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6 “My Life For Others”


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My Life For Others”
Henceforth we will walk together in newness of life, in singleness of mind, striving to fulfil to the uttermost our duties to one another, to our dear relations & friends, and to that larger world, who whether rich or poor, are our brothers & sisters. Dearest Jane! I look to you truthfully, that you cherish me the highest, the widest purposes that I may have or shall have. Don’t suffer me to make an idol of home-comfort, or professional eminence, or even of yourself, my precious one! Of me too it is required, as it is required of every one that I should give my Life for others.1
This extract from a from a letter written by Lushington to his fiancée Jane Mowatt shortly before their marriage is remarkable both for its revelation of just how far Lushington had, by 1865, adopted Positivism and, more specifically, its doctrine of altruism, and for its implication of Jane’s apparent acquiescence. If Jane were not already aware of the sacrifice which she was expected to make, she certainly was now. The altar at which they would exchange marriage vows a few days later would also be an altar of sacrifice for her as her husband’s altruistic service to humanity took pre-eminence not just over their future home life and his career, but even above his relationship with her.2 In Lushington’s paper on “Women” he set out his ideal wife as being found in his Chaucer’s The Prologue to the Legend of the Good Woman. This is Alcestis “the ideal Wife of Antiquity who deliberately gave up her life for her husband.”3 But what did Lushington mean by “give my life for others”?
Positivism’s ideal was, according to Frederic Harrison, “to enlarge the sphere of religion, to make it broader till every common act of existence is a religious act, and the rule of man’s spiritual nature shall be acknowledged in industry, in art, in politics, in every social institution and habit. But …this religion must descend from the empyrean to dwell with men on earth, caring for the things of this life.”4 Three years before his marriage Lushington had written to his friend Seeley in words which echoed those of Carlyle: “it is not in words but in works; not in saying but in doing, that we shall find help furtherance onwards.”5 This chapter will examine how Lushington chose to give his life for others by expressing his altruistic ideals through a number of areas of social concern and other philanthropic activities.


Do the duty that lies nearest thee”
Collini writes how the British intellectual aristocracy of the nineteenth century generally chose one of four professions - the civil service, higher journalism, academia, or the law.6 Despite Lushington’s brief service in the Royal Navy, his father Stephen Lushington had always intended that his son should follow in his footsteps and take up the law, a profession which Lushington found ideally suited to the altruistic ideal. Strangely, Comte actually had a low opinion of lawyers considering them to be a most retrograde group, scavengers living off the social and intellectual stage. Furthermore he believed that it was in the lawyers’ interest to preserve the status quo. Ironically Comte failed to realise that it would be lawyers, like Lushington, who through their training and skills, would be best placed to introduce his new order. In Sartor Resartus Carlyle wrote, “Do the duty that lies nearest thee.”7 Shillan noted: “What we are discussing is not something confined to an ivory tower or a laboratory, but was taken by men inspired by Comte straight into the forefront of the social struggles of the day. The full history of Positivist intervention into public affairs would be a remarkable document.”8 It was at that place – “the forefront of the social struggles of the day” – that Lushington chose to take his stand. The archive now provides some new insights into the range of Lushington altruistic activities which took him into “the forefront of the social struggles of his day.”

Lushington had undoubtedly inherited a sense of public duty akin to altruism from his father and other family members. The very idea of laying down one’s life for others was considered central to the Christianity in which his forebears had been reared. The loss of traditional faith did not destroy the inherent desire of service to mankind and, perhaps, in some ways it only highlighted it. Henry Sidgwick had written, “The strongest conviction I have is what Comte called altruisme: the cardinal doctrine, it seems to me, of Jesus of Nazareth.”9 Although the word could be as well used both within traditional Christian belief as without, within traditional church teaching, it had been seen as primarily dedicated to God. Sutherland claims that the Clough family can be said to have demonstrated more than most the “continuing power of a Christian sense of duty, even when belief had faded.”10 The newly emerged archive provides evidence that the Lushingtons should now rank alongside the Cloughs to whom they were connected by marriage.


