Item 10 - Letters from Nora and Henry Sidgwick to Mary Sidgwick

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ADD.MS.c/105/10

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Letters from Nora and Henry Sidgwick to Mary Sidgwick

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  • 21–22 Apr 1876 (Creation)

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2 docs

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(1838–1900)

Biographical history

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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Nora remarks on how sad it is that her and Henry's quiet time [in Paris on their honeymoon] is coming to an end, and how quickly the time has passed, but how long it seems since their wedding day. They go to Rouen the following day and then by Amiens to Calais, from where they will cross the channel back to England. They must be at Carlton Gardens the following Tuesday as Henry must look over some examination papers. They go to Cambridge on the following Friday for one day and return to London until the Monday following when they settle at Cambridge.

If the following day is as delightful as that day they may stay on in Paris 'till the last minute', because it 'does look lovely in the sun, with the fresh green trees, and the chestnuts just coming into flower'. They have been two or three times 'to the play, and enjoyed the excellent acting very much': last night they heard Racine's Athalie, and found it dull, but there were 'two very good little comedies afterwards'.

Henry writes that he is sorry to hear that William has been so depressed; hopes that the change will do him good, and that he will come over to Cambridge as soon as possible. Undertakes to write to him in the next couple of days. In relation to his mother's 'Munificent offer', states that Nora says that they have no breakfast service, dinner service, glass or cruet stand; they would be very grateful if she were to give them any of these. They have looked at the china shops in Paris, but prefer London pottery. Is sure that the crest sent to Arthur Balfour [see 105/9] was satisfactory. Notes on Saturday, 22 April that the morning is 'perfectly Lovely, and it is Madness to leave Paris, but Nora has an extravagant passion for church architecture, and is carrying [him] off to Rouen.' They will cross the channel on the following Monday or Tuesday, and have arranged to be at 4 Carlton Gardens on Tuesday; will write again from there.

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