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whole group of curious analogies from other times
or countries. Whatever you planted in this fertile
soil struck root and sprouted at once. Morally,
he impressed those who knew him not only by
his kindness of heart, but by a remarkable
purity and nobleness of aim. Nothing mean or
small or selfish seemed to harbour in his mind.
You might think him right or wrong, but you
never doubted that he was striving after the
truth. He was not merely a just man ; he

Dean Stanley 83

loved justice with passion. It was partly, per-
haps, because justice, goodness, honour, charity,
seemed to him of such paramount importance in
life that he made little of doctrinal differences,
having perceived that these virtues may exist, and
may also be found wanting-, in every form of
religious creed or philosophical profession. When
the Convocation of the Anglican Church met at
Westminster, it was during many years his habit
to invite a great number of its leading members to
the deanery, the very men who had been attack-
ing him most hotly in debate, and who would
go on denouncing his latitudinarianism till Con-
vocation met again. They yielded sometimes
reluctantly, but still they yielded to the kind-
liness of his nature and the charm of his
manner. He used to dart about among them,
introducing opponents to one another, as indeed
on all occasions he delighted to bring the most
diverse people together, so that some one said
the company you met at the deanery were either
statesmen and duchesses or starving curates and
briefless barristers.

He had on the whole a happy life. It is
true that the intensity of his attachments exposed
him to correspondingly intense grief when he
lost those who were dearest to him ; true also
that, being by temperament a man of peace, he
was during the latter half of his life almost con-
stantly at war. But his home, first in the lifetime

84 Biographical Studies

of his mother and then in that of his wife, had
a serene and unclouded brightness ; and the care
of the Abbey, rich with the associations of nearly
a thousand years of history, provided a function
which exactly suited him and which constituted
a never-failing source of enjoyment. To dwell in
the centre of the life of the Church of England,
and to dwell close to the Houses of Parliament,
in the midst of the making of history, knowing
and seeing those who were principally concerned
in making it, was in itself a pleasure to his
quenchless historical curiosity. His cheerfulness
and animation, although to some extent revived
by his visit to America and the reception he met
with there, were never the same after his wife's
death in 1876. But the sweetness of his dis-
position and his affection for his friends knew
no diminution. He remembered everything that
concerned them ; was always ready with sym-
pathy in sorrow or joy ; and gave to all alike,
high or low, famous or unknown, the same im-
pression, that his friendship was for themselves,
and not for any gifts or rank or other worldly
advantage they might enjoy. The art of friend-
ship is the greatest art in life. To enjoy his was
to be educated in that art.


The name of Thomas Green, Professor of Moral
Philosophy in the University of Oxford, was not,
during his lifetime, widely known outside the
University itself. But he is still remembered by
students of metaphysics and ethics as one of the
most vigorous thinkers of his time ; and his per-
sonality was a striking one, which made a deep
and lasting impression on those with whom he
came in contact.

He was born in Yorkshire in 1836, the son
of a country clergyman ; was educated at Rugby
School and at Balliol College, Oxford, of which
he became a fellow in i860, and a tutor in 1869.
In 1867 he was an unsuccessful candidate for a
chair of philosophy at St. Andrews, and in 1878
was elected Professor of Moral Philosophy in his
own University, which he never thereafter quitted.
He was married in 1869 and died in 1882. It
was a life externally uneventful, but full of
thought and work, and latterly crowned by great
influence over the younger and great respect from
the senior members of the University.

I can best describe Green as he was in his

86 Biographical Studies

undergraduate days, for it was then that I saw
most of him. His appearance was striking,
and made him a famihar figure even to those
who did not know him personally. Thick
black hair, a sallow complexion, dark eyebrows,
deep -set eyes of rich brown with a peculiarly
steadfast look, were the features which first
struck one ; and with these there was a re-
markable seriousness of expression, an air of
solidity and quiet strength. He knew compara-
tively few people, and of these only a very few
intimately, having no taste or turn for those
sports in which university acquaintances are most
frequently made, and seldom appearing at break-
fast or wine parties. This caused him to pass
for harsh or unsocial ; and I remember having
felt a slight sense of alarm the first time I found
myself seated beside him. Though we belonged
to different colleges I had heard a great deal
about him, for Oxford undergraduates are warmly
interested in one another, and at the time I am
recalling they had an inordinate fondness for
measuring the intellectual gifts and conjecturing
the future of those among their contemporaries
who seemed likely to attain eminence.

