The Life of Sir James Fitzjames Stephen, Bart., K.C.S.I. - A Judge of the High Court of Justice
by Sir Leslie Stephen
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Little as I can say of the details of this policy in which he was concerned, there are one or two points of which I must speak. My father had accepted the appointment, according to Taylor, partly with the view of gaining an influence upon the slavery question. In this, says Taylor, he was eminently successful, and his success raised the first outcry against him.[35] His family and friends were all, as I have shown, deeply engaged in the anti-slavery agitation. As an official he could of course take no part in such action, and his father had to give solemn assurances that the son had given him no information. But the power of influencing the Government in the right direction was of equal importance to the cause. The elaborate Act, still in force, by which previous legislation against the slave trade was finally consolidated and extended was passed in 1824 (5 George IV. cap. 113). It was drawn by my father and dictated by him in one day and at one sitting.[36] It fills twenty-three closely printed octavo pages. At this time the Government was attempting to adopt a middle course between the abolitionists and the planters by passing what were called 'meliorating Acts,' Acts, that is, for improving the treatment of the slaves. The Colonial Assemblies declined to accept the proposals. The Colonial Office remonstrated, obtained reports and wrote despatches, pointing out any abuses discovered: the despatches were laid before Parliament and republished by Zachary Macaulay in the 'Anti-slavery Reporter.' Agitation increased. An insurrection of slaves in Jamaica in 1831, cruelly suppressed by the whites, gave indirectly a death blow to slavery. Abolition, especially after the Reform Bill, became inevitable, but the question remained whether the grant of freedom should be immediate or gradual, and whether compensation should be granted to the planters. The problem had been discussed by Stephen, Taylor, and Lord Howick, afterwards Earl Grey (1802-1894), and various plans had been considered. In March 1833, however, Mr. Stanley, afterwards Lord Derby, became head of the Colonial Office; and the effect was at first to reduce Stephen and Taylor to their 'original insignificance.' They had already been attacked in the press for taking too much upon themselves, and Stanley now prepared a measure without their assistance. He found that he had not the necessary experience for a difficult task, and was soon obliged to have recourse to Stephen, who prepared the measure which was finally passed. The delay had made expedition necessary if slavery was not to continue for another year. My father received notice to draw the Act on Saturday morning. He went home and completed his task by the middle of the day on Monday. The Act (3 & 4 William IV. c. 73) contains sixty-six sections, fills twenty-six pages in the octavo edition of the Statute-book, and creates a whole scheme of the most intricate and elaborate kind. The amanuensis to whom it was dictated used to tell the story as an illustration of his own physical powers. At that time, as another clerk in the office tells my brother, 'it was no unusual thing for your father to dictate before breakfast as much as would fill thirty sides of office folio paper,' equal to about ten pages of the 'Edinburgh Review,' The exertion, however, in this instance was exceptional: only upon one other occasion did my father ever work upon a Sunday; it cost him a severe nervous illness and not improbably sowed the seed of later attacks.[37]

I can say little of my father's action in later years. On September 17, 1834, he was appointed to the newly created office of Assistant Under-Secretary of State. He had, says Taylor, for many years done the work of the Under-Secretary, and he objected to doing it any longer on the same terms. The Under-Secretary complained to Lord Melbourne that his subordinate desired to supplant him, and got only the characteristic reply, 'It looks devilishly like it.'[38] In 1836 he had to retire, and my father became Under-Secretary in his place, with a salary of 2,000l. a year, on February 4 of that year, and at the same time gave up his connection with the Board of Trade. He was actively concerned in the establishment of responsible government in Canada. The relations with that colony were, as my brother says, 'confused and entangled in every possible way by personal and party questions at home and by the violent dissensions which existed in Canada itself.' The difficulty was aggravated, he adds, by the fact that my father, whatever his personal influence, had no authority whatever; and although his principles were ultimately adopted he had constantly to take part in measures which he disapproved. 'Stephen's opinions,' says Taylor, 'were more liberal than those of most of his chiefs, and at one period he gave more power than he intended to a Canadian Assembly from placing too much confidence in their intentions.'[39] Upon this matter, however, Taylor admits that he was not fully informed. I will only add that my father appears to have shared the opinions then prevalent among the Liberal party that the colonies would soon be detached from the mother country. On the appointment of a Governor-General of Canada, shortly before his resignation of office, he observes in a diary that it is not unlikely to be the last that will ever be made.[40]

I have already noticed my father's unpopularity. It was a not unlikely result of exercising a great and yet occult influence upon a department of Government which is likely in any case to be more conspicuous for its failures than for its successes. There were, however, more personal reasons which I think indicate his peculiar characteristics. I have said enough to illustrate his gluttony of work. I should guess that, without intending it, he was also an exacting superior. He probably over-estimated the average capacity for work of mankind, and condemned their indolence too unsparingly. Certainly his estimate of the quantity of good work got out of officials in a public office was not a high one. Nor, I am sure, did he take a sanguine view of the utility of such work as was done in the Colonial Office. 'Colonial Office being an Impotency' (as Carlyle puts it in his 'Reminiscences,' 'as Stephen inarticulately, though he never said or whispered it, well knew), what could an earnest and honest kind of man do but try to teach you how not to do it?'[41] I fancy that this gives in Carryle's manner the unpleasant side of a true statement. My father gave his whole life to work, which he never thought entirely satisfactory, although he did his duty without a word of complaint. Once, when advising Taylor to trust rather to literature than to Government employment, he remarked, 'You may write off the first joints of your fingers for them, and then you may write off the second joints, and all that they will say of you is, "What a remarkably short-fingered man!"'[42] But he had far too much self-respect to grumble at the inevitable results of the position.

My father, however, was a man of exquisitely sensitive nature—a man, as my mother warned his children, 'without a skin,' and he felt very keenly the attacks of which he could take no notice. In early days this had shown itself by a shyness 'remarkable,' says Taylor, beyond all 'shyness that you could imagine in anyone whose soul had not been pre-existent in a wild duck.'[43] His extreme sensibility showed itself too in other ways. He was the least sanguine of mankind. He had, as he said in a letter, 'a morbidly vivid perception of possible evils and remote dangers.' A sensitive nature dreads nothing so much as a shock, and instinctively prepares for it by always anticipating the worst. He always expected, if I may say so, to be disappointed in his expectations. The tendency showed itself in a general conviction that whatever was his own must therefore be bad. He could not bear to have a looking-glass in his room lest he should be reminded of his own appearance. 'I hate mirrors vitrical and human,' he says, when wondering how he might appear to others. He could not bear that his birthday should be even noticed, though he did not, like Swift, commemorate it by a remorseful ceremonial. He shrank from every kind of self-assertion; and in matters outside his own province often showed to men of abilities very inferior to his own a deference which to those who did not know him might pass for affectation. The life of a recluse had strong attractions for him. He was profoundly convinced that the happiest of all lives was that of a clergyman, who could devote himself to study and to the quiet duties of his profession. Circumstances had forced a different career upon him. He had as a very young man taken up a profession which is not generally supposed to be propitious to retiring modesty; and was ever afterwards plunged into active business, which brought him into rough contact with politicians and men of business of all classes. The result was that he formed a manner calculated to shield himself and keep his interlocutors at a distance. It might be called pompous, and was at any rate formal and elaborate. The natural man lurked behind a barrier of ceremony, and he rarely showed himself unless in full dress. He could unbend in his family, but in the outer world he put on his defensive armour of stately politeness, which even for congenial minds made familiarity difficult if it effectually repelled impertinence. But beneath this sensitive nature lay an energetic and even impetuous character, and an intellect singularly clear, subtle, and decisive. His reasons were apt to be complicated, but he came to very definite results, and was both rapid and resolute in action. He had 'a strong will,' says Taylor, 'and great tenacity of opinion. When he made a mistake, which was very seldom considering the prodigious quantity of business he despatched, his subordinates could rarely venture to point it out; he gave them so much trouble before he could be evicted from his error.' In private life, as Taylor adds, his friends feared to suggest any criticisms; not because he resented advice but because he suffered so much from blame.

Another peculiarity was oddly blended with this. Among his topics of self-humiliation, sufficiently frequent, one was his excess of 'loquacity.' A very shy man, it is often remarked, may shrink from talking, but when he begins to talk he talks enormously. My father, at any rate, had a natural gift for conversation. He could pour out a stream of talk such as, to the best of my knowledge, I have never heard equalled. The gift was perhaps stimulated by accidents. The weakness of his eyes had forced him to depend very much upon dictation. I remember vividly the sound of his tread as he tramped up and down his room, dictating to my mother or sister, who took down his words in shorthand and found it hard to keep pace with him. Even his ordinary conversation might have been put into print with scarcely a correction, and was as polished and grammatically perfect as his finished writing. The flow of talk was no doubt at times excessive. Taylor tells of an indignant gentleman who came to his room after attempting to make some communication to the Under-Secretary. Mr. Stephen, he said, had at once begun to speak, and after discoursing for half an hour without a moment's pause, courteously bowed the gentleman out, thanking him for the valuable information which still remained unuttered. Sir James Stephen, said Lord Monteagle to Carlyle, 'shuts his eyes on you and talks as if he were dictating a colonial despatch.'[44] This refers to a nervous trick of shyness. When talking, his eyelids often had a tremulous motion which concealed the eyes themselves, and gave to at least one stranger the impression that he was being addressed by a blind man.