Beatrice Webb believed altruism to be “the impulse of self subordinating service” which, in the mid-nineteenth century, “was transformed, consciously and overtly from God to man”.11 Comte’s altruism was considered quite different from anything similar which could be found within Christianity. Indeed the Positivists believed that their version of altruism was morally superior. They believed that any form of self-sacrifice expressed with the Christian faith was flawed. It was essentially selfish system because it was based on each individual’s desire for reward at the end of life and fear of eternal punishment. Lushington’s letter to his wife-to-be epitomises in him the essence of altruism.
Religion …what a man does with his gregariousness”
In the 1930s, the Hammonds defined “religion” as what man does with his solitariness and that “in this sense it may be as self-regarding as any other activity. It may take a man no farther than his own shadow.”12 However, the Hammonds go on to say there is also a sense in which religion is not about what man does with his solitariness, but what he does with his gregariousness. “Fellowship takes a man out of his solitariness... religious bodies were not only bodies of men holding certain beliefs and practising religious observances; they were bodies of people with a discipline affecting social conduct.”13 Positivism, more especially, the Religion of Humanity, offered Lushington just such “a discipline affecting social conduct”. Any solitariness that Lushington might have experienced earlier in his life soon disappeared during his time at Cambridge. University life and activity provided him with plenty of fellowship with like-minded contemporaries such as the Christian Socialists who drew him into the formation and establishment of the Working Men’s College in London where he worked alongside his friends Ruskin and Rossetti.
Lushington’s aptitude for fair play, justice and social concern, had already been demonstrated when he was in naval training. As a practising barrister he was able to find an outlet for those concerns by putting his legal skills to good use to assist trade union leaders in the 1860s. Alongside this he found other practical ways to help with the alleviation of particular areas of suffering at the time such as that of the Manchester cotton operatives whose plight was drawn to his attention by the novelist Elizabeth Gaskell. Lushington also befriended the social reformer Charles Booth whose work did so much to publicise the misery of millions of Londoners who were living in abject poverty. In his lecture on “The State” he wrote, “Politics we must watch & from time to time interpose in, but the present weapon of Positivist energy is intellectual and moral action, & its true field is Opinion. Opinion in all its provinces. There we can commence at once: there we have a boundless field ever before us.”14 This chapter will consider some areas in that “boundless field” where Lushington’s altruism led him to take an active interest and where he sought to bring change by influencing public opinion.
Christian Socialism
Christian Socialism was the name adopted for their cause by a group of visionary broad churchman which included F.D. Maurice, Charles Kingsley, and J.M. Ludlow.15 It was this cause that provided Lushington with his first real opportunity to demonstrate his altruism. Lushington first encountered Christian Socialism in Cambridge through the brothers Alexander and Daniel Macmillan.16 In July 1842 Daniel Macmillan, after experiencing first hand the terrible physical and spiritual conditions of much of the working population of London, wrote to Julius Hare asking what he thought could be done help these people in what he called their “spiritual perplexity”.17 Hare passed the letter to Maurice who was so impressed by what he read that he decided to give serious thought as to what might be done. Maurice, a frequent visitor to the Macmillans’ shop, had been strongly influenced by the writings of Coleridge when he had been a student at Cambridge. Through Maurice’s presence in Cambridge, and encouraged by the Macmillan brothers, a number of gifted undergraduates were recruited to help. These included J. Llewelyn Davies, Richard Buckley Litchfield (who was to become Charles Darwin’s son in law), John Westlake and, of course, the radical young Lushington.18 Like Lushington, most of the Christian Socialists were middle-class professional men.19 In 1854 Charles Kingsley, wrote to the young undergraduate John Martineau urging him to, “Cultivate those Macmillans, they are noble and wise men, and in their shop you will meet Hort, Brimley, and all the Trinity men who hold with Maurice, and who are not merely customers, but private friends of the Macs.”20
Although Daniel Macmillan had expressed his concern for the working population of London in the early 1840s, it was not until 1848 and the Chartist demonstration of that year that the Christian Socialists came together as a definable group. Their driving spirit was to see the kingdom of Christ authoritatively expressed in the realms of industry and trade. The Christian Socialists were also deeply concerned about the church’s failure to respond to the increasingly urgent social issues of the day, which, together with biblical criticism and Darwin’s evolutionary theory, was another factor in the crisis of faith. The need for social action was taken up by the Christian Socialists who recognised that the Church of England must have something more to offer to the working people of England than what its leaders were then saying. As Lushington had written in 1862, and Carlyle before him had said, “not in words but in works; not in saying but in doing.” In bringing areas of social concerns into the public domain the Christian Socialists came close to the Positivists. However, the leaders of the movement chose to remain within the fold of the Anglican Church even though at times Comte’s Religion of Humanity looked set to take the higher moral ground.
