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than Cranmer did; he would have shown a broader
spirit than did Parker or Whitgift. So Cardinal
Manning, had he lived in the seventeenth century,
might haply have become General of the Jesuit
Order, and enjoyed the secret control of the politics
of the Catholic world. So Robertson Smith, had
he been born in the great age of the mediaeval
universities, might, like the bold dialectician of
whom Dante speaks, have "syllogised invidious
truths " ^ in the University of Paris ; or had Fortune
placed him two centuries later among the scholars
of the Italian Renaissance in its glorious prime,
the fame of his learning might have filled half

- Parad. x. 136, of vSigier, " Sillogizzo invidiosi veri."


Henry Sidgwick was born at Skipton, in York-
shire, where his father was headmaster of the
ancient grammar school of the town, on 3rst
May 1838/ The family belonged to Yorkshire.
He was a precocious boy, and used to delight his
brothers and sister by the fertility of his imagina-
tion in inventing games and stories. Educated
at Rugby School under Goulburn (afterwards
Dean of Norwich), he was sent at an unusually
early age to Trinity College, Cambridge. His
brilliant University career was crowned by the
hrst place in the classical tripos and by a first
class in the mathematical tripos, and he was
speedily elected a Fellow of Trinity. Intel-
lectual curiosity and an interest in the prob-
lems of theology presently drev/ him to Germany,
where he worked at Hebrew and Arabic under
Ewald at Gottingen, as well as with other
eminent teachers. After hesitating for a time
whether to devote himself to Oriental studies
or to classical scholarship, he was drawn back to

It is hoped that a life of SiilL;wick, together with .1 selectioii from
his letters, may before long he piihlishe'l.


328 Biographical Studies

philosophy by his desire to investigate questions
bearing on natural theology, and finally settled
down to the pursuit of what are called in Cam-
bridge the moral sciences metaphysics, ethics, and
psychology ; becoming first a College Lecturer
and then (in 1875) Prselector in Moral and Poli-
tical Philosophy. In 1869 he resigned his fellow-
ship, feeling that he could no longer consider
himself a '' bona fide member of the Church of
England," that being the condition then attached
by law to the holding of fellowships in the
Colleges at Cambridge. This step caused surprise,
for the test was deemed a very vague and light
one, having been recently substituted for a more
stringent requirement, and there had been many
holders of fellowships who were at least as little
entitled to call themselves bona fide members
of the Established Church as he was. But,
as was afterwards said of him by Mrs. Cross
(George Eliot), Sidgwick was expected by his
intimate friends to conform to standards higher
than average men prescribe for their own con-
duct. Taken in conjunction with the fact that
several English Dissenters and Scottish Presby-
terians had won the distinction of a Senior
Wranglership and been debarred from fellowships,
though they were in theological opinion more
orthodox than some nominal members of the
Established Church who were holding fellowships,
Sidgwick's conscientious act made a great im-

Henry Sidgvvick 329

pression in Cambridge and did much to hasten
that total aboHtion of tests in the Universities
which was effected by statute in 1S71 ; for in
England concrete instances of hardship and in-
justice are more powerful incitements to reform
than the strongest abstract arguments, and Sidg-
wick was already so eminent and so respected
a figure that all Cambridge felt the absurdity of
excludinof such a man from its honours and emolu-
ments. In 1883 he was appointed Professor of
Moral Philosophy, and continued to hold that post
till three months before his death in 1900, when
failing health determined him to resign it.

His life was the still and tranquil life of the
thinker, teacher, and writer, varied by no events
more excitino^ than those controversies over
reforms in the studies and organisation of the
University in which his sense of public duty
frequently led him to bear a part.