The talk, however, was always pointed and very frequently as brilliant as it was copious. With all the monotony of utterance, says Taylor, 'there was such a variety and richness of thought and language, and often so much wit and humour, that one could not help being interested and attentive.' On matters of business, he adds, 'the talk could not be of the same quality and was of the same continuity.' He gives one specimen of the 'richness of conversational diction' which I may quote. My father mentioned to Taylor an illness from which the son of Lord Derby was suffering. He explained his knowledge by saying that Lord Derby had spoken of the case to him in a tone for which he was unprepared. 'In all the time when I saw him daily I cannot recollect that he ever said one word to me about anything but business; and when the stupendous glacier, which had towered over my head for so many years, came to dissolve and descend upon me in parental dew, you may imagine, &c., &c.[45] My brother gives an account to which I can fully subscribe, so far as my knowledge goes. Our father's printed books, he says, show his mind 'in full dress, as under restraint and subject to the effect of habitual self-distrust. They give no idea of the vigour and pungency and freedom with which he could speak or let himself loose or think aloud as he did to me. Macaulay was infinitely more eloquent, and his memory was a thing by itself. Carlyle was striking and picturesque, and, after a fashion, forcible to the last degree. John Austin discoursed with the greatest dignity and impressiveness. But my father's richness of mind and union of wisdom, good sense, keenness and ingenuity, put him, in my opinion, quite on the same sort of level as these distinguished men; and gave me a feeling about him which attuned itself with and ran into the conviction that he was also one of the very kindest, most honourable, and best men I ever knew in my whole life.' From my recollection, which is less perfect than was my brother's, I should add that one thing which especially remains with me was the stamp of fine literary quality which marked all my father's conversation. His talk, however copious, was never commonplace; and, boy as I was when I listened, I was constantly impressed by the singular skill with which his clear-cut phrases and lively illustrations put even familiar topics into an apparently new and effective light.

The comparison made by my brother between my father's talk and his writings may be just, though I do not altogether agree with it. The 'Essays in Ecclesiastical Biography,' by which he is best known, were written during the official career which I have described.

The composition was to him a relaxation, and they were written early in the morning or late at night, or in the intervals of his brief holidays. I will not express any critical judgment of their qualities; but this I will say: putting aside Macaulay's 'Essays,' which possess merits of an entirely different order, I do not think that any of the collected essays republished from the 'Edinburgh Review' indicate a natural gift for style equal to my father's. Judging from these, which are merely the overflowing of a mind employed upon other most absorbing duties, I think that my father, had he devoted his talents to literature, would have gained a far higher place than has been reached by any of his family.[46]

My father gave in his Essays a sufficient indication of his religious creed. That creed, while it corresponded to his very deepest emotions, took a peculiar and characteristic form. His essay upon the 'Clapham Sect'[47] shows how deeply he had imbibed its teaching, while it yet shows a noticeable divergence. All his youthful sympathies and aims had identified him with the early evangelicals. As a lad he had known Granville Sharp, the patriarch of the anti-slavery movement; and till middle life he was as intimate as the difference of ages permitted with Wilberforce and with Thomas Gisborne, the most refined if not most effective preacher of the party. He revered many of the party from the bottom of his heart. His loving remembrance of his intercourse with them is shown in every line of his description, and to the end of his life he retained his loyalty to the men, and, as he at least thought, to their creed. The later generation, which called itself evangelical, repudiated his claim. He was attacked in their chief organ. When some remonstrance was made by his brother-in-law, Henry Venn, he wrote to the paper (I quote from memory), 'I can only regret that any friend of mine should have stooped to vindicate me from any censure of yours'; and declined further controversy.

The occasion of this was an attack which had been made upon him at Cambridge, where certain learned dons discovered on his appointment to the professorship of history that he was a 'Cerinthian.' I do not pretend to guess at their meaning. Anyhow he had avowed, in an 'epilogue' to his Essays, certain doubts as to the meaning of eternal damnation—a doctrine which at that time enjoyed considerable popularity. The explanation was in part simple. 'It is laid to my charge,' he said, 'that I am a Latitudinarian. I have never met with a single man who, like myself, had passed a long series of years in a free intercourse with every class of society who was not more or less what is called a Latitudinarian.' In fact, he had discovered that Clapham was not the world, and that the conditions of salvation could hardly include residence on the sacred common. This conviction, however, took a peculiar form in his mind. His Essays show how widely he had sympathised with many forms of the religious sentiment. He wrote with enthusiasm of the great leaders of the Roman Catholic Church; of Hildebrand and St. Francis, and even of Ignatius Loyola; and yet his enthusiasm does not blind him to the merits of Martin Luther, or Baxter, or Wesley, or Wilberforce. There were only two exceptions to his otherwise universal sympathy. He always speaks of the rationalists in the ordinary tone of dislike; and he looks coldly upon one school of orthodoxy. 'Sir James Stephen,' as was said by someone, 'is tolerant towards every Church except the Church of England.' This epigram indicated a fact. Although he himself strenuously repudiated any charge of disloyalty to the Church whose ordinances he scrupulously observed, he was entirely out of sympathy with the specially Anglican movement of later years. This was no doubt due in great part to the intensely strong sympathies of his youth. When the Oxford movement began he was already in middle life and thoroughly steeped in the doctrines which they attacked. He resembled them, indeed, in his warm appreciation of the great men of Catholicism. But the old churchmen appealed both to his instincts as a statesman and to his strong love of the romantic. The Church of the middle ages had wielded a vast power; men like Loyola and Xavier had been great spiritual heroes. But what was to be said for the Church of England since the Reformation? Henry Martyn, he says, in the 'Clapham Sect,' is 'the one heroic name which adorns her annals since the days of Elizabeth. Her apostolic men either quitted or were cast out of her communion. Her Acta Sanctorum may be read from end to end with a dry eye and an unquickened pulse.' He had perhaps heard too many sermons. 'Dear Mother Church,' he says after one such experience, 'thy spokesmen are not selected so as to create any danger that we should be dazzled by human eloquence or entangled by human wisdom.' The Church of England, as he says elsewhere ('Baxter'), afforded a refuge for three centuries to the great, the learned, and the worldly wise, but was long before it took to the nobler end of raising the poor, and then, as he would have added, under the influence of the Clapham Sect. The Church presented itself to him mainly as the religious department of the State, in which more care was taken to suppress eccentricity than to arouse enthusiasm; it was eminently respectable, but at the very antipodes of the heroic. Could he then lean to Rome? He could not do so without damning the men he most loved, even could his keen and in some ways sceptical intellect have consented to commit suicide. Or to the Romanising party in the Church? The movement sprang from the cloister, and he had breathed the bracing air of secular life. He was far too clear-headed not to see whither they were tending. To him they appeared to be simply feeble imitations of the real thing, dabbling with dangerous arguments, and trying to revive beliefs long sentenced to extinction.

And yet, with his strong religious beliefs, he could not turn towards the freethinkers. He perceived indeed with perfect clearness that the Christian belief was being tried by new tests severer than the old, and that schools of thought were arising with which the orthodox would have to reckon. Occasional intimations to this effect dropped from him in his conversations with my brother and others. But, on the whole, the simple fact was that he never ventured to go deeply into the fundamental questions. His official duties left him little time for abstract thought; and his surpassingly ingenious and versatile mind employed itself rather in framing excuses for not answering than in finding thorough answers to possible doubts. He adopted a version of the doctrine crede ut intelligas, and denounced the mere reasoning machines like David Hume who appealed unequivocally to reason. But what the faculty was which was to guide or to overrule reason in the search for truth was a question to which I do not think that he could give any distinct answer. He was too much a lover of clearness to be attracted by the mysticism of Coleridge, and yet he shrank from the results of seeing too clearly.

I have insisted upon this partly because my father's attitude greatly affected my brother, as will be presently seen. My brother was not a man to shrink from any conclusions, and he rather resented the humility which led my father, in the absence of other popes, to attach an excessive importance to the opinions of Henry and John Venn—men who, as Fitzjames observes, were, in matters of speculative inquiry, not worthy to tie his shoes. Meanwhile, as his health became weaker in later years, my father seemed to grow more weary of the secular world, and to lean more for consolation under anxiety to his religious beliefs. Whatever doubts or tendencies to doubt might affect his intellect, they never weakened his loyalty to his creed. He spoke of Christ, when such references were desirable, in a tone of the deepest reverence blended with personal affection, which, as I find, greatly impressed my brother. Often, in his letters and his talk, he would dwell upon the charm of a pious life, free from secular care and devoted to the cultivation of religious ideals in ourselves and our neighbours. On very rare occasions he would express his real feelings to companions who had mistaken his habitual reserve for indifference. We had an old ivory carving, left to him in token of gratitude by a gentleman whom he had on some such occasion solemnly reproved for profane language, and who had at the moment felt nothing but irritation.

