The early Victorian years witnessed the emergence of a cluster of values and beliefs that represented the central ideas of Victorianism. These years are associated with developments in governance, economic and social life, science, and learning that capture the essential features of Victorianism. In governance, one can look to the reforms which, if not immediately democratic, changed the structure of parliament, ushering in a tradition of evolutionary change (with major Reforms Acts in 1832, 1867, 1884) and the expansion of local, middle-class political power with the Municipal Corporations Act (1835). In economic life, the hard-nosed essentials of political economy and utilitarianism reached a high point prior to the 1850s. Associated with such notable names as Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832), James Mill (1773–1836), and David Ricardo (1772–1823), and later refined and developed by luminaries such as John Stuart Mill (1806–1873), political economy helped to shape the policy conditions for the reform of the Elizabethan Poor Law (in the form of the Poor Law Amendment Act, 1834), and the ideology of self-help which, for a while, attained the status of mantra. By the time Samuel Smiles (1812–1904) penned the popularized guide to the joys of this creed (Self Help, 1859), the concept had already begun to be pushed to one side by a creeping state and the tendency of the working class to collectivize in the face of demands for Smilesian individualism: hence, the staggering rise of friendly societies, trade unions, the co-operative movement, and countless other examples of collective identification by the people.
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