Posts Tagged ‘Sir James Stephen’

Regency Personalities Series

In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

John Venn
9 March 1759 – 1 July 1813


John Venn

John Venn was a priest of the Church of England and a central figure of the group of religious philanthropists known as the Clapham sect.

He was born at Clapham, then south-west of central London, while his father Henry Venn was curate there. He entered Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, graduated B.A. in 1781, and M.A. in 1784.

Venn was rector of Little Dunham, Norfolk, from 1783 to 1792, and rector of Clapham from 1792 to his death. He was one of the original founders of the Church Missionary Society in 1797, and was a leading abolitionist and philanthropist. He ran the school set up by the Society for the Education of Africans which was set up in Clapham in 1799. He died at Clapham. A volume of his sermons was published after his death.

Venn married first, at Trinity Church, Hull, on 22 October 1789, Catherine, daughter of William King, merchant, of Kingston upon Hull. By her he had sons Henry Venn, and John, for many years vicar of St. Peter’s, Hereford; also five daughters, of whom Jane, the second, married James Stephen, and was mother of James Fitzjames Stephen and Leslie Stephen; and Caroline married Stephen Ellis Batten and was mother of Emelia Russell Gurney. He married, secondly, on 25 August 1812, Frances, daughter of John Turton of Clapham.

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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Sir Henry Taylor
18 October 1800 – 27 March 1886


Henry Taylor

Sir Henry Taylor was born on 18 October 1800 in Bishop Middleham, the third son of George Taylor and Eleanor Ashworth. His mother died when he was an infant. His father married Jane Mills in 1818, and the family then moved to Witton-le-Wear.

George Taylor’s friend Charles Arbuthnot found positions in London for Henry Taylor and George, one of his older brothers. They went to London in 1817 with the second brother, William, a medical student, but soon afterwards they all caught typhus fever. William and George died in a fortnight. Henry Taylor then took up post in Barbados.

Taylor’s place was abolished in 1820, and he returned to his father’s house.

Taylor had been introduced to Henry Holland, and through him obtained a clerkship in the Colonial Office. There he worked from 1824 until 1872, serving under the permanent secretary Robert William Hay in particular. Hay’s successors were James Stephen, Herman Merivale and Frederic Rogers. Hay, Stephen, Taylor and James Spedding, who also worked in the Office, each brought forward reforming proposals. Taylor and Stephen were allies of Viscount Howick in his abolitionist efforts of the early 1830s. Hay was unhelpful, and was eventually ousted in favour of the efficient Stephen.

Taylor wrote Byronic poems and an article on Thomas Moore, which in 1822 was accepted for the Quarterly Review by William Gifford. Returning to London in October 1823, he found that Gifford had printed another article of his, on Lord John Russell. Taylor had also contributed to the London Magazine, and had an offer of the editorship.

His father George was a friend of William Wordsworth. In 1823, on a visit to the Lake District, Henry Taylor made the acquaintance of Robert Southey, and they became friends. Jane Taylor had a first cousin Isabella Fenwick (1783–1856), and Henry Taylor introduced her to the Wordsworth family. She became a close friend of Wordsworth in later life, as she had been of Taylor up to the time of his marriage.

Taylor’s work also brought him literary friends: the circle of Thomas Hyde Villiers, and his colleague James Stephen. He also knew John Sterling. Through Villiers he became acquainted with Charles Austin, John Stuart Mill, and some of the Benthamites. He made speeches in opposition to their views, in the debating society documented by Mill. He also invited them to personal meetings with Wordsworth and Southey. Mill introduced Taylor to Thomas Carlyle in November 1831, initiating a long friendship. Carlyle’s opinion of the “marked veracity” of Taylor was printed wrongly by the editor James Anthony Froude as “morbid vivacity”.

Taylor aspired to become the official biographer of Southey. The family row over Southey’s second marriage, to Caroline Anne Bowles, found him with the Wordsworths and others hostile to Bowles. He did become Southey’s literary executor.

In Witton, Taylor wrote The Cave of Ceada which was accepted for the Quarterly Review. Taylor wrote a number of plays, including Isaac Comnenus (1827), and Philip van Artevelde (1834). This latter brought him fame and elicited comparisons with Shakespeare. In 1845 there followed a book of lyrical poems. His essay The Statesman (1836) caused some controversy, as a “supposedly” satirical view of how the civil service worked.

Taylor published his Autobiography in 1885, which contains portraits of Wordsworth, Southey, Tennyson and Walter Scott. In it, on his own account, he gave Richard Whately’s opinion of him as a “resuscitated Bacon”, who had better things to do than write verse (which could be left to women).

His poem Edwin the Fair depicted Charles Elliot as Earl Athulf. Thomas Frederick Elliot, Charles’s brother, was a Colonial Office colleague.

  • Isaac Comnenus. London: John Murray.
  • The virgin widow. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans.
  • St. Clement’s eve. London: Chapman and Hall.
  • Philip van Artevelde. London: Boston, Ticknor and Fields.
  • Edwin the Fair. London: John Murray.
  • The poetical works of Henry Taylor. London: Chapman and Hall.
  • The works. Cambridge, England: Chadwyck-Healey.

Taylor married Hon. Theodosia Alice Spring Rice, daughter of Thomas Spring Rice, 1st Baron Monteagle of Brandon, on 17 October 1839. They had five children, including the biographer Ida Alice Ashworth Taylor.

