Monday, 9 March 2015


Titles: Essays and Reviews and On the Subjection of Women 

One of The Portico Library's members has sponsored the rebinding of two books, the first of which follows nicely from the previous post featuring Darwin's Journals from the H.M.S Beagle. Essays and Reviews was published not long after Darwin's seminal work, The Origin of Species and although it is less known in our time, it provoked a similar level of controversy in the 19th century. Another controversial and important text is featured here on the subject of the place of women in the social hierarchy during that same century. 

Many thanks to our contributor, who has given us a view of these two fascinating texts!

"I have chosen to adopt two books to remember two people of great importance to me.  They are, in order of publication, Essays and Reviews (1860) and J.S Mill On the Subjection of Women (1869).

Essays and Reviews is a collection of essays written by seven scholars, six of whom were Anglican clergymen, all of whom were connected with Oxford University. It caused a furore, was reprinted ten times in two years, attracted counterblasts in the shape of pamphlets was condemned by the two Archbishops and the two Convocations of the Church of England.  Two of the authors were convicted of heresy but were acquitted on appeal to the Privy Council.  

Why did it cause such uproar? It is the historic manifesto of liberal Anglicanism and challenged many orthodoxies. Its publication came six months after that of Darwin’s Origin of Species, which presented a major challenge to both conventional science as well as religious belief. One essay in Reviews by Baden Powell, the father of the founder of the Scouts, pays glowing tribute to Darwin’s The Origin of Species, because of its testimony to the ‘self-evolving powers of nature’. The final essay by Benjamin Jowett then Regius Professor of Greek, argues that the Bible should be read and interpreted ‘like any other book’, and more especially like any other ancient book – a view point which is still controversial in some circles. 

Within twenty years, liberalism had become acceptable. Jowett had become Master of Balliol College and a member of the establishment, famous for admonishing his students to ‘always verify your references’.  Frederick Temple (author of the first essay) became Archbishop of Canterbury and the father of William Temple who was also Archbishop of Canterbury and the author of Christianity and the Social Order which argued for a welfare state. But William Temple began his episcopal career as Bishop of Manchester

I have chosen this book to commemorate my father, Colin Lamont (1899-1984) who was a priest in the diocese of Manchester.  He was ordained by William Temple and hugely influenced by him.  My father was trained in the liberal Anglican tradition at theological college and flourished in that tradition (the board church tradition) in Manchester.  I was bought up in that tradition, both intellectually and theologically. Essays and Reviews is, therefore, the perfect book for me to have chosen to commemorate my father.

J.S. Mill’s The Subjection of Women (1869) is an astonishingly radical book for its time.  This is still the period when women were seen as subject to either their fathers or their husbands. The Married Woman’s Property Act, allowing women to own property had not yet been passed.  Women were seen as inferior and having limited capabilities. 

Mill's wrote [T]he legal subordination of one sex to another – is wrong in itself, and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement; and that it ought to be replaced by a system of perfect equality, admitting no power and privilege on the one side, nor disability on the other. Mill argues cogently for the equality of treatment of women and men and that we have no idea what women are capable of because they have been never allowed to develop and exercise their capacities. Moreover, he argues that women should have the vote and as an MP he advocated this position in Parliament. Women should be educated equally as well as men and a proper intellectual equality would lead to better marital relationships. To advocate the case for the emancipation of women in 1869 was incredibly adventurous and many years would elapse before his programme was realised. Mill’s book is a seminal text.

I have chosen this book to commemorate my late wife, Shauna Murray Lamont, who died prematurely at the age of 52 in 1993.  Shauna was a nineteenth century scholar, a Robert Browning specialist.  She was also an early feminist.  In 1969 when she was a nineteen year old second year university student in Western Canada, she wished to read honours English.  Male students were automatically admitted to the honours programme.  Women, however, had to be interviewed by the head of department, a bachelor who lived with his mother, and convince him that they weren’t frivolous and would go off and get married and have babies! From that point, she began to develop her feminism and the way that she read literature. She taught courses on women and literature. She was a near contemporary in age to Margaret Atwood and her own thinking and experience would follow the trajectory Atwood has followed in her writing. Shauna introduced her husband to these ideas and Mill’s The Subjection of Women is a book that she used in her teaching and introduced me to. Thus, it is the obvious book to adopt in her memory. There is a link between Essay and Reviews and Shauna Lamont.  One of the editors of the modern scholarly edition was William Whitla. Whitla was the external examiner for her doctoral thesis on Browning."

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