These I pass over, but there is one branch of
his active work to which special reference ought
to be made, viz. the part he took in promoting the
University education of women. In or about the
year 1868 he joined with the late Miss Anne
Jane Clough (sister of the poet Arthur Clough)
and a few other friends in establishing a course
of lectures and a hall of residence for women
at Cambridofe, which crrew into the institution
called Xewnham College. It and Girton College,
founded by other friends of the same cause

330 Biographical Studies

about the same time, were the first two insti-
tutions in England which provided for women,
together with residential accommodation, a com-
plete University training equivalent and similar
to that provided by the two ancient English
universities for men. The teaching was mainly
given by the University professors and lecturers,
the curriculum was the same as the University
prescribed, and the women students, though not
legally admitted to the University, were ex-
amined by the University examiners at the same
time as the other students. Henry Sidgwick
was, from the foundation of Newnham onwards,
the moving spirit and the guiding hand among
its University friends, the spirit which inspired
the policy and the hand which piloted the
fortunes of the College. Its growth to its present
dimensions, and its usefulness, not only directly,
but through the example it has set, have been
largely due to his assiduous care and temperate
wisdom. He had married (in 1876) Miss Eleanor
Mildred Balfour, and when she accepted the princi-
palship of Newnham after Miss Clough's death, in
1889, he and she transferred their residence to
the College, and lived thenceforward at it. The
England of our time has seen no movement of
opinion more remarkable or more beneficial than
that which has recognised the claims of women
to the highest kind of education, and secured a
substantial, if still incomplete, provision therefor.

Henry Sidgwick 331

The change has come so quietly and unob-
trusively that few people realise how great it
is. Few, indeed, remember what things were
forty years ago, as few realise when waste lands
have been stubbed and drained and tilled what
they were like in their former state. No one did
more than Sidgwick to bring about this change.
Besides his work for Newnham, he took a lead
in all the movements that have been made to
obtain for women a fuller admission to University
privileges, and well deserved the gratitude of
Englishwomen for his unceasing efforts on their

The obscure problems of psychology had a
great attraction for him, and he spent much time
in investio-atinof them, beincr one of the founders,
and remaining all through his later life a leading
and guiding member, of the Society tor Psychicrd
Research, which has for the last twenty years
cultivated this field with an industry and ability
Vvhich have deserved larafer harvests than have
yet been reaped. Two remarkable men, both
devoted friends of his, worked with him, Edmund
Gurney and Frederic Myers the poet, the latter
of whom survived him a few months only. It
was characteristic of Sidgwick that he never com-
mitted himself to any of the bold and possibly
over-sanguine anticipations formed by some ot
the other members of the Societx', while yet he
never was deterred by failure, or by the discover)-

332 Biographical Studies

of deceptions, sometimes elaborate and long sus-
tained, from pursuing inquiries which seemed to
him to have an ultimate promise of valuable
results. The phenomena, he would say, may be
true or false ; anyhow they deserve investigation.
The mere fact that so many persons believe them
to be genuine is a problem fit to be investigated.
If they are false, it will be a service to have
proved them so. If they contain some truth,
it is truth of a kind so absolutely new as to be
worth much effort and long effort to reach it. In
any case, science ought to take the subject out of
the hands of charlatans.

The main business of his life, however, was
teaching and writing. Three books stand out as
those by which he will be best remembered his
Methods of Ethics, his Principles of Political
Economy, and his Ele7nents of Politics. All three
have won the admiration of those who are experts
in the subjects to which they respectively relate,
and they continue to be widely read in uni-
versities both in Britain and in America. All
three bear alike the peculiar impress of his mind.

It was a mind of singular subtlety, fertility,
and ingenuity, which applied to every topic an
extremely minute and patient analysis. Never
satisfied with the obvious view of a question,
it seemed unable to acquiesce in any broad and
sweeping statement. It discovered objections to
every accepted doctrine, exceptions to every rule.

Henry Sidgwick 33

It perceived minute distinctions and qualifications
which had escaped the notice of previous writers.
These quaHties made Sidgwick's books somewhat
difficult reading for a beginner, who was apt to
ask what, after all, was the conclusion to which he
had been led by an author who showed him the
subject in various lights, and added not a few minor
propositions to that which had seemed to be the
governing one. But the student who had already
some knowledge of the topic, who, though he
apprehended its main principles, had not followed
them out in detail or perceived the difficulties in
applying them, gained immensely by having so
many fresh points presented to him, so many
fallacies lurking in currently accepted notions
detected, so many conditions indicated which
might qualify the amplitude of a general pro-
position. The method of discussion was stimu-
lating. Sometimes it reminded one of the Socratic
method as it appears in Plato, but more fre-
quently it was the method of Aristotle, who
discusses a subject first from one side, then from
another, throws out a number of remarks, not
always reconcilable, but always suggestive, re-
garding it, and finally arrives at a view which he
delivers as being probably the best, but one
which must be taken subject to the remarks
previously made. The reader often feels in
Sidgwick's treatment of a subject as he often
feels in Aristotle's, that he would like to be left