In their mission statement, set out in the first edition of their journal the Christian Socialists stated that Christian socialism recognised the compatibility of Socialism and Christianity, with the former being the contemporary manifestation of the latter. The compatibility between them, they proposed, was mutually complementary as any enduring socialist system required, “those grounds of those moral grounds of righteousness, self-sacrifice, mutual affection, and common brotherhood”21. The Christian Socialists believed, “That Christianity is too often cramped up with the four walls of its churches or chapels, and forbidden to go forth into the wide world, conquering and to conquer, to assert God’s rightful dominion over every process of trade and industry, over every act of our common life, and to embody in due forms of organisation every deepest truth of that faith committed to its charge.”22
After witnessing the year of revolutions of 1848, the Christian Socialists believed that socialism must be Christianised, or else it would shake Christianity to its foundations. Because of the reluctance of the Church of England to rise to the challenge, the Christian Socialists adopted a number of campaigns commencing with their important contribution to the advancement of education in England. They also encouraged co-operative economic enterprise and they promoted sanitary and public health reforms. Christian Socialism experienced two distinct phases in the nineteenth century – the first being from 1848 until 1854. It was during the latter part of this period that Lushington became involved with the group. At this time Christian Socialism was primarily a social and religious movement and, like the Positivists, its leaders did not see the need for political activity or legislation. Instead they believed that men could be raised from ignorance and social misery through educative and moral methods. It was not new laws that were needed but inspiring hearts and minds. This was very much in accordance with what Comte had foreseen this when he had written of the need “to exhort the working classes to seek happiness in calling their moral and mental powers into constant exercise and to give them an education.” 23
For a while the divide between Christian Socialism and Comte’s Positivism was blurred as they discovered a common goal in the relief of the suffering of the working classes. However, one major point of disagreement arose from the Positivist belief that the division of labour between master and workmen had come to stay, and could support the industrial revolution without any democratic inhibitions. Although Maurice initially expressed only contempt for Comte, by 1868 he came to respect “the Christian aspects of Comtism, deprived though it was of such a Father of the whole Family as Christ revealed, of such a Redeemer and Centre of Humanity as He is.”24 The Christian Socialists respected humanity but, unlike the English Positivists, their service to humanity was always considered an expression of Christian duty and never to humanity for humanity’s sake. J.M. Ludlow went so far as to describe Positivism as an evil and dramatically, and untruly, in his dialogue with Godfrey Lushington in Tracts for Priests and People he bizarrely accused Comte of kneeling to Humanity beneath Clotilde’s amputated arms.25 Despite this Ludlow and the Lushingtons remained on good terms and, in 1907, when acknowledging a letter of condolence on his brother’s death, Lushington wrote “Godfrey always cherished a most warm feeling for you and affection of ancient friendship & high esteem. And now comes your tribute to him.”26
It is not difficult to understand why Lushington was initially drawn to the high ideals and crusading zeal of the Christian Socialists. This was a natural follow-on from the challenge of Thomas Carlyle to put words into action. In the face of every disadvantage, the Christian Socialists placed their resources, both spiritual and intellectual, in the service of the cause they had discovered. At this time Lushington, through his brother and men such as Congreve, was in the early stages of discovering Positivism. There was no real group or agenda through which Positivist ideals could be outworked and Christian Socialism therefore provided him with both an identifiable group with a very practical agenda for his altruistic spirit. Additionally Lushington was, at this time, in the early stages of discovering Comte’s Positivism and was beginning to question matters of traditional faith and doctrine. The fact that the Christian Socialists were first and foremost “Christians” soon became a stumbling block and it is likely that it was for this reason that Lushington never became a Christian Socialist per se although he chose to work closely with many of those at the heart of the cause in the fight against the common evil. Indeed in writing to Richard Monkton Milnes in 1862 Lushington was happy to describe himself as “a Socialist … tolerably impartial between Whig & Tory”.27 In Lushington’s association with the Christian Socialists is found a similar pattern to that of his father who, in the cause of the abolition of slavery, worked closely with Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect but never actually joining them. At this time Positivism was still a developing system of belief and Comte’s altruism was still very much an ideal with no real practical expression. When the Christian Socialists opened a place of education for working men, Lushington saw this as the ideal means of bringing about change in society. The College also provided an opportunity for the sort of education that Comte had advocated.28
The Working Men’s College
In January 1854 F.D. Maurice found himself at the centre of a theological dispute relating to the interpretation of matters relating to eternity and hell. As a result he was dismissed from King’s College. The Christian Socialists had been considering the establishment of a college for working men and Maurice seemed the ideal candidate for its principal. It was then agreed to found such an establishment in London.29 When it came to enrolling students for the London College, the Christian Socialists turned, without much success, to the various Trade Unions in order to enlist students from among their members. However, during the last two weeks before the college was due to open, a more intensive campaign was conducted, culminating in a large meeting on 30 October in St. Martin’s Hall, where Maurice spoke to an audience of about 1,500 members. The following day the College opened with the admission of no less than 120 students.
