“A Splendid Isolation?” the Rise of a Concept in Victorian Identity

Victorian background.

The last decade of the nineteenth century coincides with the appearance of a new phrase in the Victorian press, that of a “splendid isolation”. In 1894, after prime-minister Rosebery’s speech in Cows regarding the possibility of an anglo-german alliance, a real media scandal broke out between the British newspapers Standard and The Times and the German publication Hamburghischer Correspondent. What was the cause of this ‘conflict’? A debate regarding the position which these two great states held in the European balance of power. Initially perceived as an insult, the term `isolation` is more and more frequent in Victorian thought, from political discourses and parliamentary debates to Sunday newspapers. At the same time, British foreign policy stirs more and more concerns in the minds of the great statesmen of Westminster, a fact determined to a great degree by the overuse of this certain phrase. Extremely interesting is also the evolution of this concept in the perception of the public. If in 1894, `isolation` meant  `a dangerous position`, over the course of the next few years, this way of international conduct becomes ‘a time-honoured tradition’. In 1896 the epithet ‘splendid’ joins ‘isolation’, and in the next period ‘the policy of isolation’ is consecrated the `official strategy` of British foreign policy in the Victorian age.

Mihai Vișoiu