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Before considering how and where Lushington first became aware of Comte and Positivism it will help to look back before that and ask what, if any, were the moral and spiritual foundations laid in his early years and how they might have prepared the way for the choices he made later in his life. Of particular importance is the role of his father, Stephen Lushington, an ecclesiastical lawyer who, as Dean of Arches, was called upon to pass judgement in many of the issues at the core of the religious turmoil of the mid-nineteenth century. How, if at all, did this eminent lawyer impact on his son’s early development and the household in which he was raised? What was the faith of Stephen Lushington and his ancestors?
A Distinguished Family
Lushington was very much a product of his family and the circles in which his family moved. He was born on 8 March 1832, at 2 George Street, Westminster, the fourth son of Stephen Lushington and Sarah Grace Lushington nee Carr and was an identical twin. In addition to physical appearance Vernon and his brother Godfrey also shared a similar nature and temperament. A family legend has it that the Lushingtons were once the Lusignans, ancient kings of Jerusalem and related by marriage to the Plantagenet kings, Henry II and John. That they were of the landed gentry with an ancestry that could be traced back to fourteenth- century Kent is certain.1 The Lushingtons usually chose either the law or the church for their profession. Thomas Lushington (1590-1661) was a noted author and theologian who was said to be “Audacious in the pulpit and unconventional out of it.”2 Thomas was a Socinian, a follower of a religious society that developed around the time of the Reformation who believed that Christ was subordinate to God the father, and “far from being a substitute for the sins of humanity, Jesus is the bringer of good news and forgiveness, the exemplar of God’s love for mankind.”3 This view was similar to that held by the Unitarians and not unlike a view that was echoed by his descendant Vernon Lushington some two hundred years later.
Lushington’s father traced his direct ancestry back to Stephen Lushington (1675-1718) of Rodmersham, near Sittingbourne, and Norton Court, near Faversham, Kent, son of Thomas Lushington 1628-1688 who had been made heir of the Reverend Thomas Lushington. Stephen Lushington through two marriages founded the two lines that produced most, if not all, Lushingtons of any note. It was this second marriage that produced a survivor of the Black Hole of Calcutta and his brother Sir Stephen Lushington (1744-1807) of South Hill Park, Berkshire, a Member of Parliament and Chairman of the British East India Company.4 It was this Sir Stephen who was the father of Stephen Lushington the father of Vernon and Godfrey.
The Lushingtons of Ockham Park
Stephen Lushington (1782–1873) was the second of five children of Sir Stephen. He was educated at Eton and then at Christ Church, Oxford and was called to the bar in 1806. In the same year he entered Parliament as member for Great Yarmouth. He resigned his seat in 1808 but returned to Parliament as the member for Ilchester in 1820 and subsequently represented Tregony, Winchelsea and Tower Hamlets. Generally Stephen Lushington supported the Whig party except when policies on sugar duties conflicted with his anti-slavery sentiments. He was said to have been generous in his praise of opponents when he felt that they had embraced sound policies such as Peel on the matter of Catholic emancipation. Considered a reformer by his contemporaries, Lushington supported most of the liberal reforms of his era such as parliamentary reform, Catholic emancipation, full civil rights for Jews and dissenters, and reform of the criminal law. Although he favoured the secret ballot and triennial parliaments he would not go so far as supporting universal suffrage.5 Stephen Lushington retired from Parliament in 1841 and went on to pursue a distinguished career in the law.
Stephen Lushington, with Lord Brougham, represented Queen Caroline in her divorce from George IV. He also represented Lady Byron in her separation from her notorious husband.6 He went on to become a judge of the High Court of Admiralty. He was also Dean of Arches from 1858 to 1867, when he retired from all his posts due to ill health. After Stephen Lushington’s death F. D. Maurice wrote to Alice Lushington, “I always remembered your father with great affection & pleasure. I have never known anyone like him in his simplicity & kindness & generosity: He was the greatest link between the old & new generations who has lived in my time.”7 In 1821 Stephen had married Sarah Grace Carr, a close friend of Lady Byron. Sarah died after a harrowing illness in 1837, leaving ten children, five boys and five girls, to be brought up by her widowed husband and an unmarried sister, Frances Carr, at Ockham Park, near Ripley, Surrey which their father had leased from the family of Lady Byron.8
A glance through the biographies of many of the great names of the nineteenth century will usually reveal a reference to a Lushington. Franklin Lushington was Edward Lear’s friend and executor; Edmund Lushington married Celia Tennyson, the poet’s sister. Wherever social conscience, reform or philanthropy needed to be stirred into action in nineteenth-century England, a Lushington could usually be enlisted. Vernon Lushington’s father, Stephen, through his friendship with William Wilberforce, became involved with the Clapham Sect.9
A Child of the Clapham Sect?
