When she wrote this diary entry in April of 1890, Beatrice Potter could not have imagined that a mere two years later, this man with the “tiny tadpole body,” Sidney Webb, would become her husband. Nor could she have foreseen the powerful intellectual partnership that would develop between them, ultimately shaping the course of British social and economic policy for decades to come. Together, Beatrice and Sidney Webb would co-found the London School of Economics and the New Statesman, using their combined knowledge and passion for social reform to create lasting institutions that would influence generations of thinkers and policy-makers. Their shared dedication to progressive ideas and their ability to work together seamlessly would prove to be a force to be reckoned with.
The Diary Entry
26 April. [Box House]
Sidney Webb, the socialist, spent Sunday here. . .
I am not sure as to the nature of that man. His tiny tadpole body, unhealthy skin, lack of manner, Cockney pronunciation, poverty, are all against him. He has the conceit of a man who has raised himself out of the most insignificant surroundings into a position of power – how much power no one quite knows. This self-compliant egotism, this disproportionate view of his own position, is at once repulsive and ludicrous. On the other hand, looked at by the light of his personal history, it was inevitable. And he can learn; he is quick and sensitive and ready to adapt himself. This sensitiveness, combined as it undoubtedly is with great power, may carry him far. If the opportunity comes, I think the man will appear. In the meantime he is an interesting study. A London retail tradesman with the aims of a Napoleon! a queer monstrosity to be justified only by success. And above all a loop-hole into the socialist party; one of the small body of men with whom I may sooner or later throw in my lot for good and all.
Beatrice Webb’s diaries—along with rest of her papers—are held in the archives of the London School of Economics, which she co-founded, and they are available to view online (both in her original handwriting and in typescript form). Take a look here. In the 1980s, long before they were digitised, those diaries were published in four volumes edited by Norman and Jeanne MacKenzie; twenty years later, those same MacKenzies selected some entries to be published in a single volume edition.