334 Biographical Studies

with something more definite and positive, some-
thing that can be easily dehvered to learners as
an established truth. He desires a bolder and
broader sweep of the brush. But he also feels
how much he is benefited by the process of
sifting and analysing to which every conception
or dogma is subjected, and he perceives that
he is more able to handle it afterwards in his
own way when his attention has been called to
all these distinctions and qualifications or anti-
nomies which would have escaped any vision less
keen than his author's. For those who, in an age
prone to hasty reading and careless thinking, are
disposed to underrate the difficulties of economic
and political questions, and to walk in a vain
conceit of knowledge because they have picked
up some large generalisations, no better discipline
can be prescribed than to follow patiently such
a treatment as Sidgwick gives ; nor can any
reader fail to profit from the candour and the
love of truth which illumine his discussion of a

The love of truth and the sense of duty guided
his life as well as his pen. Though always
warmly interested in politics, he was of all the
persons I have known the least disposed to be
warped by partisanship, for he examined each
political issue as it arose on its own merits, apart
from predilections for either party or for the
views of his nearest friends. We used to wonder

Henry Sidgwick 335

how such splendid impartiality would have stood a
practical test such as that of the House of Com-
mons. His loyalty to civic duty was so strong as
on one occasion to bring him, in the middle of
his vacation, all the way from Davos, in the
easternmost corner of Switzerland, to Cambridge,
solely that he might record his vote at a parlia-
mentary election, although the result of the election
was already virtually certain.

Sidgwick's attitude toward the Benthamite
svstem of Utilitarianism illustrates the cautiously
discriminative habit of mind I have sought to
describe. If he had been required to call him-
self by any name, he would not have refused that
of Utilitarian, just as in mental philosophy he
leaned to the type of thought represented by the
two Mills rather than to the Kantian idealism of
his friend and school contemporary, the Oxford
professor T. H. Green. But the system of
Utility takes in his hands a form so much more
refined and delicate than was given to it by
Bentham and James Mill, and is expounded with
so many qualifications unknown to them, that it
has become a very different thing, and is scarcely,
if at all, assailable by the arguments which moral-
ists of the idealistic type have brought against
the older doctrine. Something similar may be
said of his treatment of bimetallism in his book
on political economy. While assenting to some of
the general propositions on which the bimetallic

33^ Biographical Studies

theory rests, he points out so many difficulties in
the application of that theory to the actual con-
ditions of currency that his assent cannot be cited
as a deliverance in favour of trying to turn theory
into practice. He told me in 1896 that he held
the political and other practical objections to an
attempt to establish a bimetallic system to be virtu-
ally insuperable. When he treats of free trade, he
is no less guarded and discriminating. He points
out various circumstances or conditions under
which a protective tariff may become, at least
for a time, justifiable, but never abandons the
free trade principle as being generally true and
sound, a principle not to be departed from
save for strong reasons of a local or temporary
kind. His general economic position is equally
removed from the " high and dry " school of
Ricardo on the one hand, and from the "Katheder-
Sozialisten " and the modern " sentimental " school
on the other. In all his books one notes a tend-
ency to discover what can be said for the view
which is in popular disfavour, even often for
that which he does not himself adopt, and to
set forth all the objections to the view which
is to receive his ultimate adhesion. There is a
danger with such a method of losing breadth and
force of effect. One is ready to cry, " Do lapse
for a moment into dogmatism." Yet it ought to be
added that Sidgwick's subtlety is always restrained
by practical good sense, as well as by the desire to

