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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Minor punctuation errors have been corrected without notice. Printer's errors have been corrected and are listed at the end of the book. All other inconsistencies are as in the original.

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London. Published by Smith Elder & C^o. 15 Waterloo Place.


A Judge of the High Court of Justice

by his brother


With Two Portraits

London Smith, Elder, & Co., 15 Waterloo Place 1895

[All rights reserved]


In writing the following pages I have felt very strongly one disqualification for my task. The life of my brother, Sir J. F. STEPHEN, was chiefly devoted to work which requires some legal knowledge for its full appreciation. I am no lawyer; and I should have considered this fact to be a sufficient reason for silence, had it been essential to give any adequate estimate of the labours in question. My purpose, however, is a different one. I have wished to describe the man rather than to give any history of what he did. What I have said of the value of his performances must be taken as mainly a judgment at second hand. But in writing of the man himself I have advantages which, from the nature of the case, are not shared by others. For more than sixty years he was my elder brother; and a brother in whose character and fortunes I took the strongest interest from the earliest period at which I was capable of reflection or observation. I think that brothers have generally certain analogies of temperament, intellectual and moral, which enable them, however widely they may differ in many respects, to place themselves at each other's point of view, and to be so far capable of that sympathetic appreciation which is essential to satisfactory biography. I believe that this is true of my brother and myself. Moreover, as we were brought up under the same roof, I have an intimate knowledge—now, alas! almost peculiar to myself—of the little home circle whose characteristics had a profound influence upon his development. I have thought it desirable to give a fuller account of those characteristics, and of their origin in previous circumstances, than can well be given by any one but myself. This is partly because I recognise the importance of the influence exerted upon him; and partly, I will admit, for another reason. My brother took a great interest, and, I may add, an interest not unmixed with pride, in our little family history. I confess that I share his feelings, and think, at any rate, that two or three of the persons of whom I have spoken deserve a fuller notice than has as yet been made public. What I have said may, I hope, serve as a small contribution to the history of one of the rivulets which helped to compose the great current of national life in the earlier part of this century.

I could not have attempted to write the life of my brother without the approval and the help of my sister-in-law, Lady Stephen. She has provided me with materials essential to the narrative, and has kindly read what I have written. I am, of course, entirely responsible for everything that is here said; and I feel the responsibility all the more because I have had the advantage of her suggestions throughout. I have also to thank my brother's children, who have been in various ways very helpful. My nephews, in particular, have helped me in regard to various legal matters. To my sister, Miss Stephen, I owe a debt of gratitude which—for reasons which she will understand—I shall not attempt to discharge by any full acknowledgment.

I have especially to thank Sir H. S. Cunningham and Lady Egerton, Lady Stephen's brother and sister, for permitting me to read my brother's letters to them, and for various suggestions. Some other correspondence has been placed in my hands, and especially two important collections. Lady Grant Duff has been good enough to show me a number of letters written to her, and Lady Lytton has communicated letters written to the late Lord Lytton. I have spoken of these letters in the text, and have in the last chapter given my reasons for confining my use of them to occasional extracts. They have been of material service.

I have acknowledged help received from other persons at the points where it has been turned to account. I will, however, offer my best thanks to them in this place, and assure them of my sincere gratitude. Mr. Arthur Coleridge, the Rev. Dr. Kitchin, dean of Durham, the Rev. H. W. Watson, rector of Berkeswell, Coventry, the Rev. J. Llewelyn Davies, vicar of Kirkby Lonsdale, Prof. Sidgwick and Mr. Montagu S. D. Butler, of Pembroke College, Cambridge, have given me information in regard to early years. Mr. Franklin Lushington, Mr. Justice Wills, Lord Field, Mr. Justice Vaughan Williams, Sir Francis Jeune, Sir Theodore Martin, the Right Hon. Joseph Chamberlain, Mr. H. F. Dickens, and the late Captain Parker Snow have given me information of various kinds as to the legal career. Sir John Strachey, Sir Robert Egerton, and Sir H. S. Cunningham have given me information as to the Indian career. Mr. George Murray Smith, Mr. James Knowles, Mr. Frederick Greenwood, and Mr. Longman have given me information as to various literary matters. I have also to thank Mrs. Charles Simpson, Mr. F. W. Gibbs, Mrs. Russell Gurney, Mr. Horace Smith, Sir F. Pollock, Prof. Maitland, Mr. Voysey, and Mr. A. H. Millar, of Dundee, for help on various points.


1 MAY, 1895.






















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" " PHOTOGRAPH BY BASSANO, 1886 to face p. 410







During the first half of the eighteenth century a James Stephen, the first of the family of whom I have any knowledge, was tenant of a small farm in Aberdeenshire, on the borders of Buchan.[1] He was also engaged in trade, and, though it is stated that smuggler would be too harsh a name to apply to him, he had no insuperable objection to dealing in contraband articles. He was considered to belong to the respectable class, and gave his sons a good education. He had nine children by his wife, Mary Brown. Seven of these were sons, and were said to be the finest young men in the country. Alexander, the eldest, was in business at Glasgow; he died when nearly seventy, after falling into distress. William, the second son, studied medicine, and ultimately settled at St. Christopher's, in the West Indies, where he was both a physician and a planter. He probably began life as a 'surgeon to a Guineaman,' and he afterwards made money by buying 'refuse' (that is, sickly) negroes from slave ships, and, after curing them of their diseases, selling them at an advanced price. He engaged in various speculations, and had made money when he died in 1781, in his fiftieth year. His career, as will be seen, was of great importance to his relations. The other sons all took to trade, but all died before William. The two sisters, Mrs. Nuccoll and Mrs. Calder, married respectably, and lived to a great age. They were able to be of some service to nephews and nieces.

My story is chiefly concerned with the third son, James, born about 1733. After studying law for a short time at Aberdeen, he was sent abroad, when eighteen years old, to Holland, and afterwards to France, with a view to some mercantile business. He was six feet three inches in height, and a man of great muscular power. Family traditions tell of his being attacked by two footpads, and knocking their heads together till they cried for mercy. Another legend asserts that when a friend offered him a pony to carry him home after dinner, he made and won a bet that he would carry the pony. In the year 1752 this young giant was sailing as supercargo of a ship bound from Bordeaux to Scotland, with wine destined, no doubt, to replenish the 'blessed bear of Bradwardine,' and its like. The ship had neared the race of Portland, when a storm arose, and she was driven upon the cliffs of Purbeck Island. James Stephen, with four of the crew, escaped to the rocks, the rest being drowned. Stephen roped his companions to himself, and scaled the rocks in the dark, as Lovel, in the 'Antiquary,' leads the Wardours and Edie Ochiltree up the crags of the Halket Head. Next day, the outcasts were hospitably received by Mr. Milner, Collector of Customs at Poole. Stephen had to remain for some time on the spot to look after the salvage of the cargo. The drowned captain had left some valuable papers in a chest. He appeared in a dream to Stephen, and gave information which led to their recovery. The news that his ghost was on the look-out had, it is said, a wholesome effect in deterring wreckers from interference with the cargo.

Mr. Milner had six children, the youngest of whom, Sibella, was a lovely girl of fifteen. She had a fine voice, and had received more than the usual education of the times. She fell in love with the gallant young stranger, and before long they were privately married. This event was hastened by their desire to anticipate the passage of the Marriage Act (June 1753), which was expected to make the consent of parents necessary. The poor girl, however, yielded with much compunction, and regarded the evils which afterwards befell her as providential punishments for her neglect of filial duty.