The effect of these tendencies upon our little domestic circle was marked. My father's occupations naturally brought him into contact with many men of official and literary distinction. Some of them became his warm friends. Besides Henry Taylor, of whom I have spoken, Taylor's intimate friends, James Spedding and Aubrey de Vere, were among the intimates of our household; and they and other men, younger than himself, often joined him in his walks or listened to his overflowing talk at home. A next-door neighbour for many years was Nassau Senior, the political economist, and one main author of the Poor Law of 1834. Senior, a very shrewd man of the world, was indifferent to my father's religious speculations. Yet he and his family were among our closest friends, and in habits of the most familiar intercourse with us. With them was associated John Austin, regarded by all the Utilitarians as the profoundest of jurists and famous for his conversational powers; and Mrs. Austin, a literary lady, with her daughter, afterwards Lady Duff Gordon. I think of her (though it makes me feel old when I so think) as Lucy Austin. She was a brilliant girl, reported to keep a rifle and a skull in her bedroom. She once startled the sense of propriety of her elders by performing in our house a charade, in which she represented a dying woman with a 'realism'—to use the modern phrase—worthy of Madame Sarah Bernhardt. Other visitors were occasionally attracted. My father knew John Mill, though never, I fancy, at all intimately. He knew politicians such as Charles Greville, the diarist, who showed his penetration characteristically, as I have been told, by especially admiring my mother as a model of the domestic virtues which he could appreciate from an outside point of view.

We looked, however, at the world from a certain distance, and, as it were, through a veil. My father had little taste for general society. It had once been intimated to him, as he told me, that he might find admission to the meetings of Holland House, where, as Macaulay tells us, you might have the privilege of seeing Mackintosh verify a reference to Thomas Aquinas, and hearing Talleyrand describe his ride over the field of Austerlitz. My father took a different view. He declined to take advantage of this opening into the upper world, because, as he said, I don't know from what experience, the conversation turned chiefly upon petty personal gossip. The feasts of the great were not to his taste. He was ascetic by temperament. He was, he said, one of the few people to whom it was the same thing to eat a dinner and to perform an act of self-denial. In fact, for many years he never ate a dinner, contenting himself with a biscuit and a glass of sherry as lunch, and an egg at tea, and thereby, as the doctors said, injuring his health. He once smoked a cigar, and found it so delicious that he never smoked again. He indulged in snuff until one day it occurred to him that snuff was superfluous; when the box was solemnly emptied out of the window and never refilled. Long sittings after dinner were an abomination to him, and he spoke with horror of his father's belief in the virtues of port wine. His systematic abstemiousness diminished any temptation to social pleasures of the ordinary kind. His real delight was in quieter meetings with his own family—with Stephens, and Diceys, and Garratts, and above all, I think, with Henry and John Venn. At their houses, or in the country walks where he could unfold his views to young men, whose company he always enjoyed, he could pour out his mind in unceasing discourse, and be sure of a congenial audience.

Our household must thus be regarded as stamped with the true evangelical characteristics—and yet with a difference. The line between saints and sinners or the Church and the world was not so deeply drawn as in some cases. We felt, in a vague way, that we were, somehow, not quite as other people, and yet I do not think that we could be called Pharisees. My father felt it a point of honour to adhere to the ways of his youth. Like Jonadab, the son of Rechab, as my brother observes, he would drink no wine for the sake of his father's commandments (which, indeed, is scarcely a felicitous application after what I have just said). He wore the uniform of the old army, though he had ceased to bear unquestioning allegiance. We never went to plays or balls; but neither were we taught to regard such recreations as proofs of the corruption of man. My father most carefully told us that there was nothing intrinsically wrong in such things, though he felt strongly about certain abuses of them. At most, in his favourite phrase, they were 'not convenient.' We no more condemned people who frequented them than we blamed people in Hindostan for riding elephants. A theatre was as remote from us as an elephant. And therefore we grew up without acquiring or condemning such tastes. They had neither the charm of early association nor the attraction of forbidden fruit. To outsiders the household must have been pervaded by an air of gravity, if not of austerity. But we did not feel it, for it became the law of our natures, not a law imposed by external sanctions. We certainly had a full allowance of sermons and Church services; but we never, I think, felt them to be forced upon us. They were a part, and not an unwelcome part, of the order of nature. In another respect we differed from some families of the same creed. My father's fine taste and his sensitive nature made him tremblingly alive to one risk. He shrank from giving us any inducement to lay bare our own religious emotions. To him and to our mother the needless revelation of the deeper feelings seemed to be a kind of spiritual indelicacy. To encourage children to use the conventional phrases could only stimulate to unreality or actual hypocrisy. He recognised, indeed, the duty of impressing upon us his own convictions, but he spoke only when speaking was a duty. He read prayers daily in his family, and used to expound a few verses of the Bible with characteristic unction. In earlier days I find him accusing himself of a tendency to address 'homiletical epistles' to his nearest connections; but he scrupulously kept such addresses for some adequate occasion in his children's lives. We were, indeed, fully aware, from a very early age, of his feelings, and could not but be continuously conscious that we were under the eye of a father governed by the loftiest and purest motives, and devoting himself without stint to what he regarded as his duty. He was a living 'categorical imperative.' 'Did you ever know your father do a thing because it was pleasant?' was a question put to my brother, when he was a small boy, by his mother. She has apparently recorded it for the sake of the childish answer: 'Yes, once—when he married you.' But we were always conscious of the force of the tacit appeal.

I must not give the impression that he showed himself a stern parent. I remember that when his first grandchild was born, I was struck by the fact that he was the most skilful person in the family at playing with the baby. Once, when some friends upon whom he was calling happened to be just going out, he said, 'Leave me the baby and I shall be quite happy.' Several little fragments of letters with doggerel rhymes and anecdotes suited for children recall his playfulness with infants, and as we grew up, although we learnt to regard him with a certain awe, he conversed with us most freely, and discoursed upon politics, history, and literature, and his personal recollections, as if we had been his equals, though, of course, with a width of knowledge altogether beyond our own. The risk of giving pain to a 'skinless' man was all that could cause any reserve between us; but a downright outspoken boy like my brother soon acquired and enjoyed a position on the most affectionate terms of familiarity. We knew that he loved us; that his character was not only pure but chivalrous; and that intellectually he was a most capable guide into the most delightful pastures.

I will conclude by a word or two upon his physical characteristics. No tolerable likeness has been preserved. My father was rather above middle height, and became stout in later years. Though not handsome, his appearance had a marked dignity. A very lofty brow was surmounted by masses of soft fine hair, reddish in youth, which became almost white before he died. The eyes, often concealed by the nervous trick I have mentioned, were rather deeply set and of the purest blue. They could flash into visibility and sparkle with indignation or softer emotion. The nose was the nose of a scholar, rather massive though well cut, and running to a sharp point. He had the long flexible lips of an orator, while the mouth, compressed as if cut with a knife, indicated a nervous reserve. The skull was very large, and the whole face, as I remember him, was massive, though in youth he must have been comparatively slender.

His health was interrupted by some severe illnesses, and he suffered much at times from headache. His power of work, however, shows that he was generally in good health; he never had occasion for a dentist. He was a very early riser, scrupulously neat in dress, and even fanatical in the matter of cleanliness. He had beautiful but curiously incompetent hands. He was awkward even at tying his shoes; and though he liked shaving himself because, he said, that it was the only thing he could do with his hands, and he shaved every vestige of beard, he very often inflicted gashes. His handwriting, however, was of the very best. He occasionally rode and could, I believe, swim and row. But he enjoyed no physical exercise except walking, a love of which was hereditary. I do not suppose that he ever had a gun or a fishing-rod in his hand.

And now, having outlined such a portrait as I can of our home, I begin my brother's life.[48]


[Footnote 1: I learn by the courtesy of Mr. James Young Stephen that this James Stephen was son of a previous James Stephen of Ardenbraught, whose brother Thomas was provost of Dundee and died in 1728. James Stephen of Ardenbraught had a younger son John, who was great-grandfather of the present Mr. Oscar Leslie Stephen. Mr. O. L. Stephen is father of Mr. James Young Stephen, Mr. Oscar Leslie Stephen, junior, and Sir Alexander Condie Stephen, K.C.M.G.]

[Footnote 2: My friend, Professor Bonney, kindly refers me to Conybeare and Philips' Outlines of Geology of England and Wales, p. 13, where there is an account of certain beds of lignite, or imperfect coal, in the neighbourhood of Poole. They burn with an odour of bitumen, and, no doubt, misled my great-grandfather. Geology was not even outlined in those days.]

[Footnote 3: 'Parleyings with Certain People'—Works (1889) xvi. 148-160.]

[Footnote 4: See Dictionary of National Biography.]

[Footnote 5: Redgrave's Dictionary of Painters.]

[Footnote 6: I have copies of two pamphlets in which these proceedings are described:—One is entitled 'Considerations on Imprisonment for Debt, fully proving that the confining of the bodies of debtors is contrary to Common Law, Magna Charta, Statute Law, Justice, Humanity, and Policy; and that the practice is more cruel and oppressive than is used in the most arbitrary kingdoms in Europe, with an account of various applications, &c.; by James Stephen, 1770.' The other pamphlet, to which is prefixed a letter by W. Jackson, reprints some of Stephen's letters from the New Jail, wants a title and is imperfect. See also the Annual Register for 1770 (Chronicle), November 19, for 1771 (Chronicle), January 31.]

