It is important to be reminded from time to time of the strength of the radical, non-conformist element in Victorian society, so influential and so far from the ‘Victorian values’ of comfortable cliché. No one is better qualified to remind us than Rosemary Ashton, who has now added to her studies of George Eliot, G H Lewes and the Carlyles an intriguing account of the publisher John Chapman and his circle.
No 142 Strand was, for a few years in the mid nineteenth century, one of the most important addresses in literary London. The building itself has long since disappeared, but from 1847 to 1854, when John Chapman lived and worked there, it became a centre for radical ideas in political and scientific thought.
The house had been a tavern, then a hotel. It needed to be large, for it not only housed Chapman and his family but also his publishing business and, from 1852, the offices of the Westminster Review. In an attempt to bolster the finances of his other enterprises the upper