James Stephen was a man of many prepossessing qualities, and soon became reconciled to his wife's family. He was taken into partnership by one of his brothers-in-law, a William Milner, then a merchant at Poole. Here his two eldest children were born, William on October 27, 1756, and James on June 30, 1758. Unfortunately the firm became bankrupt; and the bankruptcy led to a lifelong quarrel between James Stephen and his elder brother, William, who had taken some share in the business. James then managed to start in business in London, and for some time was fairly prosperous. Unluckily, while at Poole he had made a great impression upon Sir John Webbe, a Roman Catholic baronet, who had large estates in the neighbourhood. Sir John had taken up a grand scheme for developing his property at Hamworthy, close to Poole. Stephen, it seems, had discovered that there were not only brick earth and pipeclay but mineral springs and coal under the barren soil. A town was to be built; a trade started with London; Sir John's timber was to be turned into ships; a colliery was to be opened—and, in short, a second Bristol was to arise in Dorsetshire. Sir John was to supply the funds, and Stephen's energy and ability marked him out as the heaven-sent manager. Stephen accepted the proposals, gave up his London business, and set to work with energy. Coal was found, it is said, 'though of too sulphureous a kind for use;' but deeper diggings would, no doubt, lay bare a superior seam. After a year or two, however, affairs began to look black; Sir John Webbe became cool and then fell out with his manager; and the result was that, about 1769, James Stephen found himself confined for debt in the King's Bench prison.[2]

Stephen, however, was not a man to submit without knowing the reason why. He rubbed up his old legal knowledge, looked into the law-books, and discovered that imprisonment for debt was contrary to Magna Charta. This doctrine soon made converts in the King's Bench. Three of his fellow prisoners enjoy such immortality as is conferred by admission to biographical dictionaries. The best known was the crazy poet, Christopher Smart, famous for having leased himself for ninety-nine years to a bookseller, and for the fine 'Song of David,' which Browning made the text of one of his later poems.[3] Another was William Jackson, an Irish clergyman, afterwards known as a journalist on the popular side, who was convicted of high treason at Dublin in 1795, and poisoned himself in the dock.[4] A third was William Thompson, known as 'Blarney,' a painter, who had married a rich wife in 1767, but had apparently spent her money by this time.[5] Mrs. Stephen condescended to enliven the little society by her musical talents. The prisoners in general welcomed Stephen as a champion of liberty. A writ of 'Habeas Corpus' was obtained, and Stephen argued his case before Lord Mansfield. The great lawyer was naturally less amenable to reason than the prisoners. He was, however, impressed, it is reported, by the manliness and energy of the applicant. 'It is a great pity,' he said, 'but the prisoner must be remanded.' James Stephen's son, James, a boy of twelve, was by his side in court, and a bystander slipped five shillings into his hand; but the father had to go back to his prison. He stuck to his point obstinately. He published a pamphlet, setting forth his case. He wrote letters to the 'Public Advertiser,' to which Junius was then contributing. He again appealed to the courts, and finally called a meeting of his fellow prisoners. They resolved to break out in a body, and march to Westminster, to remonstrate with the judges. Stephen seized a turnkey, and took the keys by force; but, finding his followers unruly, was wise enough to submit. He was sent with three others to the 'New Jail.' The prisoners in the King's Bench hereupon rose, and attacked the wall with a pickaxe. Soldiers were called in, and the riot finally suppressed.[6]

Stephen, in spite of these proceedings, was treated with great humanity at the 'New Jail;' and apparently without much severity at the King's Bench to which he presently returned. 'Blarney' Thompson painted his portrait, and I possess an engraving with the inscription, 'Veritas a quocunque dicitur a Deo est.' Not long ago a copy of this engraving was given to my brother by a friend who had seen it in a shop and recognised the very strong family likeness between James and his great-grandson, James Fitzjames.

Stephen soon got out of prison. Sir John Webbe, at whose suit he had been arrested, agreed to pay the debts, gave him 500l. and settled an annuity of 40l. upon Mrs. Stephen. I hope that I may infer that Sir John felt that his debtor had something to say for himself. The question of making a living, however, became pressing. Stephen, on the strength, I presume, of his legal studies, resolved to be called to the bar. He entered at the Middle Temple; but had scarcely begun to keep his terms when the authorities interfered. His letters to the papers and attacks upon Lord Mansfield at the very time when Junius was at the height of his power (I do not, I may observe, claim the authorship of the letters for James Stephen) had, no doubt, made him a suspicious character. The benchers accordingly informed him that they would not call him to the bar, giving as their reasons his 'want of birth, want of fortune, want of education, and want of temper.' His friend, William Jackson, hereupon printed a letter,[7] addressing the benchers in the true Junius style. He contrasts Stephen with his persecutors. Stephen might not know Law Latin, but he had read Bracton and Glanville and Coke; he knew French and had read Latin at Aberdeen; he had been educated, it was true, in some 'paltry principles of honour and honesty,' while the benchers had learnt 'more useful lessons;' he had written letters to Wilkes copied in all the papers; he had read Locke, could 'harangue for hours upon social feelings, friendship, and benevolence,' and would trudge miles to save a family from prison, not considering that he was thereby robbing the lawyers and jailors of their fees. The benchers, it seems, had sworn the peace against him before Sir John Fielding, because he had made a friendly call upon a member of the society. They mistook a card of introduction for a challenge. Jackson signs himself 'with the profoundest sense of your Masterships' demerits, your Masterships' inflexible detestor,' and probably did not improve his friend's position.

Stephen, thus rejected, entered the legal profession by a back door, which, if not reputable, was not absolutely closed. He entered into a kind of partnership with a solicitor who was the ostensible manager of the business, and could be put forward when personal appearance was necessary. Stephen's imposing looks and manner, his acquaintance with commercial circles and his reputation as a victim of Mansfield brought him a certain amount of business. He had, however, to undertake such business as did not commend itself to the reputable members of the profession. He had a hard struggle and was playing a losing game. He became allied with unfortunate adventurers prosecuting obscure claims against Government, which, even when admitted, did not repay the costs incurred. He had to frequent taverns in order to meet his clients, and took to smoking tobacco and possibly to other indulgences. His wife, who was a delicate woman, was put to grievous shifts to make both ends meet. Her health broke down, and she died at last on March 21, 1775. She had brought him six children, of whom the eldest was nineteen and the youngest still under four.[8] I shall speak directly of the two eldest. Two daughters were taken in charge by their grandmother Stephen, who was still living in Scotland; while the two little ones remained with their father at Stoke Newington, where he now lived, ran about the common and learnt to ride pigs. James Stephen himself lived four years more, sinking into deeper difficulties; an execution was threatened during his last illness, and he died in 1779, leaving hardly enough to pay his debts.[9]


I have now to tell the story of the second son, James, my grandfather, born in 1758. His education, as may be anticipated, was desultory. When four or five years old, he was sent to a school at Vauxhall kept by Peter Annet (1693-1769), the last of the Deists who (in 1763) was imprisoned for a blasphemous libel. The elder Stephen was then living at Lambeth, and the choice of a schoolmaster seems to show that his opinions were of the free-thinking type. About 1767 the boy was sent to a school near his mother's family at Poole. There at the early age of ten he fell desperately in love with his schoolmaster's daughter, aged fifteen, and was hurt by the levity with which his passion was treated. At the same period he became a poet, composed hymns, and wrote an epigram upon one of his father's creditors. He accompanied his father to the King's Bench Prison, and there Christopher Smart and others petted the lad, lent him books, and encouraged his literary aspirations. During his father's later troubles he managed to keep up a subscription to a circulating library and would read two volumes a day, chiefly plays and novels, and, above all, the 'Grand Cyrus' and other old-fashioned romances. His mother tried to direct him to such solid works as Rapin's History, and he learnt her favourite Young's 'Night Thoughts' by heart. He had no schooling after leaving Poole, until, about 1772, he was sent to a day school on Kennington Green, kept by a cheesemonger who had failed in business, and whose sole qualifications for teaching were a clerical wig and a black coat. Here occurred events which profoundly affected his career. A schoolfellow named Thomas Stent, son of a stockbroker, became his warm friend. The parent Stents forbade the intimacy with the son of a broken merchant. Young Stephen boldly called upon Mrs. Stent to protest against the sentence. She took a liking to the lad and invited him to her house, where the precocious youth fell desperately in love with Anne Stent, his schoolfellow's sister, who was four months his senior. The attachment was discovered and treated with ridicule. The girl, however, returned the boy's affection and the passion ran its course after the most approved fashion. The hero was forbidden the house and the heroine confined to her room. There were clandestine meetings and clandestine correspondence, in which the schoolboy found the advantage of his studies in the 'Grand Cyrus.' At last in 1773 the affair was broken off for the time by the despatch of James Stephen to Winchester, where one of his Milner uncles boarded him and sent him to the school. His want of preparation prevented him from profiting by the teaching, and after the first half year his parents' inability to pay the bills prevented him from returning. He wrote again to Miss Stent, but received a cold reply, signifying her obedience to parental authority. For the next two years he learnt nothing except from his studies at the circulating library. His mother, sinking under her burthens, did what she could to direct him, and he repaid her care by the tenderest devotion. Upon her death he thought for a moment of suicide. Things were looking black indeed. His elder brother William now took a bold step. His uncle and godfather, William, who had quarrelled with the family after the early bankruptcy at Poole, was understood to be prospering at St. Christopher's. The younger William, who had been employed in a mercantile office, managed to beg a passage to the West Indies, and threw himself upon the uncle's protection. The uncle received the boy kindly, promised to take him into partnership as a physician, and sent him back by the same ship in order to obtain the necessary medical training at Aberdeen. He returned just in time. James had been thinking of volunteering under Washington, and had then accepted the offer of a 'book-keeper's' place in Jamaica. He afterwards discovered that a 'book-keeper' was an intermediate between the black slave-driver and the white overseer, and was doomed to a miserable and degrading life. It was now settled that he should go with William to Aberdeen, and study law. He entered at Lincoln's Inn, and looked forward to practising at St. Christopher's. The uncle refused to extend his liberality to James; but a student could live at Aberdeen for 20l. a year; the funds were somehow scraped together; and for the next two sessions, 1775-76 and 1776-77, James was a student at the Marischal College. The town, he says, was filthy and unwholesome; but his Scottish cousins were cordial and hospitable, the professors were kindly; and though his ignorance of Latin and inability even to read the Greek alphabet were hindrances, he picked up a little mathematics and heard the lectures of the great Dr. Beattie. His powers of talk and his knowledge of London life atoned for his imperfect education. He saw something of Aberdeen society; admired and danced with the daughters of baillies, and was even tempted at times to forget his passion for Anne Stent, who had sent a chilling answer to a final appeal.

