Item 7 - Letter from Nora and Henry Sidgwick to Mary Sidgwick

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Letter from Nora and Henry Sidgwick to Mary Sidgwick


  • 23 Oct [1876] (Creation)

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Henry Sidgwick was born in Skipton, Yorkshire in 1838, the son of the Revd William Sidgwick, headmaster of Skipton Grammar School, and Mary Crofts. He attended Rugby School, where his cousin, the future Archbishop of Canterbury, Edward White Benson was a master. Thence he entered Trinity in 1855 where he was elected to a scholarship in 1855. He gained University honours by becoming Bell Scholar in 1856 and Craven Scholar in 1857. In 1859 he was 33rd Wrangler, Senior Classic and 1st Chancellor's Medallist. He became a Fellow of Trinity in that year also.

Although Sidgwick gained a University lectureship in classics, his thoughts began to turn to philosophy, perhaps influenced by his membership of the Grote Club. At the same time he also threw himself into the cause of University and College reform, forming a powerful alliance with Henry Jackson. In the few years after the death of Whewell in 1866, the party of reform were able to achieve a number of their goals, but the religious tests on Fellowships of Trinity still remained, and Sidgwick felt duty-bound to resign his Fellowship in 1869 on grounds of conscience.

In the same year Sidgwick exchanged his lectureship in Classics for one in Moral Sciences and strove to help develop a school of philosophy in Cambridge. In 1875, Trinity appointed him Praelector in Moral and Political Philosophy and in 1885 he was elected Knightbridge Professor of Moral Philosophy and re-elected to his Trinity Fellowship. He held the chair until 1900.

Sidgwick was a strong supporter of the education of women and served at times both on the governing bodies of Newnham and Girton; his wife Eleanor (née Balfour), whom he married in 1876, was Vice-President of Newnham. He died in 1900.

Sidgwick's major publications were Methods of Ethics (1874), Principles of Political Economy (1883), and Elements of Politics (1891)

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Admits to being a very bad correspondent; asks whether Henry has written to Mary. Reports that he is very busy with lectures and with organising the women's lectures 'and seeing that everybody gets taught what they want to learn'; he is also writing an essay for Mind. She is working at mathematics again with Mr Ferrers, and enjoying it very much; she is to have one or two pupils from Newnham Hall for Algebra. Reports that Miss Clough and several students at Newnham and their servants have become ill, probably from eating some unwholesome fish, but the doctor says that they will recover. Ellen Crofts has come back to the college, and Charlotte's sister Edith is also there. Edward Benson is coming to Cambridge on the following Friday, as he has to preach the commemoration sermon on the Sunday. Discusses Dr Slade and his seances, and the suspicions surrounding him, and refers to Professor Lankaster's evidence, which 'remains very strong in support of the trickery thing.'

Note from Henry Sidgwick to his mother, saying that both he and Nora 'have both been a good deal fussed about different matters', but that everything is sorted out now. Could almost believe that he had lived years in his house, which is exactly the sort of home they wanted. It is unlike what he thought of whenever he thought of living domestically in Cambridge; that he had always imagined himself 'in a semi-detached villa on the road to the railway station, exactly like twelve other semi-detached villas', but that the great feature of his present home is 'its Individuality.' Undertakes to send his own letter the following day.

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