A few days before their marriage, Vernon Lushington wrote to his fiancée, Jane Mowatt, “The time may come when I should find it my duty at whatever cost to speak out plainly to the world what I do think on religious matters; and to join publicly with others to give effect to our views. I wish to be quiet for this reason only, that I have nothing new to communicate, nothing of my own: nothing that wiser men than I do not well know: but a time may come for acting together and I would not be wanting then. Meanwhile, I am as I have told you; as I trust you feel, I am.” 10 This raises the question of what were Lushington’s views on “religious matters” and did he really have “nothing new to communicate.” These questions will be considered in the light of the newly emerged archive and will form part of this study. Lushington’s religious beliefs were central to his thought and actions. However before attempting to answer these questions it is necessary to consider the background against which he wrote this letter.
A common denominator often found in the study of those who experienced a crisis, or redirection of faith in the nineteenth century, is that their parents, and sometimes their grandparents, had belonged to an evangelical wing of the Anglican Church which became known as the Clapham Sect.11 The members of this group accepted Christianity as the great fact of their existence, to which all else was subordinated, but not in an exclusive or unnatural manner. Like other evangelicals, members of the Clapham Sect recognised the redemptive work of Christ upon the cross and the need for personal salvation, but they also believed their faith to be ‘a Religion of Motives’ in which God looked at the heart and judged men above all by the spirit in which they acted.
Although Stephen Lushington may not have been at the centre of the Clapham Sect being considered too latitudinarian by friends such as the evangelical abolitionist T.F. Buxton12, he nevertheless developed strong and lasting friendships with many of the group’s leading members such as Zachary Macaulay and William Wilberforce with whom he worked in the fight to abolish the slave trade.13 So where did Stephen Lushington stand regarding religious matters? Although very sympathetic with both evangelicals and dissenters, he did not consider himself either. This he made clear in response to a letter of condolence upon his wife’s death from a well known evangelical preacher. In writing to his sister-in-law he referred to the sentiments expressed by the preacher but added, “I cannot view all things in their light.”14 On the other hand, Stephen Lushington had no sympathy with the High Church party. He is perhaps best described as “a churchman of the old school”.15 Stephen Lushington might usefully be compared with Arthur Penryhn Stanley, Dean of Westminster, a close family friend. As the leading liberal theologian of his time in England Stanley regarded the age in which he lived as a period of transition and considered that the Christian church had yet to achieve what he called “its final or its most perfect aspect to the world”.
Whatever Stephen Lushington’s religious beliefs may have been, there is no doubt that he shared something of the ideology and pragmatism of the Clapham Sect and this was clearly manifested in the diverse matters on which he supported reform. Additionally he also strongly shared the group’s strict ethical and moral values. William Gaunt wrote of Vernon Lushington being influenced by what he called “the rationalist ideas” of his father.16 This was the background of the world into which Vernon Lushington was born, and even though his father chose to remain on the fringe of the Clapham Sect, Vernon’s upbringing can justifiably be compared with others in the second generation of that group – the so-called “children of Clapham” - many of whom could be found within his circle of friendship.