In 1777, Stephen returned to London, and had to take part of his father's dwindling business. He thus picked up some scraps of professional knowledge. On the father's death, kind Scottish relations took charge of the two youngest children, and his brother William soon sailed for St. Christopher's. James was left alone. He appealed to the uncle, George Milner, with whom he had lived at Winchester, and who, having married a rich wife, was living in comfort at Comberton, near Cambridge. The uncle promised to give him 50l. a year to enable him to finish his legal education. He took lodgings on the strength of this promise, and resolved to struggle on, though still giving an occasional thought to Washington's army.

Isolation and want of money naturally turn the thoughts of an energetic young man to marriage. James Stephen resolved once more to appeal to Anne Stent. Her father's doors were closed to him; but after long watching he managed to encounter her as she was walking. He declared his unaltered passion, and she listened with apparent sympathy. She showed a reserve, however, which was presently explained. In obedience to her parents' wishes, she had promised to marry a young man who was on his return from the colonies. The avowal led to a pathetic scene: Anne Stent wept and fainted, and finally her feelings became so clear that the couple pledged themselves to each other; and the young gentleman from the colonies was rejected. Mr. Stent was indignant, and sent his daughter to live elsewhere.

The young couple, however, were not forbidden to meet, and found an ally in James Stephen's former schoolfellow, Thomas Stent. He was now a midshipman in the royal navy; and he managed to arrange meetings between his sister and her lover. Stent soon had to go to sea, but suggested an ingenious arrangement for the future. A lovely girl, spoken of as Maria, was known to both the Stents and passionately admired by the sailor. She lived in a boarding-house, and Stent proposed that Stephen should lodge in the same house, where he would be able both to see Anne Stent and to plead his friend's cause with Maria. This judicious scheme led to difficulties. When, after a time, Stephen began to speak to Maria on behalf of Stent, the lady at last hinted that she had another attachment, and, on further pressure, it appeared that the object of the attachment was Stephen himself. He was not insensible, as he then discovered, to Maria's charms. 'I have been told,' he says, 'that no man can love two women at once; but I am confident that this is an error.'

The problem, however, remained as to the application of this principle to practice. The first consequence was a breach with the old love. Miss Stent and her lover were parted. Maria, however, was still under age, and Stephen was under the erroneous impression that a marriage with her would be illegal without the consent of her guardians, which was out of the question. While things were in this state, Thomas Stent came back from a cruise covered with glory. He hastened at once from Portsmouth to his father, and persuaded the delighted old gentleman to restore his daughter to her home and to receive James Stephen to the house as her acknowledged suitor. He then sent news of his achievement to his friend; and an interview became necessary, to which James Stephen repaired about as cheerfully, he says, as he would have gone to Tyburn tree. He had to confess that he had broken off the engagement to his friend's sister because he had transferred his affections to his friend's mistress. Stent must have been a magnanimous man. He replied, after reflection, that the news would break his father's heart. The arrangement he had made must be ostensibly carried out. Stephen must come to the elder Stent's house and meet the daughter on apparently cordial terms. Young Stent's friendship was at an end; but Stephen felt bound to adopt the prescribed plan.

Meanwhile Stephen's finances were at a low ebb. His uncle, Milner, had heard a false report, that the nephew had misrepresented the amount of his father's debts. He declined to pay the promised allowance, and Stephen felt the insult so bitterly that, after disproving the story, he refused to take a penny from his uncle. He was once reduced to his last sixpence, and was only kept afloat by accepting small loans, amounting to about 5l., from an old clerk of his father's. At last, towards the end of 1780 a chance offered. The 'fighting parson,' Bate, afterwards Sir Henry Bate Dudley, then a part proprietor of the 'Morning Post,' quarrelled with a fellow proprietor, Joseph Richardson, put a bullet into his adversary's shoulder and set up a rival paper, the 'Morning Herald.' A vacancy was thus created in the 'Morning Post,' and Richardson gave the place to Stephen, with a salary of two guineas a week. Stephen had to report debates on the old system, when paper and pen were still forbidden in the gallery. At the trial of Lord George Gordon (February 5 and 6, 1781) he had to be in Westminster Hall at four in the morning; and to stand wedged in the crowd till an early hour the next morning,[10] when the verdict was delivered. He had then to write his report while the press was at work. The reporters were employed at other times upon miscellaneous articles; and Stephen acquired some knowledge of journalism and of the queer world in which journalists then lived. They were a rough set of Bohemians, drinking, quarrelling, and duelling, and indulging in coarse amusements. Fortunately Stephen's attendance upon the two ladies, for he still saw something of both, kept him from joining in some of his fellows' amusements.

In 1781 there came a prospect of relief. The uncle in St. Christopher's died and left all his property to his nephew William. William at once sent home supplies, which enabled his brother James to give up reporting, to be called to the bar (January 26, 1782) and in the next year to sail to St. Christopher's. His love affair had unravelled itself. He had been suspended between the two ladies, and only able to decide that if either of them married he was bound to marry the other. Miss Stent seems to have been the superior of Maria in intellect and accomplishments, though inferior in beauty. She undoubtedly showed remarkable forbearance and good feeling. Ultimately she married James Stephen before he sailed for the West Indies. Maria not long afterwards married someone else, and, to the best of my belief, lived happily ever afterwards.

My grandfather's autobiography, written about forty years later, comes to an end at this point. It is a curious document, full of the strong religious sentiment by which he came to be distinguished; tracing the finger of Providence in all that happened to him, even in the good results brought out of actions for which he expresses contrition; and yet with an obvious pleasure in recalling the vivid impressions of his early and vigorous youth. I omit parts of what is at times a confession of error. This much I think it only right to say. Although he was guilty of some lapses from strict morality, for which he expresses sincere regret, it is also true that, in spite of his surroundings and the temptations to which a very young man thrown upon the London world of those days was exposed, he not only showed remarkable energy and independence and a strong sense of honour, but was to all appearance entirely free from degrading vices. His mother's influence seems to have impressed upon him a relatively high standard of morality, though he was a man of impetuous and ardent character, turned loose in anything but a pure moral atmosphere.

James Stephen had at this time democratic tendencies. He had sympathised with the rebellious colonists, and he had once covered himself with glory by a speech against slavery delivered in Coachmakers' Hall in presence of Maria and Miss Stent. He had then got up the subject for the occasion. He was now to make practical acquaintance with it. His ship touched at Barbadoes in December 1783; and out of curiosity he attended a trial for murder. Four squalid negroes, their hands tied by cords, were placed at the bar. A planter had been found dead with injuries to his head. A negro girl swore that she had seen them inflicted by the four prisoners. There was no jury, and the witnesses were warned in 'the most alarming terms' to conceal nothing that made against the accused. Stephen, disgusted by the whole scene, was glad to leave the court. He learnt afterwards that the prisoners were convicted upon the unsupported evidence of the girl. The owner of two of them afterwards proved an alibi conclusively, and they were pardoned; but the other two, convicted on precisely the same evidence, were burnt alive.[11] Stephen resolved never to have any connection with slavery. During his stay at St. Christopher's he had free servants, or, if he hired slaves, obtained their manumission. No one who had served him long remained in slavery, except one man, who was so good and faithful a servant that his owner refused to take even the full value when offered by his employer.[12] Other facts strengthened his hatred of the system. In 1786 he was engaged in prosecuting a planter for gross cruelty to two little negroes of 6 and 7 years of age. After long proceedings, the planter was fined 40s.

