A sense of foreboding is evident throughout Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. Along with the rise of democracy, the decline of religion originated what we have termed a crisis of Victorian thought. Stephen, it will be recalled, believed that all government and morals are founded ultimately upon a religion, which must be supernatural rather than secular. Unlike the Positivists and rationalists of his time, he rejected the notion that morals could be divorced from religion. In his essay ‘The Utility of Religion’ Mill declared that, once the Religion of Humanity is accepted, one may dispense with Christianity, God and belief in an afterlife. Stephen was not as confident. In the interest of truth, he was willing to accept the fall of Christianity, but he feared the consequences. A. W. Benn therefore exaggerated when he called him ‘the most thorough rationalist of the age’.1 The firmly convinced leaders of rationalist thought in England during the 1870s were T. H. Huxley, W. K. Clifford and Leslie Stephen.


Privy Council Natural Religion Biblical Criticism Christian Socialist Illative Sense 
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  1. 1.
    A. W. Benn, The History of English Rationalism in the Nineteenth Century (New York, 1962) vol. ii, p. 237.Google Scholar
  2. 45.
    See Geoffrey Faber, Oxford Apostles: A Character Study of the Oxford Movement (London, 1936), for a suggestive Freudian analysis.Google Scholar
  3. 58.
    W. K. Clifford, Lectures and Essays (London, 1901) vol. II, pp. 163–205.Google Scholar
  4. 84.
    See F. H. Skrine, Life of Sir William Wilson Hunter (London, 1901) p. 214. The letter is dated 30 Apr 1873.Google Scholar
  5. 87.
    Leonard Huxley, Life and Letters of Thomas H. Huxley (New York, 1900) vol. I, pp. 343–4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© James A. Colaiaco 1983

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