Sir Leslie Stephen

On this date in 1832, former Anglican priest, author and political essayist Leslie Stephen was born in Kensington Gore, England. He was educated at Eton, King's College and Cambridge, primarily studying mathematics. He was required to become an Anglican priest when he became a fellow of his college, but was known for his athletics, not his sermons. He later told freethought historian Joseph McCabe that Cambridge was so liberal when he was there that if it was known a dinner party was open to heretics only, it was standing room only. By 1862, Stephen refused to participate in chapel services, saying he had not lost his faith, only discovered that he had never had any. He was divested of his orders in 1875. He became editor of the Cornhill in 1871, and wrote freethought articles for Fraser's and Fortnightly. In 1877, he wrote An Agnostic's Apology. His writings include: History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century, 2 volumes (1876), Johnson (1878), Pope (1880), Swift (1882), Science of Ethics (1882), and The English Utilitarians, 3 volumes (1900), among others. Stephen also edited 26 volumes of the Dictionary of National Biography and was its first editor. In 1902, he was knighted and made a fellow of the British Academy. Today, he is best known as the father of Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf, and was the model of Virginia's Mr. Ramsey in To the Lighthouse (1927). D. 1904.

“I now believe in nothing, to put it shortly; but I do not the less believe in morality.”

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—Sir Leslie Stephen, journal entry, Jan. 26, 1865. (Quote source: 2000 Years of Disbelief by James A. Haught)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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