[Footnote 7: That mentioned in the previous note. See also the 'Chronicle' of the Annual Register for November 19, 1770, and January 31 and November 2, 1771.]

[Footnote 8: The children were William and James (already mentioned); Sibella, born about 1765, afterwards married to William Maxwell Morison, editor of Decisions of Court of Session (1801-1818); Hannah, born about 1767, afterwards married to William Farish (1759-1837), Jacksonian professor at Cambridge; Elizabeth, born about 1769, afterwards married to her cousin, William Milner, of Comberton, near Cambridge; and John, born about 1771.]

[Footnote 9: The parish register records his burial on September 9, 1779.]

[Footnote 10: See the trial reported by Gurney in 21 State Trials, pp. 486-651. It lasted from 8 A.M. on Monday till 5.15 A.M. on Tuesday morning.]

[Footnote 11: See Slavery Delineated (preface to vol. i.), where other revolting details are given.]

[Footnote 12: Slavery Delineated, i. 54, 55.]

[Footnote 13: Sir George Stephen's Life of J. Stephen, p. 29.]

[Footnote 14: Reprinted in 13 Hansard's Debates, App. xxv.-cxxii.]

[Footnote 15: Hansard's Debates, June 20, 1814; and Abbot's Diary, ii. 503.]

[Footnote 16: It is now occupied by my friend Dr. Robert Liveing.]

[Footnote 17: For the life of my grandfather, I have relied upon his autobiography and upon the following among other works: Life of the late James Stephen by his son, Sir George Stephen, Victoria, 1875 (this little book, written when the author's memory was failing, is full of singular mistakes, a fact which I mention that I may not be supposed to have overlooked the statements in question but which it is needless to prove in detail); Jottings from Memory (two interesting little pamphlets privately printed by Sir Alfred Stephen in 1889 and 1891); and Wilberforce's Life and Letters (containing letters and incidental references). In Colquhoun's Wilberforce, his Friends and his Times (1886), pp. 180-198, is an account of Stephen's relations to Wilberforce, chiefly founded upon this. See also Roberts' Hannah More (several letters); Brougham's Speeches (1838), i. pp. 402-414 (an interesting account partly quoted in Sir J. Stephen's Clapham Sect, in Essays in Ecclesiastical Biography); Henry Adam's History of the United States (1891), iii. pp. 50-52 and elsewhere; Walpole's Life of Perceval.]

[Footnote 18: He served also in 1842 upon a Commission of Inquiry into the forgery of Exchequer bills.]

[Footnote 19: Serjeant Stephen's wife and a daughter died before him. He left two surviving children: Sarah, a lady of remarkable ability, author of a popular religious story called Anna; or, the Daughter at Home, and a chief founder of the 'Metropolitan Association for Befriending Young Servants,' who died unmarried, aged 79, on January 5, 1895; and James, who edited some of his father's books, was judge of the County Court at Lincoln, and died in November 1894. A short notice of the serjeant is in the Law Times of December 24, 1894.]

[Footnote 20: Life of James Stephen, p. 36.]

[Footnote 21: By his wife, a Miss Ravenscroft, he had seven children, who all emigrated with him. The eldest, James Wilberforce Stephen, was fourth wrangler in 1844 and Fellow of St. John's College, and afterwards a judge in the colony of Victoria.]

[Footnote 22: His Constitution of a Christian Church (1846) was republished, in 1874, as Churches the Many and the One, with additional notes by his son, the Rev. Samuel Garratt, now rector of St. Margaret's, Ipswich, and canon of Norwich.]

[Footnote 23: Lectures, vol. i. preface.]

[Footnote 24: Preface to Slavery Delineated, i. pp. lix.-lxx. My grandfather takes some trouble to show—and, as I think, shows conclusively—that the appointment mentioned in the text was not a job, and that it involved a considerable saving of public money. But this matter will interest no one at present.]

[Footnote 25: I have to thank Mr. Bryce, now President of the Board of Trade, for kindly procuring me the dates of my father's official appointments.]

[Footnote 26: Communicated by my friend Mr. J. Dykes Campbell.]

[Footnote 27: My cousin, Dr. John Venn, informs me that the first traceable Venn was a farmer in Broad Hembury, Devonshire, whose son, William Venn, was vicar of Otterton from 1599 to 1621.]

[Footnote 28: Henry Venn's Life, published by his grandson, Henry Venn, in 1834, has gone through several editions.]

[Footnote 29: A short life of John Venn is prefixed to his Sermons. He married Catherine King on October 22, 1789, and left seven children:—

1. Catherine Eling, born Dec. 2, 1791, died unmarried, April 22, 1827. 2. Jane Catherine, Lady Stephen, b. May 16, 1793, d. February 27, 1875. 3. Emelia, b. April 20, 1795, d. Feb. 1881. 4. Henry, b. February 10, 1796, d. January 13, 1873. 5. Caroline, Mrs. Ellis Batten, b. 1799, d. Jan. 26, 1870. 6. Maria, who died in infancy. 7. John, b. April 17, 1801, d. May 12, 1890.]

[Footnote 30: Missionary Secretariat of Henry Venn, B.D., by the Rev. William Knight, with introductory chapter by his sons the Rev. John Venn and the Rev. Henry Venn, 1880.]

[Footnote 31: Sir H. Taylor's Autobiography (1885), ii. 303. Taylor was b. October 18, 1800, and d. October 31, 1886.]

[Footnote 32: Autobiography, i. 136.]

[Footnote 33: P. 233.]

[Footnote 34: Autobiographical fragment.]

[Footnote 35: Taylor, ii. 301.]

[Footnote 36: Stephen's History of the Criminal Law, iii. 256. My brother was generally accurate in such statements, though I cannot quite resist the impression that he may at this time have been under some confusion as to the time employed upon this occasion and the time devoted to the Bill of 1833 to be mentioned directly.]

[Footnote 37: Taylor, i. 121-127. Sir Henry Taylor says that Stanley prepared a measure with Sir James Graham which was introduced into the House of Commons and 'forthwith was blown into the air.' I can find no trace of this in Hansard or elsewhere, and as Stanley only became Colonial Secretary (March 28) six weeks before introducing the measure which passed, and no parliamentary discussion intervened, I fancy that there must be some error. The facts as stated above seem to be at any rate sufficiently proved by Taylor's contemporary letter. According to Taylor, Stanley's great speech (May 14, 1833) upon introducing the Government measure was founded upon my father's judicious cramming, and the success of the measure was due to Stephen's putting his own design into enactments and Mr. Stanley's into a preamble. Taylor at the time thought that my father had been ill treated, but I have not the knowledge necessary to form any opinion. My brother's Life is the authority for the circumstances under which the measure was prepared, and rests on sufficient evidence.]

[Footnote 38: Taylor, i. 233.]

[Footnote 39: Ibid. ii. 303.]

[Footnote 40: I think it right to notice that in the first edition of T. Mozley's Reminiscences (1882), i. 111, there appeared an anecdote of my father in his official capacity which was preposterous on the face of it. It was completely demolished in a letter written by my brother which appeared in the Times of July 6, 1882, and withdrawn in a later edition.]

[Footnote 41: Reminiscences, ii. 224.]

[Footnote 42: Taylor, i. 235.]

[Footnote 43: Taylor, ii. 304.]

[Footnote 44: Reminiscences, ii. 223.]

[Footnote 45: Taylor, ii. 302.]

[Footnote 46: Some of my father's letters are given in Macvey Napier's correspondence. I think that they are the best in a collection which includes letters from many of the most eminent men of the time. A few others are in the collection of Sir H. Taylor's correspondence, edited by Professor Dowden in 1888.]

[Footnote 47: The title, of course, was given by Sydney Smith.]

[Footnote 48: My father's children were:—

1. Herbert Venn, b. September 30, 1822, d. October 22, 1846.

2. Frances Wilberforce, b. September 8, 1824, d. July 22, 1825.

3. James Fitzjames, b. March 3, 1829, d. March 11, 1894.

4. Leslie, born November 28, 1832.

5. Caroline Emelia, born December 8, 1834.]




In the beginning of 1829 my father settled in a house at Kensington Gore—now 42 Hyde Park Gate. There his second son, James Fitzjames, was born on March 3, 1829. James was the name upon which my grandfather insisted because it was his own. My father, because the name was his own, objected as long as he could, but at last compounded, and averted the evil omen, by adding Fitzjames. Two other children, Leslie and Caroline Emelia, were born in 1832 and 1834 at the same house. The Kensington of those days was still distinctly separate from London. A high wall divided Kensington Gardens from the Hounslow Road; there were still deer in the Gardens; cavalry barracks close to Queen's Gate, and a turnpike at the top of the Gloucester Road. The land upon which South Kensington has since arisen was a region of market gardens, where in our childhood we strolled with our nurse along genuine country lanes.

It would be in my power, if it were desirable, to give an unusually minute account of my brother's early childhood. My mother kept a diary, and, I believe, never missed a day for over sixty years. She was also in the habit of compiling from this certain family 'annals' in which she inserted everything that struck her as illustrative of the character of her children. About 1884 my brother himself began a fragment of autobiography, which he continued at intervals during the next two or three years. For various reasons I cannot transfer it as a whole to these pages, but it supplies me with some very important indications.[49] A comparison with my mother's contemporary account of the incidents common to both proves my brother's narrative to be remarkably accurate. Indeed, though he disclaimed the possession of unusual powers of memory in general, he had a singularly retentive memory for facts and dates, and amused himself occasionally by exercising his faculty. He had, for example, a certain walking-stick upon which he made a notch after a day's march; it served instead of a diary, and years afterwards he would explain what was the particular expedition indicated by any one of the very numerous notches.