What then marked out the Clapham Sect from other Christians? It roots were to be found in the work of the Wesley brothers and George Whitfield who, in the previous century, had brought a wake up call to both the slumbering Anglican community and then to the wider church. However, where some wings of the renewed church were considered bigoted and narrow minded, the Claphamites “exhibited the best side of Evangelicalism” and their leaders were considered men of strength and character. The underlying emphasis of their faith could be expressed in the saying that “actions speak louder than words”. J.R. Seeley’s sister, in writing of her strongly evangelical family background, stated that the “Religion, we were taught, was to be evidence by deeds rather than words; it was to be cherished in the heart, not chattered about by careless lips.”17 Within this expression of Christianity were the seeds which, for Lushington, were to be watered by the writings of Thomas Carlyle and to bear fruit outside Christianity in the altruism of Auguste Comte.
The Christianity of the Claphamites was a religion of motives; Christians were accountable beings who had no call to live simply at random.18 For them parenthood was taken seriously because its responsibilities, becoming part of their own continuing education as Christians, seemed providentially ordained to bring them closer to God. However, this was taken to an extreme by the father of Sir Leslie Stephen who taught his sons to distrust any religious thinking that savoured of intellectual compromise. He was particular hostile to F.D. Maurice, a founder of the Christian Socialist Movement, for trying to dress up the Gospel in “some form of Philosophy”.
A strong sense of duty was an important part of the Clapham creed. Clapham children, who “could not remember a time when their fathers idled,” had to recognise that God expected them also to lead similar lives.19 This sense of duty was also to be found within the positivism of Comte and the “Clapham” code continued to influence a hold on Lushington even after he was drawn to Carlyle and Comte. Lushington and his contemporaries feared that complete unbelief would ultimately lead to moral degeneration and a collapse of the established system of values which underpinned nineteenth-century society. A.L. LeQuesne has written, “It was a generation that still sought answers to its problems in religious forms, but which at the same time found the traditional religious formulas unsatisfying”.20
Lushington must also have felt it necessary to exercise some measure of restraint on the outward manifestation of his developing beliefs for fear of comprising his father’s role as a judge in the ecclesiastical courts. In 1860 Stephen Lushington was called to pass judgement upon “Essays and Reviews”, a collection of theological essays which created a storm in the Victorian church. Six of its seven authors were Anglican clergyman, and all were associated with a liberal view of theology which must have been shared by Stephen’s son Vernon. Stephen was also involved in the judgement upon J.R. Seeley’s controversial “Ecce Homo: a Survey of the Life of and Work of Jesus Christ” in 1865.21 It is possible that Vernon chose not to align himself too publicly with the new thinking, especially that of Comte, until after his father’s death in 1873, for although Stephen Lushington may have found his views congenial, it might have compromised his role in the ecclesiastical courts.22
Although many of the sons of Clapham families as second generation “adopted the same creed with equal sincerity and undiminished earnestness” they also had “a far keener sense of the hindrances opposed to the indiscriminate and rude exhibitions of it … A more elaborate education, greater familiarity with the world and with human affairs, a deeper insight into science and history, with a far nicer discernment of mere conventional proprieties, had opened to them a range of thought, and had brought them into relations with society, of which their fathers were comparatively destitute.”23 This was certainly true of Lushington whose years at Cambridge University gave him a broader perspective on religious and other affairs than his father could have experienced. Additionally, it was generally acknowledged that the cultural influences to be found in Clapham homes reflected a new, somewhat, milder kind of evangelicalism.
