In Defense of the Victorians

Himmelfarb, Gertrude. "In Defense of the Victorians." The Wilson Quarterly (1976-) 12, no. 3. 1988.


“Manners and Morals” – the expression is peculiarly, unmistakably Victorian. Not “manners” alone: Lord Chesterfield in the 18th century was fond of discoursing to his son on the supreme importance of manners – manners as distinct from (if necessary, in opposition to) morals. And not “morals” alone: Philosophers had always taken this as their special province, had, indeed, made it so elevated a subject that it had little to do with anything so mundane as manners. It was the Victorians who combined these words so that they came trippingly off the tongue, as if they were one word. Manners were sanctified and moralized, so to speak, while morals were secularized and domesticated. When William Thackeray earlier in the century, or Anthony Trollope later, protested that manners were taking precedence over morals, that “the way we live now” (in the memorable title of one of Trollope’s last novels) encouraged the cultivation of manners at the expense of morals, it was because they themselves attached so much importance not only to morals but to the continuum of manners and m


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