A lawyer's practice at St. Christopher's was supposed to be profitable. The sugar colonies were flourishing; and Nelson, then captain of the 'Boreas,' was giving proof of his character, and making work for the lawyers by enforcing the provisions of the Navigation Act upon recalcitrant American traders and their customers.

Stephen earned enough to be able to visit England in the winter of 1788-9. There he sought the acquaintance of Wilberforce, who was beginning his crusade against the slave trade. Information from a shrewd observer on the spot was, of course, of great value; and, although prudence forbade a public advocacy of the cause, Stephen supplied Wilberforce with facts and continued to correspond with him after returning to St. Christopher's. The outbreak of the great war brought business. During 1793-4 the harbour of St. Christopher's was crowded with American prizes, and Stephen was employed to defend most of them in the courts. His health suffered from the climate, and he now saved enough to return to England at the end of 1794. He then obtained employment in the Prize Appeal Court of the Privy Council, generally known as the 'Cockpit.' He divided the leading business with Dallas until his appointment to a Mastership in Chancery in 1811.

Stephen was now able to avow his anti-slavery principles and soon became one of Wilberforce's most trusted supporters. He was probably second only to Zachary Macaulay, who had also practical experience of the system. Stephen's wife died soon after his return, and was buried at Stoke Newington on December 10, 1796. He was thrown for a time into the deepest dejection. Wilberforce forced himself upon his solitude, and with the consolations of so dear a friend his spirits recovered their elasticity. Four years later the friendship was drawn still closer by Stephen's marriage to the only surviving sister of Wilberforce, widow of the Rev. Dr. Clarke, of Hull. She was a rather eccentric but very vigorous woman. She spent all her income, some 300l. or 400l. a year, on charity, reserving 10l. for her clothes. She was often to be seen parading Clapham in rags and tatters. Thomas Gisborne, a light of the sect, once tore her skirt from top to bottom at his house, Yoxall Lodge, saying 'Now, Mrs. Stephen, you must buy a new dress.' She calmly stitched it together and appeared in it next day. She made her stepchildren read Butler's 'Analogy' before they were seven.[13] But in spite of her oddities and severities, she seems to have been both respected and beloved by her nearest relations.

The marriage probably marked Stephen's final adhesion to the Evangelical party. He maintained till his death the closest and most affectionate alliance with his brother-in-law Wilberforce. The nature of their relations may be inferred from Wilberforce's 'Life and Letters.' Wilberforce owed much of his influence to the singular sweetness of his disposition and the urbanity of his manners. His wide sympathies interested him in many causes, and even his antagonists were not enemies. Stephen, on the other hand, as Mr. Henry Adams says, was a 'high-minded fanatic.' To be interested in any but the great cause was to rouse his suspicions. 'If you,' he once wrote to Wilberforce, 'were Wellington, and I were Massena, I should beat you by distracting your attention from the main point.' Any courtesies shown by Wilberforce to his opponents or to his old friend Pitt seemed to his ardent coadjutor to be concessions to the evil principle. The Continental war, he held, was a Divine punishment inflicted upon England for maintaining the slave trade; and he expounded this doctrine in various pamphlets, the first of which, 'The Crisis of the Sugar Colonies,' appeared in 1802.

Yet Stephen owes a small niche in history to another cause, upon which he bestowed no little energy. His professional practice had made him familiar with the course of the neutral trade. In October 1805, almost on the day of the battle of Trafalgar, he published a pamphlet called 'War in Disguise.' The point of this, put very briefly, was to denounce a practice by which our operations against France and Spain were impeded. American ships, or ships protected by a fraudulent use of the American flag, sailed from the hostile colonies, ostensibly for an American port, and then made a nominally distinct but really continuous voyage to Europe. Thus the mother countries were still able to draw supplies from the colonies. The remedy suggested in Stephen's pamphlet was to revive the claims made by England in the Seven Years' War which entitled us to suppress the trade altogether. The policy thus suggested was soon embodied in various Orders in Council. The first was made on January 7, 1807, by the Whig Government before they left office and a more stringent order followed in November. The last was drawn by Perceval, the new Chancellor of the Exchequer. Perceval was a friend of Wilberforce and sympathised both with his religious views and his hatred of the slave trade. He soon became intimate with Stephen, to whose influence the Orders in Council were generally attributed. Brougham, the chief opponent of the policy, calls 'War in Disguise' 'brilliant and captivating,' and says that its statement of facts was undeniable. I cannot say that I have found it amusing, but it is written with vigour and impressive earnestness. Brougham calls Stephen the 'father of the system'; and, whether the system were right or wrong, it had undoubtedly a great influence upon the course of events. I fear that my grandfather was thus partly responsible for the unfortunate war with the United States; but he clearly meant well. In any case, it was natural that Perceval should desire to make use of his supporter's talents. He found a seat in Parliament for his friend. Stephen was elected member for Tralee on Feb. 25, 1808, and in the Parliament which met in 1812 was returned for East Grimstead.

Stephen thus entered Parliament as an advocate of the Government policy. His revolutionary tendencies had long vanished. He delivered a speech upon the Orders in Council on May 6, 1809, which was reprinted as a pamphlet.[14] He defended the same cause against the agitation led by Brougham in 1812. A Committee of the whole House was granted, and Stephen was cross-examining one of Brougham's witnesses (May 11, 1812), when a shot was heard in the lobby, and Perceval was found to have been murdered by Bellingham. Stephen had just before been in Perceval's company, and it was thought, probably enough, that he would have been an equally welcome victim to the maniac. He was made ill by the shock, but visited the wretched criminal to pray for his salvation.

Stephen, according to Brougham, showed abilities in Parliament which might have given him a leading position as a debater. His defective education, his want of tact, and his fiery temper, prevented him from rising to a conspicuous position. His position as holding a Government seat in order to advocate a particular measure, and the fact that politics in general were to him subsidiary to the one great end of abolishing slavery, would also be against him. Two incidents of his career are characteristic. The benchers of Lincoln's Inn had passed a resolution—'after dinner' it was said by way of apology—that no one should be called to the bar who had written for hire in a newspaper. A petition was presented to the House of Commons upon which Stephen made an effective speech (March 23, 1810). He put the case of a young man struggling against difficulties to obtain admission to a legal career and convicted of having supported himself for a time by reporting. Then he informed the House that this was no imaginary picture, but the case of 'the humble individual who now addresses you.' Immense applause followed; Croker and Sheridan expressed equal enthusiasm for Stephen's manly avowal, and the benchers' representatives hastened to promise that the obnoxious rule should be withdrawn. When the allied sovereigns visited London in 1814 another characteristic incident occurred. They were to see all the sights: the King of Prussia and Field-Marshal Bluecher were to be edified by hearing a debate; and the question arose how to make a debate conducted in so august a presence anything but a formality. 'Get Whitbread to speak,' suggested someone, 'and Stephen will be sure to fly at him.' The plan succeeded admirably. Whitbread asked for information about the proposed marriage of the Princess Charlotte to the Prince of Orange. Stephen instantly sprang up and rebuked the inquirer. Whitbread complained of the epithet 'indecent' used by his opponent. The Speaker intervened and had to explain that the epithet was applied to Mr. Whitbread's proposition and not to Mr. Whitbread himself. Stephen, thus sanctioned, took care to repeat the phrase; plenty of fire was introduced into the debate, and Field-Marshal Bluecher had the pleasure of seeing a parliamentary battle.[15]

Whitbread was obnoxious to Stephen as a radical and as an opponent of the Orders in Council. Upon another question Stephen was still more sensitive. When the topic of slavery is introduced, the reporters describe him as under obvious agitation, and even mark a sentence with inverted commas to show that they are giving his actual words. The slave-trade had been abolished before he entered Parliament; but Government was occasionally charged with slackness in adopting some of the measures necessary to carry out the law, and their supporters were accused of preserving 'a guilty silence.' Such charges stung Stephen to the quick. 'I would rather,' he exclaimed (June 15, 1810), 'be on friendly terms with a man who had strangled my infant son than support an administration guilty of slackness in suppressing the slave trade.' 'If Lord Castlereagh does not keep to his pledges,' he exclaimed (June 29, 1814, when Romilly spoke of the 'guilty silence'), 'may my God not spare me, if I spare the noble lord and his colleagues!' The Government declined to take up a measure for the registration of slaves which Stephen had prepared, and which was thought to be necessary to prevent evasions of the law. Thereupon he resigned, in spite of all entreaties, accepting the Chiltern Hundreds, April 14, 1815.

