Blog #213: Cardinal Manning, Leslie Stephen and the Metaphysical Society

For the last few weeks I have been hard at work editing my blogs and trying to shape them into a coherent whole. Today’s entry is a by-product of my editing efforts, even if instead of editing I’ve been researching again. Avoidance behaviour, yet also productive. Thoughts about Blog #204 and Cardinal Manning caused me to check to see if he was ever married. It turns out that he was, though his marriage, sadly, was relatively brief. Quick and scruffy Wiki research reveals that:

Manning married Caroline, John Sargent’s daughter,[5] on 7 November 1833, in a ceremony performed by the bride’s brother-in-law, the Revd Samuel Wilberforce, later Bishop of Oxford and Winchester. Manning’s marriage did not last long: his young and beautiful wife came of a consumptive family and died childless on 24 July 1837. When Manning died many years later, for decades a celibate Roman Catholic cleric, a locket containing his wife’s picture was found on a chain around his neck.

Did Virginia think about this history when she added an s to the Manning name and evoked a marriage? I think it likely she did.

Much more significant than the marriage, and perhaps more central to at least one of Virginia’s To the Lighthouse themes, is Cardinal Mannings’ relationship to Leslie Stephen. Both Manning and Stephen belonged to the Metaphysical Society, and according to Joseph Gasquet, an early Manning biographer, on at least one occasion they engaged in “a lively controversy” as to the reality of Berkeley’s scepticism. The Metaphysical Society, which met monthly from 1869 to 1880, was intended to foster exactly such lively controversies. Its avowed purpose was to discuss metaphysical and theological questions “after the manner and with the freedom of an ordinary scientific society”, and with that purpose in mind, as well as Leslie Stephen and Cardinal Manning, among its members it included such luminaries as Dean Stanley, Dean Alford, Archbishop Manning, the Rev. James Martineau, the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol, Professor Huxley, Professor Tyndall, Mr Froude, Mr Walter Bagehot, Sir John Lubbock, Ruskin, and the ever forceful James Stephen.

R. H. Huttons’ “Reminiscence”
, published in The Nineteenth Century ,1885, gives a vivid impression of how open and lively the discussions of the Metaphysical Society could be. It strikes me that echoes of those or similar discussions are discernable in To the Lighthouse. Certainly, knowledge of Cardinal Manning’s interactions with Leslie Stephen adds a lot to my appreciation of the novel.

There is no end to To the Lighthouse tunnels and treasures.

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