Those who came to know Green intimately,
soon perceived that under his reserve there
lay not only a capacity for affection no
man was more tenacious in his friendships
but qualities that made him an attractive com-

T. H. Green 87

panion. His tendency to solitude sprang less
from pride or coldness, than from the occupation
of his mind by subjects which seldom weigh on
men of his age. He had, even when a boy
at school (where he lived much by himself, but
exercised considerable moral influence), been
grappling with the problems of metaphysics and
theology, and they had given a tinge of gravity
to his manner. The relief to that gravity lay in
his humour, which was not only abundant but
genial and sympathetic. It used to remind us
of Carlyle he had both the sense of humour
and an underlying Puritanism in common with
Carlyle, one of the authors who (with Milton
and Wordsworth) had most influenced him
but in Green the Puritan tinge was more kindly,
and, above all, more lenient to ordinary people.
While averse, perhaps too severely averse, to
whatever was luxurious or frivolous in under-
graduate life, he had the warmest interest in, and
the strongest sympathy for, the humbler classes.
Loving social equality, and filled with a sense of
the dignity of simple human nature, he liked to
meet farmers and tradespeople on their own level,
and knew how to do so without seeming to con-
descend ; indeed nothing pleased him better than
when they addressed him as one of themselves,
the manner of his talk to them, as well as the
extreme plainness of his dress, conducing to such
mistakes. The belief in the duty of approaching

88 Biographical Studies

the people directly and getting them to think and
to form and express their own views in their own
way was at the root of all his political doctrines.

Though apt to be silent in general com-
pany, no one could be more agreeable when
you were alone with him. We used to say
of him and his seniors said the same that
one never talked to him without carrying
away something to ponder over. On every-
thing he said or wrote there was stamped the
impress of a strong individuality, a mind that
thought for itself, a character ruggedly original,
wherein grimness was mingled with humour, and
practical shrewdness with a love for abstract
speculation. His independence appeared even in
the way he pursued his studies. AVith abilities of
the highest order, he cared comparatively little
for the distinctions which the University offers ;
choosing rather to follow out his own line of
reading in the way he judged permanently useful
than to devote himself to the pursuit of honours
and prizes.

He was constitutionally lethargic, found it hard
to rouse himself to exertion, and was apt to let
himself be driven to the last moment in finishing
a piece of work. There was a rule in his College
that an essay should be given in every Friday
evening. His was, to the great annoyance of
the dons, never ready till Saturday. But when
it did go in, it was the weightiest and most

T. H. Green 89

thoughtful, as well as the most eloquent, that the
College produced. This indolence had one good
result. It disposed him to brood over subjects,
while others were running quickly through many
books and getting up subjects for examination.
It contributed to that depth and systematic
quality which struck us in his thinking, and
made him seem mature beside even the ablest
of his contemporaries. When others were
being, so to speak, blown hither and thither,
picking up and fascinated by new ideas, which
they did not know how to fit in with their old
ones, he seemed to have already formed for him-
self, at least in outline, a scheme of philosophy and
life coherent and complete. There was nothing
random or scattered in his ideas ; his mind, like
his style of writing, which ran into long and com-
plicated sentences, had a singular connectedness.
You felt that all its principles were in relation with
one another. This maturity in his mental atti-
tude gave him an air of superiority, just as the
strength of his convictions gave a dogmatic quality
to his deliverances. Yet in spite of positiveness
and tenacity he had the saving grace of a humility
which distrusted human nature in himself at least
as much as he distrusted it in others. Leading
an introspective life, he had many " wrestlings,"
and often seemed conscious of the stru<rc:;le be-
tween the natural man and the spiritual man, as
described in the Epistle to the Romans.