Brougham warmly praises his independence, and wishes that those who had spoken slightingly of his eloquence would take to heart his example. Stephen had in 1811 been rewarded for his support of the Orders in Council by a Mastership in Chancery. Romilly observes that the appointment was questionable, because Stephen, though he was fully qualified by his abilities, was not sufficiently versed in the law. His friends said that it was no more than a fair compensation for the diminution of the prize business which resulted from the new regulations. He held the office till 1831, when failing health caused his retirement. He lived for many years at Kensington Gore on the site of the present Lowther Lodge; and there from 1809 to 1821 Wilberforce was his neighbour. His second wife, Wilberforce's sister, died in October 1816. After leaving Parliament, he continued his active crusade against slavery. He published, it is said, four pamphlets in 1815; and in 1824 brought out the first volume of his 'Slavery of the British West India Colonies delineated.' This is an elaborate digest of the slave laws; and it was followed in 1830 by a second volume describing the actual working of the system. From about 1819 Stephen had a small country house at Missenden, Bucks.[16] Here he was occasionally visited by his brother-in-law, and a terrace upon which they used to stroll is still known as 'Wilberforce's Walk.' Stephen had a keen love of country scenery and had inherited from his father a love of long daily walks. I record from tradition one story of his prowess. In the early morning of his seventieth birthday, it is said, he left Missenden on foot, walked twenty-five miles to Hampstead, where he breakfasted with a son-in-law, thence walked to his office in London, and, after doing his day's work, walked out to Kensington Gore in the evening. It was a good performance, and I hope not injurious to his health, nor can I accept the suggestion that the old gentleman may have taken a lift in a pony carriage by which he used to be followed in his walks. He certainly retained his vigour, although he had suffered from some serious illnesses. He was attacked by yellow fever in the West Indies, when his brother William and another doctor implored him to let them bleed him. On his obstinate refusal, they turned their backs in consultation, when he suddenly produced a bottle of port from under his pillow and took it off in two draughts. Next day he left his bed and defended a disregard of professional advice which had been suggested by previous observations. He became a staunch believer in the virtues of port, and though he never exceeded a modest half-bottle, drank it steadily till the last. He was, I am told, and a portrait confirms the impression, a very handsome old man with a beautiful complexion, masses of white hair, and a keen thoughtful face. He died at Bath, October 10, 1832. He was buried at Stoke Newington by the side of his mother. There Wilberforce had promised to be buried by his friend; but for him Westminster Abbey was a fitter resting-place.[17]

The Master and his elder brother had retrieved the fortunes of the family. William returned to England, and died about 1807. He left a family by his wife, Mary Forbes, and his daughter Mary became the wife of Archdeacon Hodson and the mother of Hodson of 'Hodson's Horse.' The Master's younger brother, John, also emigrated to St. Christopher's, practised at the bar, and ultimately became Judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales in 1825. He died at Sydney in 1834. John's fourth son, Alfred, born at St. Christopher's, August 20, 1802, was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn in 1823, became in 1825 Solicitor-General of Tasmania, in 1839 judge, and in 1843 Chief Justice, of New South Wales. He retired in 1873, and was for a time Lieutenant-Governor of the Colony. He received many honours, including the Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, and a seat in the Privy Council; and, from all that I have heard, I believe that he fully deserved them. He took an important part in consolidating the criminal law of the colonies, and near the end of his long career (at the age of 89) became conspicuous in advocating a change in the law of divorce. The hardships suffered by women who had been deserted by bad husbands had excited his sympathy, and in spite of much opposition he succeeded in obtaining a measure for relief in such cases. Sir Alfred died on October 15, 1894. He was twice married, and had five sons and four daughters by one marriage and four sons and five daughters by the other. One of his sons is a judge in the colony, and I believe that at the period of his death he had considerably more than a hundred living descendants in three generations. He was regarded with universal respect and affection as a colonial patriarch, and I hope that his memory may long be preserved and his descendants flourish in the growing world of Australia. To the very end of his life, Sir Alfred maintained his affectionate relations with his English relatives, and kept up a correspondence which showed that his intellectual vigour was unabated almost to the last.


I have now to speak of the generation which preceded my own, of persons who were well known to me, and who were the most important figures in the little world in which my brother and I passed our infancy. James Stephen, the Master, was survived by six children, of whom my father was the third. I will first say a few words of his brothers and sisters. The eldest son, William, became a quiet country clergyman. He was vicar of Bledlow, Bucks (for nearly sixty years), and of Great Stagsden, Beds, married a Miss Grace, but left no children, and died January 8, 1867. I remember him only as a mild old gentleman with a taste for punning, who came up to London to see the Great Exhibition of 1851, and then for the first time had also the pleasure of seeing a steamboat. Steamboats are rare in the Buckinghamshire hills, among which he had vegetated ever since their invention.

Henry John, the second son, born January 18, 1787, was at the Chancery bar. He married his cousin, Mary Morison, and from 1815 till 1832 he lived with his father at Kensington Gore. A nervous and retiring temper prevented him from achieving any great professional success, but he was one of the most distinguished writers of his time upon legal subjects. His first book, 'Treatise on the Principles of Pleading in Civil Actions,' originally published in 1824, has gone through many editions both in England and America. Chancellor Kent, as Allibone's dictionary informs me, calls it 'the best book that ever was written in explanation of the science,' and many competent authorities have assured me that it possesses the highest merits as a logical composition, although the law of which it treats has become obsolete. The reputation acquired by this book led to his appointment to a seat in the Common Law Commission formed in 1828; and in the same year he became serjeant-at-law. His brother commissioners became judges, but his only promotion was to a commissionership of bankruptcy at Bristol in 1842.[18] In 1834 he published a 'Summary of the Criminal Law,' which was translated into German. His edition of Blackstone's Commentaries first appeared in 1841. It contained from the first so much of his own work as to be almost an independent performance. In later editions he introduced further changes to adapt it to later legislation, and it is still a standard book.

He lived after the Bristol appointment at Cleevewood in the parish of Mangotsfield. He retired in February 1854, and lived afterwards in Clifton till his death on November 28, 1864. I remember him as a gentle and courteous old man, very shy, and, in his later years, never leaving his house, and amusing himself with speculating upon music and the prophecies. He inherited apparently the nervous temperament of his family with less than their usual dash of the choleric.[19] My uncle, Sir George, declares that the serjeant was appointed to a judgeship by Lord Lyndhurst, but immediately resigned, on the ground that he felt that he could never bear to pass a capital sentence.[20] I record the anecdote, not as true (I have reasons for thinking it erroneous), but as indicating the impression made by his character.