Henry Sidgwick 337

reconcile opposite views. His arguments, though
they often turn on minute distinctions, are not
bits of fine-drawn ingenuity, but have weight and
substance in them/

One book of his which has not yet (December
1902) been pubHshed, but which I have had the
privilege of reading in proof, displays his con-
structive power in another light. It is a course
of lectures on the development of political institu-
tions in Europe from early times down to our
own. Here, as he is dealiuQ- with concrete matter,
the treatment is more broad, and the line of
exposition and argument more easy to follow, than
in the treatises already referred to. It is a masterly
piece of work, and reveals a wider range of
historical knowledge and a more complete mastery
of historical method than had been shown in his
earlier books, or indeed than some of his friends
had known him to possess.

The tendency to analysis rather than to con-
struction, the abstention from the deliverance of
doctrines easy to comprehend and repeat, which
belong to his writings on ethics and economics,
do not impair the worth of his literary criticisms.
In this field his fme perception and discriminative

It was his aim to avoid as nnicli as [)os, technical terms or phrases
whose nieaniiiL; was not plain to the averai^e reader. An anecdote v\as
current that once when, in conductin.L; a universit)- examination, he was
perusinj^ the papers of a candidate who had darkened the sutjject hy the
use of extreme Ilesjelian phraseology, he turned to his co-examiner and
said, "I can see that this is nonsense, but is it the right kind of nonsense?"


33^ Biographical Studies

taste had full scope. He was an incessant reader,
especially of poetry and novels, with a retentive
memory for poetry, as well as a finely modulated
and expressive voice in reciting it. His literary
judgments had less of a creative quality, if the
expression be permissible, than Matthew Arnold's,
but are not otherwise inferior to those of that
brilliant though sometimes slightly prejudiced
critic. No one of his contemporaries has sur-
passed Sidgwick in catholicity and reasonableness,
in the power of delicate appreciation, or in an
exquisite precision of expression. His essay on
Arthur Hugh Clough, prefixed to the latest edition
of Clough 's collected poems, is a good specimen
of this side of his talent. Clough was one of
his favourites, and has indeed been called the
pet poet of University men. Sidgwick's literary
essays, which appeared occasionally in magazines,
were few, but they well deserve to be collected and
republished, for this age of ours, though largely
occupied in talking about literature, has produced
comparatively little criticism of the first order.

Sidgwick did not write swiftly or easily, be-
cause he weighed carefully everything he wrote.
But his mind was alert and nimble in the highest
degree. Thus he was an admirable talker, seeing
in a moment the point of an argument, seizing on
distinctions which others had failed to perceive,
suggesting new aspects from which a question
might be regarded, and enlivening every topic

Henry Sidgwick 339

by a keen yet sweet and kindly wit. Wit,
seldom allowed to have play in his books,
was one of the characteristics which made his
company charming. Its effect was heightened
by a hesitation in his speech which often
forced him to pause before the critical word
or phrase of the sentence had been reached.
When that word or phrase came, it was sure
to be the rifjht one. Though fond of areuingf,
he was so candid and fair, admitting all that
there was in his opponent's case, and obviously
trying to see the point from his opponent's side,
that nobody felt annoyed at having come off
second best, while everybody who cared for good
talk went away feeling not only that he knew
more about the matter than he did before, but
that he had enjoyed an intellectual pleasure of a
rare and high kind. The keenness of his penetra-
tion was not formidable, because it was joined
to an indulgent judgment : the ceaseless activity
of his intellect was softened rather than reduced
by the gaiety of his manner. Mis talk was con-
versation, not discourse, for though he naturally
became the centre of nearly every company in
which he found himself, he took no more than
his share. It was like the sparkling of a brook
whose ripples seem to give out sunshine.