90 Biographical Studies

In these early days, before, and to a less
extent after, taking his degree, he used to
speak a good deal, mostly on political topics,
at the University Debating Society, where so
many generations of young men have sharpened
their wits upon one another. His speaking
was vigorous, shrewd, and full of matter, yet
it could not be called popular. It was, in a
certain sense, too good for a debating society,
too serious, and without the dash and sparkle
which tell upon audiences of that kind. Some-
times, however, and notably in a debate on the
American War of Secession in 1863, he produced,
by the concentrated energy of his language and
the fierce conviction with which he spoke, a
powerful effect.^ In a business assembly, dis-
cussing practical questions, he would soon have
become prominent, and would have been capable
on occasions of an oratorical success.

Retired as was Green's life, he became by
degrees more and more widely known beyond the

1 As I have referred to the American Civil War, it is worth adding
that there were no places in England where the varying fortunes of that
tremendous struggle were followed with a more intense interest than in
Oxford and Cambridge, and none in which so large a proportion of the
educated class sympathised with the cause of the North. Mr. Goldwin
Smith led the section which took that view, and which included three-
fourths of the best talent in Oxford. Among the younger men Green was
the most conspicuous for his ardour on behalf of the principles of human
equality and freedom. He followed and watched every move in the
military game. No Massachusetts Abolitionist welcomed the fall of
Vicksburg with a keener joy. He used to say that the whole future of
humanity was involved in the triumph of the Federal arms.

T. H. Green 91

circle of his own intimates ; and became also, I
think, more willing to make new friends. His
truthfulness appeared in this that, though power-
ful in argument, he did not argue for victory.
When he felt the force of what was urg^ed acjainst
him, his admissions were candid. Thus people
came to respect his character, with its high sense
of duty, its simplicity, its uprightness, its earnest
devotion to an ideal, even more than they admired
his intellectual powers. I remember one friend of
my own, himself eminent in undergraduate Oxford,
and belonging to another college, between which
and Green's there existed much rivalry, who,
having been defeated by Green in competition
for a University prize, said, " If it had been
any one else, I should have been vexed, but I
don't mind being beaten by a man I respect so
much." My friend knew Green very slightly,
and had been at one time strongly prejudiced
against him by rumours of his heterodox opinions.
So much for those undergraduate days on
which recollection loves to dwell, but which were
not days of unmixed happiness to Green, for his
means were narrow and the future rose cloudy
before him. When anxiety was removed by the
income which a fellowship secured, he still hesi-
tated as to his course in life. At one time he
thought of journalism, or of seeking a post in the
Education Office. More frequently his thoughts
turned to the clerical profession. His theological

92 Biographical Studies

opinions would not have permitted him to enter
the service of the Church of England, but he
did seriouslv consider whether he should become
a Unitarian minister. It was not till he found
that his college needed him as a teacher that
these difficulties came to an end. Similarly he
had doubted whether to devote himself to history,
to theology, or to metaphysics. For history
he had unquestionable gifts. With no excep-
tional capacity for mastering or retaining facts,
he had a remarkable power of penetrating at once
to the dominant facts, of grasping their connection,
and working out their consequences. He had also
a keen sense of the dramatic aspect of events, and
a turn, not unlike Carlyle's, partly perhaps formed
on Carlyle, of fastening on the details in which
character shows itself, and illumining narrative by
personal touches. On the problems of theology
he had meditated even at school, and after taking
his degree he set himself to a systematic study of
the German critics, and I remember that when
we were living together at Heidelberg he had
begun to prepare a translation of F. C. Baur's
principal treatise. As he worked slowly, the trans-
lation was never finished. Though not pro-
fessing to be an adherent of the Tubingen school,
he had been fascinated by Baur's ingenuity and
constructive power.