The fourth brother, George, born about 1794, was a man of very different type. In him appeared some of the characteristics of his irascible and impetuous grandfather. His nature was of coarser fibre than that of his sensitive and nervous brothers. He was educated at Magdalene College, Cambridge; and was afterwards placed in the office of the Freshfields, the eminent firm of solicitors. He had, I have been told, an offer of a partnership in the firm, but preferred to set up for himself. He was employed in the rather unsavoury duty of procuring evidence as to the conduct of Queen Caroline upon the Continent. In 1826 he undertook an inquiry ordered by the House of Commons in consequence of complaints as to the existence of a slave trade in Mauritius. He became acquainted with gross abuses, and resolved thereupon to take up the cause with which his family was so closely connected. He introduced himself to O'Connell in order to learn some of the secrets of the great art of agitation. Fortified by O'Connell's instructions, he proceeded to organise the 'celebrated Agency Committee.' This committee, headed by Zachary Macaulay, got up meetings and petitions throughout the country, and supported Buxton in the final assault upon slavery. For his services in the cause, George Stephen was knighted in 1838. He showed a versatile ability by very miscellaneous excursions into literature. He wrote in 1837 'Adventures of a Gentleman in search of a Horse,' which became popular, and proved that, besides understanding the laws relating to the subject, he was the only one, as I believe, of his family who could clearly distinguish a horse from a cow. A very clever but less judicious work was the 'Adventures of an Attorney in search of Practice,' first published in 1839, which gave or was supposed to give indiscreet revelations as to some of his clients. Besides legal pamphlets, he proved his sound Evangelicalism by a novel called 'The Jesuit at Cambridge' (1847), intended to unveil the diabolical machinations of the Catholic Church. An unfortunate catastrophe ruined his prospects. He had founded a society for the purchase of reversions and acted as its solicitor. It flourished for some years, till misunderstandings arose, and Sir George had to retire, besides losing much more than he could afford. He then gave up the profession which he had always disliked, was called to the bar in 1849 and practised for some years at Liverpool, especially in bankruptcy business. At last he found it necessary to emigrate and settled at Melbourne in 1855. He found the colonists at least as perverse as the inhabitants of his native country. He wrote a 'Life of Christ' (not after the plan of Renan) intended to teach them a little Christianity, and a (so-called) life of his father, which is in the main an exposition of his own services and the ingratitude of mankind. The state of Australian society seemed to him to justify his worst forebodings; and he held that the world in general was in a very bad way. It had not treated him too kindly; but I fear that the complaints were not all on one side. He was, I suppose, one of those very able men who have the unfortunate quality of converting any combination into which they enter into an explosive compound. He died at Melbourne, June 20, 1879.[21]

The Master's two daughters were Sibella, born 1792, and Anne Mary, whose birth caused the death of her mother in December 1796. Sibella married W. A. Garratt, who was second wrangler and first Smith's prizeman in 1804. He was a successful barrister and a man of high character, though of diminutive stature. 'Mr. Garratt,' a judge is reported to have said to him, 'when you are addressing the court you should stand up.' 'I am standing up, my lord.' 'Then, Mr. Garratt, you should stand upon the bench.' 'I am standing upon the bench, my lord.' He had been disinherited by his father, I have heard, for preferring a liberal profession to trade, but upon his father's death his brothers made over to him the share which ought to have been left to him. He was for many years on the Committee of the Church Missionary Society, and wrote in defence of Evangelical principles.[22]

His houses at Hampstead and afterwards at Brighton were among our youthful resorts; and my aunt remains in my memory as a gentle, kindly old lady, much afflicted by deafness. Mr. Garratt died in 1858, aged 77, and his wife at the same age on February 7, 1869.

Anne Mary, my other aunt, married Thomas Edward Dicey. He was a schoolfellow and college friend of my father. I may observe, for the sake of Cambridge readers, that, after passing his first year of university life at Oxford, he came to Cambridge ignorant of mathematics and in delicate health, which prevented him from reading hard. In spite of this, he was senior wrangler in 1811—a feat which would now be impossible for a Newton. He was the calmest and gentlest of human beings, and to his calmness was attributable the fact that he lived till 1858, although when he was twenty the offices refused to insure his life for a year on any terms. Those who knew him best regarded him as a man of singular wisdom and refinement. He lived, till he came to London for the later education of his boys, in a small country house at Claybrook, near Lutterworth, and was proprietor of the 'Northampton Mercury,' one of the oldest papers in England, founded, I believe, by his grandfather. This Claybrook house was the scene of some of our happiest childish days. My aunt was a most devoted mother of four sons, whose early education she conducted in great part herself. In later years she lived in London, and was the most delightful of hostesses. Her conversation proved her to possess a full share of the family talents, and although, like her sister, she suffered from deafness, a talk with her was, to my mind at least, as great a treat as a talk with the most famous performers in the social art. After her husband's death, she was watched by her youngest son, Frank, who had become an artist, with a tender affection such as is more frequently exhibited by a daughter to an infirm father. She died on October 28, 1878, and has been followed by two of her sons, Henry and Frank. The two surviving sons, Edward and Albert Venn Dicey, Vinerian professor of Law at Oxford, are both well known in the literary and political world.

I must now tell so much as I know, and is relevant to my purpose, of my father's life. James Stephen, fourth at least of the name, and third son of the Master, was born January 3, 1789, at Lambeth, during his father's visit to England. He had an attack of small-pox during his infancy, which left a permanent weakness of eyesight. The Master's experience had not taught him the evils of desultory education. James, the younger, was, I believe, under various schoolmasters, of whom I can only mention John Prior Estlin, of St. Michael's Hill, Bristol, a Unitarian, and the Rev. H. Jowett, of Little Dunham, Norfolk, who was one of the adherents to Evangelicalism. The change probably marks the development of his father's convictions. He entered Trinity Hall, Cambridge, in 1806. At that time the great Evangelical leader at Cambridge was Isaac Milner, the President of Queens' College. Milner's chief followers were William Farish, of Magdalene, and Joseph Jowett, of Trinity Hall, both of them professors. Farish, as I have said, married my grandfather's sister, and the colleges were probably selected for my father and his brother George with a view to the influence of these representatives of the true faith. The 'three or four years during which I lived on the banks of the Cam,' said my father afterwards,[23] 'were passed in a very pleasant, though not a very cheap, hotel. But had they been passed at the Clarendon, in Bond Street, I do not think that the exchange would have deprived me of any aids for intellectual discipline or for acquiring literary and scientific knowledge.' That he was not quite idle I infer from a copy of Brotier's 'Tacitus' in my possession with an inscription testifying that it was given to him as a college prize. He took no university honours, took the degree of LL.B. in 1812, and was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn November 11, 1811. His father had just become Master in Chancery, and was able to transfer some of his clients to the son. James the younger thus gained some experience in colonial matters, and 'employed himself in preparing a digest of the colonial laws in general.'[24] He obtained leave from the third Earl Bathurst, then and for many years afterwards the head of the Colonial Department, to examine the official records for this purpose. In 1813 Lord Bathurst, who was in general sympathy with the opinions of the Clapham sect, appointed James Stephen Counsel to the Colonial Department. His duties were to report upon all acts of colonial legislature. He received a fee of three guineas for each act, and the office at first produced about 300l. a year. After a time the post became more laborious. He was receiving 1,000l. a year some ten years after his appointment, with, of course, a corresponding increase of work.[25] The place was, however, compatible with the pursuit of the profession, and my father in a few years was making 3,000l. a year, and was in a position which gave him as fair a prospect of obtaining professional honours as was enjoyed by any man of his standing. The earliest notice which I have found of him from an outsider is a passage in Crabb Robinson's diaries.[26] Robinson met him on July 10, 1811, and describes him as a 'pious sentimentalist and moralist,' who spoke of his prospects 'with more indifference than was perhaps right in a layman.' The notice is oddly characteristic. From 1814 my father was for nine years a member of the committee of the Church Missionary Society, after which time his occupations made attendance impossible. I have already indicated the family connection with the Clapham sect, and my father's connection was now to be drawn still closer. On December 22, 1814, he married Jane Catherine Venn, second daughter of the Rev. John Venn, of Clapham.


My brother was of opinion that he inherited a greater share of the Venn than of the Stephen characteristics. I certainly seem to trace in him a marked infusion of the sturdy common sense of the Venns, which tempered the irritable and nervous temperament common to many of the Stephens. The Venns were of the very blue blood of the party. They traced their descent through a long line of clergymen to the time of Elizabeth.[27] The troubles of two loyalist Venns in the great rebellion are briefly commemorated in Walker's 'Sufferings of the Clergy.' The first Venn who is more than a name was a Richard Venn, who died in 1739. His name occasionally turns up in the obscurer records of eighteenth-century theology. He was rector of St. Antholin's, in the city of London, and incurred the wrath of the pugnacious Warburton and of Warburton's friend (in early days) Conyers Middleton. He ventured to call Middleton an 'apostate priest'; and Middleton retorted that if he alluded to a priest as the 'accuser,' everyone would understand that he meant to refer to Mr. Venn. In fact, Venn had the credit of having denounced Thomas Bundle, who, according to Pope, 'had a heart,' and according to Venn was a deist in disguise. Bundle's reputation was so far damaged that his theology was thought too bad for Gloucester, and, like other pieces of damaged goods, he was quartered upon the Irish Church.

