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Leslie Stephen

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English Utilitarians, James Mill, Volume 2


By Leslie Stephen
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English Utilitarians, Jeremy Bentham, Volume 1


By Leslie Stephen
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Samuel Johnson


By Leslie Stephen
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Leslie Stephen

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Sir Leslie Stephen (November 28, 1832 – February 22, 1904) was an English author and critic, the father of two famous daughters, Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell.

Stephen was born at Kensington Gore in London, the brother of James Fitzjames Stephen and grandson of James Stephen. His family had belonged to the Clapham Sect, the early 18th century group of mainly evangelical Christian social reformers. At his father's house he saw a good deal of the Macaulays, James Spedding, Sir Henry Taylor and Nassau Senior. After studying at Eton College and Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. (20th wrangler) in 1854 and M.A. in 1857, Stephen remained for several years a fellow and tutor of his college. He recounted some of his experiences in a chapter in his Life of Fawcett as well as in some less formal Sketches from Cambridge: By a Don (1865). These sketches were reprinted from the Pall Mall Gazette, to the proprietor of which, George Smith, he had been introduced by his brother. It was at Smith's house at Hampstead that Stephen met his first wife, Harriet Marion (1840 - 1875), daughter of William Makepeace Thackeray, with whom he had a daughter, Laura Makepeace Stephen (1870 - 1945); after her death he married Julia Prinsep Jackson (1846 - 1895), widow of Herbert Duckworth.

While at Cambridge, Stephen became an Anglican clergyman. In 1865, having renounced his religious beliefs, and after a visit to the United States two years earlier, where he had formed lasting friendships with Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., James Russell Lowell and Charles Eliot Norton, he settled in London and became a journalist, eventually editing the Cornhill Magazine in 1871 where R.L. Stevenson, Thomas Hardy, W.E. Norris, Henry James and James Payn figured among his contributors. In his spare time, he participated in athletics and mountaineering. He also contributed to the Saturday Review, Fraser, Macmillan, the Fortnightly and other periodicals. He was already known as a climber, as a contributor to Peaks, Passes and Glaciers (1862), and as one of the earliest presidents of the Alpine Club, when in 1871, in commemoration of his own first ascents of the Schreckhorn and Zinalrothorn, he published his Playground of Europe.

During the eleven years of his editorship, in addition to three volumes of critical studies, he made two valuable contributions to philosophical history and theory: The History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century (1876 and 1881) and The Science of Ethics (1882); the second of these was extensively adopted as a textbook on the subject. The first was generally recognized as an important addition to philosophical literature and led immediately to Stephen's election at the Athenaeum Club in 1877.

Stephen also served as the first editor (1885 - 1891) of the Dictionary of National Biography.

Works

  • Essays on Free Thinking and Plain Speaking (1873)
  • An Agnostic's Apology (1893)
  • The History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century (1876)
  • Hours in a Library (1874-79)
  • The Science of Ethics (1882)
  • The Utilitarians (1900)
  • Biographies of Samuel Johnson, Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, George Eliot and Thomas Hobbes.


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