The Victorian Shaftesbury
Although Anthony Ashley Cooper, Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, was often described as the ‘Prince of Philanthropists’, he himself was aware of the paradoxes of his responses to the ‘Condition of England question’.
The life and career of the Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury present many paradoxes. He was born in 1801 into an aristocratic and rural background, yet he adopted interests and causes – first as Lord Ashley and, after 1851 on his accession to the title, as Lord Shaftesbury (by which name he will be referred to in this article) – which took him far outside and beyond the world of his inheritance and birth. In public life, he had a masterful and commanding presence and, as chairman of a meeting, was known to pull at the coat tails of a long-winded speaker in an attempt to bring him to a stop; yet in private life he was a man of complex temperament, given to moments of extreme depression and elation and with a strong streak of paranoia. He was, as he himself put it, 'peculiarly constituted'. From the late eighteen-twenties until his death in 1885, he devoted himself to a life of service and involved himself in innumerable causes for the good of others; yet he had a thirst for recognition and was disappointed that he did not receive greater political reward. Even in death, there are paradoxes – and ironies.