Richard Venn married the daughter of the Jacobite conspirator John Ashton, executed for high treason in 1691. His son Henry, born March 2, 1724, made a more enduring mark and became the chief light of the movement which was contemporaneous with that led by Wesley and Whitefield, though, as its adherents maintained, of independent origin. He was a sturdy, energetic man. As a boy he had shown his principles by steadily thrashing the son of a dissenting minister till he became the terror of the young schismatic. He played (his biographer says) in 1747 for Surrey against all England, and at the end of the match gave his bat to the first comer, saying, 'I will never have it said of me, Well struck, Parson!' He was ordained a few days later, and was 'converted by Law's "Serious Call."' While holding a curacy at Clapham he became a friend of John Thornton, father of the better known Henry Thornton. John was a friend of John Newton and of the poet Cowper, to whom he allowed money for charitable purposes, and both he and his son were great lights at Clapham. From 1759 to 1771 Venn was vicar of Huddersfield, and there became famous for eloquence and energy. His 'Complete Duty of Man'—the title is adopted in contrast to the more famous 'Whole Duty of Man'—was as the sound of a trumpet to the new party. For three generations it was the accepted manual of the sect and a trusted exposition of their characteristic theology. Venn's health suffered from his pastoral labours at Huddersfield; and from 1771 till near his death (June 24, 1797) he was rector of Yelling, in Huntingdonshire. There his influence extended to the neighbouring University of Cambridge. The most eminent Cambridge men of the day, Paley, and Watson, and Hey, were tending to a theology barely distinguishable from the Unitarianism which some of them openly adopted. But a chosen few, denounced by their enemies as methodistical, sought the spiritual guidance of Henry Venn. The most conspicuous was Charles Simeon (1759-1836), who for many years was the object of veneration and of ridicule for his uncouth eloquence in the pulpit of Trinity Church. Even to my own day, his disciples and disciples' disciples were known to their opponents as 'Sims.'[28]

John Venn, son of this Henry Venn, born at Clapham in 1759, was brought up in the true faith. He was a pupil of Joseph Milner, elder brother of the more famous Isaac Milner, and was afterwards, like his father, at Sidney Sussex College. Simeon was one of his intimate friends. In 1792 Venn became rector of Clapham; and there provided the spiritual food congenial to the Thorntons, the Shores, the Macaulays, the Wilberforces, and the Stephens. The value of his teaching may be estimated by any one who will read three volumes of sermons published posthumously in 1814. He died July 1, 1813; but his chief claim to remembrance is that he was the projector and one of the original founders of the Church Missionary Society, in 1799, which was, as it has continued to be, the most characteristic product of the evangelical party.'[29]

John Venn's children were of course intimate with the Stephens. In later life the sons, Henry and John, had a great influence upon my father; Henry in particular was a man of very remarkable character. He was educated by his father till 1813, when he was sent to live with Farish, then Lucasian professor and resident at Chesterton, close to Cambridge. He was at Queen's College, then flourishing under the patronage of evangelical parents attracted by Milner's fame; was nineteenth wrangler in 1818, and for a time was fellow and tutor of his college. In 1827 Wilberforce gave him the living of Drypool, a suburb of Hull, and there in 1829 he married Martha, fourth daughter of Nicholas Sykes, of Swanland, Yorkshire. In 1834 he became vicar of St. John's, Holloway, in the parish of Islington. About 1838 he became subject to an affection of the heart caused mainly by his efforts in carrying his wife upstairs during her serious illness. The physician told him that the heart might possibly adapt itself to a new condition, but that the chances were greatly in favour of a fatal end to the illness. He was forced to retire for two years from work, while his wife's illness developed into a consumption. She died March 21, 1840. Venn's closest relations used to speak with a kind of awe of the extraordinary strength of his conjugal devotion. He was entreated to absent himself from some of the painful ceremonials at her funeral, but declined. 'As if anything,' he said, 'could make any difference to me now.' His own health, however, recovered contrary to expectation; and he resolutely took up his duties in life. On October 5, 1841 he was appointed honorary secretary to the Church Missionary Society, having been on the Committee since 1819, and he devoted the rest of his life to its service with unflagging zeal. He gave up his living of 700l. a year and refused to take any remuneration for his work. He was appointed by Bishop Blomfield to a prebend at St. Paul's, but received and desired no other preferment. He gradually became infirm, and a few months before his death, January 12, 1873, was compelled to resign his post. Henry Venn laboured through life in the interests of a cause which seemed to him among the highest, and which even those who hold entirely different opinions must admit to be a worthy one, the elevation that is, moral and spiritual, of the lower races of mankind. He received no rewards except the approval of his conscience and the sympathy of his fellows; and he worked with an energy rarely paralleled by the most energetic public servant. His labours are described in a rather shapeless book[30] to which I may refer for full details. But I must add a few words upon his character. Venn was not an eloquent man either in the pulpit or on paper; nor can I ascribe him any power of speculative thought. He had been from youth steeped in the evangelical doctrine, and was absolutely satisfied with it to the last. 'I knew,' he once said, 'as a young man all that could be said against Christianity, and I put the thoughts aside as temptations of the devil. They have never troubled me since.' Nor was he more troubled by the speculative tendencies of other parties in the Church. His most obvious mental characteristic was a shrewd common sense, which one of his admirers suggests may have been caught by contagion in his Yorkshire living. In truth it was an innate endowment shared by others of his family. In him it was combined with a strong sense of humour which is carefully kept out of his writing, and which, as I used to fancy, must have been at times a rather awkward endowment. The evangelical party has certain weaknesses to which, so far as I know, my uncle contrived to shut his eyes. The humour, however, was always bubbling up in his talk, and combined as it was with invariable cheeriness of spirit, with a steady flow of the strongest domestic affection, and with a vigorous and confident judgment, made him a delightful as well as an impressive companion. Although outside of the paths which lead to preferment or to general reputation, he carried a great weight in all the counsels of his party. His judgment, no doubt, entitled him to their respect. Though a most devoted clergyman, he had some of the qualities which go to make a thoroughly trustworthy lawyer. He was a marked exception to the famous observation of Clarendon that 'the clergymen understand the least, and take the worst measure of human affairs of all mankind that can write and read.' Henry Venn's example showed that the clergyman's gown need not necessarily imply disqualification for a thorough man of business. He was a man to do thoroughly whatever he undertook. 'What a mercy it is,' said his sister Emelia, 'that Henry is a good man, for good or bad he could never repent.'

His younger brother, John, was a man of much less intellectual force but of singular charm of character. In 1833 he became incumbent of a church at Hereford in the gift of the Simeon trustees, and lived there till his death in 1890, having resigned his living about 1870. He had the simplicity of character of a Dr. Primrose, and was always overflowing with the kindliest feelings towards his relatives and mankind in general. His enthusiasm was, directed not only to religious ends but to various devices for the physical advantage of mankind. He set up a steam corn mill in Hereford, which I believe worked very successfully for the supply of pure flour to his parishioners, and he had theories about the production of pigs and poultry upon which he could dilate with amusing fervour. He showed his principles in a public disputation with a Roman Catholic priest at Hereford. I do not know that either of them converted anybody; but John Venn's loveableness was not dependent upon dialectical ability. He was accepted, I may say, as the saint of our family; and Aylstone Hill, Hereford, where he lived with his unmarried sister Emelia, (a lady who in common sense and humour strongly resembled her brother Henry), was a place of pilgrimage to which my father frequently resorted, and where we all found a model of domestic happiness.

The youngest sister, Caroline, married the Rev. Ellis Batten, a master at Harrow School. He died young in 1830, and she was left with two daughters, the elder of whom, now Mrs. Russell Gurney, survives, and was in early years one of the most familiar members of our inner home circle.

