Leslie Stephen: His Thought and Character in Relation to His Time

Leslie Stephen: His Thought and Character in Relation to His Time

Leslie Stephen: His Thought and Character in Relation to His Time

Leslie Stephen: His Thought and Character in Relation to His Time

Excerpt

When F. W. Maitland, perhaps the greatest of all English professional historians, wrote Leslie Stephen's commemorative biography, he said: 'He is too big for me for one sort of writing and too dear for another,' and he added: 'Someone will some day do for him what he to our admiration did for many others: illustrate in a small compass his life by his books, his books by his life and both by their environment.'

This I have tried to do. Maitland did his work so well that a new biography would be superfluous; and though I have seen some letters which were not accessible to him, such new biographical material has added little to the facts which he collated. I have, however, felt at liberty to quote passages from letters and from the manuscript of the autobiography which Stephen wrote for his children, to which Maitland had access but which obviously he did not feel able to use in a commemorative biography. That I have been able to do so is entirely due to Mrs. Clive Bell, who lent me this manuscript, put at my disposal all the papers in her possession, lent me the family photographs reproduced in this book, one of which was taken by her great-aunt, the well-known artist, Mrs. Cameron, and was always kind, helpful, and dispassionate. I owe her much and thank her.

This book, then, is a critical study of Leslie Stephen rather than a biography. It was originally submitted in a shorter form for the Le Bas Prize Essay and there 'in a small compass' I attempted to follow Maitland's instruction; but I found that the background of Stephen's times cast such a shadow over the man that he was in danger of partial eclipse; and I therefore added the two biographical chapters and expanded those on his moral experience. Nevertheless, the background--the tradition of thought to which Stephen belonged--is essential if his thought is to be intelligible; and conversely Stephen is the touchstone to his environment. To understand Stephen is to understand Evangelical morality and Victorian rationalism, the two strongest . . .

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