Although I do not wish to record trifles important only in the eyes of a mother, or interesting only from private associations, I will give enough from these sources to illustrate his early development; or rather to show how much of the later man was already to be found in the infant. It requires perhaps some faith in maternal insight to believe that before he was three months old he showed an uncommon power of 'amusing himself with his own thoughts,' and had 'a calm, composed dignity in his countenance which was quite amusing in so young a creature.' It will be more easily believed that he was healthy and strong, and by the age of six months 'most determined to have his own way.' On August 15, 1830, Wilberforce was looking at the baby, when he woke up, burst into a laugh, and exclaimed 'Funny!' a declaration which Wilberforce no doubt took in good part, though it seems to have been interpreted as a reflection upon the philanthropist's peculiar figure. My brother himself gives a detailed description of his grandfather from an interview which occurred when the old gentleman was seventy-six and the infant very little more than three years old. He remembers even the room and the precise position of the persons present. He remembers too (and his mother's diary confirms the fact) how in the same year he announced that the Reform Bill had 'passed.' It was 'a very fine thing,' he said, being in fact a bill stuck upon a newsboy's hat, inscribed, as his nurse informed him, with the words 'Reform Bill.'

Although his memory implies early powers of observation, he did not show the precocity of many clever children. He was still learning to read about his fifth birthday, and making, as his mother complains, rather slow progress. But if not specially quick at his lessons, he gave very early and, as it seems to me, very noticeable proofs of thoughtfulness and independence of character. He was, as he remained through life, remarkable for that kind of sturdy strength which goes with a certain awkwardness and even sluggishness. To use a modern phrase, he had a great store of 'potential energy,' which was not easily convertible to purposes of immediate application. His mind swarmed with ideas, which would not run spontaneously into the regulation moulds. His mother's influence is perceptible in an early taste for poetry. In his third year he learnt by heart 'Sir John Moore's Burial,' 'Nelson and the North,' Wordsworth's 'Address to the Winds,' and Lord F. L. Gower's translation of Schiller ('When Jove had encircled this planet with light') from hearing his brother's repetition. He especially delighted in this bit of Schiller and in 'Chevy Chase,' though he resisted Watts' hymns. In the next two or three years he learns a good deal of poetry, and on September 5, 1834, repeats fifty lines of Henry the Fifth's speech before Agincourt without a fault. 'Pilgrim's Progress' and 'Robinson Crusoe' are read in due course as his reading improves, and he soon delights in getting into a room by himself and surrounding himself with books. His religious instruction of course began at the earliest possible period, and he soon learnt by heart many simple passages of the Bible. He made his first appearance at family prayers in November 1830, when the ceremony struck him as 'funny,' but he soon became interested and was taught to pray for himself. In 1832 his elder brother has nicknamed him the 'little preacher,' from his love of virtuous admonitions. In 1834 he confides to his mother that he has invented a prayer for himself which is 'not, you know, a childish sort of invention'; and in 1835 he explains that he has followed the advice given in a sermon (he very carefully points out that it was only advice, not an order) to pray regularly. Avowals of this kind, however, have to be elicited from him by delicate maternal questioning. He is markedly averse to any display of feeling. 'You should keep your love locked up as I do' is a characteristic remark at the age of four to his eldest brother. The effect of the religious training is apparently perceptible in a great tendency to self-analysis. His thoughts sometimes turn to other problems;—in October, 1835, for example, he asks the question which has occurred to so many thoughtful children,'How do we know that the world is not a dream?'—but he is chiefly interested in his own motives. He complains in January 1834 that he has naughty thoughts. His father tells him to send them away without even thinking about them. He takes the advice, but afterwards explains that he is so proud of sending them away that he 'wants to get them that he may send them away.' He objects to a reward for being good, because it will make him do right from a wrong motive. He shrinks from compliments. In October 1835 he leaves a room where some carpenters were at work because they had said something which he was sorry to have heard. They had said, as it appeared upon anxious inquiry, that he would make a good carpenter, and he felt that he was being cajoled. He remarks that even pleasures become painful when they are ordered, and explains why his sixth birthday was disappointing; he had expected too much.

His thoughtfulness took shapes which made him at times anything but easy to manage. He could be intensely obstinate. The first conflict with authority took place on June 28, 1831, when he resolutely declared that he would not say the 'Busy Bee.' This event became famous in the nursery, for in September 1834 he has to express contrition for having in play used the words 'By the busy bee' as an infantile equivalent to an oath. One difficulty was that he declined to repeat what was put into his mouth, or to take first principles in ethics for granted. When his mother reads a text to him (May 1832), he retorts, 'Then I will not be like a little child; I do not want to go to heaven; I would rather stay on earth.' He declines (in 1834) to join in a hymn which expresses a desire to die and be with God. Even good people, he says, may prefer to stay in this world. 'I don't want to be as good and wise as Tom Macaulay' is a phrase of 1832, showing that even appeals to concrete ideals of the most undeniable excellence fail to overpower him. He gradually developed a theory which became characteristic, and which he obstinately upheld when driven into a logical corner. A stubborn conflict arose in 1833, when his mother was forced to put him in solitary confinement during the family teatime. She overhears a long soliloquy in which he admits his error, contrasts his position with that of the happy who are perhaps even now having toast and sugar, and compares his position to the 'last night of Pharaoh.' 'What a barbarian I am to myself!' he exclaims, and resolves that this shall be his last outbreak. On being set at liberty, he says that he was naughty on purpose, and not only submits but requests to be punished. For a short time he applies spontaneously for punishments, though he does not always submit when the request is granted. But this is a concession under difficulties. His general position is that by punishing him his mother only 'procures him to be much more naughty,' and he declines as resolutely as Jeremy Bentham to admit that naughtiness in itself involves unhappiness, or that the happiness of naughtiness should not be taken into account. He frequently urges that it is pleasanter while it lasts to give way to temper, and that the discomfort only comes afterwards. It follows logically, as he argues in 1835, that if a man could be naughty all his life he would be quite happy. Some time later (1838) he is still arguing the point, having now reached the conclusion to which the Emperor Constantine gave a practical application. The desirable thing would be to be naughty all your life, and to repent just at the end.

These declarations are of course only interpolations in the midst of many more edifying though less original remarks. He was exceedingly conscientious, strongly attached to his parents, and very kind to his younger brother and sister. I note that when he was four years old he already thought it, as he did ever afterwards, one of the greatest of treats to have a solitary talk with his father. He was, however, rather unsociable and earned the nickname of 'Gruffian' for his occasionally surly manner. This, with a stubborn disposition and occasional fits of the sulks, must have made it difficult to manage a child who persisted in justifying 'naughtiness' upon general principles. He was rather inclined to be indolent, and his mother regrets that he is not so persevering as Frederick (Gibbs). His great temptation, he says himself, in his childhood was to be 'effeminate and lazy,' and 'to justify these vices by intellectual and religious excuses.' A great deal of this, he adds, has been 'knocked out of him'; he cannot call himself a sluggard or a hypocrite, nor has he acted like a coward. 'Indeed,' he says, 'from my very infancy I had an instinctive dislike of the maudlin way of looking at things,' and he remembers how in his fifth year he had declared that guns were not 'dreadful things.' They were good if put to the proper uses. I do not think that there was ever much real 'effeminacy' to be knocked out of him. It is too harsh a word for the slowness with which a massive and not very flexible character rouses itself to action. His health was good, except for a trifling ailment which made him for some time pass for a delicate child. But the delicacy soon passed off and for the next fifty years he enjoyed almost unbroken health.

