From our partners at Anglophenia: This is not an article claiming to recognise any higher truths about the futility of war, specifically war during the Victorian Era. How could it? Britain had just wrapped up the Crimean War when the last-ditch attempts to prevent the Civil War from happening were still being considered. The fact that the two wars did not overlap is mere coincidence, and it’s not as though the British ceased hostilities during this period in any case.
However, there were more than a few interesting things happening in Victorian Britain while America was busy arguing, and then fighting, and then healing. Here’s just some of them:
1: Charles Darwin fights off criticism of On The Origin of Species (1859 – present day)
Did I mention arguing and fighting? Well that was happening too, especially over the ideas proported in this book, a publishing sensation, and hub of controversy too. All Darwin did was observe natural phenomena and draw conclusions based on his observations, but those conclusions, including the possibility that all life shares a common ancestry if you go back far enough, caused unimaginable turmoil among the strongly church-affiliated scientific community of the time. We’re still riding the ripples from those waves even now, and making more of our own to boot.
2: Florence Nightingale opens St Thomas’s Hospital (1860)
In the decade leading up to 1860, Florence Nightingale had made a name for herself as a nurse during the Crimean War. Nicknamed “The Lady with the Lamp” after soldiers noticed her checking up on them at night, she used her newfound fame to help secure support for St Thomas’ Hospital, which was the first secular nursing school in the world, and still exists as a working hospital today. Trainee nurses still take the Nightingale Pledge in her honor, and her birthday, May 12, has been named International Nurses Day.
Florence Nightingale (Copyright Bettmann/Corbis / AP Images)
3: Charles Dickens publishes Great Expectations (1860) and Our Mutual Friend (1864-65)
To get a picture of Dickens’ popularity at the time, imagine the biggest hit TV show, combined with the biggest movie franchise and throw in a couple of soap operas for good measure. His books, published in serial form, were the Twilight, Doctor Who AND EastEnders of their day, quite literally in a lot of cases, given the supernatural jiggery-pokery in some of them. He was also a social campaigner, writing on behalf of down-trodden Londoners and railing against an uncaring society. Great Expectations and Our Mutual Friends are two of his biggest, and best works. epic in scope and passionate in delivery.