The Working Men’s College provided Lushington with scope to express not only his vitality, and sociability, and altruism but also his passion particularly for the arts – especially for music. The College was the one place where Christian Socialists and Positivists came together in an uneasy alliance. Lushington’s work at the college brought together the principles of Carlyle’s work ethic and Comte’s altruism. Lushington also gave the College financial support and the College’s first annual report, written by Maurice, reveals him has having donated sums totalling £4 in the period up to Christmas 1855. Lushington was always looking to recruit more volunteers to help and Mrs Andrew Crosse later recalled how at parties given by Mrs Barlow, wife of the honorary secretary of the Royal Institution, Lushington would “be looking up volunteer lecturers for the working-men’s college, which he and other earnest-minded men had so much at heart.30
The syllabus of the College when it was founded comprised four main topics. These were Politics, Science, Language & Literature, and Art which included drawing and modelling. Music, which was not initially included in the syllabus because of the proximity of classes led by J.P. Hullah, was later added under the direction of Richard Litchfield. At the College Lushington taught alongside friends such as George Grove, John Llewelyn Davis and Charles Buxton the son of his father’s anti-slavery co-campaigner Thomas Buxton. He also worked with Ruskin who held painting classes for the men and Rossetti whose teaching commitments at the College linked the social and artistic aspiration of the Pre-Raphaelites. Evidence of Lushington’s enthusiasm for the College is found in a letter he wrote, from Cambridge, to his friend Joanna Richardson in 1854.
Have you up in the North heard of the Working Men’s’ College? It is now fairly set a going, & with such a staff of professors, or teachers as they wisely call themselves – Maurice, Principal – Fellows of Oxford & Cambridge, lecturers on Mathematics, Mechanics, Grammar & I know not what - & Ruskin – the great Ruskin, drawing master! A very noble devotion I think on his part. He is going to start with colours, water colours at once & he has something like 20 pupils to begin with – may there be a developable genius among them – Successful or not, the project is a grand one, and must be good. Pray wish for its prosperity.31
Fortunately the paucity of correspondence for this period in the Lushington archive is more than compensated by the fulsome diaries of his friend, and fellow Trinity graduate, Arthur Munby. Munby, who is perhaps best remembered now for his obsessive and questionable interest in the physical appearance of working class women, taught a Latin class at the College and his diaries contain many references to his friend Lushington for whom he had a very high regard. College management meetings often took place at the home of Macmillan and, at one such meeting on 3 March 1859 with Litchfield, Furnivall and Lushington present, Furnivall expressed that he wanted to read Mill on Liberty with his class at the Working Men’s’ College. Maurice objected because he considered it “a contemporary book on an unsettled question”. When this developed into a heated discussion on “Geology and Genesis” it was “Vernon mediating in his clear earnest way” who brought concord. 32 Although Darwin’s publications upset many conventional Anglicans, the Christian Socialists welcomed his findings as means of removing what they considered to be superstitious notions about God.33 In 1860, Munby recorded meeting Lushington at the College where together they “went upstairs to the drawing class, and found Ruskin talking with Litchfield – telling him of a letter of sympathy which he has had from Carlyle, in reference to his articles on political economy in the Cornhill.”34
In a highly descriptive diary entry of 1862, Munby recorded how Lushington had spoken at a General Meeting of the College. “Next Vernon Lushington was called for and spoke best of all. Indeed his frank and artless bearing, his mellow voice and far-looking eyes, and the manly gentle earnestness of his words and manner, must always be captivating. There is in him a combination of womanly pathos with the strong sincerity of manhood of which I never saw the like.”35 The perceptive Munby notes this blending of “womanly pathos” and “sincerity of manhood” which are striking attributes of Lushington’s character and which were demonstrated in his artistic side with his love of painting and poetry.
Lushington’s mediating skills were recorded again by Munby the following year when he described another meeting of the College Council at which Lushington was present. In an innovative and democratic stance the College encouraged the involvement of students on the governing body. Three new student members, present for the first time at a meeting, proposed new rules which would result in it being swamped by students who would become permanent members like the teachers. This resulted in Maurice “losing not indeed his temper but his judgement”, declaring himself no longer President and the College at an end. Hughes, Ludlow and Furnivall all joined in a very heated discussion. Again it was left to Lushington, the moderator, to try and calm things down.36 In 1862 Ruskin had given his farewell lecture to the College. After the lecture Lushington and Munby walked down to the Temple together “talking of what we had heard and especially that back handed blow to Christianity conveyed in the maxim about religion and ethics. Vernon thought, with his usual kindness, that Ruskin should not have spoken so freely before the students, lest haply the faith of some students should be disturbed or wounded: and if they did see all the purport of his speech, I should say so too.”37
Lushington’s professional engagements meant that there were times when he was not available to take his class. On such occasions he would enlist the help of friends like Furnivall, to whom he wrote on one occasion explaining how his class should be taken in his absence. It is reproduced here in full:
Dear Furnivall,

