Historically Thinking

Historically Thinking

Episode 258: The Pursuit of Perfection

April 04, 2022

Britain in the 1840s should have been, observes Simon Heffer, a time of great social improvement. Instead it was a country that was beset by poverty, unrest, assassination attempts on young Queen Victoria and her Prime Minister, and fears of revolution. Yet just forty years later, it was as if none of that had ever happened. It had become a prosperous and progressive nation, transformed by advances not only in industrialization, but also in politics, science, religion, and education. That Britain had become such a society was not an accident, but the result of intelligent and directed purpose

The story of that purpose, and what it wrought, is the subject of Heffer’s book High Minds: The Victorians and the Birth of Modern Britain. It is an investigation not simply of political, social, or cultural change, but of a change of mind—by which I mean not merely changing ideas, like changing clothes from season to season, but of changing the way things are seen

Simon Heffer is an eminent British journalist, essayist, historian, and author of numerous books, including lives of the 19th century Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle and 20th century politician Enoch Powell, and a series of histories of Britain of which High Minds is the first.

For Further Investigation

In our wide-ranging conversation we touched on topics covered in previous episodes of the podcast. If you haven't already, then listen to Jonathan Rose talk about the intellectual life of the British working class; or Will Hay describe the importance of an obscure Prime Minister.
High Minds was published in 2013 in Britain, but is only now being published in the United States by Pegasus Books. It has been followed by The Age of Decadence–A History of Britain: 1880-1914, which was confusingly published in the United States before High Minds. Staring at God: Britain in the Great War has not been published in America; you'll need to order it from Britain along with the good Cadbury's chocolate they keep for themselves. The final volume in the series, now being written, will end the story in 1939.