I must now speak of my mother. 'In one's whole life,' says Gray, 'one can never have any more than a single mother'—a trite observation, he adds, which yet he never discovered till it was too late. Those who have made the same discovery must feel also how impossible it is to communicate to others their own experience, and indeed how painful it is even to make the attempt. Almost every man's mother, one is happy to observe, is the best of mothers. I will only assert what I could prove by evidence other than my own impressions. My mother, then, must have been a very handsome young woman. A portrait—not a very good one—shows that she had regular features and a fine complexion, which she preserved till old age. Her beauty was such as implies a thoroughly good constitution and unbroken health. She was too a rather romantic young lady. She knew by heart all such poetry as was not excluded from the sacred common; she could repeat Cowper and Wordsworth and Campbell and Scott, and her children learnt the 'Mariners of England' and the 'Death of Marmion' from her lips almost before they could read for themselves. She accepted, of course, the religious opinions of her family, but in what I may call a comparatively mild form. If she had not the humour of her brother Henry and her sister Emelia, she possessed an equal amount of common sense. Her most obvious characteristic as I knew her was a singular serenity, which indicated a union of strong affection and sound judgment with an entire absence of any morbid tendencies. Her devotion to her husband and children may possibly have influenced her estimate of their virtues and talents. But however strong her belief in them, it never betrayed her to partiality of conduct. We were as sure of her justice as of her affection. Her servants invariably became attached to her. Our old nurse, Elizabeth Francis, lived with us for forty-three years, and her death in 1865 was felt as a deep family sorrow. The quaint Yorkshire cook, whose eccentricities had given trouble and whose final parting had therefore been received with equanimity on the eve of a journey abroad, was found calmly sitting in our kitchen when we returned, and announcing, truly as it turned out, that she proposed to stay during the rest of my mother's life. But this domestic loyalty was won without the slightest concession of unusual privileges. Her characteristic calmness appeared in another way. She suffered the heaviest of blows in the death of her husband, after forty-five years of unbroken married happiness, and of her eldest son. On both occasions she recovered her serenity and even cheerfulness with marked rapidity, not certainly from any want of feeling, but from her constitutional incapacity for dwelling uselessly upon painful emotions. She had indeed practised cheerfulness as a duty in order to soothe her husband's anxieties, and it had become part of her character. The moral equilibrium of her nature recovered itself spontaneously as wounds cure by themselves quickly in thoroughly sound constitutions. She devoted her spare time in earlier years and almost her whole time in later life to labours among the poor, but was never tempted to mere philanthropic sentimentalism. A sound common sense, in short, was her predominant faculty; and, though her religious sentiments were very strong and deep, she was so far from fanatical that she accepted with perfect calmness the deviations of her children from the old orthodox faith. My brother held, rightly as I think, that he inherited a large share of these qualities. To my father himself, the influence of such a wife was of inestimable value. He, the most nervous, sensitive of men, could always retire to the serene atmosphere of a home governed by placid common sense and be soothed by the gentlest affection. How necessary was such a solace will soon be perceived.


The young couple began prosperously enough. My father's business was increasing; and after the peace they spent some summer vacations in visits to the continent. They visited Switzerland, still unhackneyed, though Byron and Shelley were celebrating its charms. Long afterwards I used to hear from my mother of the superlative beauties of the Wengern Alp and the Staubbach (though she never, I suspect, read 'Manfred'), and she kept up for years a correspondence with a monk of the hospital on the St. Bernard. Her first child, Herbert Venn Stephen, was born September 30, 1822; and about this time a change took place in my father's position. He had a severe illness, caused, it was thought, by over-work. He had for a time to give up his chancery business and then to consider whether he should return to it and abandon the Colonial Office, or give up the bar to take a less precarious position now offered to him in the office. His doubts of health and his new responsibilities as a father decided him. On January 25, 1825, he was appointed Counsel to the Colonial Office, and on August 2 following Counsel to the Board of Trade, receiving 1,500l. a year for the two offices, and abandoning his private practice. A daughter, Frances Wilberforce, was born on September 8, 1824, but died on July 22 following. A quaint portrait in which she is represented with her elder brother, in a bower of roses, is all that remains to commemorate her brief existence. For some time Herbert was an only son; and a delicate constitution made his education very difficult. My father hit upon the most successful of several plans for the benefit of his children when, at the beginning of 1829, he made arrangements under which Frederick Waymouth Gibbs became an inmate of our family in order to give my brother a companion. Although this plan was changed three years later, Frederick Gibbs became, as he has ever since remained, a kind of adopted brother to us, and was in due time in the closest intimacy with my brother James Fitzjames.

After his acceptance of the permanent appointment my father's energies were for twenty-two years devoted entirely to the Colonial Office. I must dwell at some length upon his character and position, partly for his sake and partly because it is impossible without understanding them to understand my brother's career.

My brother's whole life was profoundly affected, as he fully recognised, by his father's influence. Fitzjames prefixed a short life of my father to a posthumous edition of the 'Essays in Ecclesiastical Biography.' The concluding sentence is significant of the writer's mood. 'Of Sir James Stephen's private life and character,' he says, 'nothing is said here, as these are matters with which the public has no concern, and on which the evidence of his son would not be impartial.' My brother would, I think, have changed that view in later years. I, at any rate, do not feel that my partiality, whatever it may be, is a disqualification for attempting a portrait. And, though the public may have no right to further knowledge, I think that such part of the public as reads these pages may be the better for knowing something more of a man of whom even a son may say that he was one of the conspicuously good and able men of his generation.

The task, however, is no easy one. His character, in the first place, is not one to be defined by a single epithet. 'Surely,' said his friend Sir Henry Taylor to him upon some occasion, 'the simple thing to do is so and so.' He answered doubtfully, adding, 'The truth is I am not a simple man.' 'No,' said Taylor, 'you are the most composite man that I have met with in all my experience of human nature.'[31] Taylor entered the Colonial Office in the beginning of 1824, and soon formed an intimate and lifelong friendship with his colleague. His autobiography contains some very vivid records of the impression made by my father's character upon a very fine observer in possession of ample opportunities for knowledge. It does something, though less than I could wish, to diminish another difficulty which encounters me. My father's official position necessarily throws an impenetrable veil over the work to which his main energies were devoted. His chief writings were voluminous and of great practical importance: but they repose in the archives of the Colonial Office; and even such despatches of his as have seen the light are signed by other names, and do not necessarily represent his opinions. 'The understanding,' says my brother in the 'Life,' 'upon which permanent offices in the civil service of the Crown are held is that those who accept them shall give up all claim to personal reputation on the one hand and be shielded from personal responsibility on the other.' Of this compact, as Fitzjames adds, neither my father nor his family could complain. His superiors might sometimes gain credit or incur blame which was primarily due to the adoption of his principles. He was sometimes attacked, on the other hand, for measures attributed to his influence, but against which he had really protested, although he was precluded from any defence of his conduct. To write the true history of our colonial policy in his time would be as much beyond my powers as it is outside my purpose; to discriminate his share in it would probably be now impossible for anyone. I can only take a few hints from Sir Henry Taylor and from my brother's account which will sufficiently illustrate some of my father's characteristics.

'For a long period,' says Taylor,[32] 'Stephen might better have been called the "Colonial Department" itself than "Counsel to the Colonial Department."' During Lord Glenelg's tenure of office (1835-1839), and for many years before and after, 'he literally ruled the Colonial empire.'[33] This involved unremitting labour. Taylor observes that Stephen 'had an enormous appetite for work,' and 'rather preferred not to be helped. I,' he adds, humorously, 'could make him perfectly welcome to any amount of it.' For years he never left London for a month, and, though in the last five years preceding his retirement in 1847, he was absent for rather longer periods, he took a clerk with him and did business in the country as regularly as in town.

His duties were of the most various kind. The colonies, as my brother observes, were a collection of states varying from youthful nations like Canada down to a small settlement of Germans on the rock of Heligoland; their populations differed in race, laws, religion, and languages; the authority of the Crown varied from absolute power over an infant settlement to supremacy over communities in some essential respects independent. My father's duty was to be familiar with every detail of these complicated relations, to know the state of parties and local politics in each colony, and to be able to advise successive Secretaries of State who came without special preparation to the task. He had to prepare drafts of all important despatches and of the numerous Acts of Parliament which were required during a period of rapid and important changes. 'I have been told,' says my brother, elsewhere,[34] that 'he was a perfectly admirable Under-Secretary of State, quick, firm, courageous, and a perfect master of his profession and of all the special knowledge which his position required, and which, I believe, no other man in England possessed to anything like the same extent.'

A man of long experience, vast powers of work, and decided views naturally obtained great influence with his superiors; and that such an influence was potent became generally believed among persons interested in and often aggrieved by the policy of the Government. Stephen was nicknamed as 'King Stephen,' or 'Mr. Over-Secretary Stephen,' or 'Mr. Mother-Country Stephen.' The last epithet, attributed to Charles Buller, meant that when the colonies were exhorted to pay allegiance to the mother country they were really called upon to obey the irrepressible Under-Secretary. I dimly divine, though I am not much of a politician, that there is an advantage in criticising the permanent official in a department. He cannot answer an attack upon him, and it is also an attack upon the superior who has yielded to his influence. At any rate, though my father received the warmest commendation from his official superiors, he acquired a considerable share of unpopularity. For this there were other reasons, of which I shall presently speak.

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