Boyhood, Schooling and the Navy
Vernon and his twin brother Godfrey were only five years old when their mother died. They remained firm friends throughout their lives and worked together on many common causes for social, legal and political reform. Their physical appearance was so alike that Vernon is said once to have addressed his own reflection in the mirror on the grand staircase at Convent Garden with the words, “Hullo Godfrey, I didn’t know I was to have the pleasure of seeing you here this evening.”24 William Rossetti later recalled “the two brothers were so alike that I have more than once made a mistake between them. However it happened that Vernon Lushington, who had been in the navy in early youth, had by accident lost a finger: a surreptitious glance at his hand was a useful precaution against such blundering.” 25
Vernon and Godfrey spent a year at Cheam School and, in a letter to his daughter Susan in May 1900, Vernon reminisced, “I quite agree with you as to the pretty old look of Epsom. I enjoy it every time I go there. But you, dear Sue, cannot have my primeval recollection of it – date about 1842 or 43 when my Father came there with Fanny & Alice [Vernon’s sisters] & the horses, putting up at ‘Baker’s Coffeehouse’ as it was called, & Godfrey & I came over from Cheam, dined with them, & walked back the next morning. It was September, for I remember the blackberries.”26 The Lushington twins probably received some form of home education from their two aunts who had taken over the school at Ockham which had been planed by Ada, Lady King, the daughter of Lord Byron in 1836. Besides teaching the usual elementary subjects, the curriculum also offered carpentry and gardening and the school had a gymnasium.27
One further glimpse of Vernon and Godfrey’s boyhood years is found in a letter written by an unnamed brother (probably Godfrey) to his sister Alice in 1846. The letter, written from Ockham Park, tells how the unidentified writer, together with Vernon and another brother William, spent their holidays horse riding and in other activities on the estate. “Yesterday Vernon & I went out for a walk & bathed, but stopping too long to devour blackberries, were pressed for time. Accordingly we made a dashing short cut over Mr Lambert’s carrot and potato field, broke through 3 nasty hedges, scaled the park wall, & ran home, just in time to wash our hands & go downstairs.” The letter continues “Although the naval business is no longer a secret, for it is entirely settled, yet the little ones and the servants know nothing about it, in order that Papa may not hear it talked about. However I imagine the subject does not vex him as it formerly did.”28 Presumably “this naval business” must relate to the next phase of Vernon’s life when he joined the training ship HMS Eurydice at Portsmouth on 18 October 1846 as a naval cadet. That being so, it suggests that Vernon had stepped out of line and chosen a career move of which his father did not approve. This is in marked contrast to his otherwise general respect for his father’s wishes and indicates a sense of independency in Vernon at an early age.
Holman Hunt has left a record of life at Ockham in 1862 which also sheds further light on Vernon and his relationship with his father. Vernon had invited Hunt to paint his father’s portrait. In a letter from Ockham to his patron Thomas Combe, Hunt wrote that Vernon had kept the portrait a surprise as Stephen Lushington was reluctant to have his portrait taken. Hunt wrote:
He is really a dear old fellow – as clear and quick in wit as the youngest man in the company and with the gravest possible judgement in all his remarks and manners. His sweetness of temper to everyone in the house is perfectly remarkable so that it would be a thousand wonders were he not loved as he is –almost to idolatry…Vernon it seems is an especial favourite. When he heard the news he declared that Vernon was the most impudent dog in the world – but as the matter was already arranged he acquiesced in it and promised to give me the best chance he could.”29
In later recalling this event, Hunt said how, on sitting down to his first dinner at the house, he was promptly challenged to his views on the American Civil War. Hunt said that he supported the North. Whereupon Lushington exclaimed “Well done! We are all Northerners here.”30 In a letter to Thomas Combe, Hunt grumbled in good humour, “The good old Doctor has not the virtue of being a steady or patient sitter - in fact he does not sit at all, and I could not wish him to do so for once or twice when I have for a minute kept him in one position his whole expression has become so different that I have not been able to go on, the only chance there is the most perfect perseverance.”31 During his sittings Stephen Lushington recounted many stories from his past including how he had been at the theatre in London when, in the middle of the performance, an announcement had been made that the “French people have murdered their King.” Another letter concerning this episode was sent from Hunt to Frederick Stephens. Hunt jokingly says of the painting “of course as I only began it a month ago I am likely to stay here another eleven months”. During this visit Hunt was unable to escape the Lushington family’s philanthropic passion. He wrote a few days later to Stephen that he had made arrangements to send a poor girl to Australia.32 Stephen Lushington also cared for those nearer home. During the hard winter of 1856, and being concerned for the villagers of Ockham, he wrote to his daughter Alice, “Should the weather continue severe remember you have command of my purse & God has blessed me with great prosperity & I ought not to be niggardly.” Some years later he wrote to his daughter Fanny, “If this frost should last I fear for our poor people. What think you of asking Mr Onslow in our absence in urgent cases to give relief at my expense?”33 Early in his career Stephen Lushington had spoken to a committee of the House of Lords in favour of the protection of chimney-sweepers’ boys and, later, he supported restrictions on the hours of work for children in factories.34 His care for individual needs whether local or further afield ran alongside his involvement in the anti-slavery movement and his friend and co-worker in that area of concern, Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, described him as an “honest, and generous a supporter of our great cause as could be; and in private life a most kind and faithful friend, with no other fault than too much zeal and too much liberality.”35
Lushington inherited his father’s character and sense of fair play. An early indication of this was recorded by William Gaunt, who knew Lushington’s daughter Susan in her latter years and who stayed with her whilst writing his pioneering work on the Pre Raphaelites. Gaunt recorded the following incident.
