What the Victorians Ruined for Us
Did the Victorians ruin the world? It seems our much-lauded 19th Century forebears were never happier than when they were putting the fear of God into children, killing animals and stuffing them, or having bright ideas like introducing invasive species into Britain. Here’s what they ruined, and why...
Around the mid-19th century some American visitors bought some cute little grey twitchy-nosed squirrels over as exotic pets. “Oh look honey, aren’t they... oh, hang on” – as the squirrels legged it out of the window and started beating up the red squirrels, having 80 million babies and ransacking people’s bird feeders.
They loved a beard, the Victorians. Couldn’t get enough of them. In the 1850s, after the Crimean War, bushy beards became a symbol of heroism and explorer-chic. Darwin said a beard gives the face a manly gravitas. Men also seemed to appreciate a beard as giving them power in a world where they were being challenged by naughty, silly women wanting the vote. Bless them.
Cars changed everything: speed, independence, longer journeys without a knackered horse. Sadly, however, they also changed peaceful roads, fatality figures, reliance on fossil fuels, pollution, noise... Thanks, Victorians. Let’s raise a toast of overpriced nastiness in a polystyrene cup in a service station to them.
Before the Victorians there were few nationwide Christmas customs. Different regions had different customs. So there was none of this “Oh, but we ALWAYS get up and pull our crackers at 2am”. Everyone was free to do what they liked. No tree, nobody telling you what you had to have for your Christmas dinner, no re-run of the Great Escape... marvellous. But then THEY had to come along and set us a ridiculously formulaic ideal that we still follow slavishly today. Pass the mince pies, will you?
Flushed with success, the Victorians solved the Great Stink caused by chamber pots and other unsanitary arrangements by creating the water closet. Pull the chain, away it goes. But where? Into the Thames Estuary. Along with paper, fat, loads of water... while they waited for the poo fairies to clean it all up, presumably.
Yes, yes, rah rah... Darwin. The Origin of the Species changed scientific thought BUT we forget the bit about “the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life”. Ah. Female oppression, racism... not looking quite such a jolly beardy old genius now, is he?
Oh, poor old Victorians. We shouldn’t give them such a hard time, really. They genuinely thought they were doing good things, making the world a stronger, more peaceful and innovative place. Remind yourself of that the next time a grey squirrel nicks your crisps in your lunch hour.