Richard Monckton Milnes is credited with coining the name Young England, a name which suggested a relationship between Young England and the mid-century groups Young Ireland, Young Italy, and Young Germany. However, these political organizations, while nationalistic like Young England, commanded considerable popular support and were socially progressive and politically egalitarian. Young England promulgated a conservative and romantic species of Social Toryism. Its political message described an idealized feudalism: an absolute monarch and a strong Established Church, with the philanthropy of noblesse oblige as the basis for its paternalistic form of social organization.
Like the founders of the Oxford Movement who ardently opposed the Victorian Radicalism centered in competitive economic self-determination, the founders of Young England rejected utilitarian ethics, blamed the privileged class for abdicating its moral leadership, and blamed the church for neglecting its duties to the poor, among them alms-giving. Expanding the Tractarians' reverence for the religious past to include a reactionary political agenda, Young England claimed to have found the model for a new Victorian social order in England's Christian feudal past.
Like Evangelicalism, Young England reflected the enthusiasm for confronting the middle-class crisis of Victorian conscience. In their advocacy of an exclusive, though tolerant, ecclesiastical authority, Young England's plan for a revitalized state church followed Coleridge's conception of an English clerisy.
Disraeli had outlined the principles of Young England in The Vindication of the English Constitution (1835), which characteristically opens with an attack on utilitarian beliefs, but Lord Manners and George Smythe more widely disseminated its neo-feudal ideals in verse and narrative forms.
Like Lord Manners' England's Trust and Plea for National Holy-days (1843), George Smythe's Historical Fancies (1844) earnestly imagines a revival of feudalism, but the solutions both Manners and Smythe offer for industrial disorder are, in spite of the increasingly urban character of Victorian society, chiefly agrarian.
Disraeli's trilogy Coningsby (1844), Sybil (1845), and Tancred (1847) details the intellectual arguments of Young England while showing an informed sympathy for England's poor. Tancred, however, noted a move away from the ideals of Young England and was published at a time when Young England as a political group was largely defunct.
The three novels respectively elaborate the political, social, and religious message of Young England, which included reform of industrial working conditions and, along with a strong Established church, the religious toleration of Catholics and Jews.
In their political activities, Young England relied on the effectiveness of their alliance-building in Parliament and made itself heard politically in the 1840s. Most of what Young England accomplished in the House of Commons was accomplished through temporary coalitions with both the Social Tories and the Radicals. Fighting against the New Poor Law with the Social Tories, they also at times sided with the Benthamites, as in 1844, when Young England, helped the radicals defeat a bill which would have strengthened the powers of magistrates dealing with labor disputes.
Attesting to its fragile and narrow political base, Young England died with scarcely an obituary some few years after 1847, when Disraeli effectively withdrew from the Parliamentary coalition. Disraeli's disagreements were chiefly with his longtime conservative rival, Peel, although a tempering of his unqualified support for Young England's social-political ideals surfaces in the third novel of his trilogy, Tancred or The New Crusade.
At least two years earlier, Disraeli's political opportunism already had damaged Young England's credibility. In 1845, Disraeli opposed the Maynooth Grant Bill, a legislative act that permanently increased the funding of the Roman Catholic seminary at Maynooth in Ireland.
Unlike Social Toryism, which it resembled philosophically, Young England did not survive to confront and oppose the socialist revival of the eighties. At its best, Young England influenced mid-Victorian reform legislation but never came close to gaining the popular support required to even partially realize its deeply conservative social vision.
The utopian, neo-feudal dreams of Manners, Smythe, and Disraeli reflect the same crisis of Victorian conscience that inspired the similarly utopian Owenite socialism of the political left. Like Owenism, Young England soon failed, but too ambitiously conservative in a new democratic era, it quietly failed without experiment.
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