In philosophy, politics, and criticism this reexamination may be called the pragmatic revolution; in social and moral life, the liquidation of Victorianism. But the Pragmatic Revolution must not be thought of as being only the work of those who, like James, called themselves pragmatists. Nietzsche, Samuel Butler, Shaw, Bergson, and others constitute the headwaters of the stream of thought that issues in present-day existentialism. The common features are the turning away from absolutes and unities to pluralisms and the method of testing by consequences. Subjective and objective tests looking to future thought and action—not authority or antecedents—are to decide what is true, good, and beautiful.

Such an outlook, of which the refinements are, like the defects, beyond the scope of this article, is the logical and appropriate one for an age of reconstruction. It boils down to trying all things new and holding fast to that which is good; but it presupposes the creation of new things to try, and here it is allied to the liquidation of Victorianism. In morals the work of destruction generally begins by affirming the opposite of the accepted rule. An excellent source book for this attitude is Samuel Butler’s The Way of All Flesh, written in 1885 but not published until 1903. The Victorian Tennyson had said: “’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Butler said: “’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have lost at all.” This inversion of values—don’t weep over loss; there are plenty of loves to be had and the more the merrier—is but an indication of method. At first the denial was uttered as humour and paradox: Butler’s Note-books, Shaw’s Arms and the Man (the soldier wants chocolate, not ammunition), Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, Jarry’s Ubu roi, Strindberg’s tragicomedies—to cite but a few subverters of the Victorian—all used derision and topsy-turviness to make their point.

Underneath the joke was the new purpose, which soon found open expression in positive utterance and action. In the plays of Hauptmann and Brieux, the novels and anticipations of H.G. Wells, the essays of Tolstoy, Péguy, Georges Sorel, Ellen Key, Havelock Ellis, Unamuno, Ortega y Gasset, or Shaw, the new modes of feeling and the new scale of virtues and vices are set forth with as much earnestness and vigour as the old Victorian kind.

Nor did action wait until all the books were out. From the onset of the overturn, say 1885 onward, the rebellion was a biographical fact. Individuals braved public opinion and got divorced, lived together unmarried, practiced and preached contraception, studied the psychology of sex, and defended homosexuality. Or again, the sons of the rich turned socialist, became labour leaders, and fomented syndicalist (i.e., direct-action) strikes, while the daughters demanded the vote as suffragists, assaulted policemen, and went to jail for chaining themselves to the door handles of government offices. Meanwhile, students rioted about international incidents or university affairs; schools were subjected to the devastation of the softer pedagogies; “rational clothing” exhibited itself in spite of derision, like the bicycle and the newfangled automobile; and new cults multiplied like mushrooms—outdoor sports, nudism, Theosophy, Esoteric Buddhism, Rosicrucianism, New Thought, the Society for Psychical Research, Christian Science, the Salvation Army, and the “Maximinism” of Stefan George.

Of these, hardly any need explanation here. But a word must be added about Theosophy if only because of its historical importance in developing Yeats’s genius and for expressing once again the attraction that the “wisdom of the East” has for Westerners. Not that the doctrine elaborated by Madame Blavatsky rested on any exact knowledge of Hindu religion and philosophy. That is not its point. The point is rather that Theosophy supplied the need for quietude, mystery, transcendence, and immortality in the wearied souls of Europeans. In Theosophy the doctrine of reincarnation offers satisfaction of immortal longings and inspires to wisdom, the demands of which are periodically revealed by mahatmas, or holy men.

As for the poet Stefan George’s worship of his young friend Maximin, who died at 15, it answers a similar impulse to permanent truth but with the additional urge to abolish (rather than escape) “contemporary materialism.” George was but one among many European writers who wanted to found a new society in place of the actual one. What has fitly been called the politics of cultural despair fastened on a great many saviours as the new hope—monarchy, “integral nationalism,” a new aristocracy (usually tinged with intellect), technocracy (rule by science and the engineers), the proletariat (in syndicalist “cells” or communist collectives), trade and professional guilds federated in a corporate state, or again the mystic unity of “blood” and “race.” In all these creeds, at least at their beginnings, the thirst for the ideal is evident; together they formed a new utopianism, of which the later fruits are familiar but quite other than those predicted: Soviet and Chinese communism, Italian fascism, German National Socialism. As the 20th century ends, the echoes and offshoots of this earlier wave of cultist thought are found in many places. Attitudes and practices derived from the East (Zen, Yoga, meditation) are taken for granted as permanent elements of Western pluralist culture, part of the broad offering of “life-styles.”

In one country, as the 19th century passed into the 20th, all the violent rival energies seeking an ideal found an unexpected outlet. The occasion for battle was the conviction of a French officer for espionage; i.e., the Dreyfus affair. Its cultural suggestiveness is apparent: on one side, the ideal of justice and the regard for the individual as an end in himself; on the other, the social or collective ideal typified by the army and the nation; throughout, the ideal of truth—the facts—pursued, lost, and found again in an embittered struggle that threw up a host of endemic prejudices—about race, about class, for and against intellect—to say nothing of individual egotisms and obsessions that had been charged with the force of pent-up aggression.
 


Revolution and the growth of industrial society, 1789–1914 » Modern culture » The prewar period
The same universal aggressiveness was to have its field day in the coming war of nations, but in the intervening decade (1905–14) occurred the remarkable outburst of a creativeness, which, for the first time since 1789, had its source elsewhere than in Romanticism. The “Cubist decade” (as it has been conveniently called) gave the models and the methods of a new art, just as the natural and social sciences had begun to do for themselves a little earlier. Cubism in painting defined itself as a new classicism, but it was obviously not Neoclassical. In painting and sculpture, in music and poetry, and in architecture especially, the new qualities were simplicity, abstraction, and the importance of mass.

This truly modern art evidently meant to reconnect itself to contemporary life. To define it in one word, it was Constructivist. As such, it valued the products of technology, which embodied the artist’s rediscovered love of matter and from which he drew suggestions of form. In the style of interior furnishing known as Art Deco, geometric angularity, smooth surfaces, plain glass, and strong colours not only matched the unadorned outside of buildings in the new International Style but also resembled the creations of the industrial engineers. Indeed, it was not unusual to see on the mantelpiece of an Art Deco living room a set of gears or some other portion of a modern machine. The latest sculptures on western streets are but a further fragmentation of the new taste for solidity, clarity, volume, and mass.

To this many-sided, original, and buoyant productiveness the war of 1914 put an instantaneous stop. It was a war of a sort Europe had not known since 1815—the nation in arms. And at that earlier time, the absence of large industry had precluded the involvement, physical and mental, of every adult citizen simultaneously throughout Europe. In 1914 Beethoven and Goethe, Wordsworth and Delacroix would have been in the trenches.

The cessation of cultural activities; their replacement everywhere by a propaganda of hate; the rapid decimation of talent and genius in the murderous warfare of bombardment and infantry assault; the gradual demoralization through four years of less and less intelligible war aims; and after the Armistice, the long sequel of horrors—starvation, dispersion, disease, and massacre—together shattered the high civilization born of the Renaissance and based on the idea of the national state. Too many able men and women had been killed for the continuity of culture. Too many intimate faiths and civil traditions had been ground down for any recovery of self-confidence and public hope to be possible.

Jacques Barzun

 

 

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