Ultimately he settled down to metaphysical
and ethical inquiries, and devoted to these the

T. H. Green 93

last thirteen years of his Hfe. During his under-
graduate years the two intellectual forces most
powerful at Oxford had been the writings of
J. H. Newman in the religious sphere, though
their influence was already past its meridian, and
the writings of John Stuart Mill in the sphere
of logic and philosophy. By neither of these,
save in the way of antagonism, had Green been
influenced. He heartily hated all the Utilitarian
school, and had an especial scorn for Buckle, who,
now almost forgotten, enjoyed in those days, as
being supposed to be a philosophic historian, a brief
term of popularity. Green had been led by Carlyle
to the Germans, and his philosophic thinking was
determined chiefly by Kant and Hegel, more
perhaps by the former than by the latter, for it
was always upon ethical rather than upon purely
metaphysical problems that his mind was bent.
His religious vein and his hold upon practical
life made him more interested in morals than
in abstract speculation. Thus he became the
leader in Oxford of a new philosophic school
which looked to Kant as its master, and which
for a time, partly perhaps because it effectively
attacked the school of Mill, received the adhesion
of some among the most thoughtful of the younger
High Churchmen. Like Kant, he set himself to
answer David Hume, and the essay prefixed to
his edition of Hume's Treatise on Huniaii Nature,
along with his Prolegoniena to Ethics, are the only

94 Biographical Studies

books in which his doctrines have been given to
the world, for he did not live to write the more
systematic exposition he had planned. These
two essays are hard reading, for his philosophical
style was usually technical, and sometimes verged
on obscurity. But when he wrote on less abstruse
matters he was intelligible as well as weighty, full
of thought, and with an occasional underglow
of restrained eloquence. The force of character
and convictions makes itself felt through the

His mind, though constructive, was not, having
regard to its general power, either fertile or
versatile. Like most of those who prefer solitary
musings to the commerce of men, he had little
facility, and found it hard to express his thoughts
in any other words than those into which his
musings had first flowed. Thus even his oral
teaching was not easy to follow. An anecdote was
current how when one day he had been explaining
to a small class his theory of the origin of our
ideas, the class listened in rapt attention to
his forcible rhetoric, admiring each sentence as
it fell, and thinking that all their difficulties
were being removed. When he ended they
expressed their gratitude for the pleasure he
had given them, and were quitting the room,
when one, halting at the door, said timidly,
" But, Mr. Green, what did you say was really
the origin of our ideas ? " However, whether

T. H. Green 95

they were or were not capable of assimilating
his doctrines, his pupils all joined in their respect
for him. They felt the loftiness of his character,
they recognised the fervour of his belief. He
was the most powerful ethical influence, and
perhaps also the most stimulative intellectual
influence, that in those years played upon the
minds of the ablest youth of the University.
But it was a singular fact, which those who
have never lived in Oxford or Cambridge may
And it hard to understand, that when he rose
from the post of a college tutor to that of a
University professor, his influence declined, not
that his powers or his earnestness waned, but
because as a professor he had fewer auditors
and less personal relation with them than he
had commanded as a college teacher. Such is
the working of the collegiate system in Oxford,
curiously unfortunate when it deprives the ablest
men, as they rise naturally to the highest positions,
of the opportunities for usefulness they had pre-
viously enjoyed.

As his powers developed and came to be
recognised, so did those slight asperities which
had been observed in undergraduate days soften
down and disappear. Though he lived a retired
life, his work brought him into contact with
a good many people, and he became more
genial in general company. I remember his
saying with a smile when I had lured him into

96 Biographical Studies

Wales for a short excursion, " I don't know
whether it is a sign of declining virtue, but I find
as I grow older that I am less and less fond of
my own company." From the first he had won
the confidence and affection of his pupils. Many of
them used long afterwards to say that his conduct
and his teaching had been the one great example
or one great influence they had found and felt in
Oxford. The unclouded happiness of his married
life made it easier for him to see the bright side of
things, and he could not but enjoy the sense that
the seed he sowed was falling on ground fit to
receive it. Even when ill-health had fastened
on him, and was checking both his studies and
his public work, it did not affect the evenness of
his temper nor sharpen the edge of his judgments
of others. In earlier days these had been some-
times austere, though expressed in temperate and
measured terms.