Beginning life as a midshipman he was incensed at the bullying then practised; and finding one of the officers engaged in roasting a midshipman (over a fire, as in Tom Brown’s Schooldays), knocked him down. This piece of insubordination deserved and received praise, but also a nominal reprimand; the upshot was that he left the navy and went to Cambridge to study law.36
Lushington had entered the service on 18 October 1846. The original papers relating to his discharge have not survived. However a digest of the matter reveals that the charges were considered, “frivolous, a subversion of the discipline on of the Service.” Lushington was punished by a loss of three months sea time, his offence being described as “misconduct”. He was discharged from service on 13 December 1849.37 Lushington retained his affinity with nautical life long after he left the navy and a friend recalled how, when out on the popular Working Men’s College Sunday walks, he would always greet any passing sailor with a nautical phrase.38 In 1870, during the Franco-Prussian War, he wrote to his wife of the events “all so near too. Those who remember the year 1848 may have something of the same feeling, but I was a boy, in the Indian Seas.”39
In 1850 Lushington followed his brother Edward to the East India Company College at Haileybury.40 His application for the college was supported by the Reverend W.J. Conybeare who had been privately tutoring him at his Axminster vicarage. Conybeare, a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, was a noted “broad churchman” with views similar to Lushington’s father.41 Although Conybeare’s churchmanship would have helped provide a liberal outlook for Lushington as he prepared for Cambridge, he would not have condoned his pupil’s later adoption of Positivism. In 1853 Conybeare contributed an article to The Edinburgh Review on “Church Parties” at the end of which he comments, “The highest ranks and most intelligent professionals are influenced by sceptical opinions, to an extent which, twenty years back, would have been deemed incredible.”42 In 1856 Conybeare wrote a novel called “Perversion; or, The Causes and Consequences of Infidelity” in which he perceived Positivism as coming between Unitarianism and Mormonism on a downward-sliding path of sin and unbelief.
When Lushington entered the East India College its principal was the Reverend Henry Melvill (1798-1871), a popular evangelical preacher whose sermons, unusually lacked simplicity and directness and appealed more to the literary than the spiritual sense.43 Lushington’s tutor in Asian languages was Monier Monier-Williams who believed that the conversion of India to the Christian religion was one of the aims of oriental scholarship. John Beames later recalled his years at the school: “Haileybury was a happy place, though rather a farce as far as learning was concerned. In fact you might learn as much or as little as you liked, but while the facilities for not learning were considerable, those for learning were, in practice, somewhat scanty.”44 Despite this Lushington gave himself to learning and, on his leaving, the headmaster wrote to his father “I cannot but express my regret at the loss wh. our Coll. will sustain on the retirement from its walls of one of its highest ornaments, of one so admirably qualified in every respect to be the Head of the College.”45 Lushington won prizes in Classics, Law, History and Political Economics, Sanskrit and Hindi as well as a General Proficiency Prize.46 It was at Haileybury that Lushington first appeared in print with a humorous essay that was published in the school magazine.47
After the loss of their mother Lushington and his siblings were brought up a maiden aunt at Ockham. Unlike some nineteenth-century sons, Vernon retained a good relationship with his father who, with his liberal and latitudinarian views on religious matters allowed his son a good measure of freedom in his early development that was not always found in Victorian families. His father’s sympathies gave Vernon tacit permission to think unconventionally and in these early years of his development, the seeds were sown for his later abandonment of orthodox faith and his commitment to Comte’s Positivism.