Published online by Cambridge University Press: 01 September 2004
IN THE PAST DECADE EDWIN CHADWICK has been the subject of several scholarly inquiries; indeed one can almost speak of a “Chadwick industry” these days. This is not, however, the first time he has attracted significant scholarly attention: in 1952, S. E. Finer's and R. A. Lewis's biographies initiated our century's first evaluation of him, culminating in M. W. Flinn's excellently edited reprint of Chadwick's most important text, The Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Great Britain (referred to as the Sanitary Report). Yet the Chadwick that emerges in recent accounts could not be more different from the mid-century Chadwick. The post-war critics saw him as a visionary, an often-embattled crusader for public health whose enemies were formidable but whose vision, extending the liberal and radical tradition, ultimately prevailed. Cultural critics, on the other hand, present a Chadwick who misrepresented (if not outright oppressed) the poor and who was instrumental in developing a massive bureaucracy to police their lives. Thus, while earlier accounts highlighted Chadwick's accomplishments, the progress of public health reforms, and the details of legislative politics, more recent ones draw attention to his representations of the poor, the erasures in his text, and the growing nineteenth-century institutionalization of the poor that the Sanitary Report promotes. Chadwick, in other words, is portrayed as either a pioneer of reform or an avatar of bureaucratic oppression.