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Scientists and Broad Churchmen: an Early Victorian Intellectual Network*


The late Victorians popularized several ideas which have tended to obscure what was actually going on in intellectual matters in the early part of the nineteenth century. One of these is the notion that, whenever science and religion came into contact, some degree of scientific excellence was sacrificed, if only because the scientists themselves believed in the theological ideas. Another is the judgment that Dean Stanley, a “passive peaceable Protestant” always seeking compromise, was the typical Broad Churchman. And a third is the acceptance of Leslie Stephen's description of an arid “Cambridge rationalism” not only as enlightening (which it is) but also as complete.

These and other similar misconceptions could be propagated because the later Victorian intellectual “aristocracy” or “self-reviewing circle,” as described so well by Noel Annan, was not continuous with that of the earlier period. Such physical descendants as did remain, notably Matthew Arnold and Leslie Stephen, played quite different roles in the new circle from those which their fathers had filled in the older, looser, grouping. The founders of the new aristocracy selected their mythic figures with an eye to current usefulness rather than with strict attention to the history of the earlier generation. This was to be expected. One could not expect Thomas Huxley to emphasize the great abilities of the geologist Adam Sedgwick when it was just such a reputation which supported “the old Adam” in his attack on Darwin's theories.

In order to indicate the inadequacy of the three conceptions listed above, and others like them, it is the purpose of this article to use the indirect method of sketching the coming together of those men who were the mentors not only of Darwin but also of Stanley, of Tennyson, of Frederick Denison Maurice, of Lord Kelvin, and of James Clerk Maxwell.

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This article was written during the tenure of a grant from the National Science Foundation. I should like to thank the Council of the Royal Society for permission to use their archives, and the Librarian of the Royal Society for furnishing a year-long welcome. I should also like to thank the Curator of Astronomy and Mathematics of the Science Museum, the Astronomer Royal and Dr. P. S. Laurie of the Royal Greenwich Observatory, and the Councils and/or Librarians of the Royal Astronomical Society, the Geological Survey, the Cambridge Philosophical Society, the Colleges of St. John and of the Holy and Undivided Trinity (Cambridge), and Somerville College, for permission to use their archives, and for their assistance.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Duncan Forbes , The Liberal Anglican Idea of History (Cambridge, 1952)

William Kneale , “Boole and the Revival of Logic,” Mind, LVII (1948), 157

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Journal of British Studies
  • ISSN: 0021-9371
  • EISSN: 1545-6986
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-british-studies
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