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An ’enlightened’ Scot and English reform : a study of Henry Brougham Dwyer, John Alfred

Abstract

Henry Peter Brougham (1708-1868) has always received more than his fair share of attention from historians. However, as we shall attempt to show, his role as a social reformer in England has not been treated properly. Historians have viewed Brougham in different ways. They have called him a humanitarian, a Benthamite, and a middle-class apologist. They have never taken his Scottish background or his training at Edinburgh University adequately into account. As a result, these historians have overlooked an interesting example of the influence of Scottish thought and practice in English reform movements. The present study is an attempt to examine Henry Brougham in the light of his Scottish heritage. By isolating those factors in Brougham's Scottish experience which were to have a bearing on his efforts in behalf of social reform in England, we hope to construct a composite picture of Brougham as an 'enlightened Scot'. The first chapter of the thesis deals with Scottish culture in a fairly general way. Here, we attempt to define the peculiar aspects of the Scottish identity and to explore the development of 'moral' or 'common sense' philosophy by the thinkers of the Scottish School. In addition, we show how Brougham, as a member of the 'Edinburgh literati.' and a student of Black and Stewart, was a true exemplar of this culture. In chapter two, we examine the specifically Scottish institutions of law, poor relief, and education in some depth. These institutions ingrained deep attitudes in the minds of Scots such as Brougham. Furthermore, in every case, the Scots believed that their own institutions were vastly superior to those of England. Having outlined Brougham's 'mental baggage', we then move on to demonstrate the ways in which Brougham's work as a social reformer in England reflected his Scottish heritage. For, it is quite clear that his ideas were very much informed by Scottish theory and practice. First, as a legal reformer, Brougham evidenced his training as a Scots lawyer. Like Mansfield before him, he looked to Roman law as a remedy for the chaotic condition of English Common law. Second, in his attack on the English Poor Law, Brougham was forever contrasting the English system of institutionalized relief with the voluntary system of Scotland. Moreover, his training in political economy at Edinburgh University caused him to regard institutionalized relief as a hindrance to economic advance. Finally, as the leader of the movement for mass education in England, Brougham attempted to create a national system of education on the Scottish model. And his pride in Scottish parochial education was buttressed by an 'enlightened' faith in the power of education to shape men.

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