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  • Race and Empire in Nineteenth-Century British Intellectual Life:James Fitzjames Stephen, James Anthony Froude, Ireland, and India
  • Gary Peatling (bio)

Scholarly efforts to appraise affinities between nineteenth-century Ireland and India—especially the forms of and responses to British governance in both countries—intersect with a number of academic debates. Because Ireland, after the 1800 Act of Union, was not formally a colony, but part of the metropolitan state itself (the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland), connections between Ireland and India in this period also pertain to the question of how far the experience of empire affected the British state and its people domestically. How far concepts of race and techniques of government developed in imperial contexts affected culture, politics, and society in the united British and Irish state of the period, and continue to have an effect on both societies, are hotly contested questions.

Catherine Hall and Antoinette Burton have argued that the contact with other peoples brought about by empire, including in Ireland, centrally informed definitions of the citizen and of the political nation in Victorian Britain.2 Meanwhile, John MacKenzie has [End Page 157] illustrated the ubiquity of images and representations of empire in late Victorian Britain.3 Bernard Porter and Andrew Thompson, however, argue that there were few specific occasions when imperialists had their way easily in British politics, and that apathy was a dominant response to empire in Britain, especially among the working classes.4 Peter Mandler and J.C.D. Clark further argue that "civilization" and religious and political institutions and not race were the focus of much British political thought and of British identity, a characteristic evident in Clark's view over many generations and which explains the durability of the English polity. Competitor empires, he argues, exhibited greater obsession with race and racial intolerance.5

Overtly conservative commentators are not alone in articulating such arguments. Thus Mandler emphasizes "the conceptual gulf between imperial and domestic thought" in Victorian Britain, a distinction not blurred by the first Irish home crisis since "such imperial crises did not have a remorselessly racialising or nationalising effect on English thought."6 Linda Colley and David Cannadine have also emphasized the extent to which the functioning of the British Empire did not depend on supremist racial hierarchies imposed by the British,7 while even Panikos Panayi, who describes the British state as "racist" in its policy toward immigrants, credits British culture with greater tolerance than other dominant cultures.8 [End Page 158]

Arguments as to the peripheral influence of empire and concepts of race on Britain and Ireland in the nineteenth century have, however, notable theoretical limitations. In particular, there are weaknesses in efforts to assess the complex interdependences between British society and the practices and understandings of government in nineteenth-century Ireland and India. Ireland was not a part of the nineteenth-century British Empire in the sense that India was, and attitudes and policies toward Ireland were not identical to those toward India.9 However, Mandler's juxtaposition of imperial and domestic dimensions of thought, and his assignment of political crises over Ireland to the former category, are both highly simplistic. Further, approaches that advance a minimal estimate of the domestic impact of empire and of racially oriented thinking are often inadequately sourced and one-sided. Mandler's dismissal of the impact of the work of Victorian British legal historian and judge James Fitzjames Stephen, whom Mandler treats as too complex to have been politically influential, is a case in point.10 Proper investigation of Stephen's case in fact highlights the complexity of connections between Ireland, India, and Britain.

While Stephen's involvement in administrative and legal reform in India, and his participation in political and cultural debate in Britain (notably as a critic of John Stuart Mill) are well known, this essay shows how Stephen's underexplored intellectual connections to Thomas Carlyle and especially James Anthony Froude sheds further light on his ideas and influences.11 The effect of comparing and contrasting the work of Froude and Stephen is to highlight the [End Page 159] proximity of attitudes in Victorian Britain to problems of government in Ireland and in India. Ultimately...


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pp. 157-179
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