In 1836 he explains some bluntness of behaviour by an argument learnt from 'Sandford and Merton' that politeness is objectionable. In August occurs a fit of obstinacy. He does not want to be forgiven but to be 'happy and comfortable.' 'I do not feel sorry, for I always make the best of my condition in every possible way, and being sorry would make me uncomfortable. That is not to make the best of my condition.' His mother foresees a contest and remarks 'a daring and hardened spirit which is not natural to him.' Soon after, I should perhaps say in consequence of, these outbreaks he was sent to school. My mother's first cousin, Henry Venn Elliott, was incumbent of St. Mary's Chapel at Brighton and a leading evangelical preacher. At Brighton, too, lived his sister, Miss Charlotte Elliott, author of some very popular hymns and of some lively verses of a secular kind. Fitzjames would be under their wing at Brighton, where Elliott recommended a school kept by the Rev. B. Guest, at 7 Sussex Square. My mother took him down by the Brighton coach, and he entered the school on November 10, 1836.[50] The school, says Fitzjames, was in many ways very good; the boys were well taught and well fed. But it was too decorous; there was no fighting and no bullying and rather an excess of evangelical theology. The boys used to be questioned at prayers. 'Gurney, what's the difference between justification and sanctification?' 'Stephen, prove the Omnipotence of God.' Many of the hymns sung by the boys remained permanently in my brother's memory, and he says that he could give the names of all the masters and most of the boys and a history of all incidents in chronological order. Guest's eloquence about justification by faith seems to have stimulated his pupil's childish speculations. He read a tract in which four young men discuss the means of attaining holiness. One says, 'Meditate on the goodness of God'; a second, 'on the happiness of heaven'; a third, 'on the tortures of hell'; and a fourth, 'on the love of Christ.' The last plan was approved in the tract; but Fitzjames thought meditation on hell more to the purpose, and set about it deliberately. He imagined the world transformed into a globe of iron, white hot, with a place in the middle made to fit him so closely that he could not even wink. The globe was split like an orange; he was thrust by an angel into his place, immortal, unconsumable, and capable of infinite suffering; and then the two halves were closed, and he left in hideous isolation to suffer eternal torments. I guess from my own experience that other children have had similar fancies. He adds, however, a characteristic remark. 'It seemed to me then, as it seems now, that no stronger motive, no motive anything like so strong, can be applied to actuate any human creature toward any line of conduct. To compare the love of God or anything else is to my mind simply childish.' He refers to Mill's famous passage about going to hell rather than worship a bad God, and asks what Mill would say after an experience of a quarter of an hour. Fitzjames, however, did not dwell upon such fancies. They were merely the childish mode of speculation by concrete imagery. He became more sociable, played cricket, improved in health, and came home with the highest of characters as being the best and most promising boy in the school. He rose steadily, and seems to have been thoroughly happy for the next five years and a half.

In 1840 my mother observed certain peculiarities in me which she took at first to be indications of precocious genius. After a time, however, she consulted an eminent physician, who informed her that they were really symptoms of a disordered circulation. He added that I was in a fair way to become feeble in mind and deformed in body, and strongly advised that I should be sent to school, where my brain would be in less danger of injudicious stimulation. He declared that even my life was at stake. My father, much alarmed, took one of his prompt decisions. He feared to trust so delicate a child away from home, and therefore resolved to take a house in Brighton for a year or two, from which I might attend my brother's school. The Kensington house was let, and my mother and sister settled in Sussex Square, a few doors from Mr. Guest. My father, unable to leave his work, took a lodging in town and came to Brighton for Sundays, or occasionally twice a week. In those days the journey was still by coach. When the railway began running in the course of 1841, I find my father complaining that it could not be trusted, and had yet made all other modes of travelling impossible. 'How many men turned of fifty,' asks my brother, 'would have put themselves to such inconvenience, discomfort, and separation from their wives for the sake of screening a delicate lad from some of the troubles of a carefully managed boarding school?' My brother was not aware of the apparent gravity of the case when he wrote this. Such a measure would have pushed parental tenderness to weakness had there been only a question of comfort; but my father was seriously alarmed, and I can only think of his conduct with the deepest gratitude.

To Fitzjames the plan brought the advantage that he became his father's companion in Sunday strolls over the Downs. His father now found, as my mother's diary remarks, that he could already talk to him as to a man, and Fitzjames became dimly aware that there were difficulties about Mr. Guest's theology. He went with my father, too, to hear Mr. Sortaine, a popular preacher whose favourite topic was the denunciation of popery. My father explained to the boy that some able men really defended the doctrine of transubstantiation, and my brother, as he remarks, could not then suspect that under certain conditions very able men like nonsense, and are even not averse to 'impudent lying,' in defence of their own authority. Incidentally, too, my father said that there were such people as atheists, but that such views should be treated as we should treat one who insulted the character of our dearest friend. This remark, attributed to a man who was incapable of insulting anyone, and was a friend of such freethinkers as Austin and J. S. Mill, must be regarded as representing the impression made upon an inquisitive child by an answer adapted to his capacity. The impression was, however, very strong, and my brother notes that he heard it on a wettish evening on the cliff near the south end of the old Steine.

Fitzjames had discussed the merits of Mr. Guest's school with great intelligence and had expressed a wish to be sent to Rugby. He had heard bad accounts of the state of Eton, and some rumours of Arnold's influence had reached him. Arnold, someone had told him, could read a boy's character at a glance. At Easter 1841, my father visited the Diceys at Claybrook, and thence took his boy to see the great schoolmaster at Rugby. Fitzjames draws a little diagram to show how distinctly he remembers the scene. He looked at the dark, grave man and wondered, 'Is he now reading my character at a glance?' It does not appear that he was actually entered at Rugby, however, and my father had presently devised another scheme. The inconveniences of the Brighton plan had made themselves felt, and it now occurred to my father that he might take a house in Windsor and send both Fitzjames and me to Eton. We should thus, he hoped, get the advantages of a public school without being exposed to some of its hardships and temptations. He would himself be able to live with his family, although, as things then were, he had to drive daily to and from the Slough station, besides having the double journey from Paddington to Downing Street. We accordingly moved to Windsor in Easter 1842. Fitzjames's last months at school had not been quite so triumphant as the first, partly, it seems, from a slight illness, and chiefly for the characteristic reason, according to his master, that he would occupy himself with 'things too high for him.' He read solid works (I find mention of Carlyle's 'French Revolution') out of school hours and walked with an usher to whom he took a fancy, discoursing upon absorbing topics when he should have been playing cricket. Fitzjames left Brighton on the day, as he notes, upon which one Mister was hanged for attempting murder—being almost the last man in England hanged for anything short of actual murder. He entered Eton on April 15, 1842, and was placed in the 'Remove,' the highest class attainable at his age.


The Eton period[51] had marked effects. Fitzjames owed, as he said, a debt of gratitude to the school, but it was for favours which would have won gratitude from few recipients. The boys at a public school form, I fancy, the most rigidly conservative body in existence. They hate every deviation from the accepted type with the hatred of an ancient orthodox divine for a heretic. The Eton boys of that day regarded an 'up-town boy' with settled contempt. His motives or the motives of his parents for adopting so abnormal a scheme were suspect. He might be the son of a royal footman or a prosperous tradesman in Windsor, audaciously aspiring to join the ranks of his superiors, and if so, clearly should be made to know his place. In any case he was exceptional, and therefore a Pariah, to associate with whom might be dangerous to one's caste. Mr. Coleridge tells me that even the school authorities were not free from certain suspicions. They wisely imagined, it appears, that my father had come among them as a spy, instigated, no doubt, by some diabolical design of 'reforming' the school and desecrating the shrine of Henry's holy shade. The poor man, already overpowered by struggling with refractory colonists from Heligoland to New Zealand, was of malice prepense stirring up this additional swarm of hornets. I can hardly suppose, however, that this ingenious theory had much influence. Mr. Coleridge also says that the masters connived at the systematic bullying of the town boys. I can believe that they did not systematically repress it. I must add, however, in justice to my school-fellows, that my personal recollections do not reveal any particular tyranny. Such bullying as I had to endure was very occasional, and has left no impression on my memory. Yet I was far less capable than Fitzjames of defending myself, and can hardly have forgotten any serious tormenting. The truth is that the difference between me and my brother was the difference between the willow and the oak, and that I evaded such assaults as he met with open defiance.

My brother, as has been indicated, was far more developed in character, if not in scholarship, than is at all common at his age. His talks with my father and his own reading had familiarised him with thoughts lying altogether beyond the horizon of the average boyish mind. He was thoughtful beyond his years, although not conspicuously forward in the school studies. He was already inclined to consider games as childish. He looked down upon his companions and the school life generally as silly and frivolous. The boys resented his contempt of their ways; and his want of sociability and rather heavy exterior at the time made him a natural butt for schoolboy wit. He was, he says, bullied and tormented till, towards the end of his time, he plucked up spirit to resist. Of the bullying there can be no doubt; nor (sooner or later) of the resistance. Mr. Coleridge observes that he was anything but a passive victim, and turned fiercely upon the ringleaders of his enemies. 'Often,' he adds, 'have I applauded his backhanders as the foremost in the fray. He was only vanquished by numbers. His bill for hats at Sanders' must have amounted to a stiff figure, for my visions of Fitzjames are of a discrowned warrior, returning to Windsor bareheaded, his hair moist with the steam of recent conflict.' My own childish recollections of his school life refer mainly to pugilism. In October 1842, as I learn from my mother's diary, he found a big boy bullying me, and gave the boy such a thrashing as was certain to prevent a repetition of the crime. I more vividly recollect another occasion, when a strong lad was approaching me with hostile intent. I can still perceive my brother in the background; when an application of the toe of his boot between the tails of my tyrant's coat disperses him instantaneously into total oblivion. Other scenes dimly rise up, as of a tumult in the school-yard, where Fitzjames was encountering one of the strongest boys in the school amidst a delighted crowd, when the appearance of the masters stopped the proceedings. Fitzjames says that in his sixteenth year (i.e. 1844-5) he grew nearly five inches, and instead of outgrowing his strength became a 'big, powerful young man, six feet high,'—and certainly a very formidable opponent.

