The Reputation of Philanthropy since 1750: Britain and beyond

Reviewed by David Cutler, Director at the Baring Foundation.

Hugh Cunningham’s book sets itself the task of understanding what the slippery word ‘philanthropy’ means in the book’s timeframe, then uses the definition to see how it was regarded.

It is largely in this second task that it differentiates itself from histories like Rhodri Davies’ Public Good by Private Means. Cunningham assesses the reputation of philanthropy principally through references in The Times, which feels like a limited lens. These references reach a high-watermark in the 1880s then decline markedly with the rise of the welfare state and become almost a trickle after the Second World War.

The book is also full of striking contemporary quotations; I especially enjoyed the more pithy comments of literary lions such as G B Shaw, Oscar Wilde and Virginia Woolf. Cunningham is especially interesting on Charles Dickens and philanthropy.

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Deborah Doane