Taylor died on 27 March 1886.

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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Sir James Stephen
3 January 1789 – 14 September 1859


James Stephen

Sir James Stephen was born at Lambeth, the third son of James Stephen and brother to George Stephen (1794–1879). An attack of smallpox during James’ infancy caused a permanent weakness of eyesight. He was under various schoolmasters, including John Prior Estlin and the Rev. Henry Jowett of Little Dunham, Norfolk. In 1806 he entered Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he learnt as little as if he had passed the time “at the Clarendon Hotel in Bond Street.” He took the LL.B. degree in 1812, having been called to the bar at Lincoln’s Inn on 11 November 1811. His father, who was just leaving the bar, transferred some practice to his son, who also began to make a digest of colonial laws. Henry Bathurst, 3rd Earl Bathurst, who was in sympathy with the “Clapham Sect,” allowed him to inspect official records for the digest, and in 1813 appointed him counsel to the Colonial Office. His duty was to report upon all acts of the colonial legislatures. The work increased, but he was also allowed to practise privately, and in a few years was making £3,000 a year, and in a fair way to the honours of the profession.

On 22 December 1814 Stephen married Jane Catherine, daughter of John Venn, rector of Clapham, one of the founders of the Church Missionary Society. In 1822 Stephen had a severe illness caused by overwork. As he was now a father, he decided in 1825 to accept the offer of the post of permanent counsel to the colonial office and to the board of trade, abandoning his private practice.

In 1834 Stephen was appointed assistant under-secretary of state for the colonies, and in 1836 under-secretary, giving up his position in the board of trade. The duties became onerous. He had a high reputation for his knowledge of constitutional law, and as an administrator. He gained influence with his superiors, and his colleague, Sir Henry Taylor, said that for many years he “literally ruled the colonial empire.” The impression of his influence gained him the nicknames of “King Stephen” and “Mr. Over-secretary Stephen;” and he was made the scapegoat for real and supposed errors of the Colonial Office.

Stephen had accepted his position partly with a hope of influence policy on slavery question. When abolition became inevitable, he was called on to draw up the Slavery Abolition Act passed in 1833. Between the noons of Saturday and Monday he dictated an elaborate bill of sixty-six sections. He also was writing for the Edinburgh Review, and suffered a breakdown.

In later years Stephen was involved in the establishment of government in Canada; and his views are said to have been more liberal than those of the government. Esteemed by his official superiors, he used formality to keep others at a distance. The health of his youngest son induced him in 1840 to take a house at Brighton for his family, to which he could make only weekly visits. From 1842 to 1846 he lived at Windsor, in order to send his sons to Eton. In 1846 he was summoned to Dresden by the illness of his eldest son, who died before his parents could reach him. In 1847 he resigned his post. He was made a K.C.B. and a privy councillor.

Stephen had meanwhile become known as a writer by a series of articles in the Edinburgh Review, the first of which (on William Wilberforce) appeared in April 1838. They were written in the intervals of his official work, generally in the early morning. He carefully disavowed any pretence to profound research. The articles had, however, shown considerable historical knowledge as well as literary power. He had partly recovered strength, and was anxious for employment.

In June 1849 Stephen was appointed Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge, a chair vacant by the death of William Smyth. He delivered a course of lectures on the history of France during the summers of 1850 and 1851, which were published in 1852, and praised by De Tocqueville. Another severe illness in the summer of 1850 had forced him to spend a winter abroad. From 1855 to 1857 he held a professorship at the East India Company College, Haileybury, which had been sentenced to extinction. He continued to lecture at Cambridge, but the history school then had little prestige.

Stephen passed the last years of his life mainly in London. In 1859 his health showed serious symptoms, and he was ordered to Bad Homburg, Prussia. Becoming worse, he started homewards, but died at Koblenz, Prussia on 14 September 1859. He was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery. Sir James Stephen’s widow died in 1875. They had five children:

  • Herbert Venn Stephen (1822–1846)
  • Frances Wilberforce Stephen (1824–1825)
  • Sir James Fitzjames Stephen
  • Sir Leslie Stephen
  • Caroline Emelia Stephen (1834-1909)

Stephen spent his best years and highest powers in work of which it is impossible that any estimate should be formed. He was a most conscientious and energetic official, but the credit or discredit of the policy which he carried out belongs to those whom he advised. In domestic life he impressed all who knew him by his loftiness of principle. He was a man of the strongest family affections. He sacrificed his own comforts for the benefit of his children, and set before them a constant example of absolute devotion to duty. He began life as a strong evangelical, and never avowedly changed; but his experience of the world, his sympathy with other forms of belief, and his interest in the great churchmen of the Middle Ages led to his holding the inherited doctrine in a latitudinarian sense. He was accused of heresy, when appointed professor at Cambridge, for an Epilogue to his Essays, in which he suggested doubts as to the eternity of hell-fire. The Essays are the work by which he is best known, and show a literary faculty to which he could never give full play. The autobiography of Sir Henry Taylor gives an interesting account of his personal character. Taylor, James Spedding, Mr. Aubrey de Vere, and Nassau Senior were his most intimate friends; but he led a recluse and rather ascetic life, and seldom went into society, A bust by Marochetti is in the National Portrait Gallery, London.

  • Essays in Ecclesiastical Biography, 1849
  • Lectures on the History of France, 1852

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