Other boys have had similar experiences without receiving the same impression. 'I was on the whole,' he says, 'very unhappy at Eton, and I deserved it; for I was shy, timid, and I must own cowardly. I was like a sensible grown-up woman among a crowd of rough boys.' After speaking of his early submission to tyranny, he adds: 'I still think with shame and self-contempt of my boyish weakness, which, however, did not continue in later years. The process taught me for life the lesson that to be weak is to be wretched, that the state of nature is a state of war, and Vae Victis the great law of Nature. Many years afterwards I met R. Lowe (Lord Sherbrooke) at dinner. He was speaking of Winchester, and said with much animation that he had learnt one great lesson there, namely, that a man can count on nothing in this world except what lies between his hat and his boots. I learnt the same lesson at Eton, but alas! by conjugating not pulso but vapulo.' As I have intimated, I think that his conscience must have rather exaggerated his sins of submission; though I also cannot doubt that there was some ground for his self-humiliation. In any case, he atoned for it fully. I must add that he learnt another lesson, which, after his fashion, he refrains from avowing. The 'kicks, cuffs, and hat smashing had no other result,' says Mr. Coleridge, 'than to steel his mind for ever against oppression, tyranny, and unfairness of every kind.' How often that lesson is effectually taught by simple bullying I will not inquire. Undoubtedly Fitzjames learnt it, though he expressed himself more frequently in terms of indignation against the oppressor than of sympathy for the oppressed; but the sentiment was equally strong, and I have no doubt that it was stimulated by these acts of tyranny.

The teaching at Eton was 'wretched'; the hours irregular and very unpunctual; the classes were excessively large, and the tutorial instruction supposed to be given out of school frequently neglected. 'I do not believe,' says my brother, 'that I was ever once called upon to construe at my tutor's after I got into the fifth form.' An absurd importance, too, was already attached to the athletic amusements. Balston, our tutor, was a good scholar after the fashion of the day and famous for Latin verse; but he was essentially a commonplace don. 'Stephen major,' he once said to my brother, 'if you do not take more pains, how can you ever expect to write good longs and shorts? If you do not write good longs and shorts, how can you ever be a man of taste? If you are not a man of taste, how can you ever hope to be of use in the world?'—a sorites, says my brother, which must, he thinks, be somewhere defective.

The school, however, says Fitzjames, had two good points. The boys, in the first place, were gentlemen by birth and breeding, and did not forget their home training. The simple explanation of the defects of the school was, as he remarks, that parents in this class did not care about learning; they wished their children to be gentlemen, and to be 'bold and active, and to make friends and to enjoy themselves, and most of them had their wish.'

The second good point in the school is more remarkable. 'There was,' says Fitzjames, 'a complete absence of moral and religious enthusiasm. The tone of Rugby was absolutely absent.' Chapel was simply a kind of drill. He vividly remembers a sermon delivered by one of the Fellows, a pompous old gentleman, who solemnly gave out the bidding prayer, and then began in these words, 'which ring in my ears after the lapse of more than forty years.' 'The subject of my discourse this morning, my brethren, will be the duties of the married state.' When Balston was examined before a Public Schools Commission, he gave what Fitzjames considers 'a perfectly admirable answer to one question.' He had said that the Provost and Fellows did all the preaching, and was asked whether he did not regret that he could not, as headmaster, use this powerful mode of influencing the boys? 'No,' he said; 'I was always of opinion that nothing was so important for boys as the preservation of Christian simplicity.' 'This put into beautiful language,' says my brother, 'the truth that at Eton there was absolutely no nonsense.' The masters knew that they had 'nothing particular to teach in the way of morals or religion, and they did not try to do so.'

The merits thus ascribed to Eton were chiefly due, it seems, to the neglect of discipline and of teaching. My brother infers that good teaching at school is of less importance than is generally supposed. I shall not enter upon that question; but it is necessary to point out that whatever the merits of an entire absence of moral and religious instruction, my brother can hardly be taken as an instance. At this time the intimacy with his father, already close, was rapidly developing. On Sunday afternoons, in particular, my father used to walk to the little chapel near Cumberland Lodge, in Windsor Park, and on the way would delight in the conversations which so profoundly interested his son. The boy's mind was ripening, and he was beginning to take an interest in some of the questions of the day. It was the time of the Oxford movement, and discussions upon that topic were frequent at home. Frederick Gibbs held for a time a private tutorship at Eton while reading for a fellowship at Trinity, and brought news of what was exciting young men at the Universities. A quaint discussion recalled by my brother indicates one topic which even reached the schoolboy mind. He was arguing as to confirmation with Herbert Coleridge (1830-1861) whose promising career as a philologist was cut short by an early death. 'If you are right,' said Fitzjames, 'a bishop could not confirm with his gloves on.' 'No more he could,' retorted Coleridge, boldly accepting the position. Political questions turned up occasionally. O'Connell was being denounced as 'the most impudent of created liars,' and a belief in Free Trade was the mark of a dangerous radical. To the Eton time my brother also refers a passionate contempt for the 'sentimental and comic' writers then popular. He was disgusted not only by their sentimentalism but by their vulgarity and their ridicule of all that he respected.

One influence, at this time, mixed oddly with that exerted by my father. My eldest brother, Herbert, had suffered from ill health, due, I believe, to a severe illness in his infancy, which had made it impossible to give him a regular education. He had grown up to be a tall, large-limbed man, six feet two-and-a-half inches in height, but loosely built, and with a deformity of one foot which made him rather awkward. The delicacy of his constitution had caused much anxiety and trouble, and he diverged from our family traditions by insisting upon entering the army. There, as I divine, he was the object of a good deal of practical joking, and found himself rather out of his element. He used to tell a story which may have received a little embroidery in tradition. He was at a ball at Gibraltar, which was attended by a naval officer. When the ladies had retired this gentleman proposed pistol shooting. After a candelabrum had been smashed, the sailor insisted upon taking a shot at a man who was lying on a sofa, and lodged a bullet in the wall just above his head. Herbert left the army about 1844 and entered at Gray's Inn. He would probably have taken to literature, and he wrote a few articles not without promise, but his life was a short one. He was much at Windsor, and the anxiety which he had caused, as well as a great sweetness and openness of temper, made him, I guess, the most tenderly loved of his parents' children. He had, however, wandered pretty widely outside the limits of the Clapham Sect. He became very intimate with Fitzjames, and they had long and frank discussions. This daring youth doubted the story of Noah's flood, and one phrase which stuck in his brother's mind is significant. 'You,' he said, 'are a good boy, and I suppose you will go to heaven. If you can enjoy yourself there when you think of me and my like grilling in hell fire, upon my soul I don't envy you.' One other little glance from a point of view other than that of Clapham impressed the lad. He found among his father's books a copy of 'State Trials,' and there read the trial of Williams for publishing Paine's 'Age of Reason.' The extracts from Paine impressed him; though, for a time, he had an impression from his father that Coleridge and other wise men had made a satisfactory apology for the Bible; and 'in his inexperience' he thought that Paine's coarseness implied a weak case. 'There is a great deal of truth,' he says, 'in a remark made by Paine. I have gone through the Bible as a man might go through a wood, cutting down the trees. The priests can stick them in again, but they will not make them grow.' For the present such thoughts remained without result. Fitzjames was affected, he says, by the combined influence of his father and brother. He thought that something was to be said on both sides of the argument. Meanwhile the anxiety caused to his father by Herbert's unfortunately broken, though in no sense discreditable, career impressed him with a strong sense of the evils of all irregularities of conduct. He often remembered Herbert in connection with one of his odd anniversaries. 'This day eighteen years ago,' he says (September 16, 1857), 'my brother Herbert and I killed a snake in Windsor Forest. Poor dear fellow! we should have been great friends, and please God! we shall be yet.'

Meanwhile Fitzjames had done well, though not brilliantly, at school. He was eighth in his division, of which he gives the first twelve names from memory. The first boy was Chenery, afterwards editor of the 'Times,' and the twelfth was Herbert Coleridge. With the exception of Coleridge, his cousin Arthur, and W. J. Beamont (1828-1868), who at his death was a Fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge, he had hardly any intimates. Chitty, afterwards his colleague on the Bench, was then famous as an athlete; but with athletics my brother had nothing to do. His only amusement of that kind was the solitary sport of fishing. He caught a few roach and dace, and vainly endeavoured to inveigle pike. His failure was caused, perhaps, by scruples as to the use of live bait, which led him to look up some elaborate recipes in Walton's 'Compleat Angler.' Pike, though not very intelligent, have long seen through those ancient secrets.

One of these friendships led to a characteristic little incident. In the Christmas holidays of 1844 Fitzjames was invited to stay with the father of his friend Beamont, who was a solicitor at Warrington. There could not, as I had afterwards reason to know, have been a quieter or simpler household. But they had certain gaieties. Indeed, if my memory does not deceive me, Fitzjames there made his first and only appearance upon the stage in the character of Tony Lumpkin. My father was alarmed by the reports of these excesses, and, as he was going to the Diceys, at Claybrook, wrote to my brother of his intentions. He hinted that Fitzjames, if he were at liberty, might like a visit to his cousins. Upon arriving at Rugby station he found Fitzjames upon the platform. The lad had at once left Warrington, though a party had been specially invited for his benefit, having interpreted the paternal hint in the most decisive sense. My father, I must add, was shocked by the results of his letter, and was not happy till he had put himself right with the innocent Beamonts.

