The Impact of the Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution began in England but spread quickly to the rest of the world. Although the most important early inventions occurred in England, others followed elsewhere: In the United States, there was Robert Fulton’s steamship and Cyrus McCormick’s reaper, which revolutionized the harvesting of wheat, as well as the development of chemical fertilizers by Justus von Liebig and other German chemists.
The railroad spread like a spider web all over Europe, linking the Continent together.It accelerated the western territorial expansion of the United States and the eastern expansion of Russia (which occurred at about the same time).In Germany, pig iron production quadrupled between 1825 and 1860; French coal and iron output both doubled in the same period.
In 1837, nineteen-year-old Victoria ascended to the English throne. She was to rule for the next sixty-four years, and that period has come to be associated with her name: the Victorian era. By the time of Victoria’s coronation, the industrial era was well under way in Britain, and the newly emerging middle class was coming to dominate British society and shape its system of values. Although industrialism and urbanization may have been hard on the working class, it brought many benefits and many changes to the middle class. Many more consumer goods were now available to those who could afford them, and factories were busy producing “luxury” goods that had previously been accessible only to the aristocracy. Libraries, theaters, and symphonies were springing up in the cities to provide middle-class entertainment, and most major cities had their own newspapers.
As part of the socioeconomic transformation, gender roles were being redefined. Whereas in the preindustrial era a family often worked together in the field or in cottage industries, now the man was going to work in the city, and his wife was expected to take care of the home and children (although many working-class women remained in the workforce until late in the nineteenth century). Victorian values dictated the importance of hard work (even more than talent) and the stability and solidity of the nuclear family. Romantic marriages became the norm, and family sizes grew smaller.
Middle-class norms and Victorian values dominated British society for most of the nineteenth century and helped maintain relative stability and prosperity in that country. Underneath the veneer, however, were smoldering grievances and tensions, as depicted in the works of Dickens, Engels, and the romantic poets. It was on the continent of Europe, however, rather than in England, where the French Revolution unleashed many of these tensions and the Industrial Revolution came to a head.
Tennyson’s “Locksley Hall”
A classic poem of the romantic era, Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Locksley Hall” (1842) illustrates the raw emotions and passions of young love and makes conflicted observations about the human situation during the Industrial Revolution.
In the poem, the speaker, a member of the English gentry, returns to his old home on the sea and reminisces about falling in love with Amy (“In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love”), then being rejected by her for a lover her parents found more suitable (“Oh my Amy, mine no more! / O the dreary, dreary moorland! O the barren, barren shore!”).
Tennyson then draws the connection between the optimism of young love and the societal optimism of the early nineteenth century (“Men, my brothers, men the workers, ever reaping something new”), only to be filled with doubts and disappointment and the yearning for “Summer isles of Eden” where “methinks would be enjoyment more, than in this march of mind, / In the steamship, in the railway, in the thoughts that shake mankind.” In the end, though, he opts for optimism and progress, with a nod to the railroad: “Not in vain the distant beacons. Forward, forward let us range, / Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change.”