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This political biography offers a fresh critical assessment of one of the major reformers of nineteenth-century Britain. Edwin Chadwick, lawyer, journalist, and protege of the great Utilitarian sage Jeremy Bentham, spent the next twenty two years after Bentham's death in 1832 in government service. As a member of various royal commissions investigating such social problems as child labor in factories, the poor laws, crime, and public health, Chadwick held the post of secretary to the Poor Law Commissioners (1834-47) and served as a member of the General Board of Health (1848-54).
Brundage investigates the process of government growth and modernization in Britain during these critical years. He traces the relationship between Chadwick's ideas and his policy, and the interaction of personal ambition with both. By looking in detail not only at Chadwick's ideas and their sources, but at his political strategies and maneuvers as well, the author offers a substantially new interpretation of the man and the period. The work reflects careful research in the voluminous Chadwick manuscripts at University College, the letters and papers of those connected with Chadwick, and the numerous official reports written entirely or partially by Chadwick. The result, in the words of one reviewer, is a work "several levels beyond" the two earlier biographies of Chadwick.
Previous historians have seen Chadwick as a doctrinaire Benthamite, determined to apply his master's blueprints to the ramshackle institutions of British government in order to make them rational, efficient, and responsive to the problems resulting from rapid industrialization and urbanization. While not refuting this assessment, the author reveals other sides of Chadwick's character. Chadwick is shown to have been a deeply ambitious, often devious figure whose strategies frequently backfired, causing damage not only to his own career but to the reforms he espoused. Intensely jealous of rivals, resentful of superiors, and contemptuous of those who valued local self-government, Chadwick made many enemies and was denounced for his "Prussian" tendencies. The opposition to him and his policies finally led to his ouster from the General Board of Health in 1854, and he never again held public office.
This full-bodied portrait of a brilliant and dedicated man will be of value to specialists and others interested in nineteenth-century British political, social, and administrative history. Brundage demonstrates that the process of governmental reform was less tidy and straightforward than is sometimes thought, and that the traditional paternalist ethos of government, directed by an aristocratic parliament, did not crumble under Chadwick's Benthamite assault on its structure and methods.