Under Balston's advice Fitzjames was beginning to read for the Newcastle. Before much progress had been made in this, however, my father discovered his son's unhappiness at school. Although the deep designs of reform with which the masters seem to have credited him were purely imaginary, my father had no high opinion of Eton, and devised another scheme. Fitzjames went to the school for the last time about September 23, 1845, and then tore off his white necktie and stamped upon it. He went into the ante-chapel and scowled, he says, at the boys inside, not with a benediction. It was the close of three years to which he occasionally refers in his letters, and always much in the same terms. They were, in the main, unhappy, and, as he emphatically declared, the only unhappy years of his life, but they had taught him a lesson.


On October 1, 1845, he entered King's College, London. Lodgings were taken for him at Highgate Hill, within a few doors of his uncle, Henry Venn. He walked the four miles to the college, dined at the Colonial Office at two, and returned by the omnibus. He was now his own master, the only restriction imposed upon him being that he should every evening attend family prayers at his uncle's house. The two years he spent at King's College were, he says, 'most happy.' He felt himself changed from a boy to a man. The King's College lads, who, indeed called themselves 'men,' were of a lower social rank than the Etonians, and, as Fitzjames adds, unmistakably inferior in physique. Boys who had the Strand as the only substitute for the playing-fields were hardly likely to show much physical prowess. But they had qualities more important to him. They were industrious, as became the sons of professional and business men. Their moral tone was remarkably good; he never knew, he says, a more thoroughly well-behaved set of lads, although he is careful to add that he does not think that in this respect Eton was bad. His whole education had been among youths 'singularly little disposed to vice or a riot in any form.' But the great change for him was that he could now find intellectual comradeship. There was a debating society, in which he first learnt to hear his own voice, and indeed became a prominent orator. He is reported to have won the surname 'Giant Grim.' His most intimate friend was the present Dr. Kitchin, Dean of Durham. The lads discussed politics and theology and literature, instead of putting down to affectation any interest outside of the river and the playing-fields. Fitzjames not only found himself in a more congenial atmosphere, but could hold his own better among youths whose standard of scholarship was less exalted than that of the crack Latin versemakers at Eton, although the average level was perhaps higher. In 1846 he won a scholarship, and at the summer examination was second in classics. In 1847 he was only just defeated for a scholarship by an elder boy, and was first, both in classics and English literature, in the examinations, besides winning a prize essay.

Here, as elsewhere, he was much interested by the theological tone of his little circle, which was oddly heterogeneous. There was, in the first place, his uncle, Henry Venn, to whom he naturally looked up as the exponent of the family orthodoxy. Long afterwards, upon Venn's death, he wrote, 'Henry Venn was the most triumphant man I ever knew.' 'I never,' he adds, 'knew a sturdier man.' Such qualities naturally commanded his respect, though he probably was not an unhesitating disciple. At King's College, meanwhile, which prided itself upon its Anglicanism, he came under a very different set of teachers. The principal, Dr. Jelf, represented the high and dry variety of Anglicanism. I can remember how, a little later, I used to listen with wonder to his expositions of the Thirty-nine Articles. What a marvellous piece of good fortune it was, I used dimly to consider, that the Church of England had always hit off precisely the right solution in so many and such tangled controversies! But King's College had a professor of a very different order in F. D. Maurice. His personal charm was remarkable, and if Fitzjames did not become exactly a disciple he was fully sensible of Maurice's kindness of nature and loftiness of purpose. He held, I imagine, in a vague kind of way, that here might perhaps be the prophet who was to guide him across the deserts of infidelity into the promised land where philosophy and religion will be finally reconciled. Of this, however, I shall have more to say hereafter.

I must now briefly mention the changes which took place at this time in our family. In 1846 my brother Herbert made a tour to Constantinople, and on his return home was seized by a fever and died at Dresden on October 22. My father and mother had started upon the first news of the illness, but arrived too late to see their son alive. Fitzjames in the interval came to Windsor, and, as my mother records, was like a father to the younger children. The journey to Dresden, with its terrible suspense and melancholy end, was a severe blow to my father. From that time, as it seems to me, he was a changed man. He had already begun to think of retiring from his post, and given notice that he must be considered as only holding it during the convenience of his superiors.[52] He gave up the house at Windsor, having, indeed, kept it on chiefly because Herbert was fond of the place. We settled for a time at Wimbledon. There my brother joined us in the early part of 1847. A very severe illness in the autumn of 1847 finally induced my father to resign his post. In recognition of his services he was made a privy councillor and K.C.B. His retirement was at first provisional, and, on recovering, he was anxious to be still employed in some capacity. The Government of the day considered the pension to which he was entitled an inadequate reward for his services. There was some talk of creating the new office of Assessor to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, to which he was to be appointed. This proved to be impracticable, but his claim was partly recognised in his appointment to succeed William Smyth (died June 26, 1849) as Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge.[53] I may as well mention here the later events of his life, as they will not come into any precise connection with my brother's history. The intimacy between the two strengthened as my brother developed into manhood, and they were, as will be seen, in continual intercourse. But after leaving King's College my brother followed his own lines, though for a time an inmate of our household.

The Kensington house having been let, we lived in various suburban places, and, for a time, at Cambridge. My father's professorship occupied most of his energies in later years. He delivered his first course in the May term of 1850. Another very serious illness, threatening brain fever, interrupted him for a time, and he went abroad in the autumn of 1850. He recovered, however, beyond expectation, and was able to complete his lectures in the winter, and deliver a second course in the summer of 1851. These lectures were published in 1852 as 'Lectures on the History of France.' They show, I think, the old ability, but show also some failure of the old vivacity. My father did not possess the profound antiquarian knowledge which is rightly demanded in a professor of the present day; and, indeed, I think it is not a little remarkable that, in the midst of his absorbing work, he had acquired so much historical reading as they display. But, if I am not mistaken, the lectures have this peculiar merit—that they are obviously written by a man who had had vast practical experience of actual administrative work. They show, therefore, an unusual appreciation of the constitutional side of French history; and he anticipated some of the results set forth with, of course, far greater knowledge of the subject, in Tocqueville's 'Ancien Regime.' Tocqueville himself wrote very cordially to my father upon the subject; and the lectures have been valued by very good judges. Nothing, however, could be more depressing than the position of a professor at Cambridge at that time. The first courses delivered by my father were attended by a considerable number of persons capable of feeling literary curiosity—a class which was then less abundant than it would now be at Cambridge. But he very soon found that his real duty was to speak to young gentlemen who had been driven into his lecture-room by well-meant regulations; who were only anxious to secure certificates for the 'poll' degree, and whose one aim was to secure them on the cheapest possible terms. To candidates for honours, the history school was at best a luxury for which they could rarely spare time, and my father had to choose between speaking over the heads of his audience and giving milk and water to babes. The society of the Cambridge dons in those days was not much to his taste, and he soon gave up residence there.

About the beginning of 1853 he took a house in Westbourne Terrace, which became his headquarters. In 1855 he accepted a professorship at Haileybury, which was then doomed to extinction, only to hold it during the last three years of the existence of the college. These lectures sufficiently occupied his strength, and he performed them to the best of his ability. The lectures upon French history were, however, the last performance which represented anything like his full powers.


In October 1847 my brother went into residence at Trinity College, Cambridge. 'My Cambridge career,' he says, 'was not to me so memorable or important a period of life as it appears to some people.' He seems to have extended the qualification to all his early years. 'Few men,' he says, 'have worked harder than I have for the last thirty-five years, but I was a very lazy, unsystematic lad up to the age of twenty-two.' He would sometimes speak of himself as 'one of a slowly ripening race,' and set little value upon the intellectual acquirements attained during the immature period. Yet I have sufficiently shown that in some respects he was even exceptionally developed. From his childhood he had shared the thoughts of his elders; he had ceased to be a boy when he had left Eton at sixteen; and he came up to Cambridge far more of a grown man than nine in ten of his contemporaries. So far, indeed, as his character was concerned, he had scarcely ever been a child: at Cambridge, as at Eton, he regarded many of the ambitions of his contemporaries as puerile. Even the most brilliant undergraduates are sometimes tempted to set an excessive value upon academical distinction. A senior wranglership appears to them to be the culminating point of human glory, instead of the first term in the real battle of life. Fitzjames, far from sharing this delusion, regarded it, perhaps, with rather too much contempt. His thoughts were already upon his future career, and he cared for University distinctions only as they might provide him with a good start in the subsequent competition. But this marked maturity of character did not imply the possession of corresponding intellectual gifts, or, as I should rather say, of such gifts as led to success in the Senate House. Fitzjames had done respectably at Eton, and had been among the first lads at King's College. He probably came up to Cambridge with confidence that he would make a mark in examinations. But his mind, however powerful, was far from flexible. He had not the intellectual docility which often enables a clever youth to surpass rivals of much greater originality—as originality not unfrequently tempts a man outside the strait and narrow path which leads to the maximum of marks. 'I have always found myself,' says Fitzjames, in reference to his academical career, 'one of the most unteachable of human beings. I cannot, to this day, take in anything at second hand. I have in all cases to learn whatever I want to learn in a way of my own. It has been so with law, with languages, with Indian administration, with the machinery I have had to study in patent cases, with English composition—in a word, with everything whatever.' For other reasons, however, he was at a disadvantage. He not only had not yet developed, but he never at any time possessed, the intellectual qualities most valued at Cambridge.

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