Mid-Victorian philanthropy, 1850–80
in The reputation of philanthropy since 1750
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In this period philanthropy stood highest in esteem. The Times moderated its stance. Newspapers praised Britain as a philanthropic nation. People wrote of their government as philanthropic in its foreign policy. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert devoted time and resources to much-praised philanthropy. But there were worries. The Social Science Association, with which philanthropy was at first closely aligned, distanced itself from it and became the voice for social reform. The Charity Organisation Society promoted scientific charity; its secretary, C. S. Loch, did not disguise his mistrust of philanthropy. Criticism was still unrelenting: ‘practical philanthropy’ was admired, but too much of it, according to the critics, was ‘spurious’ or ‘pseudo’. In 5 per cent philanthropy there was an attempt to help resolve housing problems but it came to be seen as a failure. Philanthropy was associated with the multiplicity of voluntary organisations to help the needy but they had spawned a body of ‘professional philanthropists’, who ran these organisations and were subjected to ridicule and dislike. Effeminacy became even more linked to philanthropy. In the late 1860s and early 1870s, three books by the era’s most eminent novelists had philanthropy directly in their sights: Middlemarch, The Moonstone and The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

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