The Social Continuum: History without Heroes from William Hazlitt to J. R. Seeley

  • Helen Kingstone
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture book series (PNWC)


Who counts as historic? This is a choice any historian has to make in selecting figures to populate their narrative. Chapter 3 argues that this decision became particularly fraught for Victorian historians. Thomas Carlyle paradoxically championed hero-worship, but also emphasized the significance of invisible but representative masses. This chapter traces three different attempts to codify the relationship between the individual and history. William Hazlitt, J. S. Mill, and R. H. Horne drew up halls of fame that epitomized the “spirit of the age.” As Mary Poovey has shown, at mid-century the trope “the social body” was used to aggregate an expanding population. By the late-Victorian period, William Stubbs and J. R. Seeley had separated their professional discipline from the amateur pursuit of social history.


Social History Social Time Social Body Universal Fact Contemporary History 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Anonymous. “The History of England during the Thirty Years’ Peace, 1816–1846.” Quarterly Review 91, no. 181 (June 1852): 160–95.Google Scholar
  2. Carlyle, Thomas. The French Revolution: A History [1837]. 3 vols. London: Chapman & Hall, 1896.Google Scholar
  3. Green, J. R. A History of the English People [1877–1880]. 5 vols. New York: Useful Knowledge Publishing Company, 1882.Google Scholar
  4. Hazlitt, William. The Spirit of the Age; or Contemporary Portraits [1825]. Plymouth: Northcote House, 1990.Google Scholar
  5. Horne, R. H. The New Spirit of the Age. New York: J. C. Riker, 1844.Google Scholar
  6. Mill, J. S. “The Spirit of the Age.” In Mill: Texts, Commentaries [1831], edited by Alan Ryan, 3–40. New York: Norton, 1997.Google Scholar
  7. Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty [1859]. Edited by Gertrude Himmelfarb. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982.Google Scholar
  8. Walpole, Spencer. A History of England from the Conclusion of the Great War in 1815 [1878–1886]. 6 vols. London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1890.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Helen Kingstone
    • 1
  1. 1.Leeds Centre for Victorian StudiesLeeds Trinity UniversityLeedsUnited Kingdom

Personalised recommendations