Victorian Perception of History: As Portrayed by the Newspapers of the Times
History Through The Eyes of 19th Century News Media
In Britain and America
Victorians and Americans in the 19th century writing about their own history can make for some interesting reading. This article showcases a few of the newspaper articles of the time on contemporary 19th century history and historic events; or at least historic events as portrayed in Britain and America newspapers.
These along with other Victorian era newspaper articles were saved by George Burgess 1829-1905 (my great-great grandfather) and stuck into his Victorian Scrapbook containing over 500 newspaper articles.
His scrapbook, which was compiled during his lifetime, includes many American newspaper articles from the early 19th century; which he collected while living in America from about 1844 to 1857. Most of the later newspaper cuttings are predominantly from British Victorian newspapers.
As part of my genealogy research into Victorian life I’ve transcribed the full collection of the 19th century newspaper articles from his Scrapbook, and published them to my Nathanville genealogy website for free viewing online. The link to these fascinating to read 19th century newspaper articles is given below.
In Your Own Image
The first datable reference to King Arthur appears in the 9th century manuscript, Historia Brittonum (History of Britton). The manuscript, in a few lines, just refers to a warrior leader fighting in 12 battles around the end of the 5th century (just after the Romans left Britain); a Romanised Britain who fought against the invading Anglo-Saxons.
It was the Medieval Historians who embellished and romanticised the story of Arthur; and wrote it in their own image; one such 12th century book being the ‘Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain), written by Geoffrey of Monmouth. From that time Arthur was elevated to a stereotype medieval king, complete with castle and knights.
In today’s world, when I correspond with Americans at great length many see the world in their own image, rather than acknowledge a European perspective; which is very frustrating.
So I’m sure it was no different during the Victorian era; an age of enlightenment, technological advancement and scientific discoveries. I’m sure people in Britain, America and elsewhere at that time tried to make sense of the rapidly changing world by viewing their understanding of its history from their perspective (in their image); rather than trying to understand how it really was.
Realism vs Romanticism
Romanticism vs Pragmatism
One thing we can recognise from the Victorian era (which is just as prevalent today) are the Romantics and the Realists; each distorting the views and image of history.
I am a Romanic, I think my upbringing as a child in a slum has given me a deep appreciation for all things beautiful e.g. nature. At that time my father was unemployed and we lived in a house that had nothing more than electricity; with water from a cold tap in an outhouse, and an outside toilet with no sewage.
Even though we had nothing but nettle soup for two weeks (at one point) they were happy times; my parents saw to that. So to move to a house at the age of 10 that had a bathroom and indoor toilet with hot and cold running water was like moving to a palace.
However, although I am a romantic at heart, I like to think of myself as also being pragmatic; the best of both worlds. I’m happy and content with my lot but I ensure my wife and son want for nothing. My great-great grandfather (from his writings) seems to have been the same. Although he was born into a working class family in 1829 his parents ensured he had a good education and did an apprenticeship in stonemasonry (which he completed in America). It was while in America that he also learned the skills of phrenology; which became his profession for the next 40 years; until his retirement. In his writings, he had a good sense of humour, and a love of life; and he ensured his children wanted for nothing.
History of Ideas: Romanticism
19th Century Newspaper Extracts
From Britain and America
Immediately below are eight Victorian era newspaper articles covering historical events:-
- A Dutch Witness
- British Aristocracy
- Wife to John Bigler (1805-1871), Governor of California
- England’s progress during ten years
- Deaths of English Kings
- How to Hear the Gospel and the Expense of War
- Dr. Franklin and the Barber
- Futility of Freedom
The other newspaper articles, individually showcased here are:-
- List of principle events in modern history
- Statistics on human life and world population
- UK population 1861
Free to View Online
Follow this link for over 500 Victorian newspaper articles, transcribed and originals.
- Victorian newspapers on Politics and History
A Victorian Scrapbook of Newspaper Articles on Victorian politics and history by George Burgess (1829-1905)
Historic Events Portrayed by the VictoriansClick thumbnail to view full-size
List of Principal Events in Modern History
Published in a 19th Century Newspaper
Below is just part of a longer list going back to the Punic Wars in 218AD. On Nathanville (link below) as well as both parts of this article I’ve also included on the same page another related newspaper article entitled ‘Chronological Table of Events in Ancient History’. For each event listed in these articles, where possible I’ve added hyperlinks to other websites for further information.
I guess to the Victorians these articles were the equivalent to a simple encyclopaedia freely available by their publications in Victorian newspapers and therefore of great educational value.
Statistics of Human Life and World Population
Article Published in an English Magazine c1859-1880
This newspaper article was published in an English Magazine called 'Once a Week' that ran from 1859-1880; although if you look up the world population figures quoted in the magazine e.g. 1 billion people it becomes clear the magazine was using out-of-date information that would have previously been published prior to the 1850s.
UK Population Tables - Census 1861
Has News Reporting Changed Since the Victorian Period?
How does contemporary newspaper reporting on history in the making and on historic event par up with Victorian newspapers.
Has contemporary newspaper reporting become more informative than news reporting in the 19th century?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2011 Arthur Russ