If I were able to take my class on Thursday evening, I should proceed as follows,

- First, I should dictate the first four stanzas of Tennyson’s ‘You ask me why, so ill at ease’. Then I should dictate my questions to be answered on the following evening, i.e. the annexed paper, headed June 24.

This done, I should proceed to read slowly & clearly the text from page 19 onwards say to page 27 – interspersing questions & remarks, & explaining the derivation & exact meaning of the words asked in the last of my questions.

All this would probably occupy the time until a little past nine o’clock. I should then hand the Book over to the class for each in turn to con over again the part I had read aloud. Meanwhile I should look over the paper work of the last time with each of the students in succession.

I should examine & correct the dictation, it was a piece from the Brother (Wordsworth, Vol. 1) & then do the like with the answers to the questions, rebuking, exhorting, praising. My wishes that they should answer the questions in their own words & their own way, using them, if they like by way of suggestion only.

To one of the students, Strickland, I gave questions on English history at his desire. The friend who takes the class for me might give him any questions he liked, or leave it for me to do next time; & in short he had better use his own choice whether to follow my plan, or adopt one of his own, carry over all next Thursday’s work to the week after.

Yours affectly.

Vernon Lushington.38
This letter demonstrates Lushington’s meticulous attention to detail over the classes which he took and the high standards he expected. A former College pupil, John MacDonald, wrote of Lushington, “He was always pleasant, patient and kind, but he would not allow any slovenly work to pass. He required precision in every demonstration. To be in his company an hour or two each week added perceptibly to one’s education.” MacDonald then adds an observation which sheds light on Lushington’s views on J.S. Mill. On telling Lushington he had decided to read Mill’s “Logic”, he responded, almost in a pleading voice, “Oh, don’t, don’t read that!” 39
Lushington’s concern for the welfare of his pupils often went beyond the classroom and Thomas Hughes recalled a particular act of generosity shown to a brush maker named Hurst:

[His] outward man was in no way pleasing, indeed much the reverse. He had a long, slight figure, which he sadly neglected in the matter of clothing, wearing such ragged garments, when he came to matriculate, that our first secretary, himself a working watchmaker and strong radical, had doubts whether he should allow him to enter. His hair was long and rough, and he had lost most of his front teeth, and he had a sallow complexion and a ragged thin beard. In short, a more forlorn figure it would be hard to find in Ratcliffe highway or Whitechapel. No man had ever more external disadvantages to contend against, and no man ever lived them down in less time. He was soon one of the most popular members of the social gatherings for tea and talk, which we held after the college classes closed at ten, in the common room.


Lushington took Hurst under his wing not only as a student but also assisting him financially when he started up a small shop manufacturing and selling hair brushes.40 Unfortunately Hurst became the victim of his own standards of professional perfection by making such good brushes that they never wore out. Hughes used to joke that his increasing baldness was due to Hurst’s tough hair brushes.41 This personal interest in pupils was extended to social occasions and, in another letter to Furnivall, written from Liverpool, Lushington, after reminding his friend to take class in his absence, adds that, it being the last class, he would have invited all the class “to tea in Doctors Commons”.42 This practice of inviting pupils to their homes exercised by many of those who taught at the College was an unusual example in those days of middle class professional men mixing on equal social terms with working men. After Lushington’s marriage his work at the College was one area which he could share with his wife, who often accompanied to College events such as those held at ‘Birdshurst’, the Croydon home of a wealthy banker named Robson. Munby records several of these excursions at which both the Lushingtons were present. In 1869 Munby went to the College for the New Year’s Party and recorded that Vernon Lushington “just made a Q.C.” was present and “Mrs V.L. played the piano.”43 The following year Munby went to the College to see the “new building”. “Vernon Lushington and his wife were there, singing away heartily with the students.” However, Munby observed, “Godfrey and his wife [were] sitting critical and somewhat apart.”44 Following Lushington’s death a former pupil at the College commented “Personally I owe him a great debt for teaching me to love poetry and the arts of music, painting, and sculpture, which are now such a true source of enjoyment to me.”45 Lushington continued his work at the College for many years and, after Maurice’s death in 1872, he assisted in the voluntary winding up of the Working Men’s College Company and the creation in 1874 of the Working Men’s College Corporation, of which he was a trustee.46

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