Athenian View

Michael Brock

  • Public Moralists: Political Thought and Intellectual Life in Britain, 1850-1930 by Stefan Collini
    Oxford, 383 pp, £40.00, September 1991, ISBN 0 19 820173 7

In seven of the nine chapters in this fine book Dr Collini depicts the denizens of the Athenaeum in its great days. T.H. Huxley, having left his umbrella at Matthew Arnold’s, asks his friend to ‘bring it next time you come to the club’. Leslie Stephen, elected in 1877 on the strength of his History of English Thought in the 18th Century, enjoys the irony that this defence of free thought has given him ‘admission to a respectable haunt of bishops and judges’. By 1850, the Disruption in the Kirk has done its work: the Athenians have moved south from Edinburgh. The dominance of the dons and of the British Academy is still below the horizon. The world of the ‘public moralist’ revolves around Waterloo Place.

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