I must not forget to add that although
Green's opinions were by no means orthodox, the
influence he exerted while he remained a college
tutor was in large measure a religious influence.
As the clergyman used to be in the English Uni-
versities less of a clergyman than he was anywhere
else, so conversely it caused no surprise there that
a lay teacher should concern himself with the
religious life of his pupils. Green, however, did
more, for he on two occasions at least delivered
to his pupils, before the celebration of the

T. H. Green 97

communion in the college chapel, addresses which
were afterwards privately printed, and which pre-
sent his view of the relations of ethics and religion
in a way impressive even to those who may find
it hard to follow the philosophical argument.

Metaphysicians are generally as little interested
in practical politics as poets are, and not better
suited for political life. Green was a remarkable
exception. Politics were in a certain sense the
strongest of his interests. To him metaphysics
were not only the basis of theology, but also the
basis of politics. Everything was to converge
on the free life of the individual in a free State ;
rational faith and reason inspired by emotion
were to have their perfect work in making the
good citizen.

His interest in politics was perhaps less
active in later years than it had been in his
youth, but his principles stood unchanged. He
was a thoroughgoing Liberal, or what used to be
called a Radical, full of faith in the people, an
advocate of pretty nearly every measure that
tended to democratise English institutions, a
friend of peace and of non-intervention. In
our days he would have been called a Little
Englander, for though his ideal of national life
was lofty, the wellbeing of the masses was to
him a more essential part of that ideal than any
extension of territory or power. He once said
that he would rather see the flag of England


98 Biographical Studies

trailed in the dirt than add sixpence to the taxes
that weigh upon the poor. In foreign poHtics
Louis Napoleon, as the corrupter of France and
the disturber of Europe, was his favourite aver-
sion ; in home politics, Lord Palmerston, as the
chief obstacle to parliamentary reform. The
statesman whom he most admired and trusted
was Mr. Bright. A strong sense of civic duty-
led him to enter the City Council of Oxford,
although he could ill spare from his study and
his lecture-room the time which the discharge of
municipal duties required. He was the first tutor
who had ever offered himself to a ward for election.
The townsfolk, between whom and the University
there had generally been little love, the former
thinking themselves looked down upon by the
latter, warmly appreciated his action in coming
out of his seclusion to help them, and his influence
in the Council contributed to secure some useful
reforms, among others, the establishment of a
"grammar" or secondary school for the city.

One of the last things he wrote was a short
pamphlet on freedom of contract, intended to
justify the interference with bargains between
landlord and tenant which was proposed by Mr.
Gladstone's Irish Land Bill of 1881. It is a
vigorous piece of reasoning, which may still be
read with interest in respect of its application
of philosophical principles to a political contro-
versy. Had he desired it he might have gone

T. H. Green 99

to the House of Commons as member for the city
of Oxford. But he had found in the Council a
field for local public work, and apart from his
constitutional indolence and his declining health,
he had concluded that his first duty lay in expound-
ing his philosophical system.

Green will be long remembered in the English
Universities as the strongest force in the sphere
of ethical philosophy that they have seen in the
second half of the nineteenth century, and re-
membered also as a singular instance of a meta-
physician with a bent towards politics and practical
life, no less than as a thinker far removed from
orthodoxy who exerted over orthodox Christians
a potent and inspiring religious influence.


England is now the only Protestant country in
which bishops retain some relics of the dignity
and influence which belonged to the episcopal
office during the Middle Ages. Even in Roman
Catholic countries they have been sadly shorn
of their ancient importance, though the prelates
of Hungary still hold vast possessions, while in
France, or Spain, or the Catholic parts of
Germany a man of eminent talents and energy
may occasionally use his official position to be-
come, through his influence over Catholic electors
or Catholic deputies, a considerable political
factor. This happens even in the United States

Online LibraryJames Bryce BryceStudies in contemporary biography → online text (page 6 of 29)