Though Sidgwick's writings are a mine of
careful and suggestive thinking, he was even
more remarkable than his books. Though his

340 Biographical Studies

conversation was delightful, the impression of its
fertility and its wit was the least part of the
impression which his personality produced. An
eminent man is known to the world at large by
what he gives them in the way of instruction or
of pleasure. A man is prized and remembered
by his friends for what he was in the intercourse
of life. Few men of our time have influenced
so wide or so devoted a circle of friends as did
Henry Sidgwick ; few could respond to the calls
of friendship with a like sympathy or wisdom.
His advice was frequently asked in delicate
questions of conduct, and he was humorously
reminded that, by his own capacity as well as
by the title of his chair, he was a professor of
casuistry. His stores of knowledge and helpful
criticism were always at the service of his pupils
or his fellow-workers.

From his earliest college days he had been
just, well-balanced, conscientious alike in the pur-
suit of truth and in the regulation of his own life,
appearing to have neither prejudices nor enmities,
and when he had to convey censure, choosing the
least cutting words in which to convey it. Yet
in earlier years there had been in him a touch
of austerity, a certain remoteness or air of de-
tachment, which confined to a very few persons
the knowledge of his highest qualities. As he
grew older his purity lost its coldness, his keen-
ness of discernment mellowed into a sweet and

Henry Sidgwick 341

persuasive wisdom. A life excellently conducted,
a life which is the expression of fine qualities, and
in which the acts done are in harmony with the
thoughts and words of the man, is itself a beauti-
ful product, whether of untutored nature or of
thought and experience turning every faculty to
the best account. In the modern world the two
types of excellence which we are chiefly bidden
to admire are that of the active philanthropist
and that of the saint. The ancient world pro-
duced and admired another type, to which some
of its noblest characters conformed, and which, in
its softer and more benignant aspect, Sidgwick
presented. In his indifference to wealth and
fame and the other familiar objects of human
desire, in the almost ascetic simplicity of his daily
life, in his ])ursuit of none but the purest pleasures,
in his habit of subjecting all impulses to the law
of reason, the will braced to patience, the soul
brought into harmony with the divinely appointed
order, he seemed to reproduce one of those philo-
sophers of antiquity who formed a lofty concep-
tion of Nature and sought to live in conformity
with her precepts. But the gravity of a Stoic
was relieved by the humour and vivacity which
l^elonged to his nature, and the severity of a Stoic
was softened by the tenderness and sympathy
which seemed to grow and expand with every
year. In Cambridge, where, though the society
is a large one, all the teachers become personally

342 Biographical Studies

known to one another, and the students have
opportunities of famihar intercourse with the
teachers, affection as well as admiration gathered
round him. His thoughts quickened and his
example inspired generation after generation of
young men passing through the University out
into the life of England, as a light set high upon
the bank beams on the waves of a river gliding
swiftly to the sea.

It was a life of single-minded devotion to truth
and friendship, a life serene and gentle, free alike
from vanity and from ambition, bearing without
complaint the ill-health which sometimes checked
his labours, viewing with calm fortitude those
problems of man's life on which his mind was
always fixed, untroubled in the presence of death,

Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas
Quique metus omnes et inexorabile fatum
Subiecit pedibus strepitumque Acherontis avari.

When his friends heard of his departure there
rose to mind the words in which the closing scene of
the life of Socrates is described by the greatest of
his disciples, and we thought that among all those
we had known there was none of whom we could
more truly say that In him the spirit of philosophy
had its perfect work in justice, In goodness, and
in wisdom.


Ever since the publication of Stanley's Life of
Dr. Arnold that eminent headmaster has been
taken as the model of a cjreat teacher and ruler
of bovs. the man who, while stimulating: the in-
telligence of his pupils, was even more concerned
to discipline and mould their moral natures.
Arnold has become the type of what Carlyle
might have called " The Hero as Schoolmaster."
Though there have been many able men at the
head of large schools since his time, including
three who afterwards rose to be Archbishops of
Canterbury, as well as a good many who have
become bishops, his fame remains unrivalled, and
the type created by his career, or rather perhaps by
his biographer's account of it, still holds the field
Moreover, during the sixty years that have passed
since Arnold's death scarcely a word has been
said regarding any other masters than the head.
During those years the English universities have
sent into the great schools a large proportion of

' Since this sliclch was wrillen a very interesting /.i/e of Edward

Online LibraryJames Bryce BryceStudies in contemporary biography → online text (page 20 of 29)