The Cambridge Millites and the early economic writings of Leslie Stephen


Leslie Stephen is now chiefly remembered as the founder of the Cambridge school of literary criticism; a champion of agnosticism during a period in which such beliefs drew condemnation; a pioneer of the art of mountaineering and the author of numerous mountaineering classics; the first editor of one of the great literary projects of the Victorian age, the Dictionary of National Biography; the historian of ideas who singlehandedly mapped the history of modern English thought with the publication of his magnum opus, The History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century, and its sequel, the The English Utilitarians; and as the demented father of Virginia Woolf, the model for Mr. Ramsey in To the Lighthouse (1). Less is known about Stephenʼs contribution to the discipline of political economy, and indeed, apart from a single essay on the way in which the manly temper of Victorian Cambridge molded his political and economic beliefs (Collini 1989), no detailed appraisal of Stephen ʼs economic writings has appeared in the secondary literature.

Stephen could not, of course, be described as a political economist of the first (or even second) rank, but it is, I believe, important to single him out as a subject of study because of his associations with, and responses to, the leading political economists in a period of rapid intellectual change. His interest in political economy is certainly evident. He worked on a manuscript that contained diagrammatic representations of supply and demand in the early 1860s, wrote a number of reviews of the leading economic tracts in the 1860s and 1870s, published the highly successful biography of Henry Fawcett in 1885, penned nearly all of the biographies of economists for the Dictionary of National Biography in the 1880s, and conversed with a number of political economists from the Victorian period, ranging from John Stuart Mill to Alfred Marshall. This body of work is, in fact, sufficiently extensive to warrant a series of monographs and, for this reason, in the pages that follow I restrict my analysis to Stephenʼs economic writings in the early 1860s.



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